RE: Email Subject Lines That Work?

By Bryan Eisenberg – Jul 24 , 2007

To Read or Not to Read

The amount of poorly written copy is a real shame. (I have ulterior
motives, so I actually open a lot of junk mail.) What’s worse, though,
is seeing examples of really good copy that will never get read because
the subject line screamed out “IRRELEVANT,” “SPAM,” or, basically,

There are a few factors you can control when your email message
enters a prospect’s email client: the Subject line, the From address,
the To address, and (on some clients) a preview of the message. (Yes,
if you want to get fussy, the date, too).

The Horse DOES Go Before the Cart

Many marketers treat writing the subject line of an email like a minor
effort. It’s easy to see why. It’s just a few words. Isn’t it the
100-plus words in the copy that do the selling?

Don’t be fooled. If you can’t get your prospect to open your email,
no amount of great copy is going to make a sale. (Remember the first A
in AIDAS?)

So, how can we make those precious few words in the subject line
grab your prospects’ attention, create interest, and make them want to
open your super sales letter? Below are some principles that work. Keep
in mind, though, that as with any copy, they begin losing their impact
if you always follow the same rules.


Remember to KISS
your readers. Keep it short and simple. Write your subject line so that
there are fewer than 10 words; fewer than 5 is even better. Keeping
your subject line down to a few words will make your email seem more

They’re Tuned to WII-FM, Are You?

Your prospects are always interested in one thing: What’s in it for me? Write with that in mind — which means write about the benefits that matter to them, not features
that matter to you. Remember, your first sale in the email
communication is making them spend their valuable time reading your
solicitation. If you can’t write a subject line that makes them do
that, what makes you think you can make them spend their money?

You Who?

While it’s generally a good thing to use the word “you” in
persuasive copy, it’s a spam predictor in subject lines. Few folks use
the word “you” in emails to colleagues; spam uses it frequently. The
closer your subject line comes to the tone of ordinary email, the more
likely it is that your message will be opened.

Don’t Do It!!!

Don’t use exclamation points at the end of the subject line. Rarely
do you see personal emails that need that kind of “noise” to grab your
attention. Good business writing never does it. It doesn’t need to.

Do It?

Do use question marks, if doing so makes sense. Questions are much more engaging than statements. Wouldn’t you agree?

Would You Buy a Used Car From This Guy?

We have been so inundated with slick sales stuff that it now is an
automatic turnoff. Avoid words like “limited time,” “free,”
“opportunity,” and “only.” Doing so may hook some; it will turn off
many more.

It’s for Me?

You like to feel special? Well, how special do you feel when the
message wasn’t sent to your email address but instead to “undisclosed
recipients” (or somewhere other than to your name or email address)?

If you have a database, use it to address your prospects by name. If
you don’t have a database — first, what are you doing about that? And
second, use your list to accomplish the same thing.

Someone Is Knocking at the Door

People prefer to buy from people, not robots,
autoresponders, or even Web sites. Try to develop a style and
personality in your email communications. And personalize the sender
(you), too. How often do you see an email from “Company XYZ,” and —
since you aren’t ready to buy — you just hit delete? However, that same
message from “Fred Doolittle” makes it seem like it might be worthwhile

Love at First Sight

Not every email client has a preview, nor does everyone who has a
preview have it set to preview. The important thing to remember,
though, is that whether the first part of the message is seen in a
preview or when the email is first opened, it still has to grab your
prospects’ attention and engage them to keep reading.

The purpose of the first part of persuasive copy is to create in
your customer’s mind what is called the FMI, or first mental image. You
want to inspire your prospects to begin imagining or visualizing
themselves enjoying the benefits of your product or service. It is
essential to write copy that creates a strong FMI, one that draws your
prospect into discovering the real value of your message. And remember,
sometimes less is more.

Step 1 Comes Before Step 2

I see a lot of copy that just “vomits” sales talk right out at the
prospect, forgetting that successful selling is like a romantic
encounter. You can’t go straight to the bedroom without even a first
kiss, and you aren’t going to start kissing till you start talking.

Me Too

I get a lot of email feedback from these columns. I really
appreciate it, but when you write to me, remember that I get more than
250 emails per day. Here’s an idea: Use your emails to me as an
opportunity to practice writing your own great subject lines. I’ll even
publish some of the best ones in a future article.