email-subject-linesIf you’re like me, you probably get hundreds of emails delivered to your inbox every day. Just this morning I woke up to see a fresh batch of 60 messages from local businesses, online newsletters, work associates and more.

Do I read each one of these emails? No. If I had that kind of time I probably wouldn’t have a job. And to be frank, most of them don’t really seem that interesting. I decide which emails to open every day based on reading the subject lines.

First Impressions Matter

When sending emails, you need to realize that your message is competing with hundreds of others each vying for the reader’s attention. Subject lines give a crucial first impression of the content in your message, and failure to focus on writing great subject lines will result in poor email marketing results.

Composing amazing email subject lines shouldn’t scare you though. Like many aspects of marketing, there is a formula you can follow to help you craft an opening line that will result in more opens for your emails.

The 4 U’s of Email Subject Lines

Email marketing is a colossal industry, given its high ROI and proven results. Because of this, various studies have been conducted to see what kinds of subject lines attract the best open rates. One of the most popular theories around this is the Four U’s of subject line writing. This principal says that effective subject lines should be:

  1. Useful
  2. Ultra-specific
  3. Unique
  4. Urgent

Let’s jump into each of these individually.

Useful: Is this message fitting for the audience?

When your email subscribers opted into your list for the first time, there was an expectation set for the type of messages they would get. A useful subject line fits into that expectation. A restaurant that sends an email about financial security isn’t likely to be very useful, and thus their target audience (hungry people) probably don’t want to open the message. Stay on target and write subject lines that match the interests, wants and needs of your readers.

Ultra-Specific: Does the subject describe what’s in the email?

An email subject line is supposed to be a preview of the message content that let’s you decide if it is worth your time to continue reading. This is why specific subject lines perform so well. Instead of trying to lure someone into opening your email with a mysterious subject, instead be transparent about the intention of the email. Here’s an example of a specific subject line:

Save 40% on your February Gym Membership

Now compare it to this vague example:

Save on your Gym Membership

See how the first tells you how much you will save and when? This subtle change can result in a big difference in your email open rates (and potentially conversion rates as well.)

Unique: Is this message different or special?

Sending the same content to your readers every single time will get boring and predictable. They will become numb to your messages and ignore them. Offer variety by crafting unique subject lines that compel your prospects to keep reading. Is this a new product release? A valuable offer? What makes this particular message special? Creating unique subject lines will keep your email campaigns fresh in the long run.

Urgent: Is there a reason to open your email now?

Be honest. When was the last time you bookmarked a message for the future, then never returned to read it? For me, this happens all the time. The reason we are able to put messages on the back burner is because they lack urgency. Adding dates, times or limits directly in your subject lines let the reader know they need to read the message now. For example, adding “Today Only” or “Only xx Left” are excellent ways to add urgency to any email subject line.

Remember that not every subject line will have all four of these traits. Don’t cry wolf and pretend that every single one of your emails is time sensitive. Your subscribers will sniff this out within a few emails, and you’ll lose your ability to use urgency in the future.

These four principals are an excellent start for email marketers looking to get started.