How to write a good subject line for your emails

Estimated read time: 4 minutes



Writing a good subject line matters in our email outreach and marketing. If nothing else, the email subject line gets people to open the email and gives us context of what the email is about.

But, how long – time and effort-wise – should we spend on writing our subject lines? And how long do people spend on them already?

“We say to clients, ‘what’s your subject line?'” said Jay Schwedelson, founder of SubjectLine.com. “And they spend about 10 seconds to come up with it.”

Of course, those 10 seconds come after way more time was spent on writing copy, finalizing creative assets, and laying out the email.

“If the email doesn’t get opened, who cares what’s in the email?” Jay said on “The Business Storytelling Show.” “Who cares about your content, copy, or offer if nobody’s going to see it?”

Why are subject lines deprioritized in the process?

It probably comes back to one of two reasons:

  • A legacy workflow
  • It’s simply easy to miss subject lines in the process.

An example of a legacy workflow that comes to mind is how writers would craft articles. They write the copy, and then an editor drafts the headline. Sometimes it’s easy to be stuck in old and outdated workflows.

And it can all start with workflow and project requests. Somebody says, “I need copy and creative for this email body.” That might be exactly what they will get. And the subject line was overlooked. To make things worse, it’s noticed way at the end of the project, right before launch and somebody is now writing the subject line in a few moments.



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The right effort to put into subject line copy

I would hate to put a time on how long it takes to write a good subject line. Should it take all day? That’s probably unreasonable. Thirty minutes? Maybe. Consider thinking, brainstorming, and testing time as well.

It’s not so much about the time in minutes that it takes to write it. After all, writing a few words shouldn’t take long. But, what does take time is to be intentional and strategic about it. And that’s something writing a subject line in a rush at the end of a project is not.

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How to write a good email subject line?

First of, we need to understand what gets people to open emails and that is the responsibility of the subject line. SubjectLine.com rates each submitted subject line against current best practices on a scale of up to 100 points. So getting 100 points on a subject line is following all best practices.

By way of example, let’s use the title of the podcast episode with Jay: What makes a good email subject line anyway?

That’s written for podcast channels. But why not use it as the start to a subject line for an email on the same topic?

It’s rating at 85 out of 100 – not bad.

email subject line test

It’s missing subtle urgency but gets bonus points for punctuation. I changed it to What is a good email subject line today?

perfect email subject line

Just with that slight change in wording, the subject line now meets all industry standards and scores 100 out of 100.

This is basically how I write email subject lines. I take the source content and then build my email subject line from that. For example, the podcast episode title was super close to being decent. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. A headline from a blog post might not work because it’s too long and doesn’t have the right amount of urgency.

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Focus on these in your subject line writing

Urgency is one of the two things email marketers should primarily focus on, said Jay. If there’s no reason to read the email right now, people might not open it because something else seems more urgent. That’s why the word “today,” in theory, can work well. “If you don’t read this today, you will miss out.”

Exclusivity is another strategy to focus on. How that looks depends on the type of email. In a transactional email, we might say, “this offer is available first to CFOs like you.” An informational email might say: “Top 12 things CFOs must know today.”

Creating content for email campaigns takes time, and to maximize the time (our investment), we also need to focus on better subject lines. And with the right mix of creativity and software to check our work against best practices, we can improve our email opens and, with that impact of our content.



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