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August 2021 | by Michael Hennessy
Email subject lines are kind of like a first date – if they aren’t very good, things probably aren’t going any further. On the other hand, a great subject line can open the door to a long, happy relationship with your audience.
The problem is that good subject lines aren’t always easy to come by. Content curators often fall into the trap of turning a title into a subject line. It makes sense, a title is informative and lays the groundwork for what to expect in an article, essay, or report. But at their core, titles lack some of the critical factors that make for a good subject line, meaning your open rates are going to suffer.
So what are these factors that separate a title from a subject line? I’m glad you asked.
Titles are innately boring. A good title can get away with leaving little to the imagination, as long as it gives a clear look into the forthcoming content. But when your inbox has 45 unread emails fighting for your attention, a boring subject line just won’t cut it.
Strong subject lines need to be interesting, enticing readers to open the email to read more.
Content creators rely on a concept called the curiosity gap to make that happen. You give your audience just enough information to pique their interest. Titles can – and should – give a full overview of what to expect, but when it comes to subject lines, you don’t want to tell the whole story. Think of it like a cliffhanger ending: you don’t know what comes next, but you really want to find out.
But this is not a free pass to make clickbait subject lines just to get people to open your email. If your subject line doesn’t accurately connect with the email content, your audience will eventually see you as the Boy Who Cried Wolf and will stop opening your emails altogether.
Poll for the audience: are you more likely to click on an email that has your name in the subject line? Even if you’d like to think you aren’t prone to such a simple digital tactic, data says otherwise.
Titles are designed for a broad audience so they are impersonal by nature. Subject lines, on the other hand, are written to make readers feel special. Even if an email is sent to thousands of subscribers, good subject lines say “this email is just for YOU.”
Personalization isn’t a magic bullet; dropping in someone’s first name won’t fix a generally terrible subject line. But utilizing personalization can help increase open and click rates.
Titles aren’t always known for their brevity.
Take, for example, the book You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself. As a title, despite being intensely long it’s not half bad. Do I want to read the book? Sure. Do I know what to expect from the book? Yes. Do I suddenly now feel like I’m deluding myself? Also yes.
But if you tried to use that as an email subject line, you’d probably only see “You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many.” That looks like a major grammatical gaffe, and it doesn’t inspire you to click in and learn more.
Unlike titles, subject lines don’t have the luxury of length. They need to be short because inboxes have tight character limits, especially on mobile, which only allows for about 40 characters.
The good news is that you don’t need a ton of characters to write an enticing subject line. In fact, some of the highest performing subject lines are also the shortest. Data by Marketo shows that subject lines that are 4-7 words in length are top performers, garnering the highest open and click-to open rates.
The bottom line: titles and subject lines are fundamentally different, so you should write them that way.
If writing strong subject lines just isn’t your thing, drop us a line and find out how our team of content creators can help.
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