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How to Write Better Email Subject Lines

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If emails with those subject lines landed in your inbox, would you open them? If I told you the first email came from President Obama's re-election campaign and the second was from Urban Outfitters, would that affect your answer?

No doubt, a subject line can make all the difference between someone opening your email, deleting it or marking it as spam. Like the two actual examples above, creative lines tend to stand out more in the inbox. But trust in the sender also matters -- sometimes even more -- when deciding whether to open or delete an email.

Consider the following three suggestions to help you increase your email open rate:

Related: Rules You Must Break to Expand Your Email Marketing List

1. Earn trust from your audience first -- then get creative.
While the subject line of an email is clearly important, the sender's identity is often more significant. If you receive an email from an individual or company that you recognize and trust, you are probably more likely to open it.

According to the Obama campaign team, the "Hey" subject line was one of the most effective in generating online donations because of its personal feel. But had that email been from a company or person you didn't know or trust, you might have deleted it or marked it as spam without even opening it.

Indeed, when content marketing site Copyblogger sent a message a few months ago with the subject line "Hey," one person commented on the blog post in the email: "Loved the subject line, but…ONLY opened it because I know and trust you and all Copyblogger associated businesses."

I had a similar experience recently. In my Friday email newsletter -- The Waldow Social Weekly -- I used "FREE BEER" as the subject line. My intent was not to deceive. Instead, it was to prove a point about the sender name mattering more than the subject line. Here is the reply I received from one subscriber: "I opened the FREE BEER because I knew it was your weekly email and I wanted to see inside -- the subject had no influence. That's what happens when you become a trusted resource or an expected one."

To create that level of trust, send only useful and timely emails and make sure the same sender name is used every time. This is not to say that you can't test different "from" names, but figure out what works best for you. If your audience is confident that your emails deliver value, they should open them regardless of the subject line.

Related: 4 Ways to Get Customers to Open Your Emails

2. Play to your audience.
The best subject line is often the one that resonates most with your audience. As social media strategist Jay Baer reminds us we are often not our own audience. So, you shouldn't necessarily choose subject lines that appeal to you.

There are not many organizations that could get away with some of the subject lines that Urban Outfitters uses, but it clearly knows its young target audience well. Over the past few years, I've received the following subject lines from the company:

  • Top This
  • A Dress For...
  • Color It In
  • 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
  • Introducing...

3. Don't guess. Test.
Consider split testing your subject lines. Most email service providers give senders the ability to test one subject line versus another to a small portion of their list. Instead of guessing which subject line is better for your audience, you can use data to inform your decision.

So, when crafting your next email subject line, think about your audience and consider the level of trust you've earned with them. Will they recognize whom the email is from? Will they open it based on your name alone? Or will you have to draw them in through a creative and compelling subject line?

Related: Productivity Lifesaver: The 5-Sentence Email

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