Scan your inbox and see how you react to the subject lines. A yawn? A scowl? A snore? That’s what we thought. Let’s face it, not many companies get it right. Your customers love you or they wouldn’t have signed up to receive your email. But they are busy. So why not make their day, and get what you want, too: eyeballs on your email content?

Be Descriptive
It’s better to be direct and descriptive than trendy. Communicate not only the promotion or offer but its benefits; call attention to specific deals, or offer a solution.

Show Personality – Without Being Too ‘Cute’
Some of our favorite creative subject lines come from Etsy. “What Wonders Did we Find?” for an email that contains recommendations for products based on past purchases. “Knock knock…” for an email that highlights seasonal decorative door wreaths.

Avoid Anything that Might get Flagged as Spam
Spam filters: love ‘em or hate ‘em, they sometimes strip out emails with subject lines that include all caps, lots of special characters or punctuation, or that are particularly heavy with sales-ey or promotional language “<<<Prices Slashed!!! SaVe BIG!!!>> just may get flagged. Hint: if you want to see the kinds of things that get flagged, check the spam or junk folder in your email.

What About Questions?
Opinions among marketers differ, but generally speaking, the use of questions in digital marketing lets the reader answer the question in their own way in their own mind, and maybe not in the way that you would like them to answer! They move on, without engaging. The tired subject “Looking for Last-Minute Gifts?” to promote gift cards to procrastinators is probably way over-used.

That said, questions have been – and can be – used effectively. For example, “Who Was Superman’s Personal Trainer?” to promote your fitness club’s new personal training staff might be a great hook.

Mind the Length
A study of subject lines used by clients of the Xenial™ Customer Engagement platform revealed that most successful email subject lines are between 20 and 24 characters, or about five words. With people increasingly checking their inbox on small form factor devices, short subject lines are recommended, and ones where the first few words make an impact.

If there’s a Deadline, Tell ‘em So
Often, a sense of urgency will prompt an open. But it should be used sparingly. Like the business that constantly advertises “Going out of Business” but never seems to actually do that, a constant barrage of deadline subject lines will become white noise and have the opposite effect.

Try It
If you want to discover what works with your customer list, run a test send to a subset of your list using identical content with two different subject lines. Let your marketing tool tell you which one got more opens, and send the more successful subject line. Then, apply your learning to future emails.

Final Thoughts
Whatever approach you end up trying for your subject lines, before you send, take a moment to step back and ask yourself what you would think if you received the email. Keep in mind that you always want to try to connect with your customers, and this is best done if your communications convey the sense that your business consists of  people serving people. That way, you’re much more likely to engage and connect with your email subscribers. Everything in your emails from the subject line to the style of writing you use - should convey your business’ personality and values.

Brandon Keller is Account Services Supervisor at Xenial.

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