How to write the best subject lines & preview text


Posted by: Tommy Tonkins on 12th February 2019


You can have the best looking email in the world, full to the rafters with the most amazing content you’ve ever created, yet it all counts for nothing if your email marketing campaign falls down at the first hurdle…

When your email hits your subscribers’ inbox it has one job it needs to do first and foremost – and that’s to be opened. The average person receives 416 commercial emails a month (Source: Return Path). That’s around 13 per day and doesn’t take into account personal and work emails they’ll also receive. If you want them to sit up and take notice of your email, then you have to stand out from the crowd, which means your subject line and preview text has to be on point.

The primary purpose of your subject line is to cut through the noise and to make people open your email. If this fails, all the hard work you’ve put into creating your great content, brilliant offer and optimised landing page will fall by the wayside.

Your preview text is just as important, especially as 24% of people (Source: Litmus) will look at it before deciding on whether to open an email. It should supplement your subject line, strengthening and extending it while adding in extra detail as to what’s inside the email itself.

The good news is, creating great subject lines and preview isn’t too tricky but it does take a little bit of time and consideration to get right. While there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach, the more tips and techniques you’re aware of, the better your subject lines will be.

If you want your subject lines to stand out from the crowd then these tips will help you do it:

Be personal and relevant.

If you know who your customers are, understand them and have the right data in place, then you can serve up personalised and relevant subject lines which will give your open rates a significant boost. If you’ve ever received a ‘Happy Birthday’ email from a brand you subscribe to then you’ll recognise this. The subject line ‘Happy Birthday, Fleur. Your gift is inside…’ will have an exceptionally high open rate as it’s personal, relevant and holds the promise of something exciting inside.

Ask questions.

Posing a question in the subject line is a great way of creating intrigue in the recipient. From a simple ‘How can we help?’ through to a ‘Did you know…’ the strategic use of questions in your subject lines can help improve your open rates.

Keep it short and sweet.

You’ve got mere seconds to grab someone’s attention and get them to open the email. Keeping it short and sweet is the key, if your subject line is going above 50 characters then it’s too long and will be cut off, especially on mobile devices. But make sure they are descriptive and informative, teasing the content of your email and giving people a reason to open. And don’t forget to use the preview text to strengthen the subject line – it’s a great place for including secondary information and summing up the email.

Be urgent and immediate.

We’ve all seen emails like this. From flash sales to limited time offers, creating a sense of urgency and commanding people to act now are other hugely successful ploys for creating subject lines that stand out from the crowd.

Educate and inform.

‘How to’ guides and lists are a brilliant way to tell your subscribers something they didn’t know before. Let them know they are going to learn something once they open the email up and they are much more likely to.

Make them an offer that’s too good to refuse.

Having a compelling offer in your subject line that’s too good to turn down will always get people opening your emails. If you sell goods this is a great ploy to use and emails with subject lines offering exclusive discounts or free shipping always performing well.

Continuity & consistency have a place.

It’s not all about flash sales and discount codes. Some of the most opened and read emails are those that become part of a bigger whole. The exceptional Scrapbook Chronicles from Hiut Denim is a great example, with each ‘chronicle’ numbered sequentially. This works because the magazine-style content of the email is so good, their subscribers love reading it and eagerly await each new ‘issue.’

At its very core, a great subject line will inspire people to act. Test what works, measure your results and don’t be afraid to try something different. Running A/B split tests on different subject lines or preview text to see which gets the best open rate is a great way of doing this. If you do go down this route, be clear on what you’ve changed and why you’ve changed it. For example, Subject Line A could be personalised while Subject Line B could be generic – the results will then tell you if personalisation works for you.

And finally, please, whatever you do, don’t send an email with the subject line ‘February Newsletter.’

If you’d like more tips on sending better email marketing campaigns you can download our guide below.

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About the author

Tommy Tonkins

Tommy is our former Head of Content and now a freelance writer working with businesses around the world to help them tell their stories. He guest blogs for Jarrang from time to time.