Wed, February 20 2013

Reader question: How do I get people to open my emails?

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

I continue to work my way through the many great reader questions!  Thanks for all of them.

Today’s question: I’d like to create copy for the subject line for emails that will encourage people to open them.  Amazing Results .. Update .. News .. doesn’t seem to work well, especially when trying to reach potential donors.  The space is very limited so there’s no room for an explanation of what’s in the email.  Any suggestions?

Here are some ideas for better subject lines.

1. TEST: Before you send out an email blast, test two different subject lines with a smaller subset of your list.  Do this always,so you get smarter all the time.

2. PERSONALIZE: Use something personally relevant to the reader to grab attention.

3. BE INTERESTING: Make your subject line oddly short, long or different.  Above all, make it interesting. My friend Kivi Leroux Miller talks about bad subject lines being a wrapper (example: September Diabetes eNews) and good subject lines being the candy in the wrapper (example: 6 ways to manage your diabetes).  Make it interesting, so people open the message in the first place.

4. BE FRESH: Don’t say “update” or “news” each time.  Focus on what’s actually new!

5. BE BRIEF: Put key information right up front since subject lines get cut off. 

6. INSTILL URGENCY: Make it clear why your email matters now—“three days left to give”

7. BANISH SPAMINESS: Run it through a content-checker, avoid all caps and shun exclamation points.

If I had to choose just one of these to convey, I would think it’s #3.  My best advice for building a following is to create wonderful content and reflect it in the subject line.  People open the emails they know will contain something of value.  Provide that value.  The rest will follow!

For further advice, I recommend Copyblogger’s tips for better email.  You can find that here.

  • Comment: (3)   


Hey Katya, Thanks for making this excellent post you’ve pointed out some wonderful tips here that will definitely come in handy.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/20  at  12:24 PM

I struggle with SL’s. First, Katya’s right. Test, Test, Test! She’s talking about a 10/10/80 test where the first 10 gets one SL several days prior to the main launch, and the 2nd 10 get’s a different SL at the same time. Review the metrics, then send the winner to the remaining 80%.

What professionals have pounded into my thick skull is the need to demonstrate value in the SL or the recipient will breeze right by it. Ask yourself, “How can I demonstrate value to the reader in 43 characters?

Posted by Glenn  on  02/21  at  04:52 PM

Hi Katya,

I would agree with your summary paragraph at the end the most.  In my experience there are different types and ways of getting a better open rate with subject headlines, but the best way to get a good open rate is to be branded into the mind of recipient. 

In other words, if you provide quality content and have that history/record, you will get much much better open rates no matter what your subject line is because people associate you with something they need to read/see.

Posted by Aaron  on  06/02  at  03:09 PM

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