6 Simple Steps to Response-Driving Subject Lines

Posted by Tami Forman on

I have a secret. I love to write subject lines. It’s a task that many email marketers dread, but I think it’s fun! It must go back to my days on my college newspaper, writing headlines.

And, in my work with Return Path clients, I get to help write a lot of subject lines. So, I thought I’d share with you all the method Strategic Services has developed for writing subject lines. Following these 6 steps will make the task of writing subject lines easier and more effective.

1. Quickly write at least 6 potential subject lines. Don’t think too hard about what will work best — just string together words that are relevant to your message. At this point, they don’t even have to make sense.
2. Sit back and examine your list: Are there certain words that keep popping up? Are you struggling over word choices? Have you got at least three compelling options that convey your message? If not, go back to step one. If so, move on to step three ….
3. Hone your list by eliminating or editing any that are clearly unsuitable. If needed, write one or two more. You want to have at least four at this point.
4. Count ’em up! Many of you will be able to eyeball the length, but go ahead and count the characters using Word’s word count function. Put the number next to the line in parentheses. Example: Six Secrets to Sales Success (28). Remember that spaces count! (See our post about how subject line length affects response for guidelines.)
5. Now, sit back and eyeball your list again. Is one really grabbing you? Does another look really flat now? Are they all clearly too long? If you answered yes to the last question, go back to step three. If not, move on to step six. …
6. Time to pick ’em. We advocate always testing subject lines, so pick at least two. Make sure they are truly different. You may need to choose one and then write an alternative version to make the test meaningful. It’s actually easier if you pick an element that you want to test: length, word choice (save vs. discount) or use of your brand name. This will help you isolate variables and carry learning forward.

Use this method on a half dozen messages and soon you’ll be able to do it in 10 minutes or less. You will come up with better subject lines in less time with less effort than ever. Promise!

Want to see this method in action? Email me and I’ll help you write your next subject line. And, if you are brand-new to subject line writing let me know – I’ll send you our Subject Line Best Practices Checklist.


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