Subject Lines: A Little Art, A Little Science

A great marketing or appeal email without a killer subject line is like a Marvel movie without Robert Downey Jr, or a Terminator movie without Arnie.

They might be awesome… but is anyone going to see them? 

It’s obvious that subject line copywriting is one of the most important skills in the trade. And with a little bit of art and a little bit of science, anyone can write subject lines that sound like *click*.

Here are 6 ideas to help you get started:

1. Remove personalisation, <Insert First Name>!

(Or get smarter with it)

The age of personalised subject lines is coming to an end. 5-10 years ago, throwing the customer’s name in a subject line was a given – it worked, according to science.

But we’re getting smarter.

Including name fields in a subject line may as well be the same as holding up a sign saying: “This email is from a company, not a real person!!!”

It’s not to say personalisation doesn’t have its place, but you should either get smart with it (include name fields more creatively than throwing it at the start or end) – or remove it entirely.

Name fields are still great in preview text, but it’s time to start removing personalisation from your email subject lines if you haven’t already.

Examples

Perfect for the one and only <First Name> <Last Name>!

Someone told me <First Name> was looking for this…

Happy Birthday Dear <First Name>!

2. Ask questions

Turning a statement into a question is a great way to freshen up subject lines?

(Why… yes it is!)

Questions by nature demand a response. Ask the right question and your audience will be clicking through to either find out the answer or provide it themselves.

And they’re a great trick to use if you’ve got a subject line already, but it’s a little bland. Just change the grammar slightly and you’ve got yourself an intriguing subject line that invites action.

Examples

Instead of: Our BIGGEST sale of the year!

Go with: Is THIS our biggest yet?

Instead of: Exclusive sale starts TODAY

Go with: Wait… the sale is EXCLUSIVE?

3. Go short. Go long.

There’s no right answer when it comes to subject line length… so try things out at either end of the spectrum and see what works!

One word is NOT too short. And 10 words is NOT too long. Although, we wouldn’t recommend going much longer (or shorter) than either end.

Picking one-word subject lines can be tricky… and even if they don’t quite make sense, that’s ok. All you’re trying to do is get people to click through!

On the other hand, going long with your subject line is a bit of an art. The common advice is to not go beyond the cut-off point of around 60 characters, but sometimes it can be intriguing when you can’t quite read the end of a sentence.

Don’t spend all your time at either end of the short-long spectrum, but don’t restrict your creativity either!

Examples

Jealous?

No. Way. 🫢

It all started back in 1983, when we launched the greatest sale EVER. Until…

<First Name>, we think history’s been leading up to this moment. You see this?

4. Be vague – bait clicks but don’t clickbait

Your goal is to toe the clickbait line without descending into the dark arts…

One way to make sure you’re baiting clicks without being clickbait is to be vague, but promise benefit for the reader when they open the email.

The combination of vague subject lines with implied benefits from reading the content is a well-known combination – and it works really well.

That’s because when you offer a benefit, but the reader doesn’t know what it is or how to get it, there’ll be only one way to find out: open the email!

When you’re writing your next batch of subject lines, be vague but promise benefit at the same time.

Examples

This deal doesn’t come around often

Oddest holiday of your life

Things changed for GOOD after this

We lied (kind of)

5. Be funny

Be funny. Got it. Easy.

Uh, yeah: engineering comedy from an office desk tends not to go well, which is why we’re not going to give you a bunch of specific ‘how to be funny’ advice.

Here, it’s all about just not taking yourself too seriously… and trusting your instincts.

Sometimes, your dumb first idea is actually going to perform the best, rather than your well-crafted copyedited version.

You’re competing for people’s attention with a few pixels on a screen, so anything that makes your audience smile is a winner.

Funny subject lines are topical, timely, not too long, and generally have something unexpected about them.

Examples

Are you procrastinating right now anyway? Check this out…

This email might (not) change your life, but?

What’s cookin’? (Hint: you’re the good-lookin’)

6. Play with your letters, emojis, punctuation… and even fonts

You haven’t got too many characters to play with in a subject line, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of them.

CAPITAL LETTERS are a great way to emphasise parts of your subject line.

aLtErNaTiNg CaPs make you sound weird. Hey, you might be into that.

Emojis are the spice of the copywriting world! Just don’t go overboard with them, because too many emojis and you know it’s definitely a marketing email. 🤣🤔💃

One more idea to use sparingly: Unicode fonts, which are essentially fonts you can use that will display even in email subject lines. They’re like alternate letters that almost all computers and devices will recognise.

Ⓣⓗⓔⓨ 𝓵𝓸𝓸𝓴 𝓪 𝓵𝓲𝓽𝓽𝓵𝓮 𝙡𝙞𝙠𝙚 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙨 – they’re quite striking, so don’t use them too much. But they are pretty fun and a nice copywriting trick to have in your toolbox!

There are plenty of Unicode text generators available online, like this one.

If you can get people to open your marketing emails at higher-than-average rates, you’re set for success. As we know, it all starts with your subject line copywriting.

You won’t always come up with something that’s funny, witty, eye-grabbing, and promising, all within about 40 characters… but having some tools at your disposal will certainly help.

Make your marketing emails *click* starting with these six ideas today!

If you’d like to take your eDM marketing to the next level, get in touch with the Linked Creative copywriting team.

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