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10-step tutorial to memorable subject lines

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As is the case with many puzzlers, coming up with a winning subject line is a hit-or-miss operation. Thoughtful experimentation will help you hone in on what works for you and your contacts. And while there are no hard-and-fast rules about subject lines, a little know-how goes a long way. I've compiled ten of my favorite subject line tips and included links to some further reading, if you're so inclined.

  1. Plan ahead. Don't make writing the subject line the last thing on your list. As you're dreaming up your next mailing, why not start with the subject line? After all, it's the only part of your email some recipients will see. Moreover, crafting a descriptive subject line from the get-go will bring your overall mailing to a focus. When you're waffling about word choice, check Google Insights for Search to see search patterns across geography, categories and time.
  2. Mention your brand. Studies show that branded subject lines really work, so if you aren't including your business name, website or publication in the subject line, start now. Branding your emails will result in increased familiarity with your organization and remind recipients why your mailing is in their inbox.
  3. Be mindful of the mailing's goal. Make sure your subject lines express the overarching theme and purpose of your message. Decide what you want the recipient to do as a result of reading your email, and begin drawing them toward that action in the subject line (think verbs!). There isn't a one-size-fits-all formula, but descriptive subject lines that match the tone of the content inside will be most effective. For a content-rich newsletter, informative subject lines work best. Similarly, event invites need to say what's special about the occasion and provide a registration deadline. And if you're sending a purely promotional mailing, be upfront about the value inside to convey a sense of urgency, like "Fairytale Books: Celebrate Dr. Seuss; 40% Off Today Only."
  4. Pay attention to your audience. Writing subject lines people love may seem like magic, but unless your audience is made up of Muppets, "a la peanut butter and jelly sandwiches" won't cut it. Nevertheless, put yourself in the Amazing Mumford's shoes for a minute and think about why everyone remembers that line. Jim Henson knew a thing or two about childhood appetites, and you're likely to have the inside track on what your audience likes, too. So have a little fun and design a subject line that puts your contacts' interests first.
  5. Be enticing without being pushy. Avoid subject lines that read like something Mr. Radio Announcer Guy would squawk over the airwaves louder than your toddler in the back seat. Email recipients can spot a hard sell a mile away, so anything that sounds like it belongs in the Sunday circular should be rewritten. If you're struggling to figure out which email subject lines are most likely to convert, try running a few pay-per-click ads with various subject lines to see which one has the highest click-through rate.
  6. Avoid spammy words and slogans. Including the word "FREE" may seem like a good way to get customers in the door, but since spammers throw "FREE" around like cheap lipstick, your email could wind up in the trash if you combine it with other frequent spam offenders like gratuitous exclamation points, typing in ALL CAPS or terms like "blowout" and "cheap."
  7. Be clever, but don't get too kooky. When getting attention is the name of the game, it's tempting to write a Page Six-worthy subject line. But since subtlety is lost in the inbox, your reader may pass over your line before taking a moment to get the joke.
  8. Test, measure and repeat. Testing variables such as branding, length and punctuation will demonstrate which subject lines carry the most weight with your contacts. Our split testing feature will give you the ability to send up to three subject lines to a portion of your contacts and automatically distribute the winning subject line to the rest.
  9. Review past results. We let you compare the results of up to five mailings at a time so you can see at-a-glance just which mailings -- and subject lines -- performed the best. Use this information to craft your next subject line, and keep an eye on how it stacks up.
  10. Steer clear of clichés. One surefire way to stand out from the crowd is to find an original way to state the obvious. Think about it: If a person has signed up for your mailings, they probably have emails from similar brands in their inbox. To make sure yours is the email they read, find out what the competition is saying and do something different; tell your contacts something they don't know.
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