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Four great tips for better subject lines

subject linesIf your subject line doesn’t stand out in your audience’s inbox, they won’t engage. They will never see the informative post you wrote or the valuable content you spent creating for them. And yet, too often, subject lines become hastily written, truly after-the-fact sentences, rather than carefully crafted elements of your communication efforts. It’s time to stop shooting yourself in the foot.

We’ll be the first to admit it: subject lines aren’t easy to write. An effective subject line should grab your audience’s attention and convince them to open the email – and it’s best to do this in 50 characters or less. Critical to our business model, at TechTarget, we write thousands upon thousands of email subject lines every year. We do this to ensure that our audiences always find our essential buyer-focused editorial and enterprise technology content assets from our supplier-customers. The health of our business literally depends on our ability to do it right, so we’ve come to rely on a few basic strategies to consistently create subject lines that increase open rates and improve overall reach. Here we share four of them.

#1 – Variety: A good construction (and certainly a good line) is never enough

Getting a good subject line can feel like magic, and especially when you’re just starting out, it can take a lot of trying to find something that’s clearly better than average. Even the real pros are a bit like ducks – calm above water but paddling like mad below. As they know, and you’ll probably find, even the best seldom write anything better than basically usable lines in just a few minutes. Although any given day the interview may be the best time for you when you’re under fire, our pros take the time to spend intense periods, say 30 minutes or more, jotting down dozens of essays when they can. They then edit their work to show off their top five and share them with a trusted colleague. They put the best out there, but even when they find a clear winner, they know it will wear out quickly. Thus, this process never ends. The last thing you need is for your target audience to think they’ve already seen what you’re sending! Don’t fall into the clickbait trap of too many top 10 lists, “three keys to” builds and the like. While these are shortcuts that certainly work once in a while, in serious B2B your content strategy deserves better. Meaty content should produce strong subject lines without you having to rely on clickbait tricks.

#2 – Tone: B2B doesn’t have to be boring

In B2B, you can be expected to maintain a serious tone. And being clear is always a valid goal. But you still need your subject lines to stand out from each other and stand out from the crowd. So don’t get stuck in the quicksand of boredom and business jargon. For a writer, subject lines are an opportunity to think and doodle outside the lines. Often, we’ve found that’s what will help your open rates really show. Try to write topics that are fun, witty, technical, dramatic, etc. Both experiment in the context of what has already worked with your audience and keep trying new areas that haven’t been explored. What works with some targets may not work at all with others. And what works now may not work later. Thinking about your audience over time, changing your tone will refresh you and your audience. Taking advantage of different tones at different times in holiday or event calendars can be rewarding with each change of season.

#3 – Think big and small: small adjustments can have a big impact

Although I mentioned that we strive to avoid the clickbait trap, making simple changes to your subject lines can have a huge effect on open rates. When using this approach, remember that your reader expects you to deliver on the promise you made. The trap occurs when you promise quality but deliver recycled materials or worse.

Use numbers. Our brains are naturally drawn to numbers, so by including them in a subject line, your audience often pays more attention to them.


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Include the offer. Give your audience a taste of what you’re sharing when downloading or signing up, whether it’s a webinar, whitepaper, or other offering. People like to know exactly what they will get.


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#4 – Revisit, rework, send back

If you really want to do well with this, you’ll become obsessed with looking at email performance data, especially open rate! Start the process by first establishing a set of benchmarks on the overall performance of the different categories of your mail flows. Think about upper, middle, and lower funnel types. Think of different types per target or active persona. Find the best performers and the worst performers, both within and across categories. Compare and contrast, then document what you’ve learned to know how you’ll move forward. With poor performance, consider whether they should be changed immediately or retested. With the best performers, consider using with different topics and audiences, but avoid exhausting them.

Business writing is undoubtedly both a science and an art. That said, true greatness in subject line writing, like so many other things in life, benefits greatly from the thought and time a writer is willing to devote to it. The more you read about this and related topics, the more you will know. The more you work at it, refine your own efforts, and learn from the efforts of your colleagues and peers, the faster and better you will generate results that will make you proud and help your business. Remember this: Entire careers are still built on the power of titles alone (after all, that’s what subject lines really are)!

B2B content creation, content development, content marketing, email marketing, email marketing tips, subject lines

Margarita W. Wilson

The author Margarita W. Wilson