What makes me want to open your email? Comparing Subject Lines

Everyday I get around 68 emails in my junk account. You know the drill.

As I scan down the list each morning, I recognize the names of most of the senders, because I did opt in to get their emails. Even so, I only open a small fraction of them, maybe two. Maybe one. Often none. With so many emails, it takes a pretty good subject line to grab my attention and make me want to use up a bit of my precious time.

I thought it would be interesting to figure out why some subject lines make me want to open and most don’t. After all, I send newsletters each month to my friends and subscribers, so I’m interested in knowing how to make someone want to open my emails, too.

Here’s my unscientific, idiosyncratic analysis of marketing email subject lines.

The Subject Lines Analyzed

These are just a few from this morning’s list, exactly as they appeared, punctuation and all. Which would you open?

  • Article: Why Training Sucks
  • Take the blindfold off your meetings
  • Why you should buy the best home on the block this year
  • Here's something you probably did not realize about the East side of Tallahassee
  • How to make communication really difficult
  • Lessons from a lifetime in lending
  • Weekly update: new listings, contracts and sales
  • are you part of this global movement?
  • a personal video about my fight...
  • 4 Tips for Crafting Killer Sentences
  • Leader or follower?

The Analysis

I opened each email so I could see the actual content, which helped me craft suggestions for improving the subject lines.

The most important factor I noticed was that specific and benefit-driven subject lines engaged my attention more than general or obscure subject lines. For example:

“4 Tips for Crafting Killer Sentences” sounds like the author is going to teach me how to write “Killer Sentences,” but since I don’t know what a Killer Sentence is, I’m not interested in learning how to write one. The author is talking to freelance writers, so perhaps a more benefit-driven line (based on the content of the email) would be: “4 reasons my sentences sell for more than yours.”

Here’s another example. This came from a sales trainer: “Article: Why Training Sucks.” I don’t like subject lines that use “sucks” or “killer.” I feel like they’re talking to my teen-aged son. Dude. The line is also hopelessly vague. What training sucks? Sales training? Product training? Management training? After opening, I could see that the content referred to sales training…addressed I think to corporate training managers. To make that subject line more benefit-driven, the author could say, “Is your sales training as good as you think — take the test.”

Let’s look at another. “Take the blinfold off your meetings” doesn’t even make sense to me and I don’t have time to figure it out. I don’t have a blindfold on my meetings…do I? Which brings me to my next rant. I hate being baited by purposefully obscure subject lines like these: “Leader or follower?”, “are you part of this global movement?”, and “a personal video about my fight…” I automatically delete all of these on principle.

Here are some ideas for improvement.

“Leader or follower?” Based on the content of this email, a better line would have been, “How a Simple Newsletter Can Make You a Leader in Your Industry.”

“are you part of this global movement?” Based on this content, I would have been more likely to open it if it had said, “Are you part of the global movement of social entrepreneurs?” I also prefer to see the first word capitalized. lower case feels lazy and overly cute.

“a personal video about my fight…” Based on the content, this email was about the author’s struggle with his purpose in life. I’d have preferred a subject line that gave me a little more to go on, like “Personal Video: fighting against my big WHY in life.”

I notice that I also do not like negative twists on ordinary content. “How to make communication really difficult” is a generalization about communication skills that’s been dressed up to seem sassier than it really is. Based on the content of the email, I’d prefer to have seen, “3 reasons important people might not listen to you.”

What I Would Have Openedthumb

From today’s list, I was more likely to open “Why you should buy the best home on the block this year” and “Here’s something you probably did not realize about the East side of Tallahassee.” Both promise me specific, useful information right away.

I like “Lessons from a lifetime in lending,” but it sounds like a lot of information, so I might save it for later. I’d probably never get back to it. Better to have said, “My top 3 lessons from a lifetime in lending.” I’m more likely to open an email that looks bite-sized than one that seems like it’s going to be a long article. It could still be a long article, but we’re talking about subject lines here and what it seems like it might be.

Email Newsletter Subject Lines in Particular

Finally, the subject line “Weekly update: new listings, contracts and sales” promises nothing. This is a newsletter email from a Realtor. The content shows his new listings, talks about changes in real estate contracts that affect sellers, and lists recent sales. Weekly. Better would be to leave off “Weekly update:”. Then promise something interesting in exchange for me clicking and paying attention. Like, “Crazy legal change affects how homes are sold in San Diego.”

Other Factors: Connectedness, Opinion, Place in Life

The better connected I feel to the person sending an email, the more likely I am to open it. However, even if I know someone well, if they’re sending me email newsletters for years — as is the case for real estate agents — I can easily lose interest. They especially must take extra steps to keep my attention with a benefit-driven subject line.

These are my opinions, and the truth is I might have a different opinion tomorrow, depending on what’s happening in my life. I might be more interested in a topic, which would make me more inclined to open something that I wouldn’t today.

If you get a chance, you might try a similar exercise with some of the emails you get in your inbox regularly. What makes you open? How does that help you craft better subject lines?

About The Author

Linda Schneider

Linda Schneider, a real estate marketer, author, and former agent for 30 years. She thrives on helping agents make money using creative and affordable prospecting tools and real estate newsletters. Get her latest book, Door to Door Real Estate Prospecting on Amazon.com.

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