5 Golden Rules: Subject Lines For Your Email Campaigns


Email Marketing Manhattan

Subject Lines: 5 Golden Rules you should always follow in email campaigns

Whether or not you have a small list of 100 members or a massive one of thousands, it can be really tough to create a compelling subject line for email campaigns. Despite common myth among marketers, email marketing remains one of the most effective means of reaching customers and maintain loyalty and relationships. When used in an inbound manner and done in a way that adheres to CAN-SPAM guidelines, email can be an amazing way of qualifying leads, delivering offers and specials, and generating new business from customers who have indicated that they want to buy from you.

However, the first and often biggest hurdle is the subject line.

The subject line is the very first thing that the view of an email sees, even before a piece of graphic creative. Due to the urgent nature of email communications, our eyes are drawn to the subject line first and foremost. The subject line is also the element of the email that is scrutinized by email services and ISPs for spam.

Subject lines, therefore, should contain these 5 elements –

They should always contain an alert word or words

  • These should include words like Alert, Breaking News, Update, and Don’t Miss. The obvious intent is to communicate urgency and that the reader should click through and open the mail.
  • Pro Tip – DO NOT include words such as “Sale”, “Save” or “Free”. ISP filters, such as Gmail’s promotions tab, remove mails with these words in the subject, putting them into the promotions tab (in the case of Gmail) or into trash.

They should always connect to the recipient

This element of the copy should contain words that focuses on the value offered to the recipient. Example phrases can include:

  • “This exclusive eBook is just for you”
  • “A special preview of <upcoming product>, just for you”
  • “<Our founder> has for you a personal message”
  • “Enjoy this recipe and eBook as out gift to you”

Keep it short and sweet

Make sure that the subject line is relevant, and that it’s short and sweet. Subject lines should be kept between 30 and 60 characters – this is especially important in the age of mobile. Some examples:

  • “Just in: 7 New Tips For Your Workout”
  • “News: Best practices for better sales leads”
  • “Don’t Miss: 1/11/11 Video w/<thought leader> – Max Your Day”


They should always be substantial in what they offer

There should always be a substantial newsletter, blog article, offer or video either embedded in the email or leading to a landing page. And this does not mean selling. One of the golden rules of email marketing is that all selling should take place on a web page where a conversion can take place. Following the golden rule of content marketing, an email should contain 90% relevant content and 10% promotional content. Sales emails are fine, but within reason.

They should always be smart and creative

Funny, smart and creative subject lines that fit you brand are gold. Plays on words, clever and dry jokes that are in good taste and copy that grabs interest will immediately draw interest. This author likes testing subject lines with colleagues around the water cooler. If it draws a chuckle and raises a pleased eyebrow, it’s worth trying.

Note that not every email subject line will contain all of these elements (you only have up to 60 characters, after all), but you should keep all of these elements in mind as you prepare your email campaign to go out.

Don’t forget to A/B test as usual, and to track your usual successes and failures for future learnings.

Do you have questions? Reach out to us for any questions about email and other forms of digital marketing.

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