Many of our small business and nonprofit customers use email marketing in conjunction with MoonClerk to accept recurring and one-time payments and donations directly from emails. But, before anyone can make a payment from a link or button in an email, they have to open the email. That’s why we’d love to provide you some subject line best practices. Creating a compelling email subject line is a critical first step to ensure your target audience is reading the messages you are sending.

A 2007 study by the Email Sender and Provider Coalition (ESPC) found that 69% of email recipients base their decision to open the email based on the subject line.  Unfortunately, too many times the subject line is thrown together at the last second just before hitting send and there is no thought given to subject line best practices. Perhaps that is the reason the average open rate is only 15%. These statistics highlight the need to be mindful as you introduce emails to your target audience.

The first aspect of subject line best practices is the hurdle of making it past the spam filters.  Avoid using ALL CAPS, words like “free”, “discount”, “50% off”, and exclamation points!!! These reek of SPAM and will be deleted quickly; if they make it past SPAM filters at all. Scribd has compiled a list of words that will land you in the junk folder – Here’s a list of 100.

Once you make it past the SPAM filters it is important to keep your subject lines simple.

Here are some subject line best practices using the S.I.M.P.L.E. technique:

S – Short

Brevity is your friend. Most of your target audience will only see the first few words – this is especially true in the age when many people are reading their emails on their phone. Studies suggest email subject lines should be no more than 30 characters (or 5-6 words).  This is one of those times when less is more.

Sample Subject Line:

Help Kids Read

I – Interesting

Front load the subject line – try using a keyword first.  A colon or question mark can be a great way to highlight a keyword. Choose the most compelling topic from the content of the email to craft your subject line. Find the action words, the best words that highlight the message you are trying to send. Be careful to avoid being bossy; instead of telling them what action to take tell them why they should take action.  Instead of “Register Today” – tell them what they will learn.  Rather than “Donate Now” – tell them the impact their donation will make.  In place of “30% off sale” – tell them how your product will improve their life.

Sample Subject Lines:

MATCH: $1 becomes $2 and changes more lives!

In Charge? 5 tools to become a better manager

M – Make them think                                                        

Ask a question – questions can be a great way to peak the interest of your target audience. What knowledge does your email provide?  What does the reader gain from opening your email?  Tell them what question your email answers.

Sample Subject Lines:

Is your neighborhood safe?

Do you know where your teenager is?

P – Personally valuable

Humans are often self involved; we want to know what’s in it for us.  Share with your target audience how their life will improve by reading the contents inside. Focus on the benefit to the reader, rather than focusing on the offer or opportunity you are promoting.

Sample Subject Line:

Want great sound wherever you go?

Make the air cleaner

 L – Limited

Skip the unnecessary. Email subject lines are not the place for volume numbers, dates, organization name or any other information that can be found elsewhere.  The subject line needs to be limited to just the essential information. Your target audience doesn’t care that this is your Fall Newsletter – but hopefully they care about the compelling article the newsletter contains.  Don’t make them hunt for what is compelling – make the subject matter obvious.

Sample Subject Line:

We Won Nonprofit of the Year!

E – Easy to understand

The subject line should tell the reader what they should expect to find inside the email.  This is not the place for cryptic or clever lines.   Avoid being cute or attempting a humorous subject line.  It often falls flat and most of the time does more harm than good.

The final step to implementing subject line best practices is to test your potential subject lines.  Getting a second opinion is invaluable. Ask a few key volunteers, supports or customers to review two or three options.  Ask them what catches their attention, what do they like or not like.  Use the input to revise and select the subject line that will resonate with your readers.


Image by Flickr user Tom Sykes