Since email is one of the main ways we connect with our stakeholders/donors/constituents these days, you’ve gotta get a toe in the door before you can even think of launching into your big pitch. And writing effective email subject lines is job 1 – it’s a first impression that really counts.

I seem to have lost my phone number. Can I have yours?

I’m a sucker for a good line. A good line is the start of a beautiful friendship – between you and your intended audience.

I don’t have a library card, but do you mind if I check you out?

I’ll admit it. As a Gmail user, I’m in love with the tabs that separate my primary, social, and promotional email. I’m in love with anything that makes my life easier, including the streamlining of my inbox. When I do peruse the reams of email hiding in tabs other than my primary inbox, I’m only going to open an email if the subject line is absolutely compelling and relevant.

Here’s the reality – less than half of email sent gets opened. According to Mailchimp’s stats by industry, nonprofits typically experience an open rate of just over 25%, and a click rate of 2.99%. We know it’s a daunting challenge, but we also know that email is one of the most effective means of reaching your audience.

Here are nine “do’s & don’ts” for writing effective email subject lines

DO get personal.

Using your recipient’s name in the subject line directs the message and adds an element of personalization to your communications. Use *[MERGE]* tags and include your recipient’s first name.

DON’T use all caps, more than one exclamation point, or other gimmicky characters.

Unless you’re messaging the 25 and under set who love emojis (and that’s a subject for another post!), keep it simple and elegant.

Was that an earthquake or did you just rock my world?

DO ask a question that the body of your email will answer.

Relevance builds trust – and if your question is compelling and your answer really does answer the question, you’re on your way to authentic communication.

DON’T trigger spam filters.

FREE BEER!!! might sound like the best offer you could possibly make, but will certainly relegate your email to the dank depths of spamland. According to a recent Mailchimp study on open rates, the words “Reminder” “Help” and “Percent Off” also sounded the death knell. On the other hand,  “Announcement” or “Invitation” are proven to increase open rates.

DO attempt to keep your subject line to 50 characters or fewer

That’s less than a Tweet. It takes talent to say enough in such a short box. Email isn’t a status update, and “brevity is the soul of wit.”

DON’T reuse subject lines

Don’t repeat yourself by always sending the same subject line every time you send an email. Repetition is boring, and it also leads to unopened emails. Take the opportunity to test, and test often between different segments of your email list. You’ll be able to access the open rate and click through stats and see what’s really working.

DO keep the subject line sentence case, instead of capitalising each word.

That’s right – write it just like a sentence. Your readers’ familiarity with the conventions of sentences means that the email becomes visually familiar, friendly, and less spammy-lookin’.

DO use descriptors that allow your readers to self identify.

If your list is segmented, as it should be, then you potentially have a number of ways to help your reader identify themselves. Did they participate in something? Give last year?

i.e. Last year you helped us feed 300 pandas. Help us feed 500 in 2015.

DON’T underestimate the FOMO (fear of missing out).

People don’t want to miss out on things. Leverage their anticipation by increasing the sense of urgency in a natural and enticing way.

ie)  Aerin, we’re going to be at NTEN in June. Are you?

Take a good look at your most recent email campaigns and use this list to evaluate your subject lines. Can you find room for improvement? Small tweaks can make a big difference in getting your message out to the right people.

I hope these tips help to increase the success of your email marketing, and I hope that your lines find a soft landing.

What’s your sign, baby?

Aerin Guy

Aerin Guy

Mission Control (Director of Strategy) at SpaceRace
Aerin Guy is a parent, rabble rouser, and communications consultant. Her company, SpaceRace, provides website design and development, and strategic marketing and communications planning for progressive people and organizations. Aerin lives on the side of a mountain in Rossland, BC.
Aerin Guy