How to create powerful subject lines which get emails opened

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It seems like an obvious observation, but the human mind processes information in a set order. Our brains are remarkably efficient, especially when we are busy, with inbuilt filters that ignore irrelevant information. Neuroscientists call this behaviour ‘Cognitive Inhibition’. And it’s a critical factor in perfecting your marketing.

When it comes to getting your marketing opened or read, you can’t afford to ignore this powerful piece of science.

Your perfect customer, who really needs what you are selling, has the funds to buy, will totally ignore the best possible offer you can muster if you can’t get them to open the email.

Whether, you are blogging, sending sales letters, posting adverts (online or offline), using email marketing or making telesales calls – what you say first is the most important step. Think of it as getting someone to step inside the front door of your shop.

So how do you compose the perfect subject line?

As with any other type of marketing, you always start by getting inside the head of your perfect customer, or the person whose attention you are trying to attract.

  • Think about:
  • who they are,
  • what they need or want,
  • how busy they are,
  • what other things might be getting their attention,
  • and how you might be able to get there first.

1 – The WIIFM Principle

Having got inside your perfect customer’s mind, you must start to think…What’s In It For Me?

  1. Aim directly at their self-interest… it is about them, not you!
  2. Hint/explain/mention/express the benefits that are on offer
  3. Tell them what it will mean to them… people buy results, not things!

2 – Grab attention!

Promising results from the offset is powerful:

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“Learn how to…”,

“Little know ways…”,

“Now you can…”,

“Latest evidence suggests…”

These kinds of headline must be followed by something relevant to your reader.

3 – Use relevance and commonality.

There is no point pitching engine oil to a chip shop:

“Gardeners are going mad for…”,

“If you love skiing…”,

“This will make even the Beckham’s envy you…”   are perfect for the right customer.

4 – Tease them…

There are very few people on the planet without an overactive curiosity gene:

“It might surprise you to know…”,

“Could you be owed £379 by the tax man?”,

“You have just 12 hours left to…”

5 – Format, length, testing and getting tired…

Now, when it comes to the format of your headline; a question is good, controversy and challenges work, or you could try simply asking people to open the email. The key is always the same – make it personal and relevant. There are technical issues at play with length and format, such as not using capitals or words such as ‘free’ and ‘offer’ which the spam filters don’t like. But there is also the aesthetics and emotional appeal of short and snappy to consider. No one said this was an easy thing to master – you need to apply practice, thought, and knowledge.

If you find a system that works or words that tend to get a reaction that’s fantastic. But be wary, overusing the same things on the same customers will eventually become tired and ineffective. So you must always test and compare regularly to see what is working the best. There is effort involved here, but if you can get this skill right, the rewards can generate as many sales as you will ever need.

And finally!

Think about all the emails and marketing you have ignored in the last few days yourself. Don’t let that put you off (there will be some that got your attention too)!

Where does your headline fit in alongside those?

Is it too ordinary, too bland, or too irrelevant?

Is there a little bit of finesse or a change of keyword that might just make all the difference and make it work?

Now go and test your results! One thing is for sure – the email that gets sent (with a half-decent subject line) will always perform better than the (exceptionally titled) one that doesn’t. 

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