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 Work at Home Moms > Marketing Your Business Through Email > Lesson 7: Creating Compelling Subject Lines (That Will Ensure Your Emails Get Opened)

Marketing Your Business Through Email: Lesson 7: Creating Compelling Subject Lines (That Will Ensure Your Emails Get Opened)

When we send out emails to potential customers, we want to avoid having them hit the “delete” button on their mail client. The goal is to get our emails opened, read, and acted on. The problem is that as Internet-based Moms marketing our products, we are trying to reach a fairly jaded, Spam-wary group of consumers. Recent statistics show that the average click-through rates for email advertising are declining, in spite of the fact that the amount of money spent on email advertising is increasing each year.

More companies are sending out more emails, but less customers are responding to their communications. The days of the novelty of email advertising are long gone, and unless you have an approach that is much better than your competitors (and there are many out there!), your emails will end up in the “deleted items” box.

How much is too much? A recent survey of those online showed that most people believe that they receive too many email offers in their mailbox. The average number of email offers they received? 110 per week.
Source: Forrester Research

The first point of contact with potential clients is the subject line of your emails. This subject line is vital for several reasons:

-It has to get past Spam filters (see lesson five for details)

-It has to reach an audience that is literally bombarded with email advertising (65% of the data sent through most ISPs are advertising according to one recent study) and convince them to open your email

-It creates an initial impression about your business

You have 40-60 letters (roughly eight to ten words) to accomplish all of the above. This is why the art of writing excellent subject lines is one that takes time and practice. But don’t feel that it’s impossible; by following some of the tips here, yours will be better than your competition’s from the start, and your response rates will be higher than average.

Rule number one: offer them something they actually want.

If you’ve read our previous lessons, then you’re way ahead of the crowd of other people marketing their products out there. You’ve done your homework, targeted your audience, and created an opt-in list. You’ve already won the most important battle of all, because simply put, people don’t want to receive emails that offer something they aren’t interested in. This concept should be engraved in stone, and memorized by every serious marketer, because ignoring this rule creates annoyance, anger, and a negative perception of your firm that will linger long after the email is gone.

You could create the most powerful marketing message on earth, create a killer subject line, and your email will be instantly deleted if the reader isn’t interested in the topic it addresses. If it’s wintertime in Minnesota, you’ll have a poor response rate if you are trying to sell suntan lotion! And you won’t sell car insurance to someone who can’t drive.

Conversely, people are interested in learning about topics that address their needs, and if you’ve done your research, and your emails and subject lines reflect those needs, your response rates will be much higher than the average.

Know your customers, and write subject lines that demonstrate that you do. Use their language. Are you selling software to IT firms? Then sit down, and think about how your software solves their specific problems. Write your email body with compelling copy (see lesson four for tips). Now, take the longest time of all, and create a subject line that summarizes the main solution to their problem. “Great software promotion” will have a much lower response rate than “Decrease your server downtime with monitoring software…”

Don’t over-generalize your subject lines. Hone them to a fine point. Instead of saying, “A Software Solution That Gets Results!” (What results? What type of solution?) try to be as specific as possible. A better subject line would be: “Our Server Monitoring Software Decreases Downtime by 15%”. This headline will get the attention of anyone in the software industry interested in saving time and preventing their server going down. They will click to see how it does this, and what features it contains.

Or, you may sell craft supplies. Instead of saying, “Great yarns at special prices!”, why not be a bit more specific? “Over 450 specialty yarns at a 10% discount over store prices” would tweak the interest of a knitter, and encourage her to learn more. Or better yet, offer information: “Ten Knitting Tips from Experts.” What knitter could resist opening that one?

Rule number two: personalize your subject lines.

In marketing test after marketing test, it has been found that personalized subject lines generate higher response rates than unpersonalized ones. While you won’t want to personalize every email you send out, it can be one method of increasing the chances that your emails will be opened.

I’m not suggesting dishonest Spam techniques (see rule three below) that imply that you are replying to a message they sent you, such as “Mary, here’s the information that you requested” (unless you want to anger Mary and ensure that your address is put on her ‘blocked’ list).

But to say, “Mary, Did You Know That Mortgage Rates Dropped to 2.5% This Week?” is likely to have a higher response rate that an unpersonalized subject line.

Another hugely successful method of personalization that is underused is addressing the reader’s role. “Information that IT managers need to know about server performance…” This subject line just got the attention of every IT manager on your list, since they aren’t used to getting emails addressed to them (and they feel slightly flattered that you singled them out), and targets your message to those most likely to use your service.

Rule three: pique their curiosity.

People are by nature highly curious, and a good subject line can play on this trait. “How to Increase Your Marketing List” is a subject line that will perk the interest of those who want and need to know this information. Maybe, just maybe, you will have information that they haven’t heard before, information that could be useful. Just be sure to deliver on your promise (see rule four) by offering them some useful tips or a great article along with your ad.

Another example of a classic use of curiosity is the famous headline, “Health Secrets Your Doctor Won’t Tell You.” What secrets? What is he keeping from me? These questions are all raised, and people will click to see the answer.

You can even use a targeted question to generate curiosity: “Do You Know How to Lower Your Monthly Car Payments?” or “Do You Know the Five Secrets to Finding a Life Partner?” will certainly interest people in those target markets, and they will be likely to click to find the answers.

Rule four: Be honest.

This rule goes hand-in-glove with rule number five (don’t Spam, or look like Spam). Honesty really is the best policy, both online and offline, and while guerrilla techniques may work for a short period of time, customers catch on fairly fast, and the same technique won’t work the second time.

Don’t create emails with dishonest subject lines (“Susie, about the conversation we had the other day…”, or “You’ve Just Received Payment…” or even blank subject lines). These are cheap tricks, and outrage customers. If you trick them with your subject line, how honest a firm can you be? Always use your true address; don’t hide or use fraudulent ones.

Finally, never promise something in the subject line that you don’t deliver. If you promise information on mortgage rates, give it in the email. If you promise a white paper, have a link to download it. If you ask a question in the subject line, answer it in your email.

If your subject lines are honest, and reflect what your email is really about, you will create a positive impression in customer’s minds, and they will be more interested in doing business with you. Reliability and concern about scams is one of the greatest issues identified as blocking customer willingness to buy online. Why destroy that from the start? Instead, be honest, clear, and target clients who want/need your product and service, and they will see you as honest, reliable, and someone they might be willing to do business with.

Rule five: Don’t look like Spam.

Spam is often mentioned by the increasingly sophisticated online consumer in the same tone of voice reserved for cockroaches and disease-carrying rats. It creates a very negative perception of a business, and many people automatically delete emails with Spammy subject lines (you know, the ones that scream, “MAKE $10,000 A WEEK WORKING FROM HOME!!!” , “Free Discount if you order today!” or “We Have an Offer For You”. Subject lines like this are guaranteed to cause instant deletion, and blocking of your email address.

Don’t let your email get unfairly lumped into the “Spam” box. Instead, try your utmost to avoid Spam words in your subject lines (see lesson five for more details), and be sure to only send out to a targeted, opt-in list. By creating targeted subject lines that address concerns that your audience has, you’ll avoid creating a headline that sounds like Spam, and increase the chances that your email will be opened.

Rule six: put the most important words first.

People can often vary how wide the subject lines in their mailboxes are, and sometimes only the first five or six words will be seen. Place the most crucial parts of your message at the beginning of the subject line, and chances are greater that people will see it and open it.

Instead of “We have a great promotion on software products”, you should write ”Monitoring Software Decreases Server Downtime in Recent Study.” Even if “recent study” gets cut off, you communicated in the first five words what your product is, and what it does.

Rule seven: test your results.

While we often test our emails, we forget to try different subject lines, and test them against one another. Often, simply changing a subject line can improve results dramatically-but will you know this if you don’t test them? There are many, many methods of tracking email response rates (hyperTracker and GetResponse! are just a few of the companies that offer this feature). Your bulk mailer company can also do this for you if you’ve hired one (and if you plan to do serious email marketing, this is highly recommended).

Researching what works, and what doesn’t, can help you increase the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, and save you a lot of wasted time. You’ll learn which subject lines cause customers to open your emails and read further. You should test any of your marketing online, because in the long run, it will save you money. You can stop and delete ineffective campaigns, and focus on those that work.

This was lesson two in our series, “Email Marketing Techniques.” Be sure to look for lesson three, in which we discuss “Email Marketing Strategies That Work”. 

Email Marketing Tutorial Contents:

1 Basic Rules of Email Marketing

2 Building Your Email Mailing List

3 Email Marketing Strategies That Work

4 How To Write Irresistible Emails

5 Avoiding SPAM Traps: Trigger Words That Filter Emails

6 The Real Truth About Direct Email and Email Lists

7 Creating Compelling Subject Lines (That Will Ensure Your Emails Get Opened)


These lessons have been brought to you by Sheri Waldrop, the owner of  Pro-Scribe Writing Service, specialists in creating online marketing communications. If you need information and assistance with your online growth, we can help.  You can find out more information by emailing us at


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