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Top Secret: Get Your E-mail Opened When it comes to e-mail marketing, it's all about the subject line. Make the most of yours.

By Derek Gehl

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As the economy continues along its unsteady path, many small-business owners have been asking me what they can do to keep their businesses financially healthy over the coming months.

I recommend you start by leveraging the tools you already have, and making sure you're using them as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Take your e-mail marketing, for instance. When you stay in touch with your regular customers and subscribers--and send them valuable information--they'll view you as a credible resource, an expert in your field, and most important, someone who's watching out for their best interests.

And they'll reward you with their loyalty (and continued purchases).

But first you have to get those e-mails opened.

With floods of e-mail arriving every hour, most people are ruthless about deleting anything they even suspect won't interest them. Not only that, they're also just as likely to report unwanted e-mails as spam as they are to delete them. So if you're not writing compelling subject lines that get the e-mails opened, all your hard work is lost.

Here are five tips for writing effective e-mail subject lines that can easily double the open (and click-through) rates on your next e-mail.

Tip #1: Use personalization for added attention
Sending out an e-mail with a personalized subject line is the equivalent of calling someone's name in a crowd: It has that same power to grab his attention.

By now, using the recipient's name in your subject line is pretty standard. But that's only the start. You can take personalization further by adding another personal detail to the subject line, like the city your customers live in.

Start with a subject line that looks like this: "Janet, want to get out of the city this weekend?"

Then make it really compelling by adding personal details: "Janet, want to get out of Tucson this weekend?"

A DoubleClick survey found that the most important factor in generating a response was offering a product the recipients wanted at the time. You can accomplish that by segmenting your market, allowing you to personalize the offers or the information in your e-mails to make them timely and relevant.

That means collecting as much data as possible on each person on your mailing list. Then you can create separate campaigns that will appeal to each segment of your audience (e.g., subscribers; people who have purchased once; and people who have purchased more than once).

If your offer is highly personalized, your subject lines can be, too.

And the great thing is that there are plenty of tools out there that can manage and merge in your data to create targeted e-mail campaigns. (We like

Tip #2: Keep your subject lines short
Here's a test: Take a look at the subject lines in your inbox. Are there any that stand out more than others? Any that you read first or get you interested in learning more? Chances are it's the shorter subject lines that grab you, right?

It's actually been proven that subject lines with 41 characters or under get higher opening and click-through rates than longer ones. So keep it short and sweet. You don't need to explain in detail what the e-mail is about in the subject line; you just need to give enough information to make people want to open the e-mail to read more. E-mails alerting recipients to a regular subscription product or downloadable information can be longer--test and see what works.

Make sure you put your benefit, offer or most important element in the first few words of the subject line, too. That way, if someone's e-mail program cuts off the end of the subject line (which is pretty common) you'll still get your main point across.

Tip #3: Keep the formatting simple and understated
If you sent an e-mail to a friend, would you type your subject line like this?

"Free Beer And Pizza -- You're Invited!!"

Or how about like this?


It's pretty unlikely, right? So why would your e-mails to your customers and subscribers have subject lines that were formatted like that?

The more your subject lines look like personal e-mails from friends, family members or business associates, the more likely it is that they'll be opened. The more they look like a hard-sell sales pitch, the less effective they'll be.

So avoid capitalization, exclamation marks and dollar signs, which can increase the chances of having your messages flagged as spam, and will be sure to set off warning bells with your recipients.

Tip #4: Use a compelling angle to get your readers interested
Of course, getting your readers to open your e-mails requires more than personalization and formatting. You'll still need to come up with an interesting angle that grabs your customers' attention and makes them want to open the e-mail.

Here are some ideas for subject lines that we've had success with in the past:

  • Make an announcement or share news: People want to be the first to find out new things, especially if your site covers a specific industry.
  • Make your reader curious: Suggest that the reader is missing out on an important offer or piece of information. When you use this technique, make sure you leave something to the imagination. For example: "Paul, are you making this common mistake?"
  • Create a sense of urgency: Consider creating a sense of urgency in your subject line by limiting time ("Frank, only three days left") or quantity ("Mary, only 250 copies available").
  • Emphasize benefits: Another powerful approach for your subject line is to state how your readers will benefit from your e-mail. If you can tell them how they're going to save money, save time, make their lives easier, etc., by opening and reading your message, you'll have the most success.

Tip #5: Make sure your subject line relates to the content of the e-mail
Nobody likes to be fooled or tricked, so make sure your subject line is related to your actual message--in fact, it's a legal requirement under the CAN-SPAM Act that the subject line be authentic and not misleading.

If your subject line says "Mary, three ways to save money," you need to make sure you actually are talking about that, and preferably within the first few lines. Otherwise, your visitors will feel cheated, and that will hurt your credibility.

And don't forget about the preview pane. Statistics from MarketingSherpa show that 26.6 percent of consumers read e-mails that way. And 69 percent of people reading e-mail at work do so with the preview pane turned on. You risk losing those readers if you don't follow up your subject line almost immediately in the body of the e-mail.

It's time worth spending to come up with subject lines that will entice people to open your e-mails. Those five or six words are vital to your business because they connect you with your most valuable potential customers. So never stop testing them and trying new ones.

Derek Gehl is's e-business columnist and CEO of the Internet Marketing Center. He's an internationally renowned internet marketing expert whose techniques and strategies for building a successful online business have been implemented by hundreds of thousands of businesses worldwide. His comprehensive internet marketing guide, The Insider Secrets to Marketing Your Business on the Internet, has been an online bestseller for 10 years.

Derek Gehl is the CEO of the Internet Marketing Center, an internet marketing firm that has helped thousands of people learn to start and run their own online businesses. IMC hosts a new Search Marketing Lab Forum, where members have their strategy questions answered by search marketing specialists.

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