10 Tips for Writing Subject Headers That Get Your E-mails Read


Internet marketing via e-mail requires a solid understanding of what the customer wants. The first step in getting through ironclad spam defenses is to craft a good subject header. This is what the recipient sees first, and can determine whether or not the e-mail is read at all. Here are 10 tips to help you write better subject headers to get people to open your e-mails!

1. Be specific

Don’t be vague. Let the recipient know what is contained in the e-mail. Give a specific example of the contents, and you have a much better chance of getting people to open your e-mails. If the subject is too broad or vague, it won’t capture any interest and will be deleted without any thought. Give them a reason to open the e-mail!

2. Be clear

Being specific helps with how clear your subject line is, but specificity can easily become muddled with details. Having too many words can make the subject line unclear. Try to limit yourself to about 10-20 words. Longer than that, and the meaning is easily lost. The subject line should be easy to read and simple to understand.

3. Subject line = topic sentence

A topic sentence is a single sentence that defines an entire essay. Your subject line should be the same. It should encompass the e-mail’s contents as much as possible. It can be difficult to balance this with being specific, but it can be done. Just give one specific thing like “50% off a video card” and more of a topic sentence line like “other great deals on computers!”

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4. Have something that says where it’s from

A good practice is to have a quick tag at the beginning of the subject line noting the source. For example, [NerdWallet] at the beginning of the subject line is a quick and easy way for the recipient to determine whether or not they want to open it.

5. Use upper case letters and exclamation marks where applicable

Do not be afraid to use upper case letters and exclamation marks. Overuse is bad, of course, but one or two capitalized words and an exclamation point can draw attention to the most important part of a subject line.

6. Be interesting

It should go without saying, but boring subject headers indicate boring e-mails. Have something tantalizing in the subject line to gain the recipient’s attention. To find a way to make the e-mail sound interesting, ask yourself: “If you received the same subject header in your inbox, would you open it?”

7. Don’t use their name

Spam is infamous for the practice of using the recipient’s name, but people have learned. They are wary of an e-mail that calls them by name.

8. Don’t ask for help

This is another thing that has been ruined by spam. Nigerian prince e-mails (and other similar spam) have made the majority of people automatically delete any e-mail sounding distressed.

9. Be honest

Don’t misdirect, don’t avoid the truth, and don’t flat out lie. If the subject line says one thing and the e-mail says another, the e-mail will still get deleted. People value honesty, and they will be more inclined to read the e-mail if they sense it isn’t trying to trick them.

10. Avoid bad buzzwords

This is another thing ruined by spam. Some words in subject lines make people instantly delete an e-mail because they assume it is spam. Words like “free, one-time offer, discount, earn money, winner, and subscribe” all carry spam undertones. Even if the e-mail is about one of these things, most spam can be filtered by their use of these words, so avoid them in the subject line. Use different words or simply rewrite the meaning.

All of these tips are important, but some don’t apply as much depending on the type of e-mail. Focus on three or four things to improve in your subject headers, and work on those. Don’t get overwhelmed by trying to write the “perfect” subject header. Test different lines out, and keep improving and your e-mails will get opened with more frequency.

John Gower is a writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website dedicated to helping business owners save money with financial tips on everything from marketing strategies to the savings account interest rates.

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