[How-To] Write Email Subject Lines People Can’t Resist Opening

“You have just 3-4 seconds to grab your readers’ attention and interest them enough to open and read your email”

In many ways, the subject line is the most critical part of an email. It sparks action. It can make people click.

Think about it: Even on social media, an eye-catching headline can draw tons of comments — many from people reacting off the headline alone.

Subject lines can also shape how people digest the message of the email itself by creating context and expectations — all through a vivid first impression.

So how do you start to shape expectations and earn interest right from the subject? You can rely on a couple of tried-and-true formulas. You should also mull how accurately and succinctly your headline summarizes the central takeaway of your email.

To help you get started, here are three methods you can try to write better blog headlines and earn more clicks.

Tip #1: Drop Your Word Count

Most of us already try to use this method when writing headlines, we just don’t think about it. Getting practice makes your approach more deliberate while teaching you how to skim your content for an accurate central takeaway.

The method works like this:

  1. Identify a central thesis, argument, idea or purpose of the article
  2. Identify two to four main sub-points or pieces of evidence for the main point
  3. Use the above two items to summarize your email in less than 200 words
  4. After writing your summary, edit it down to 100 words
  5. Edit your 100 word summary down to 50 words
  6. Edit your 50 word summary into a single sentence
  7. Take your sentence-length summary and condense it further into a headline below 90 characters
  8. See if you can condense the message into just a few words using less than 65 characters
  9. Re-read your 200 word summary to see if you left anything important out, then come up with an alternative <70 character headline
  10. Repeat steps 7-9 to come up with a few alternative options

This method may seem tedious, but it’s good practice for teaching your brain to recognize thought processes we take for granted.

Tip #2: Use Headline Formulas That Earn Tons of Clicks

Publishers like Buzzfeed, Upworthy and Bored Panda don’t earn millions of clicks a week by coincidence. They have writing down to a science, including the practice of writing juicy headlines that generate stampedes of clicks.

Based on research and performance data, here are a few of the most successful three-word headline phrases these publishers use to generate huge, highly engaged audiences:

  • will make you
  • this is why
  • can we guess
  • only X in
  • the reason is
  • are freaking out
  • X stunning photos
  • tears of joy
  • is what happens

Other common traits of popular headlines include:

  • Using numbers to imply a list (“10 Reasons Why…”)
  • Referring to the audience in the second-person (“You Won’t Believe…”)
  • Implying emotion (“This Hilarious Piece of Advice…”)
  • Lead with a strong, commanding action verb (“Take Control of Your Day by…”)

There are also many other tried-and-true  headline writing formulas worth experimenting with.

Now, when looking at these lists, some may refer to this data-based approach to writing email subject titles as “making clickbait.” Those people would be correct.

Even though clickbait-ish headlines have become a punchline, they still work. A post like “Watching This Baby See Her Dad for the First Time Will Make You Smile” sets a concrete promise to the reader for what they’ll get out of the email.

Tip #3: Compromise by Combining Headlines From Methods 1 and 2

Rand Fishkin of Moz offers a convenient way to resolve the conflict between headline descriptiveness and viral appeal.

He suggests creating at least one headline using each of the above methods. Then, try to combine them.

Here’s an example:

  • Descriptive Headline: “Implied Consent Laws Demand Choice Between Incriminating Yourself and Mandatory Jail Time”
  • Sensational Headline: “This One Weird Trick Could Get You Out of a DUI, But You May Spend the Night in Jail!”
  • Combination: “Here’s What Happens When You Delay Your Breathalyzer Test in an Implied Consent State”

Now, an even better headline might read: “5 Reasons to Delay Your Breathalyzer Test in an Implied Consent State”. Why? Because they then know they don’t have to read the whole article to get the gist. They can just read the five subheadings in quick succession.

That particular headline requires the article to be broken down in list format, though, so consider the how you might use the structure of your article to create an appealing headline before you start writing.

A Few EXTRA Tips to Help You Write Better Headlines

  • Look up synonyms to replace weak words with stronger ones or multiple words with a single descriptive one
  • Use strong verbs
  • Avoid using “being” verbs like “is” and “are”
  • Use CTR to gauge how clickable your headline is; make note of high benchmarks to learn from them
  • If you have a high CTR but a high bounce rate for your email, that’s a sign your headlines need to more accurately reflect your content
  • Beware of spam trigger words

Headline writing is a tricky dance, but when you recognize what’s important, it becomes that much easier. Keep your audience’s valuable time in mind, promise them something great, don’t misrepresent the post, and study your own data to discover what works!

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