Email Newsletter Subjects: 3 Tips To Follow

In peeling the great onion that is email content marketing, the first layer is the subject. If the recipient doesn’t find it intriguing enough to open your message, then they can’t take any action within the email.

So how do you get readers to bite once you cast your message into the great sea of their inbox? Here are three tips I try to follow with my own newsletter, as well as when helping others.

1. Make the first five words count

As Web usage becomes majority mobile-first, so, too, should the way we think about analyzing it. In other words, how does your email look on someone’s phone?

The smaller the device, the less space you have before your subject is cut off.

For example, here’s what some subjects look like on the Gmail app of my iPhone 6+, which is one of the biggest phones on the market. Most of the messages fit six to eight words before they’re cut off. There’s going to be even less space on smaller phones, which is why I recommend focusing on your first five.

Notice how soon some of these subjects get cut off on a mobile device.

Notice how soon some of these subjects get cut off on a mobile device.

Use the adjectives and verbs that will really grab people’s attention, put them at the front of your subject, and cross your fingers.

2. Be yourself

There are enough email newsletters out there. Yours probably isn’t necessary (sorry!). But maybe it is. In which case you want to work really hard to make it stand out from others working in the same space.

What better way to do that than to let your unique personality shine through in the title? If your subject isn’t fun and/or interesting, people aren’t going to click through.

3. Don’t repeat words/phrases

Some great newsletters completely go against this rule, but for my money, it’s a bad idea.

What am I talking about? Let’s say the fictional McMurphy Farms in Missoula, Mont., does a weekly newsletter about feeding cattle.

A bad idea would be to begin the newsletter subject each week with “McMurphy Farms Cattle-Feeding Weekly: [Rest of subject here]”. Even if they change what goes after the colon each week, many people, especially on mobile, aren’t going to notice!

Instead of wasting that space in your subject, just make it the title/header within the message itself. People will already know what newsletter it is* based on the sender, so don’t tell them every time.

Exception*: Maybe you’re the New York Times and you have a ton of newsletters, and the sender for each one says “NYTimes.com.” Then yes, you need to differentiate in the subject – in case a reader gets more than one – but do it concisely, i.e. "Cooking"; "Bits"; "Today's Headlines"; "Upshot":

Start with those and you can expect to see higher open rates lickety-split.

I recently started a digital strategy newsletter (please subscribe!) and I do my best to follow the rules above. If you have others, I would love to hear about them.

Have some tips I didn’t include? Spot an error? Please tweet them to me or share in the comments below.