Six tips for writing irresistible email subject lines

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And data to back them
By Jasmine Crittenden, contributor. 13 June, 2019
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Reckon you’ve just written and built one of the best emails your finance brand has ever produced? Pity hardly anyone will know – unless you get the subject line right. Given that more than 117 billion consumer emails are sent every day, competition for attention is hot.

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But here’s the good news. Writing irresistible subject lines isn’t merely a matter of guesswork. Thanks to the oodles of data now at our fingertips, we can work out what’s likely to cut through – and what isn’t. Here are six tips for writing killer subject lines, backed by reliable research.

1. Length matters

In 2018, a whopping 64% of emails were opened on mobile devices – in contrast to 27% in 2011. So, if your subject line is too long for a smartphone display, shorten it. A good rule of thumb is around 41 characters, which is the maximum length visible in an iPhone portrait view. This 2015 study of 9,313, 885 emails shows subject lines of 41-50 characters inspire the highest read rates.

A study of 9,313, 885 emails shows subject lines of 41-50 characters inspire the highest read rates.

2. Personalise, personalise, personalise subject lines

You’ve no doubt heard this word at every marketing session you’ve attended in the past year. There’s a good reason for that. According to MailChimp’s study of 24 billion emails, the inclusion of first names in subject lines increases open rates by 0.11% in the business and finance industries.

3. Make your subject line time sensitive

MailChimp’s research also found time sensitivity attracts attention. The word “urgency” boosts open rates by 0.79%, while “breaking” does by 0.68%, “important” by 0.55% and “alert” by 0.31%. But be sure to use these only when appropriate. A subject line should never mislead a reader about its content – and thereby risk a breach of trust.

4. Mind your manners

It turns out your parents were right. The magic words really are magic. In a 2015 study of more than 125,000 email campaigns, Adestra found that “thank you” was the top-performing keyword in subject lines, while “thanks” came in fourth. And, in case you’re curious, the worst performer was “journal”, followed by “forecast”, “training” and “whitepaper”. Could someone hit the snooze button?

5. Be specific

Think about why your readers sign up to your email list, in the first place. What do they want from you? Financial advice? Great offers? Knowledge of new products and services? Whatever it is, one thing’s for sure: no one wants to waste time.

So, be specific in your subject line. Describe what’s relevant, useful and/or valuable in your email. Avoid generic terms like “market outlook” and “market report”, which fail to give the reader any insight into what to expect and which will get lost alongside your competitors’ content.

6. Test, test, test

Ultimately, you should optimise your subject lines for your audience. What works for some readers doesn’t necessarily work for others. Plus, every now and again a copywriting genius comes up with a subject line that performs brilliantly – despite breaking some of the rules.

Be sure to run A/B tests, every step of the way. Money Dashboard, a UK-based online financial management company, found out the power of this approach, after testing the subject line, “What’s your opinion, [first name]?” against, “Please put us out of our misery”. The latter increased the open rate by 104.5% – and the click rate by 228.5%.

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Jasmine Crittenden has written extensively for major finance brands including Westpac, BT Financial Group, Suncorp and Aberdeen Standard Investments – across both digital and print. She’s an expert in content that puts the human element in finance marketing, be it connecting with local communities, inspiring millennials to care about super or clarifying the complexities of personal loans.