Sentence diagramming is the bane of every school kid, and it’s promptly forgotten the moment class is over. You don’t need to delve into the darkness of your youth, but to help illustrate how to create a successful subject line we’re going to break it down, old school.

Subject lines are one of, if not, the most important parts of your email. If your subject line isn’t compelling, your readers won’t open your email, and all your compelling content will be missed. Wondering why you have a low open or click-through rate? The first culprit is your subject line. So, let’s deconstruct some recent subject lines and discuss five tips that’ll help you create engaging ones:

1. Make it Short
Most email programs limit the number of charters that show up in a subject line, which is usually around 50. This means, to ensure your readers see all of your compelling info, you also need to be short and succinct. Can you write a subject line longer than 50 characters? Sure, but keep the most important information in the beginning so it’ll have the most impact. Also, your company name is already listed in the “from label” of your email, so there’s no need to take up even more space by repeating it in the subject line.

2. Use a call-to-action (CTA)
Similar to the content inside your email, the subject line can be even more effective if you tell your readers what you want them to do. CTAs are important because they lead people to take action, such as open, click, sign up or buy. It may be difficult to work in a call-to-action every time, especially with limited characters, but try to do so occasionally.

3. Be topical and have a sense of urgency
Successful subject lines should catch your reader’s attention by being fun, catchy, surprising, and/or informative. A subject line that includes an idea, event or story in the news or pop culture may engage your readers quickly—Just ensure it relates to the content of your email. Use a sense of urgency as well, or a include a limited time frame in which the subscriber has to act on your email, such as “10 hours only” or “3 days left.”

4. Get personal
Try personalizing your subject line with a first name, location, past purchase, etc. to grab attention. A word of caution about using your reader’s name in the subject line: Some people like it and will gladly open your email, others will find it too Big Brotherish (as if someone’s watching them) and may be turned off. Also be aware that not everyone signs up with his or her real name (ex: Queen of the land!), and that can result in some strange, funny and/or peculiar personalization.

5. Use something other than “free”
The word “free,” and the phrase “free shipping” is one of the most commonly used phrases in subject lines. While “free” can be compelling, your email also needs to stand out amongst the other “free” subject lines. Use a variety of words, offers and promotions, and always include relevant content to hook your readers. The same can be said for using symbols in your subject lines; less is more.

With these guidelines in mind, let’s take a look at few subject lines that have shown up in our inboxes recently:

As always, test your subject lines by including a variety of calls-to-action, personalization, or even symbols in your subject lines, and let us know what works best for you!

Want to get started with email marketing and create your own compelling subject lines? Try VerticalResponse!

© 2014, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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