Sultry Subject Lines: The Comprehensive Guide to Capturing an Audience

By Harris Fellman |

Jan 05

At Traffic 4 Me, we find ourselves dealing with about a house-sized pile of emails every month. Imagine how full your inbox gets after a week at work – then imagine living in a world where you’re constantly generating traffic with new email campaigns.

While all those emails obviously make for a hell of a lot of hard work from the workers and grunts here at T4Me – they also have a silver lining. When you stare at as many emails as we do every day – you start to notice some pretty important things – like which kinds of emails are the most annoying, how much better you are at replying to Facebook then aggravating chain letters – and how certain subject lines just immediately capture your attention.

All that exposure to emails also means that you figure out what works to make clients’ money – and what sends their customers scattering.

No matter what people say – we do judge books by their covers (and emails by their subject lines). In fact, around 33% of email recipients decide whether to open an email by looking at the subject line and nothing else – that’s why you have to be compelling!

If you’re still working on a way to make your emails stand out in a crowded inbox – the following tips could help you to jazz up your correspondence, and make a real difference to your customers.

We’ve discussed subject lines here before, but trust us – these tips are just as important as the rest.

1.    Use a Familiar Name

Are you more likely to open an email from “Joanne Webster” or “webhacker2311”?

If the name you’re emailing from doesn’t sound like a familiar friend that you want to hear from – then your subject matter doesn’t mean squat.

Thanks to the amount of spam that people get today, most will reject the idea of opening messages from unfamiliar senders, and you’ll probably find that your emails get sent straight to the black hole of internet marketing – the spam folder.

The number one rule? Don’t EVER use Not only does this make you look less like a human being, but it also means that prospects can’t add you to your email address book. Avoid using generic addresses and send the email from real people who seem like they have real value to offer. Trust us – it really does work.

2.    Get Into their Personal Space

Not in a sleazy way – though.

Batch and blast emails are worthless – nobody likes receiving information that has nothing to do with what they want or need. Instead, use personalization tokens like location or name in the subject line to add an extra sense of rapport – particularly with a name.

Those personal touches are ideal for increasing click through rate – and according to email marketing science, emails that include the first name of their recipient in subject lines had a more successful click through than emails which didn’t.

Try something like this:

  •         Hey Sarah – Check out this deal we have for you!
  •         Happy Birthday John! We have a surprise just for you…
  •         Tom, are you looking for a new ironing board? How about 20% off?

Another way to get personal is to tailor the subject lines of your emails to where your customers are from. Location-specific emails can make your customers feel as though they’re interacting with someone closer to home – rather than a robot located miles away. For instance, you could use something like: “Hey Mike, heading down to London this weekend – have some vouchers!”

If you can’t use personalization properly in your email, you could always try adding words like “your” or “you”, so that it seems like you’re addressing them directly. At Traffic 4 Me, we’ve learned that little touches in personalization go a long way towards generating valuable traffic.

3.    Segment! Segment! SEGMENT!

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – segmentation is essential for email marketing campaigns.

While email blasts that cover your complete traffic list by seem relevant and helpful to around 10% of the people you target – that means that you’re sending confusing and frustrating drivel to the other 90%.

Why is a restaurant sending vegetarians a list of great steak deals? Why is this company sending me deals on great women’s shoes when I’m a guy? (No judgement on what you do with your free time!)

Remember to personalize the experience your customer is getting by segmenting each section into their own group and offering them something that’s based on the actions they’ve already taken – from the forms they’ve filled out to the industries they’re interested in – and what they’re personal preferences are.

Heck – even using a picture of a dog instead of a cat could be enough to rile some people in your email list.

Here are a few ways to slice and dice your lists for a better, more segmented approach to working with emails:

  •         Gender
  •         Geography
  •         Age
  •         Persona
  •         Job
  •         Education
  •         Past purchases
  •         Buying frequency
  •         Purchase cycle

4.    Guess what’s Inside

Your subject line can be a mystery – or a promise.

If you’re going to give them a promise, then make sure it’s something that you can keep. Don’t tell your customers that you’re going to give them something in your content that you absolutely can’t offer – and don’t try to get your email opened by saying things like “Here’s a free coupon” when you’re actually just going to link them to some case studies.

The more you try to trick your audience, the more annoyed they’ll become. On the other hand, if you do have something valuable to offer, like a new e-book, or a voucher code – then feel free to advertise that in your subject line. Starting an email with: “Your 20% coupon inside” is bound to get your customers interested if they’re looking for ways to save money.

Let’s face it – who isn’t aching for some extra cash in their pockets these days?

Step 5: Be Action-Oriented

Subject lines are very similar to a standard call-to-action. In other words, you’re going to want the language you choose to inspire people to click through. Subject lines that use action verbs immediately are often far more enticing than those which don’t.

Wanna know what we’re talking about?

Actionable subject lines inspire people to click on emails by providing an essence of excitement and urgency. For instance, “Party with Bruce Springsteen” is far more exciting than “Local legend, Bruce Springsteen, hosts event.”

The “party” verb encourages your readers to imagine themselves at the event – regardless of whether they have tickets or not. This means that they’re instantly more engaged in whatever you happen to be talking about.

Step 6: Make Your Readers Feel Special

“Click here to read more about online marketing”

We bet you say that to all the girls…

The psychology of exclusivity is more powerful than you think. If people feel like they’re getting the inside scoop on something, they often feel a sense of belonging that can build loyalty and compel them to convert more on your emails.

The right phrasing makes your recipients like they mean more to you. For instance:

  •         Hey Sarah, here’s an offer just for you…
  •         Nicole, enjoy an exclusive offer…
  •         Steve, you’re invited to a private event…

Step 7: Use Numbers

We don’t mean filling your content with that Myspace-era chatter that involved using numbers instead of vowels. Instead, we mean making your emails more precise with numbers.

At Traffic 4 Me, we’ve noticed that a lot of businesses struggle to maintain the traffic that they want because they send vague and pointless statements in their subject line. That’s why numbers and data are great for getting you noticed. They set the right expectations and demonstrate a clear message about what you’re offering.

Using numbers works for blogs and emails alike when it comes to giving your customers a precise insight into what kind of benefits they can get from opening your email, or reading on. For instance: “Join more than 1000 others at this event”, or “Introducing ten tips for better email campaigns” are far more engaging than “Check out our latest event.”


In other words, calm the heck down!

A subject line that says “OPEN AND RECEIVE FREE COUPONS TODAY!!!!!!!” isn’t going to prompt people to trust your company and open your emails. In fact, it’s more likely that your customers will instantly write your messages off as spam.

People don’t like to be yelled at – and studies have shown that more than 85% of respondents would rather have an all-lowercase subject line than an all-caps option. Just relax and focus on getting your point across in a mature and professional way.

Instead of using disruptive tactics in an attempt to stand out in someone’s inbox, try establishing your relevance in someone else’s world, personalizing your emails, and using language that’s designed to inspire action. Trust us – you’re far more likely to get a good result.



About the Author

Harris Fellman has been involved in online sales & marketing since before the web existed. He began his online sales journey at pioneers Galacticomm, iBill, and MSN in the 1990's. He then went on to own a successful multi-million dollar Email Marketing company from 1999 to 2005 before embarking on creating numerous products and services that teach and help other online entrepreneurs to succeed. Harris has a passion for comedy, travel, and inspiring others to live life to the fullest. Harris, along with his wife, Andrea, and two children currently live in beautiful Barcelona. (Andrea is a powerhouse social media maven in her own right, by the way.) Harris Fellman's life mission is to "Make You Richer" - not only in income, but also in life.

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