It’s hard, I know. Taking an involved topic and turning it into a tiny bite-sized chunk is a challenge. And it’s one that marketers face every day with email subject lines.
Email subject lines are like pitches on steroids. Only you don’t have 30 seconds and you can’t use facial expressions and hand gestures to get your point across. Instead, you’ve got 10 words on a screen – and more like 3 seconds – to get the click.
Subject lines have a lot of power to make or break your entire campaign. If you can’t convince people to click, they won’t read your email. So how can we understand what constitutes a good subject line to get better conversions?
Here are four common email subject line mistakes that are hindering your email open rates and simple ways to turn them around and get more people to read your email.
Mistake 1: Asking a Yes or No Question
Everyone scans their inbox the same. We all want to know who is emailing us, what they want and how much time it will require.
The problem here isn’t really with the question. Asking questions can be a good thing, if you can get people thinking about something in a way they hadn’t before.
But a question with a simple Yes or No answer is dangerous. Chances are pretty good that your email is headed for the trash. Why? Because Yes or No emails don’t add any value. Readers already have the answer: either yes or no. Why should they click to read more?
Let’s take this example subject line: “Missing Too Many Project Deadlines?”
First off, my immediate response is “No”. Even if I say “Yes”, there’s no incentive to go for the click. Yes, I’m missing deadlines, and reading this email will make me miss another one. Delete.
Turn the subject line into something that makes readers ask a question instead of answer one. It’s much better to create a question in their minds than to make them answer yours.
For instance, try replacing the subject line above with “Idea to nail every project deadline”.
There’s no question with this subject line. Instead it raises a question: What idea? How can I nail my deadlines? Even using the word “idea” will get readers thinking about the possibilities.
It also identifies that a problem exists, and then hints at a solution. All it takes is one click to find out.
Let’s take a look at some other subject lines that create knowledge gaps:
- Now that you’re settled in…
- An Amazing Opportunity!
- Quick request
What’s this amazing opportunity? Now that I’m settled in, what’s going to happen? Quick request for what?
I want to know, and so will your readers. All you have to do is follow these examples and use subject lines that raise a question, rather than ask one.
Mistake #2. Giving it all away
Did you ever watch the game show “The Price is Right”?
Contestants try to guess the price of some household item so they can win a prize that’s hidden behind a door. What makes this show work is that nobody knows what’s back there. It could be a big prize or it could something small. The magic is in having to guess prices in order to find out.
Like the game show, the inherent role of subject lines is to act as a teaser. You want to keep readers guessing about the longer message that lies inside.
If you tell them everything right up front, you leave no more surprises. What incentive do they have to click through if you’ve already told them everything they need to know?
Tell readers just enough so that they know what to expect when they open your email, without saying everything right up front. Be careful not to over-promise. Your email should clearly follow through and deliver on the subject line so that it doesn’t backfire on you.
Take these examples:
- “The Guide to Staying Fit This Summer”
- “How Healthcare Companies Can Stay Ahead of the Competition”
- “At a stand still? Here’s how to get started with Canva”
All of these subject lines work well because they create anticipation. If you create subject lines like this readers will know what to expect, and want to click through to find out more.
Mistake #3. Making it too long and formal
Subject lines that capture peoples’ attention are ones that are short, friendly, and informal.
What happens with subject lines that are too long is that they start sounding like a newsletter title or some technical mumbo jumbo. Long subject lines, especially ones that ‘Capitalize The First Letter‘, tend to sound formal and distant.
People want to feel special and important. Nobody wants to be another number on your list of contacts. Using long subject lines that are formal and impersonal can encourage this impression. Remember that you’re speaking to a real person at the other end of the email.
Long subject lines also put the onus on the reader. By their very nature they make readers work harder to uncover the value. After about the 10th word, “Increase Your Qualified Leads” becomes “blah, blah, blah”. With the hundreds of emails people receive, it’s easy for people to glaze over messages, and the harder you make them work for it upfront, the harder they’ll think they have to work if they accept your click.
The trick here is to make your subject lines long enough, without being too long. Try to write in a tone that’s warm and inviting, as if you were a friend or family member.
Consider these two examples:
- “How To Use Canva To Create an Infographic That Goes Viral”
- “Make your first infographic”
The first example does a good job of communicating the value that’s inside, but the use of the initial capital letters, the mention of Canva early on, and the promise of contagious content make it sound stiff and self-promotional. It also sounds too good to be real. This subject line is about Canva first, and the recipient second.
The second subject line makes a personal connection. It comes across casually and puts all the attention on you, the reader. It reads like you’re quietly jabbing a good friend: “Come along with me and let’s have some fun” It gently urges the reader to open it.
Mistake #4. No follow-through
Even though this point has to do with the body of your email, it’s worth mentioning that the content of your email and your subject line should fit together like a hand in a glove. In other words, deliver on your subject line’s promise.
The need to be unique can have marketers really stretching to push the envelope. I mean, we all want the perfect subject line that gets the click, right? The problem is you’ll have a hard time keeping readers engaged if you set the wrong expectations for what comes next.
Just remember that if you promise people an apple, they’re expecting an apple and not an orange. Even the smallest mismatch will create confusion and cause people to unsubscribe.
Subject lines and email messages are like landing pages and ads. If you want to make them work, they have to work together.
For instance, if your subject line is “Best color trends for fall”, people are expecting an email that talks about new fall colors, not “the latest color trends” or “how to work make color work for fall”.
Even the smallest details make a big difference. If you use the word “tips” in your subject line, make sure you use that same word in your email, rather than “guide”, “pointers”, or “ideas”.
Once you’ve written a handful of intriguing, click-worthy subject lines, give your email another read to see which one sets the right expectations for readers once they accept your click.
(NOTE: Being clear on who you’re selling to is the fastest way to boost email conversions. Get my 3-step Customer Avatar Worksheet to make sure you’re saying what people need to hear.)