What makes an email subject line a winner? When it motivates the recipient to open the email. That is the subject line’s sole purpose. Write a compelling and relevant subject line, and engineers and technical professionals will eagerly open your email. Write a weak or boring subject line, and your email open rates will be disappointing. It really is that simple.

Look at your own email inbox and you’ll understand why the subject line is so critical. You’re likely swamped with emails every day. What’s the first thing you do? Scan for what’s important and must be opened now, what can wait until later, and what you can discard without opening. Your decision is based almost entirely on two factors: the subject line and who’s sending the email (the from line). That’s a lot of responsibility resting with a few words.

Follow these five tips for writing email subject lines that instill a “must read now” feeling in your audience.

1. Promise value
You’re sending an email to customers and prospects because you have important news to deliver. Important to your audience means value. What are they getting out of this email? Why should they pay attention?

For example: “New RF tool accurately predicts signal loss”

This subject line has a lot going for it. The recipient gets information about a specific new product that offers a powerful and important benefit. That’s value for the intended audience.

Another component that makes this a strong subject line is that you know exactly what the mail is about: this new RF tool. A reader who opens the email is likely to learn more about the product and perhaps be presented with an offer: white paper, data sheet, webinar, etc.

2. Keep it short
The ideal length for a subject line is around 50 characters. Some might be longer, but keep in mind that the first 15 characters are the most critical because many business users read email on mobile devices, which often cut off part of the subject line.
Look at the above subject line again: “New RF tool accurately predicts signal loss.” Exactly 50 characters. The first 15 characters get across the main idea of a new RF tool.

3. Convey a sense of urgency or newness
There’s nothing like fresh news or the feeling that time is running out to get your reader to take action. The RF subject line meets the standard by mentioning a new product. However, consider this subject line: “White paper: top ten reasons why hydraulic pumps fail.”

At first glance it’s a good subject line. While it’s a tad long at 72 characters, it promises value in terms of a white paper and it takes advantage of the ever-popular numbered list: the top ten (see also the headline to this article).

But this subject line lacks a sense of urgency or newness. A possible revision might read: “Just published: Top ten reasons why hydraulic pumps fail.” The words ‘white paper’ are replaced with ‘just published’ providing a sense of newness. Conveying newness is more important than whether the publication is a white paper or an infographic.

Here’s another example: “Solar cell expert will speak at energy conference.” A good subject line, it conveys valuable information. But again, adding a time element increases the sense of urgency: “May 4, Orlando: Solar cell expert to speak.” What’s sacrificed is information about a conference, but if the recipient is interested in hearing from a solar cell expert, they can find out the conference information once they open the email.

4. Personalize when possible
Many email marketing programs allow you to personalize the subject line with the recipient’s name. This is an effective tactic. Who doesn’t like to get a personalized email? It immediately attracts attention and raises the level of importance of an email.

Compare “Last day to register for laser webinar” with “David: last day to register for laser webinar.”

The second subject line hits a lot of the right buttons: personalization, urgency and valuable information. Perhaps this email is part of a multi-touch campaign promoting a webinar. An earlier subject line might have read, “Webinar to show new applications for diode lasers.” But as the date approaches, the concept of time running out takes precedence over the content of the webinar.

If you’re not able to personalize subject lines with the recipient’s name, try to use subject lines with the words “You” or “Your” in them. “Your invitation to webinar on diode lasers.” “Your complimentary pass to solar show.”

5. Avoid spam filter triggers
Email marketing programs typically check for spam in your subject line and email content, but as a reminder, avoid the use of ALL CAPS (which also sounds like you’re shouting), symbols such as $$ or %, and excessive punctuation marks: !!!!!

These will all increase the likelihood that your email will be tagged as spam. Certain words can also catch the attention of spam filters; for example: free, buy, cash, urgent, proposition and more.

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