Use Sex as a Weapon, But Not in Your Subject Lines

Just because your email makes it into your client’s inbox doesn’t mean it’ll get opened. In fact, chances are it won’t.

I know what you’re thinking: “But Anna, I wrote a seriously amazing email with a seriously amazing offer I know they’ll want. There’s no way they’re going to delete it!”

Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but “Way.” Unfortunately, even if you can get past the powerful spam filters, there’s an even more powerful force at work: your client’s free will. Yes, I’m talking about the Delete key. Think about it: How many emails a day do you delete without reading? Exactly.

How can you make sure your email stands out? It all starts with the right subject line. As I wrote in my previous post about avoiding spam filters, the best subject lines clearly convey the subject of the email. They pique the reader’s interest, but are never cloyingly cute or salesy.

Here are three other tips brought to you by my business partner (and subject-line-writer extraordinaire), Dan O’Sullivan:

1) Get past the spam filters. Using certain words or symbols in the subject line can doom your email to Junk folder purgatory. To be safe, stay away from “free,” “cash” or “$$.” And definitely don’t use “sex” in your subject line. (Sex should only be used as a weapon.) You can read more about avoiding the spam filter here.

2) Figure out who your audience is. Write to just them. Your subject line must be relevant to your target audience or it will get deleted. Create separate emails if your audience is too broad. For example, a big retailer promoting a summer sale wouldn’t want to highlight discounts on bikinis and chainsaws in the same subject line. Craft one email for women who like swimwear and then another for the women who want a cheap chainsaw. Hey — I’m no sexist!

3) Stay focused. Identify your purpose for writing, whittle it down to its essence and leave it at that. Cap it at 55 characters, which is about six to eight words. (Just not words like Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.)


Okay, but what exactly do you write?

Effective subject lines can take one of three primary directions. Here’s how to do them well.

1) Offers: If they can make it through the spam filter, offer subject lines are often the most effective because people are motivated by money. Highlighting an online coupon or discount is fine if done correctly. This means no exclamation marks or dollar signs. And be as specific as possible. For example, The Union Bluff Hotel would be better off writing “Union Bluff Two-for-One April Getaway” as a subject line rather than “Union Bluff Savings.” Or worse, an even more generic “Discounted rooms.”

2) Benefits: People want to know, “What’s in it for me?” Tell them in your subject line (without sounding like a cornball salesman).

3) Teasers: Pose an intriguing question or state an interesting fact that ties to your product or service (e.g. “Are green products really safer?”).

And whatever your product or service, we always preach the virtues of writing in a conversational tone. Your customers and prospects will appreciate it — and maybe even open your email.

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