The #1 Reason Subscribers Open Your Emails (or Don't!)

We have a mantra at Sigl Creative: “Email = Revenue.”

We’re saying it to one another a lot. Why?

According to Hubspot, email marketing “generates $42 for every $1 spent.” That’s a 4,200% return on investment!

Developing a digital marketing strategy requires a lot of time, energy, and money, but your business will reap the benefits.

Before prospective customers or clients invest in your brand, you must convince them to OPEN your emails.

Subject lines have one important job think Basher in Ocean’s Eleven who says, “You had ONE job to do!”

They persuade prospects to take the first step toward making a purchase, which is opening your emails!

Copywriters make a big mistake when they prioritize the subject line last and use all their creative juices on the content in the email. Don’t get us wrong — the copy inside is important. But email subscribers won’t see that copy unless you craft a subject line that hooks them.

We know coming up with subject lines (and preview text!) make you feel like this sometimes:

Our copywriters have been there. Today we’re sharing our best advice for writing subject lines that make opening your emails irresistible. Hopefully, these tips rid your team of some headaches too!

1. Tell subscribers what’s in it for them.

Our first two tips are from Donald Miller, CEO of StoryBrand. The first one is to tell people what’s in it for them. A rookie mistake is to be too mysterious or vague with your subject lines.

Miller says, “So many times people are saying, ‘It’s that time of year again,’ instead of, ‘It’s a 40% off sale.’ ‘It’s that time of year again’ doesn’t make me want to open your email. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Telling subscribers exactly what’s in it for them works, even though we know you’re tempted to use broad or mysterious subject lines.

2. Open a story loop with subject lines.

Donald Miller’s second tip for writing subject lines is to open a story loop:

“That means I have a question in my head, and I want to know the answer to that question… Instead of saying, ‘Employee retention is really hard’ — that doesn’t open a story loop. What gets me to open the story loop is, ‘The 1 thing every employee hates in a boss.’ That gets me to open the story loop because I wonder what that one thing is.”

When opening a story loop in subject lines, your goal is to make opening your email irresistible because readers have to know the conclusion or ending to the story loop you just opened. 

3. Speak to the customer.

We emphasize the importance of speaking directly to your target audience by using “you” in your copy. Subject lines are no different.

Consider the difference between these subject lines: “10% discount expires TODAY!” and “Your 10% discount expires TODAY!” Adding “Your” at the beginning makes this subject line more conversational and customer-centric. You can even use the recipient’s name occasionally: “Mary, your 10% discount expires TODAY!”

Always ask if you can make changes to your subject lines so they speak directly to subscribers.

4. Use powerful and imperative verbs.

Read Donald Miller’s example subject line again: “The 1 thing every employee hates in a boss.” “Hates” is a strong emotion — and powerful verb — people resonate with.

Strong verbs and imperative verbs make great subject lines. What’s an imperative verb? They’re commands. You don’t want to sound too bossy in your subject lines, but imperative verbs are another way to speak directly to the customer with a call to action.

Compare these subject lines: “Styles hand-picked for you inside…” versus “Upgrade your wardrobe with these styles hand-picked for you!” The first subject line has no verb. The second subject line has not only a verb but an imperative verb. “Upgrade” implies a clear call to action and puts the purchasing power in your prospect’s hands.

You’re the guide when marketing your brand; your customer is the hero. “You-centric” copy and imperative verbs make the customer the hero of the story.

5. Create urgency when appropriate.

Is a discount code only good for 48 hours? Is the customer’s abandoned cart about to expire? Is a new item almost out of stock?

Tell subscribers that in the subject line. Remember, email = revenue. Communicating urgency or scarcity encourages prospects to act now.

DigitalMarketer cautions against overusing this tactic, and we agree: “[T]oo many of these [subject lines] can lead to list exhaustion, so use sparingly and, of course, only when there is truly a deadline, limited quantity, or limited availability.”

6. Brainstorm subject lines.

Like we said already, copywriters make a big mistake when they take great care in writing an email’s body but then write one quick subject line before sending it to the team’s designer.

The subject line gets people to open the email and requires as much attention as the email’s content. We have good news and bad news. The bad news? You’re not going to nail your best subject line the first time you write it. But the good news is that your subject lines will only get stronger as you brainstorm a list.

After you finish your email’s body, start with a “blank canvas” and open a new document. Then write a subject line, rewrite it, and then rewrite it some more until you have a list of prospects. Incorporate and play with the elements we’ve discussed today. Now pick the strongest one!

7. Use preview text to explain the subject line in greater detail.

The preview text appears directly beside or under the subject line. It’s usually not bolded like the subject line. Although the preview text is different, it works with your subject line and elaborates on what’s inside.

When you don’t write the preview text yourself, your email service provider will use some copy from your email’s body. That can look sloppy so don’t take the risk!

Don’t underestimate the power of compelling preview text. Many people will almost scroll past an email until they read the preview text and decide to open it instead. How can your preview support your subject line or intrigue subscribers as to what’s inside? Brainstorm a few of these too before choosing the best one.

Coming up with subject lines are taxing, but the strongest ones get people to open your emails — and email = revenue. Our “subject-line surgeons” at Sigl Creative are ready to help if you don’t have the time or expertise to create emails subscribers will open. Schedule a call today, and let us create and implement an email marketing strategy for your business so you can focus on running it!

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