TBT: Emails that people actually open

Nine years later, it’s still good advice. Originally published Apr 29, 2011

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Mail to trash

It’s not very often that I open an email with a cryptic subject line. My inbox is just too full (as I’m sure most of yours are) to take the time to guess what it’s about, or to open it and read for a couple of minutes to see what’s being pitched. It would probably be safe to guess the same goes for the recipients of your emails, as well.

Sure, we’d all like to think our readers love us so much that they open our email the moment it arrives and gobble up every word. I know that’s what I hope. But a much more likely possibility is simply that the subject line engaged them.

So, while we may live in the hope of others reading our “deathless prose” simply because we write so well, it’s best not to put all our eggs in that basket. To help get your emails opened, I suggest making the subject line as productive as possible. Here are some tips.

1) Relevance – Craft a subject line that’s meaningful to your audience. Your subject line works like the headline in an ad or on an envelope. You have only a few seconds to grab readers’ attention before it goes in the trash or they turn the page.

2) Balance – There’s a fine line between words that motivate and words that scream, “Trash me! I’m spam!” Scroll through your inbox for subject lines that make you think, “Oh, I want to open that.” The same tactics those emails used will likely work for your own email campaigns.

3) Communicate one-to-one – Email has the advantage of being highly personal. Use this advantage in your subject lines. Including the recipient’s name in the subject line has proven to be an excellent way to increase “opens.”

4) Remember the “from” line – Never try to hide your identity in the “from” line. When I get an email with a cryptic subject, I’ll check the “from” line to see who sent it, before I hit “delete.” This is a good indicator of whether the email is worth my time.

5) Test and Analyze – There’s no excuse not to do this. If you have an email marketing program, you should be testing. Test subject lines, salutations, formats, design and copy. You may need some help from the IT department, but don’t let that intimidate you.

Devote the same attention to your email campaigns that you do to your other marketing activities. Find what works best, use it, and keep learning. You’ll soon be a master at keeping your emails out of the trash.

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