Most professionals are overwhelmed with the amount of email they receive each and every day. As a result we seek to clear out their inbox and move on to the next task as quickly as possible. Most of the time we quickly scan our inbox and select those messages that are important and ignore the rest. If the purpose of an email cannot be identified quickly it will go unread, left for later or worse get deleted.
Nothing happens until your message gets read. If the subject line is poorly written your email may be passed over and never opened. Whereas an effective subject line cuts through the noise and grabs the readers attention. Subject lines that are vague or confusing increase the chances that your email gets deleted or remains unread.
“35% of all recipients of email choose whether or not to open a message on the subject line alone.” – inwise “The Magic Words: The Importance of the Subject and ‘From’ Lines for Email Marketing” (2012) – Source: EmailStatCentre
Subject lines are like newspaper headlines. The goal of a newspaper headline is to grab the readers attention and give them some idea as what the article is all about, if it’s interesting you read further, if not you move on. Email subject lines have the same purpose they exist to achieve the the following two tasks:
- Interest the recipient in your message so that the email is opened and read.
- Provide a summary of the purpose and action that you would like the recipient to take.
The goal of the subject line in an email is to help the recipient understand why you have sent them an email and what action is required. Given this it’s useful to ensure that your subject lines are actionable by starting the subject with one of the following:
- For Review: Draft Board Report for Review
- Action Required: Consolidate project revenue reports
- Deadline: Report to be Completed by 31.03.2013
- FYI: Breaking News on [Company] Aqusition
- Decision Needed: Approval for Project Exodus Budget Proposal
The subject line is the first thing the recipients sees before they open a message. You want a subject line that is clear and grabs their attention as they scan their inbox. The subject line must stand out and set your email apart. Listed below are a number of guidelines to keep in mind as you write your subject line.
- Start with a verb. Subject lines that are action oriented and start with a verb tend to be better than others. So “Review board report by Friday Next Week” works better than “Board report for comments”.
- Summarise the email’s message. Provide the email’s main point, tell the recipient what the message is about.
- One topic per email only. If your email has multiple topics it’s strongly suggested that you break the message into separate emails.
- Be specific. One word subject lines such as “Important” of “FYI” are not useful and provide no idea as to what the email is about. The subject line should tell the recipient what they will find inside.
- Include the action required. Consider putting the action required in the subject line in support of the message, for example “Action Required: Consolidate project revenue reports”
- Keep your subject line short. Most email clients display only the first 60 characters of the subject line so keep your subject line to 50 characters or less.
- No blank subject lines. Never leave your subject line blank.
- Include a due date where appropriate. Messages with a deadline or a due date should include the due date in the subject line for example “Year End Budget – Due By: 2 December 2013”
Email is not the appropriate tool to communicate urgent messages or for last minute communications. So don’t use email to cancel your meeting which is scheduled to begin in the next 5 minutes. People are not sitting at their desks or on their phones waiting for your email to arrive so they can jump into action. If it’s urgent use the phone.
Think about subject lines of some of the emails you receive. Which one were most effective? Why?
This post is part of the series “Email that Gets Results”