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Imagine you’re walking back home from work and you meet two strangers at different times, each of them asking for help. The first guy goes, “Hey, you! Come here and help me!” while the other starts with “Hey there, can you help me, please?” Whom would you be more inclined to help?
Most people would naturally help the second guy. How you start your conversations determines how much the other person is inclined to engage with them. You could say the same about email subject lines.
You're probably aware that your customers subscribe to dozens of newsletters and email lists. The emails you send them are only a small percentage of what they're getting in their inboxes. Soon, those inboxes will get flooded with more marketing emails than they get throughout the rest of the year. You'll need to bring your copywriting A-game to stand out so that your subscribers can't resist opening your email when they read the subject line.
Since nearly 50% of emails are opened on mobile devices, your subject lines need to catch the attention of your subscribers who are on the go. There's no one universal piece of advice on what to do to make your subject lines pop. If you're desperate for a set of guidelines, here's a tweet you might find helpful:
Copywriters, when coming up with email subject line ideas, think SHITBAG:— Dave Harland (@wordmancopy) February 5, 2019
S: SAY exactly what the email contains
H: HELP people solve a problem
I: INTRIGUE readers enough to click
T: TELL a story (or the start of it, at least)
B: BE funny
A: ASK a question
G: GET personal
How do email subject lines contribute to email campaign performance?
While many subscribers open their emails because of brand loyalty, the open rates of any email rely heavily on the subject line. In fact, 69% of email recipients have reported emails as SPAM solely based on the subject line, and 47% have opened email based on the subject line alone.
Subscribers make a judgment about how engaging the email copy will be for them right off the bat. A subject line needs to act as the cliffhanger in a story, which is carried forward by the email copy. The better it is in raising curiosity, the better your open rates should be. Now, let’s take a look at how to optimize your holiday email subject lines to woo those of your subscribers who open emails on their mobile devices.
How can you woo the “on-the-go” subscribers?
The holiday season is a time to be with family and close friends, so if your subscribers check their inboxes at all, they’ll most likely do it on their mobile devices. Because of that, you need to think about the differences between the desktop versions of popular inboxes and their mobile counterparts.
Count your words like you do your blessings
Now, let's talk about the length of your subject lines. When you prioritize subscribers who open emails on their mobile devices, you'd better keep your subject lines as short as possible. Mailchimp recommends using no more than nine words and 60 characters in their Email Marketing Benchmarks and Statistics by Industry. Remember that most email clients won't show more than 43 characters of a subject line in a mobile view, though.
Use the preheader to your advantage
If you have a lot to say in your subject line but feel constrained by the character recommendations, you can always use the preheader, also known as the preview text. While desktop users can only see the preheader text in Gmail, it's visible in every mobile email client like Mail (iOS), Samsung Email, and Gmail mobile app.
Create a sense of urgency
The holiday season is the most intense shopping time of the year. Your subject line needs to create a sense of urgency to attract as many customers as possible. Keywords like "20% off" or "Save $50" communicate a clear benefit, compelling users to open an email to get to know the details of the deal.
Rethink your approach to emojis
Emojis have come a long way: from being just a colon with brackets to represent a smiley — to a full-fledged lingo that makes communication without words possible. Whether or not to use emojis depends on the characteristics of your business, industry, and customers. They might increase open rates for certain types of businesses, but emojis might also put subscribers off in some industries. Search Engine Journal found that "emojis could create a negative sentiment for a brand."
What's the best way to find out if emojis resonate with your audience? Split tests, of course. Use identical subject line copy for two different emails, and add emoji to one of them. Ideally, you should run a few tests like this to ensure a clear preference among your audience.
12 holiday-themed subject lines to inspire you this season
Before you sit down and start drafting subject lines for the upcoming holiday season, here’s some food for thought. Take a look at 12 cherry-picked holiday email subject lines from the past.
- Something wicked from Fortnum’s – Fortnum and Mason
- Open... if you dare – GoldieBlox
- Better than candy - Bliss spa
- No need to thank us for these exclusive deals. – Banana Republic
- Gobble ‘Til You Wobble! – Chin Up Apparel
- A Blue Ming Thanksgiving! – Alchemy Fine Home
Black Friday and Cyber Monday
- 👇Better Than Their Deals☝️
- 30-50% OFF EVERYTHING. Black Fri-YAY comes early! – Cotton On
- Cyber Monday Preview Doorbusters. We Saved the Best For Last. – Villeroy and Boch
- It's time for some Santa Banter! - Phrasee
- What will you put under the tree? – Fortnum and Mason
- Merry Crustmas! Surprise your family with a pizza dinner! – Pizza Express
Seven best practices to boost your open rates
In case you missed it — your subject line is the most crucial part of your email. Cole Schafer says, "Spend 80% of your time writing the body of your email and 20% of your time writing the actual subject line. Because if your subject line doesn't entice the reader they aren't going to open up your damn email." Now, take a look at the seven best practices to make your open rates go through the roof.
1. Write with the audience and goal in mind
Although this is a no-brainer, one of the common mistakes email marketers make is not conveying the goal of the email in the subject line. The subject line "My biggest sale of the year is coming." by online cosmetic retailer Frank Body clearly conveys the goal of the email.
2. Add personalization
Refer to past purchases or mention the recipient’s name in your subject line. The holiday season is the time to be close to your dear ones. Show some love to your subscribers as well by adding a touch of personalization. By adding the first name in the subject line "Go Madbury, Kevin," Cadbury increased curiosity.
3. Avoid clichés
Subject lines like “Shop till you drop,” “All Treats no Tricks,” or “Ho! Ho! Ho!” are neither good nor funny, and they sure won’t make your subscribers drop whatever they’re doing to open your email. If you want to push through with similar subject lines, it’s time to leave your desk, go for a walk, and rethink your ideas.
4. Show value in your subject line
Pique your subscribers' interest by hinting at what they'll get by opening your email. If you ask a question in your subject line, make sure your subscribers get the answer inside the body copy of your email. By asking, "Looking for Your Toy & Game Destination This Summer?" Barnes & Noble are implying that their readers will find the answer to this question inside the email.
5. Always A/B test your subject lines
Prepare two versions of your subject line. Send the first version to one group of your recipients and the second version to another group. Once you get your campaign results and find out the open rates for each of your subject lines, it should be easier to tell which version you should send to the rest of the subscribers.
6. Write your subject lines at the end
By doing this, you'll have a clear idea of what your email communicates, and it'll be easier to condense your message into a subject line.
7. Crack a joke
Nothing breaks the ice better than laughter, whether you're a stand-up comedian, keynote speaker at a marketing conference, or you're simply writing a subject line. Sure, humor won't work with all types of audiences, but you might be missing out on engagement if you don't at least try it with your subscribers.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to getting good open rates, having fun along the way, and convincing your subscribers to take desired actions. You don’t have to come up with anything outlandish. The most important thing is to stand out from hundreds of other emails your subscribers get every day. Be creative with your holiday email subject lines and always check them on mobile devices to make sure they don’t break up at an awkward point.
Originally published Dec 7, 2018, updated November 23, 2021.