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6 Tips for Writing Eye-Catching Subject Lines - 9/17/2014 -


6 Tips for Writing Eye-Catching Subject Lines

Can weak email subject lines actually hurt your online community engagement?

By Joshua Paul

If your association’s online community is like most others, the majority of your members probably don’t check it every day. Unlike their public social network accounts that they check multiple times a day, your branded online member community is more likely to be a place they visit with intention. They sign in to ask a question in the discussion forum, read a new blog post, check out a new how-to video, or follow up on an offer. That’s where the importance of email comes in.

Email is a big part of creating an online community that consistently keeps members engaged. Your target audience is full of very busy people.By sending both manual campaigns and automated emails with updated information, newsletters, and invitations for specific actions, you can stay top-of-mind and encourage members to come back to the community to get value.

However, your members likely get dozens of emails a day, so your email communication needs to stand out from the pack. Emailing for the sake of emailing your online community isn’t going to get the results you seek; you still have to follow best practices just like you would for any other email marketing campaign.

One key strategy is to write better subject lines. Subject lines are a crucial element for getting recipients to open emails and click through. A well-crafted subject line can make a big difference in online community engagement. Here are some ideas to help you create great subject lines.

Tip #1 – Keep It Short
Your subject lines should be brief and to the point so they can instantly catch your community members’ attention without overburdening them with information. Email software provider MailChimp found that the ideal length for an email subject line was less than 50 characters. Keep it brief, but informative.

Tip #2 – Avoid Certain Words
Depending on the wording of your subject lines, your members might have an adverse reaction that makes them less likely to open your email. According to the same MailChimp study, three seemingly innocent words correlated with lower open rates: "Help,” "Percent Off,” and "Reminder.” Of course, always avoid the age-old trouble word "Free,” which tends to alert spam filters.

Tip #3 – Balance Consistency with Changing It Up
This is especially important when it comes to the subject lines of newsletters. While you want the subject lines of your newsletters to be recognizable when they arrive in your members’ inboxes, you still want to engage their interest. Try combining the established branding of your newsletter with varying subject lines that include enticing information about what the newsletter contains.

Tip #4 – Balance Promotional with Educational
As a hard-and-fast rule, your members are not going to be as interested in promotional emails as they are in emails that are useful to them. Do your best to limit the number of promotional subject lines and instead draw your members into your community with timely subject lines that speak to their needs. If you do need to send a few promotional emails, tone down the splashy language typically used in promotional subject lines and just keep it straightforward and to the point. People can smell a sales/marketing email from a mile away.

Tip #5 – Make Value Specific and Concrete
Along with being very busy, your members aren’t mind readers. Being deliberately vague about the value behind your email will only cause them to lose trust and interest. Instead, reference what they’ll get specifically in your subject line so they’ll know that it’s something relevant to them that they want to open. Each email’s subject line is a promise to the recipient as to the value they will find when the open it. If your subject line is unclear, your members are more likely to ignore or delete the email altogether than click for clarity.

Tip #6 – Use Targeted Subject Lines When Possible
MailChimp found that personalized subject lines with users’ names didn’t significantly affect open rates, but targeting by location did. This isn’t too surprising considering most recipients are probably used to spam emails targeting them by name, leading to that level of personalization losing its effect. However, narrowing by location targets your members in a specific way that won’t leave them suspicious. Keep in mind that location is only one option for anchoring an email subject line to something that is familiar to your target audience. Other options include member/customer type, company size, product usage, event attendance, and role in the organization.

Bonus Tip
Consider what goes in the "from" line of your emails. Having an actual name— rather than an organization’s name—in the sender spot leads to more opens. Your members are more likely to trust the name of a specific person as an email worth opening because it seems more personalized.

Keep in mind that these tips aren't hard and fast for every audience. Test and use what works best for your association’s online community based on the results you see. Send enough emails to be able to collect data on your open rates and leverage that data to define the choices you make moving forward.

You might find that your particular audience responds really well to longer, more informative subject lines—but you won’t know for sure unless you test and analyze the data to inform that choice. While these best practices are certainly a good place to start, don’t be afraid to break the mold if you find out your community members respond in a different way.

Joshua Paul is the director of marketing and strategy for Socious.


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