backSubject lines must 'sell' your email

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By Lynne Laracy

As readers scroll through their inbox, or glance at their email alert, they are deciding whether to ‘buy’ – as in open or read, leave for later or delete. That means your subject line needs to stand out from the rest. Think of it as your shop window.

Here are seven ways to attract your readers in.

  1. Show clear relevance to them. Make sure they know it’s for them and not a circular or a cc-the-world email.
  2. Keep it short – less than 40–50 characters if possible.
  3. Ensure it’s specific to the content. Swap generic terms like Meeting for more precise information: Agenda for 4 June team meeting. This also helps people search for particular emails later.
  4. Use key words that convey essential points. Put the most important ones or updated information at the start: Venue change for 4 June team meeting.
  5. Include any action points, dates or deadlines: Pre-reading for Friday’s team meeting.
  6. Show the level of urgency. Avoid overstating this – your readers will learn to ignore it. Some organisations require staff to state the type of action needed (eg Read only; Action required; Immediate response required).
  7. Use verbs – they signify what has been or needs to be done. Lots of nouns in a row are off-putting and hard to understand. Swap Meeting requirements list for What you need to bring to Friday’s team meeting.
    That ticks a lot more of your ‘sales’ boxes. You have a personal pronoun (here: you) so the receiver knows it’s all about them, a friendly tone, a verb that gives a clear call to action, and a timeline.

To close the deal, make sure that your first few lines pack as much information as possible. Tell the reader immediately what the email is about, what it’s got to do with them, and what you want.

And remember that many emails are now read on smartphones, so your sales job needs to be even snappier.

If you want to learn more about writing great emails at work, sign up for our email e-learning course, or talk to us about in-house training sessions.

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