Twelve tips: how to write the perfect subject line and pre header?

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9, March 2018

How do you stand out in a recipient’s inbox? Your emails’ subject lines and pre-headers are your only opportunities to achieve higher email opens. They are the first things your recipient sees and are thus extremely important. How much attention do you give your subject lines? We compiled 12 tips to create the best subject line and pre-header, so you can increase your email opens. 

Using the Webpower platform, you can send emails that have conditional subject lines. This means you can have a single email show a different, fitting subject line per segment/target group. 

Subject lines for your email: 12 tips

Tip 1: Set the correct sender name

When you receive a message from a person or organisation that you know and trust, there is a much larger chance of you opening and reading the email. First of all, you should make sure that you have entered the correct sender name. It is the first thing your recipient sees and an important factor in their decision whether to open the email.

Tip 2: Keep it brief

Short, shorter, shortest. Put the most important words of your message at the front. Keep the various devices on which someone may receive your email in mind. The available space provided by the device or app determines what your recipient sees. For example, the Outlook app on an iPhone will show the first 45 characters of a subject line. However, the pre-header is shorter and divided across multiple lines. If you use Gmail, you have roughly the same number of characters available for the subject line and the pre-header. However, is someone has set up automated labels in Gmail, this will detract from your pre-header. In all cases, keep the display methods on different devices in mind when drawing up your message.

Myth: there is no ‘golden rule’ for the amount of characters in your subject line. No evidence exists that shows that having between x and y characters will increase the amount of email opens. Just make sure that it is readable in its entirety on all devices.

Tip 3: Use the active voice

Avoid the use of the passive voice and words such as “can,” “may” and “hope.” Use the active voice instead. You can convey the same message with fewer words and activate your recipient to open and click. For example: “Book a cheap holiday to Ibiza today” is more effective than “You could book a cheap holiday to Ibiza today.” Avoid “We can be proud to present our new collection of sweaters exclusively to you.” Instead, use “We are proud to present our new collection of sweaters”

Tip 4: Don’t mislead your recipients

Ensure the subject line conveys the message of the email well. Avoid misleading your audience and be honest: sender, subject and pre-header should go well together to provide the recipient with a truthful impression of the email’s content.

Tip 5: Address your contacts in a more personal way

Personalise your subject line with the recipient’s first name, company name or a different database field and segment your subject line for different audiences by using conditional subject lines.

Tip 6: Speak your targeted audience’s language

Decide how to address your audience and make sure to properly manage their expectations: your subject line should match the business’ style. Avoid the use of popular phrases like “Hi, you there!” when you send an email on behalf of e.g. an insurance provider. On the other hand, it may be perfect for a different type of organisation. In some cases, emails that resemble messages from friends (Hi, how are you?) can be very effective.

Tip 7: Don’t scream!

Do not use only capitals and exclamation marks. Some spam filters assign negative points for that. Other characters, such as &^%$ and % are not a problem. Just don’t scream! It is fine to use words such as “sale” or “discount,” as there is no evidence to suggest that these words necessarily perform worse;

Tip 8: Try to persuade your audience

Write persuasively: try to create a sense of urgency. Take a look at Cialdini’s principles of persuasion, of which urgency is one.

Tip 9: Use the occasional emoticon

Be creative. Write a surprising text and use the occasional emoticon to draw your audience’s attention. Do not overdo it, however: no more than four per subject line (although we recommend using fewer).

Tip 10: Test your subject lines

Test your subject lines, for example with an A/B-test. A small nuance can make a huge difference. Which subject line works best depends on the organisation and the sector.

Tip 11: Sub- and pre-header evaluation

Spam filters evaluate the subject line and the pre-header separately and in different ways. It is not true that subject lines are rated more harshly. To a spam filter, the pre-header is part of the email’s body text.

Tip 12: Personal sender

You’re more likely to increase your email opens if the sender is a person, rather than a company. For instance, if the recipient sees an email from ‘Lisa from organisation A’, it appeals much more than if it had just been sent by ‘organisation A’. As a result, they are more likely to open the email.

The pre-header

You should devote as much attention to your pre-header as to your subject line. It can work together well with the subject line. Here are some tips on how to write the perfect pre-header:

You should view the pre-header text as a second subject line and use the aforementioned strategies to improve your campaigns. Write a pre-header that accurately conveys the email’s message and, when appropriate, creates a sense of urgency in the reader.

  • The pre-header is the perfect place to experiment with humour or emoticons (copy -> paste in the pre-header) or other tactics that you do not yet use in your subject line;
  • You should conduct an A/B test for your pre-header as well. Test different combinations of subject lines and pre-headers. Some strategies will result in more email opens, while others lead to more clicks;
  • As mentioned before, take the display method on mobile devices into account and make sure to put your most important keywords at the front. This ensures that important words are shown first in email clients that cut sentences short. However, the pre-header should not be too short, either, because then it will not fill the available space in iOS inboxes and Apple mail. Try to find the right balance;
  • Avoid repetition. You should not repeat word clusters from your subject line, tempting as this may be. Instead, write a follow-up to your subject line. Use the pre-header to make the subject even more appealing and persuade your subscribers to open your email. If your subject line contains a CTA, e.g. “40% off our new collection,” you can use your pre-header to explain what this collection consists of;
  • If the body of your email consists of multiple CTAs, consider including these in your pre-header if this meshes well with your subject line;
  • Encourage your readers to keep scrolling by highlighting one or two topics from your newsletter.

We hope these tips have prepared you to write the perfect subject line. If your subject lines are already excellent, you can still use these tips to realise more email opens.

Want to know more about conditional subject lines?

Want to know more about (conditional) subject lines or (email) marketing automation in general? Our experts would love to tell you more about the power of Webpower.

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