Email Subject Lines: Functionality Trumps Creativity

Writing email subject linesWriting email subject lines seems like a small task. After all, how hard can it be to write a 50-character phrase that will invite people to open your email? It shouldn’t be so bad. After all, I write emails to friends with subject lines that range from “hi” to “made from 100% pure kitten souls” all the time and they always seem to open my messages. Ho-hum… there’s nothing to it. Any first grader with a runny nose can do this.

Of course, as marketers, we have to write emails where thousands – if not millions – of dollars are at stake from time to time. Suddenly, those 50 characters take on a life of their own and writing that subject line feels like a pair of free throws that you have to make to win game 7 of the NBA Finals. The routine task of writing an inviting message becomes as mentally testing as a short putt to win the Masters. I know this because I’ve been in this situation dozens of times.

This is the part where even seasoned marketers and copywriters blow it.

In reality, writing subject lines should be a very straightforward thing. It’s the part where you give the receiver of the message an idea of what the rest of the email is all about. At the same time, the subject line should have a promise of value to give the reader an implied cue that there’s something in it for them if they open your email. Anything outside of those two functions is a bonus, i.e. being creative and using words that give your subject line a little more punch.

Thing is, a lot of email marketers and copywriters lose sight of the two main goals. They tend to focus on being creative and grabbing the reader’s attention more than giving them capsule-sized information. In the process, these marketers and writers lose track of what really matters in writing good email subject lines: leading your readers to the body of the email.

Let me tell you once and for all: I’m all for creativity and if you can write thought-provoking subject lines, that’s a heck of a skill you have there. However, if you’re missing out on giving your readers a good lead on what you want to tell them inside the email, you’re better off scratching creativity for functionality.

I feel that this whole push to try and be creative with email subject lines is triggered by a false belief: that the open rate measures the success of a subject line and an email campaign in general. Cuzin, let me tell you something: open rates only tell you half the truth. Your open rate is an indicator of how interesting your subject line is, but it doesn’t tell you how much the subject line impacts reader engagement.

A well-written subject line will be able to lead people into opening the email and once they start reading the body, readers should be able to see a clear connection between your subject line and the actual point of the email. If the relevance is strong and both the subject line and the email body click, the reader is more likely to perform your call-to-action, which is often an instruction to click on a link that leads to a landing page where you can convert your traffic into either leads or customers.

In short, click-through rates are a more accurate metric of how much you’ve succeeded with your subject lines. It shows that your subject line was not only an attention-grabbing tool, but a synergy to your campaign’s ultimate intent.

The pitfall of trying to sacrifice functionality for creativity is that you start coming up with misleading or seemingly irrelevant subject lines. If your email recipients feel even a bit suckered into reading an email, the most likely action for them is to flag your emails as spam and unsubscribe from your mailing list.

Remember, high open rates that were derived from misleading or irrelevant subject lines will only yield equally high spam scores and unsubscribe rates. Obviously, this isn’t the way to roll with any online business, so your best bet is to keep things clear and honest at all times.

Bottom line, provide your readers with a promise of value and give them an idea on what you want to talk about. If you can inject some creativity while you’re at it, by all means do it. If not, don’t pressure yourself over it and just stick to the basics. The art of writing email subject lines is quick to learn but it takes time to master. Follow my advice, and good things can’t be far ahead.

 

Later,

 

Andy “Just Write It” Jenkins

  • http://webdealswatch.com/ Ron Coachman

    Whats your average open rate Andy?

  • Richard Posner

    Hi Andy. As a purchaser of Video Boss, I appreciate your effort to over-deliver.

    With that authentic respect for your work, I hate to bring something up but my curiosity has gotten the best of me.

    You and other online marketing “geniuses” like Alex Mandossian are prolific bloggers and offer dynamite content.

    I, for one, receive your blog through an RSS feed. You blog and blog and it becomes hard to keep up with your not-so-short lessons.

    In fact, it becomes easier and easier to avoid reading your messages on the blog and hence direct emails, as well.

    Your comments section are often empty – as are Alex’s – so it seems you have not struck a gripping chord with subscribers. Many might take your knowledge and talents for granted.

    The question out of curiosity: Are you writing your blog more for the search engines and to solidify yourself as a go-to expert? Or are you, too, disappointed in the lack of comments to your beneficial blog content?

  • http://www.facebook.com/JayTreadwell Jay Treadwell

    There is probably correlation that could be drawn between the use of Black Hatt SEO:White Hat SEO and Creative & Misleading Subject Lines:Engaging & Truthful Subject Lines. Black Hat Gets quick results, but bad in the long run. “Crafty” Subject Lines may get opened more often, but the long term results are less than desirable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/troy.holder Troy Holder

    Thanks Andy! I trully appreciate this info and many of the other helpful resources you share. While I don’t normally comment on your post I constantly seeking ways to implement your advice. At a time when the price of info products are flying through the roof its refreshing that there are still REAL gurus offering great content as freemeiums!

  • http://www.facebook.com/troy.holder Troy Holder

    Thanks Andy! I trully appreciate this info and many of the other helpful resources you share. While I don’t normally comment on your post I constantly seeking ways to implement your advice. At a time when the price of info products are flying through the roof its refreshing that there are still REAL gurus offering great content as freemeiums!