Email remains the key daily means of electronic communication in workplaces and in many marketing campaigns. Therefore, it is vital to write effective emails whether you have a captive audience such as employees or an external audience such as potential customers.
The key element of an effective email is the subject line. In effect, this is the equivalent of a headline in advertising. The experts say the headline is worth 75-80% of the impact of an ad.
However, many communicators tend to overlook the importance of crafting a good subject line. Here are some guidelines:
Keep the word count tight in the subject line
These days, readers tend to focus on only the first 3-4 words in a subject line. If these words aren’t carefully written, the reader may not be interested and will delete the email. Accordingly, as in SEO, write the keywords up front and use a maximum of 50 characters in the line (including spaces), preferably 40. Another reason is that many inboxes are set to show only a certain number of characters on the screen, and will not show the second half of long subject lines until the message is opened in full – especially on smart phones. All this means a good subject line can be a challenge to write, but it is worth spending time crafting a tight line.
You can draft a subject line at the start of the activity, but it is best to hold back and write it after you have written the body of the email so your mind is around all the content of the message. Then rewrite and edit your initial effort. Although it may be tempting to just make do with an early draft, persevere with some other options and you will find the best one.
Why bother? Even a captive audience like employees won’t bother to read the email if it is not written well – and therefore you will have watered down the impact of the message.
Focus on your objective
Decide the action you want your readers to take. Base the subject line on that if you can. Don’t write an informational subject line if you want readers to go to a link on a new organizational policy. And remember in marketing communication that a subject line itself is not the tool for selling. It is a tool for getting readers to read the body copy in which the more detailed sales message is contained.
Make good use of the ‘From’ line
Think about what your readers see. The ‘From’ line should be relevant. If it is an internal email, include your name and position or department so people can understand the context. If it is an external, marketing email, use a ‘From’ line that briefly mentions your organization and its role. For example, don’t just use the company name ‘Century Products’, but write something more effective like ‘Century Products office supplies’.
If the ‘From’ line mentions the name of your organization, don’t repeat the name in the subject line. It’s overkill. Just focus on the key point, eg new office products newsletter’.
These days, for reasons I don’t understand, many people start their email message with “My name is …” when their name is already shown in the “From” line and then it is shown again for a third time in the email signature area. It seems totally unnecessary to repeat your name in this way. I strongly advise against writing “My name is…” at any time.
Urgency creates action
Readers of your email are more likely to act if your call to action creates a sense of urgency or scarcity. For instance, ‘PRSA crisis conference bookings closing – response needed by [date]’.
If you are conducting a marketing campaign, create a sense of urgency or scarcity through a subject line such as ‘Office equipment offer closes midnight tonight’.
These tips and guidelines will lift the open rates and response rates of your email messages to any audience.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. His wide-ranging career includes roles as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer and business manager. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.