6 Tips for Writing Email Subject Lines that Engage and Electrify

By Ron Forseth

Money is made or lost on the subject lines of emails. A blast to 30,000 readers may bring a 5% open rate or a 20% open rate. When you are spending $2,200 on the email, a 4X difference in response can mean the difference between making and missing goal for the quarter.

The subject line is to email…

  • what the envelope is to direct mail
  • what the headline is to an article
  • what the title is to a book.

If they are good, they get read. If they are bad, they get discarded.

Here are six tips that can help you escape the dismal 5% rate, climb toward and beyond a 20% rate, and accomplish your advertising goals. Good subject lines may contain one, many, or all of these qualities.

  1. A good subject line is mysterious. It doesn’t tell all. It plays hard to get. It doesn’t allow the reader to say, “I’ve got a pretty good guess at just what that’s going to say.” Instead, it finds an element that the reader wants to know and taunts them, saying, “I know something you want to know, and if you want to know you have to click!”
    No Mystery: Publish Your Book
    Mystery: 5 Authors Who Were Pastors First…and Who Are They?!
  2. A good subject line is manageable. It doesn’t ask the reader to boil the ocean. It gives them a step to take and encouragement to take it.
    Unmanageable: Why Churches Are Failing at Discipleship
    Or worse yet: Disciple Your Congregation
    Better: 5 Simple Steps for Mentoring Your Leaders
  3. A good subject line is vivid. It pushes the envelope. It uses authentic exaggeration. When Christ talked about swallowing camels or cutting off your hand, he was exaggerating to engage and electrify. Subject lines can, too.
    Humdrum: Get Your Congregation’s Attention
    Better: How to Mesmerize and Electrify Your Congregation with Your Preaching
    Or: Send Your Congregations to the Moon
  4. A good subject line is risky. It’s dangerous. It can make your hair stand on end. One of the ads in the Soul Surfer movie campaign said, “The Shark Took Her Arm.” Vivid. Visual. Risky.
    Safe: Pastor Speaks Out on Eternity
    Risky: Pastor Speaks Out on Hell
    Risky subject lines drive some away. But they attract and engage more than safe ones.
  5. A good subject line is targeted. It states the audience or offers something the specific audience wants.
    Scattered (and Expensive!): Get a Free iPod!
    Targeted: Church Leader: Get a Free Pew Bible for Review
  6. Good subject lines and ad messages are tested. The difference between 400 click-throughs on a blast and 800 click-throughs lies much in the words that are chosen. A 20-minute brainstorm generating 4–5 different message options can double (or half) your results. A/B testing flushes out the bloopers and harnesses the stallions. Use a focus group, or better yet, broadly poll or test your messaging.

Neglect subject lines at your own risk. They are usually too expensive to experiment with.

Ron Forseth is a church marketing expert with 15 years of experience in digital advertising. He served six years as the General Editor of SermonCentral.com and as founding Executive Editor of ChurchLeaders.com. He has consulted with hundreds of advertisers in developing successful online and print marketing campaigns. Ron is the Vice President of Business Development for Outreach, Inc., the Advertising Director for Outreach magazine and General Manager of Outreach Media Group.

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