14 ways to make your email subject lines compellingly clickable

Love to increase the open rate of your emails? Discover 14 ways you can make your email subject lines compellingly clickable.

Isn’t it funny how the smallest things can be so intimidating? A creaky door in the dark… the thought of a stinging insect trapped in a sleeping bag with you… writing an email subject line.

When it comes to writing marketing copy, nothing is scarier than those few words that either jump out of a crowded inbox and say “open me!” or go ignored (or worse get your email deleted without being opened).

14 ways to make your email subject lines compellingly clickable

With 21 years of award-winning copywriting experience under our belt, we’ve got an advantage over most people – we know how to craft email subject lines that are compellingly clickable. So we thought we’d share 14 of our tips to help you.

1) Write your subject line last

Your subject line may be the first thing your recipient reads, but we recommend leaving it to last when writing your email. Only tackle your subject line once you’ve got a full scope of what your email covers, and the key points it makes.

2) Make it relevant to your reader

Don’t make the classic mistake of trying to write a clever subject line, or one that appeals to you; you’re not the one (hopefully) opening your email!

Instead, put yourself in the shoes of the recipient and think about what they care about. What’s going to appeal to them? What words will they respond to? What benefit can you hint to to let them know this is an email THEY want to read?

3) Make it short

You don’t have space to say much in an email subject line – and you have even less if someone opens it on a mobile phone. Most inboxes will show around 60 characters of your subject line, and a phone will show about 30. So get your point over in as few words as possible.

4) Start with your most important words

With so few words available, we recommend starting with the most important. That way if your subject line is cut off, the most compelling point will still be conveyed. So for example, instead of saying:

It’s May! Time to spring clean your house and claim your free mop

You might say:

Claim your free mop and get started on your spring clean!

5) Cut out dead words

You also don’t have time to include ‘dead words’ – words that don’t add to your message and just take up space. So try to resist starting a subject line with these words:

  • Hello
  • How are you?
  • Us again!
  • It’s Friday
  • We hope you like this

6) Set the tone for your email

While the main aim of your subject line is to encourage people to open your email, it’s not the only job it has to do. Your subject line should also prepare the recipient for the message and tone of your email.

Get this wrong, and you could find the wrong people opening your email, or raising expectations that you can’t fulfil.

For example, if you send an email about increasing your prices with the subject line “You’ll never believe our news!” you’ll probably have quite a few disappointed customers.

So don’t be tempted to bait people to open your emails with shock subject lines. Instead set the tone for your email with an appropriate and relevant subject line.

7) Be single minded

Your email may include a number of points, products or actions, but resist the temptation to make your subject a list of all topics. Instead think of what unifies your email and focus on that.

For example, if you’re sending out details of current products or offers, your subject line could refer to a spring sale, or new spring products. If you’re announcing a number of structural business changes, your subject line might talk about streamlining your services.

Try to always consider your topic in light of a benefit to your recipient though. Is there a positive angle or spin you can create from the email topic(s)?

8) Use keywords in your subject lines

We’re used to thinking of our web copy in terms of SEO keywords, and the same principle should apply to your email subject lines.

Yes, no one is going to be searching for your email on Google, but they may at some point need to hunt through their inbox to find it. And you want to make it easy for them.

So think about what search term someone might use to find your email, and get those keywords into your subject line if you can.

9) Add a name

If you have been recommended by someone, or refer to someone well known or familiar to your recipients in your email, use their name in your subject line. This will stand out in the recipient’s inbox, and encourage them to open. Here are some examples:

  • Paul asked me to email you about Sunday
  • Confirm our meeting with Sarah Jones
  • Join our free webinar with Richard Branson
  • Kary Fisher recommended this book

If you want, you can even include the recipient’s name in your email subject line:

  • Here’s an offer for you Hannah
  • Please confirm your meeting Hannah
  • Hannah: here are our new terms and conditions
  • Your latest spring picks have arrived Hannah

However, we’d caution you on using this wisely – you don’t want to sound spammy, or look like you’re trying a trick to increase results. And if you’re automating your emails you certainly don’t want to end up with subject lines that look like these:

  • Here’s an offer for you <first_name>
  • Please confirm your meeting unknown
  • *invalid field*: here are our new terms and conditions
  • Your latest spring picks have arrived ‘loyal customer’

10) Include a deadline

If your email is time-sensitive, make sure your recipients know by indicating in the subject line – preferably adding the deadline. Here are some examples to demonstrate what we mean:

  • Expires today
  • Last chance to book
  • Booking closes at 3pm
  • Meeting booked for Sunday

11) Use a call to action

If it’s important the recipient acts on your email, let them know in the subject line. Again, here are some examples:

  • Please respond today
  • Confirmation needed
  • Please read
  • Reserve your place

We recommend using these and the name and deadline examples above wisely, however. If every email you send has a note of urgency or demands response, you’ll desensitise your recipients (much like the boy who cried wolf). And when an occasion arises that you really DO need a response, or have an urgent deadline, they won’t trust your subject line.

12) DON’T use all capitals

It can be tempting, if you want your subject line to stand out, to write it in capitals. However, this MAKES IT LOOK LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING. It’s also not as easy to read.

13) Proof your subject line cold

Once you’ve written a subject line you’re happy with, leave it for a while and come back to it later. It’s always hard to proof read something you’ve just written as you’ll be blind to any errors. You also can get attached to ideas or words that, when you review cold, you realise don’t work.

So always make sure you proof your subject lines, but give them a few hours, or even an overnight, first.

14) Test your subject lines

If your email provider allows AB testing, write two or more subject lines for each email to see which one gets better results. Over time you’ll start to get a sense of what your audience responds to.

Even if your email provider doesn’t have that ability, look for other ways you can test your subject lines to get a clearer idea of how you can increase your open and click through rates.

How to get the rest of your emails right too

Of course getting someone to respond to your subject line and open your email is just the start – you also need to ensure your email hits the mark.

If you’d like more email marketing advice, we recommend reading the following articles:

Hannah Martin is the founder of Talented Ladies Club and an award-winning copywriter with over 21 years’ experience working for some of the world’s biggest ad agencies and brands.