email marketing subject lines

Five unconventional ways to write email subject headlines that work

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Email is the best weapon you have in your content marketing arsenal. This is not a secret. And because it isn’t a secret, you’re competing against all of the other content marketers who are sending out emails. They’re all vying for the same thing: reader attention in the inbox.

For a beginners guide to email marketing click here.

According to MailChimp, an 18-22 percent open rate, depending upon your industry, is a fair estimate. That means 80 percent of your emails never even get opened! Talk about fierce competition.

So how do you compete, both against other marketers and the rest of the distractions that keep people from opening your email? Perhaps a little email subject line magic will make the difference.

So use the following techniques once in a while, thinking of them as an additional approach to your already standard email subject line plan. Track your open rates, and see if you find one that works. Use it for the important emails, the ones that you really want your readers to open.

Remember that these techniques are unconventional — you don’t use them every time you send an email.

1. Forget title case and go casual.

When friends email you, they tend to not write a formal title as their subject line. Instead, they approach the entire email as a casual conversation, including the subject line. So, instead of:

This Is The Best News You’ll Hear All Day

you might try to mimic a more personal and friendly approach:

This is the best news you’ll hear all day or even this is the best news you’ll hear all day

When you use title case and make sure each word starts with an uppercase letter, you are basically announcing to the recipient that this is a Serious Business email and that they could skip it if they wanted to in favor of reading email from people they know in person.

Click the link to learn how to create an email marketing drip campaign.

2. Just say “hey”.

Sounds like a bad idea, but using “hey” as the subject line — and only the word “hey” — brought in millions of campaign dollars for the Barack Obama campaign. Why would something as vague and careless as the word “hey” work so well?

You can’t deny that who was sending it played a part, but imagine if your favorite web app or startup, in the midst of all the typical marketing emails, sent you an email with a subject line of “hey.”

Are they talking specifically to you? Is there an important announcement? Am I going to be let in on some kind of secret?

“Hey” is incredibly casual and suggests a close familiarity, like a friend just trying to grab your attention for something you probably want to know. It’s the kind of email subject line people dash off when in a hurry to send a message to someone they know.

3. Use the recipient’s name.

People respond to their name being used. In Dale Carnegie’s popular How To Win Friends And Influence People, he wisely notes that the sweetest sound each of us hears is…our own name. When we hear our own name, studies have shown that our brain lights up and we start paying attention.

Hopefully, you have collected at least the first name of the person when they sign up for your email list. If you haven’t, this method won’t work. But if you have, you can send out an email subject that speaks to them directly. For example:

Jerry, I found exactly what you were looking for.

is stronger than

We found what you were looking for.

4. Lose the hive mentality.

Take a look at the email subject example above, the one for Jerry. Notice a key difference?

One subject uses “I” while the other uses the much more benign and vague “we”. Again, this is about making the email seem personal. When you say “we” it’s an email from some big group made up of who knows what. But when you say “I”, it’s from a person.

I like to open emails from people.

I’m not as keen on opening emails from groups.

Think of your email subject lines in terms of an “I” speaking to a specific “you” and you’ll tap into that personal email aura.

5. Speak conversationally.

Think of your email subject line as the opening salvo of a casual conversation, just like you might have with a friend. The start of a conversation means that the recipient needs to reply. For an email, that inspires a click and an open. Sometimes those perfect email subject lines that perfectly summarize what the email is about are their own downfall. Why open if you can tell from the subject line you’re not interested?

By speaking conversationally once in a while, you force the recipient’s hand a bit, and get them to open the email so they know what is expected of them next.

I thought about calling you, but changed my mind vs. We want to hear your thoughts. Please take our survey.

After yesterday’s response, I knew I had to apologize vs. We apologize for running out of our sale item.

Which of these feels like the start of a conversation? The first two examples make a person think “why would they have called me? What are they apologizing for?”, making them click with curiosity.

Speaking conversationally is tricky; if done too often or carelessly, it might sound like spam. And, again, there is value in your subject line being clear about what the email is.

Spammers are familiar with these approaches. They know how to seem personal and get people to bite. That is why it is important to use these as part of a more typical email approach so your readers learn to trust you as a sender.

Once again, unconventional means unusual, and that means you should use them sparingly. Unconventional is powerful. Conventional is less so. And if you use the same technique over and over, you turn it into something conventional and expected and strip it’s power. Getting an email from you every week with the “hey!” subject line makes you seem lazy, not intriguing.

Further reading: 8 Tips To Help You Set Up A Killer Email Drip Campaign

Update: I send emails to all my subscribes when I write a blog post. So when I was figuring out the messaging for this particular article I saw something interesting.

I wanted to prove my point that unconventional subject headlines work so I sent out this, “I need to apologize for something” – it had a 62.9% open rate, a 81% increase from my list average.

But things got tricky. Email subject headlines aren’t the only part of the email that users see in their inbox. So in the first draft of my email I gave away the reason I had to apologize because subscribers could read it on the email snippet.

Knowing that I changed up the copy of the beginning of the email. If I didn’t, I’m pretty sure the open rate wouldn’t have been so high.

email subjects works

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