I’m a strong believer in the power of creative subject lines and headlines. I probably spend way too much time on them, even if the results don’t always live up to the effort put in, I feel compelled to try (emphasis on ‘try’) to make each one perfect.

Perhaps I have way too much time on my hands, but there are few things in this life as satisfying as crafting a really great subject line or headline.

This certainly goes for email marketing too!

Crafting an effective and creative subject line is not just the cherry on the cake, but the most important part of your email. It’s the first thing people see when your email arrives in their inbox and it should catch not only their eye, but their imagination. Now, this can be a challenge because while you want to be creative with that subject line, you don’t want anyone to perceive it as deceptive or misleading in any way.

One of my all time favourite subject lines (even if technically it was a headline) for anything, was an article at PCWorld.com which was titled: “One Remote too Rule them All” – now, I don’t even have to tell you what the story was about do I? And I’ve never even read Tolkien or for that matter, seen even one of the movies based on his books. But I still got the reference because of popular culture and I thought it was great. That post by the way, got huge traffic and you can’t credit that just to number of button clicking couch cowboys out there. No, that subject line worked magic for the post.

Subject line writing is both an art and science. While you have to use some imagination and flare, you should also be basing decisions on past performance tracking and testing. The latter is something most marketers simply do not do enough of. It’s been said on a number of occasions that pretty well every element in your email marketing messaging should be tested. Certainly creative subject lines would have to be right there at the top (pun intended)! Segment your lists and test subject lines to see what gets the best response.

How do you craft creative subject lines?

People have asked me in the past about how long they should spend on crafting a subject line. My answer is almost always the same: How long have you got? Obviously the subject line does not take priority over good relevant content, but it sure does play a role there and you want to make the effort to craft a good one. Remember, for most email clients, you’ve got about 50 characters to work with, so make them count.

Here are a few tips regarding the creative process for subject line writing which you may find helpful:

  • Would your choice of subject line get you clicking on that email?
  • Let the content of the email inspire you.
  • Relax, sit back and take a deep breath – creativity speaks most often in a whisper.
  • Watch your language! Bad English in subject lines is a turn off and a hallmark of spammers.
  • Know your demographic and their frame of reference.
  • No matter how cute or funny the subject line is, if it’s not relevant it sucks.
  • Never toss out what you think is a bad headline because two bad tries might be combined later to create or inspire a great one.
  • Test your subject lines on your colleagues – sometimes you may have half the battle won and someone else will take a good subject line and make it great.
  • You’re only as good as your last subject line – just because you had a couple of winners does not mean you can’t screw up.
  • Always get a second opinion, especially if you are trying to be funny!
  • Creating good subject lines should be the same for you as ice cream is to a ten year old after a steaming bowl of cauliflower. Enjoy it and if you don’t, delegate it (if possible) to someone who does.

Add your suggestions to craft creative subject lines!