5 Things I’ve Learned about Writing Email Subject Lines

1. Direct response copy works—If you can write an envelope teaser, then you can write a good subject line. Intrigue the recipient. Tease to what’s inside. And then make sure you deliver on it (or your next email might be headed straight for the trash).

2. People are looking out for #1—We’ve written hundreds, if not thousands, of subject lines. Our testing has shown time and time again that the word “you” and relating the content to the reader far outperforms focusing on the content itself. Also, using the recipient's name in a subject line usually lifts response.

3. Subject lines can’t (and shouldn’t) tell the whole story—Nothing should ever be decided by a large committee, especially subject lines. A good subject line will capture the imagination in a split second, not solve the world’s problems. If you find yourself being asked to pack more message into a subject line, then it’s gone awry.

4. Never underestimate the power of the sender—If you’ve been sending all your emails from the organization itself (the all-knowing Oz), try a different strategy. Pick a well-known figure in your organization: a CEO, an executive director, a program manager. You might be surprised … in a year-end fundraising appeal test last year, a change in sender lifted response by 300%!

5. The learning never stops—Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, fatigue sets in, unique subject lines become commonplace and it’s time to go back to the drawing board. But that’s the great thing about email, it’s easy (and inexpensive) to test, and you get immediate results.