Email marketing is a powerful small business tool. It allows you to affordably reach people, target their interests, measure and test like crazy! But while we may be good at slotting articles and images into our email template, many of us fail on the most important part of the message: the subject line.

Always take time and effort to craft a killer headline, it will pay off in the long run (sign-up for our free UpCity Daily Tips newsletter to learn more about winning with email marketing). See also Seven Irresistable Hooks that Generate Traffic.

The Importance of a Subject Line

If you care about open rate, you care about the subject line. The average open rate for newsletters is about 20% (this varies from industry-to-industry). Read our run-down on email marketing guides for other great ways to improve your efforts. If you can improve that by even a few percentage points, it’s a homerun!

Here are 10 tips to capture readers interest and improve your open rate:

  1. Make it Targeted — Segment your list and tailor your subject line to the recipient. You don’t want a subject line (or newsletter) going to someone that doesn’t care about the content. For example, a pet store owner shouldn’t send an email with a subject lines about cats if the recipient has a dog!Example: Stop your dog from shedding
  2. Keep it Short — There’s only so many characters a subject line will display in an inbox, a quick preview should tell the whole story. The general rule is less than 50 characters is best. A recent study by MailChimp said that emails with 28-39 character subject lines had the highest open rate.Example: How organic food cleans your body
  3. Numbers — Numbers work. People know exactly what they are getting into and the time they will have to commit.  Include them as a numeral rather than spelling it out to save characters.Example: 7 steps to an allergy-free house
  4. Clear and Concise — There are differing opinions around the importance of a catchy subject line vs. clear subject line. Aweber dissects data around Subject Line Strategy and broke down stats on ‘creative’ vs. ‘clear’ subject lines. They were amazed at how much higher open rates were on those with a ‘clear’ heading:

    The clear subject lines performed better than the cutesy subject lines no matter what metric we looked at. To break it down by channel, these clear subject lines beat out the cutesy ones by:

    Comments 1107% | Tweets 315% | Facebook Likes 331% | Traffic 617% | Email Subscriptions 366%

    Example: Important travel information for Buckhead Camp

  5. Location — If you have a location specific to recipients include it in your headline. This targets people directly and can inspire them to open.Example: Top Chef winner opening a Northcenter diner
  6. Ask a Question — Engage people by asking a question. If it resonates with people, they are more likely to open and read on. They want to know the answer.Example: How does cold weather help your health?
  7. Hot Topics — Is there a big topic in the news that relates to your business and newsletter? Including it may pique the readers interest if it realtes to them.Example: Heavy rainfall increases chance of mold
  8. Specials — While it’s okay to promote a special offer occasionally, typically shouting this in a headline isn’t overly effective. Place a special offers around the content of your newsletter, don’t make them the focus. The word ‘sale’ works better than ‘discount’, ‘free’, or ‘save’. Avoid X% off as well.Example: Limited time sale on floor models
  9. Urgency — Time sensitive headlines can be powerful but use them with caution. Deadlines and urgency need to be real.Example: Double your Bell School donation until May 30
  10. Stand Out — Don’t be afraid to add things like quotes, colons (or even two ::), or brackets to your text to mix things up a bit. Don’t overdo it or it looks spammy. An occasional cap word is okay but don’t list everything in caps, it will trigger email filters and you’ll end up in spam.Example: The secrets of a more *flexible* brain

A great idea is to start a file where you save ideas for the future. Brilliant subject lines that come into your inbox, demanding to be read.