How to Lose 10 Pounds in 2 Weeks (Or How to Write Better Email Subject Lines)

It sits there. Waiting. Begging for your attention in its boldface type.

An unread email.

Usually, you’ll decide in a few seconds whether it’s worthy of opening or being cast away in the endless email trash heap. In those few seconds, a flurry of thoughts flash inside your brain: Who is the sender? What is the subject? what show is up next on your Netflix queue? Are done with the presentation for your next meeting?

As a nonprofit marketer, you are on the other side of this great brain fire. The one thing you can control from the list above is the email subject line. Choosing a title for your email is one way to help your messages stand out and reach more people on your mailing list.

Overall, your subject lines should do two things: Get the reader’s attention and make them take action (whether that is as simple as opening the email or clicking on a link).

The most important part of any email marketing campaign is to have software that tracks deliverability, open rates, clicked links and other metrics. Otherwise you won’t have a good grasp on the metrics needed to evaluate your emails.

Here are some other tips to help your emails live in the open where they can run free:

Use the Right Words

The people at Yesware conducted a study exploring the open and reply rates in relation to certain words from 500,000 sales emails sent in early 2014. On the high end of the open rates were the words steps, renewal and executive. Meanwhile, emails with the word calendar had the worst performance rates at just a 33 percent open rate.

The study also found that the length of the subject line doesn’t matter. The open rates did not vary greatly for subject lines with fewer than 10 words or result in any pattern that would help produce any conclusions.

You should also avoid common words such as free, help and percent off as they will often trigger filters and not even make it to an inbox.

Don’t Open the Can

The tricky part of writing subject lines is to make them provocative without making them appear like spam messages. A quick glance of subject lines from my spam folder include:

  • Love to Cook? Search for Culinary Schools List.
  • Do You Want Flavorful, Fluffy Eggs On The Go?
  • Buy Share ToDAY! Make BIG GAINs!

All sound like decent offers, but they are nothing but junk messages. Click-bait might work great for Facebook and other social media sites, but they might not get the same traction in an email inbox.

Add Some Personality

A MailChip study found that generally descriptive subjects did better than corny ones. However, this doesn’t mean your subject lines need to be dull and bland. The best way to stand out in a crowd is to add personality.

Funny lines and a light-hearted jokes can get your emails to stand out. Bad jokes can also be a turnoff, so spend a little time crafting those jokes and test them out on your coworkers before hitting the send button.

When all else fails, don’t overthink the subject. As subjects get longer, sometimes a one-word subject stands out and will draw attention.

Another way to add personality is to include the recipient’s name through a meta tag. If it is personalized, it will speak to them more. You should also segment your email lists and provide local flavor and content to your email readers.

And if we’ve learned anything from Buzzfeed, people like lists. Highlighting the five ways a person can make a difference with your nonprofit might just be the incentive someone needs to open up your email.

Test It Out

The best way to figure out what works best for your email marketing is to test it. As much as I wish it was as easy as following a formula, it isn’t the same for everyone. No two email lists are the same and won’t produce the same results with subject lines.

What you can do is test out a few variations. Divide up your email list and send out messages with identical content, but different subject lines. After a few times doing this, compare the trends and open rates.

The key part is not to use the same subject lines every time. This will get old quickly and readers might gloss over your emails. Other ways you can help your emails to get opened more is to alter name of the sender, when you send the email and how often you send out emails.

There is no magic bullet when it comes to email subject lines. The key to your success is figuring out what works well for you. Take the big picture tips above and tailor them to your audience. Then you’ll figure out how to better turn those boldfaced lines into opened emails.

  • Niraj Ranjan Rout

    Excellent article, Lincoln. Infusing personality is certainly a great way to get through the clutter and grab the recipients’ attention. Thanks, Niraj (Founder at grexit.com)