How can you create effective subject lines for email marketing?

It doesn’t matter how relevant and compelling your email content is if people aren’t opening your emails in the first place. Are your subject lines the problem?

The subject line you choose for your email is one of the first things your audience will see as they scan through their inbox:

How an email subject line appears in the reader’s inbox


It’s also one of the first parts of your email you’re prompted to write when creating a new email campaign in DSS:

DSS asks for a subject line when you create an email blast.


Ultimately, subject lines are a key part of what captures attention, motivates people to open your email, and makes them want to learn more. They may only consist of five or ten words, but they are a powerful part of email marketing success!

To make the most of it, every email you send out to your contact lists should feature a unique subject line that not only meets some basic functional guidelines, but also gives readers a reason to dig deeper.

Basic Guidelines for Email Subject Lines

Before we get to the fun part, let’s talk about some of the most basic guidelines for crafting an effective subject line:

  • Don’t use spammy words or punctuation. At best, anything in a subject line that sounds overly sales-y is likely to make you look untrustworthy. At worst, your email will be filtered out and marked as spam. Stay on the safe side by avoiding excessive punctuation, buzzwords like “free” or “guaranteed,” words in all caps, and anything else that might be read as dubious in your subject lines.
  • Keep it short. While opinions vary on exactly how long your subject lines should run, the consensus is that concise is typically better. Shorter email subject lines tend to be easier to scan and understand, so they’re more likely to grab readers’ attention. Plus, shorter subject lines are less likely to be weirdly truncated on mobile devices.
  • Experiment and evaluate. Email marketing lets you hone in on narrow target audiences that are highly specific to your goals, so it’s important to track and test different ideas until you hit the “sweet spot” for your perfect clients. You might try a few different subject lines for each email campaign, and then modify your strategy based on how your unique audiences react. Find out more about how to evaluate and optimize your email campaigns.

Get Creative With a Simple Exercise for Compelling Subject Lines

Once the basics are locked down, it’s time to think about what you can say—in just a few words—that will introduce your email content and compel readers to click.

If you’re not sure how to get started, here’s a quick exercise that we recommend:

  • Open your favorite magazine, blog, or article site.
  • Write down a few headlines that jump out at you. For this example, let’s say you wrote down “The Secret History of the Vikings,” “Nine Disturbing Facts About Milk,” and “How to Choose the Best Running Shoes.”
  • Break each headline down into a formula. For example, “The Secret History of [Topic],” “[X] [Adjective] Facts About [Topic],” and “How to Choose the Best [Product or Service].”
  • Under each formula, construct a few potential subject lines based on your practice areas. For example, “The Secret History of Estate Planning,” “Five Honest Facts About Auto Accident Claims,” and “How to Choose the Best Treatment for Heel Spurs.”
  • Don’t be afraid to change things around or come up with your own formulas. In the end, you should have a great list of potential subject lines for your email campaigns!

 This exercise will definitely give you a good idea of current trends and general expectations, but it doesn’t have to be the limit of your creativity. Some other ideas for crafting subject lines might include:

  • Using questions. For example, “Do You Know Your Rights After an Accident?”
  • Highlighting deadlines. For example, “Last Chance to Sign Up!”
  • Offering a results-oriented preview. For example, “We Helped 43 Truckers Collect Unpaid Overtime”

It’s okay to be creative and have a little fun with your subject lines, where appropriate. The most important thing is that you keep your audience in mind while creating them. Think about who you want to reach with your message. Think about what’s important to them and what motivates them. Always write subject lines that are meant to be read by real people.

Do you need help writing stronger subject lines? Do you have questions about how to succeed with your email campaigns? Don’t hesitate to reach out to our marketing experts to talk about how we can help you optimize your email marketing success.

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