The dos and don’ts of email subject lines

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The dos and don’ts of email subject lines

The fight for the email inbox is getting more and more competitive. Subscribers are smarter than ever, and grabbing their attention is only getting harder. That’s why an effective subject line is key to a successful email.

The subject line is your email’s first impression. Your email could be filled with the most engaging content ever, but if no one is compelled to open it, all the content (not to mention all the work that went into it!) goes to waste.

Here are some “dos and don’ts” to keep in mind next time you’re crafting a subject line:

Do get personal. Using personalization (beyond the first name) is a great way to show the subscriber that you’re paying attention to what they’ve shared with you. The Open Table subject line below is a great example of personalization done right. It includes my name, reservation timing and restaurant name, so that I’m inspired to confirm the reservation.

Example: “Ursula, let Chez Billy Sud know you’re coming tomorrow”

Don’t use spam words like “free,” “buy now,” “act now,” or “this isn’t spam” (take a look into your own spam folder for some examples of what not to include).

Do pay attention to character count relative to where your emails are being read. While a longer subject line may be ideal for desktop, it’s not going to work if most of your subscribers are reading emails on their phones. Also, please don’t include the word “newsletter” in your email. It’s redundant, and you’re wasting valuable real estate.

Don’t lie about the content in the email. In accordance with the CAN-SPAM Act, your subject line should reflect the content of the email. Our USGBC candidate handbook emails are a great example of being straightforward. There’s no confusion with a subject line that says, “Here’s your LEED Green Associate Candidate Handbook.” The subscriber knows exactly what to expect in this email—the candidate handbook.

Do be timely. Caviar, a food delivery service, sent me an email the day after Easter, with the call to action of “eat a salad.” It’s relatable and funny because of its timeliness. Bonus points for relevant emoji use! 

Example: “So you need to eat healthy because 🍭🐰🍫”

Do A/B test. Subject line A/B testing is an easy place to start. Each test is a chance to learn about your subscribers. You never know what may work. 

Examples we’ve tested here at USGBC include:

“Last chance to register for the Wintergreen Leadership Awards next week” vs. “Knock it out of the park at the leadership awards next week ⚾”

“Join a live LEED v4.1 session on Materials and Indoor Environmental Quality next week ✅️” vs. “Get your LEED v4.1 questions answered ✅️”

Learn more about email marketing strategies

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