July 8, 2022 Hunter Auman

The Art & Science of Subject Line Storytelling

To thrive in the world of email marketing, you must learn the craft of composing concise, eye-catching, unique, and sometimes even humorous subject lines. How exactly do you build such a perfect line of copy for every email needing to be deployed in a timely manner?

Practice. Lots of practice. All while testing and repeating the process. That’s exactly what I did in the private sector for a decade. I worked on writing meaningful subject lines catered to each audience. Through this approach, the subject lines my teams and I developed encouraged interaction and boosted engagement. I’ll share insights on how you may do the same for your organization based on analyzing +7,000 email campaigns in my career.

Sound Structure

To create stand-out subject lines, you first need to nail down the technical structure. According to a study conducted via Marketo, subject lines with seven words or 41 characters perform optimally for opens and clicks. Even adding one more word to your subject line resulted in email engagement plummeting by half. Don’t dismiss the science here! Challenge yourself, and go for fewer words in your subject lines.

Compelling Content

Well-written subject lines pique interest, and they need to answer traditional questions: who, what, why, and how. To answer these questions, HubSpot suggests several components to win inbox attention:

  • Include a call-to-action (CTA)
    • Action-oriented verbs
  • Convey urgency
    • Act soon to take advantage of the opportunity
  • Make it personal
    • First-name tokens
  • Add numbers
    • Dates, integers, & savings
  • Avoid spam indicators
    • Don’t use all caps or more than two punctuation marks

Productive Preheaders

The best and most effective preheaders complement the subject line. If the subject line is the title of your book, the preheader is the subtitle. I also like to think of the preheader as a second subject line. Preheaders offer additional email real estate to capitalize upon for engagement. Email on Acid echoes this sentiment by encouraging email marketers to add more information in their preheaders that expands on the subject line. Here are some ideas for creating captivating preheaders:

  • Ask a question relevant to your audience
  • Incorporate an additional CTA for urgency
  • Use emojis to evoke excitement & artistic expression

When the subject line and preheader are in perfect sync, the resulting harmony may yield higher email engagement for increased KPIs.

Tactical Tools

Practice makes perfect. Test your subject lines and emails using the below tools to see how your creative ideas rate:

Remember, no matter how well designed your email may be, a user can’t experience that message if the email remains unopened or–even worse–gets deleted. Therefore, subject line storytelling is not merely a choice in 2022; it’s a digital demand of our profession. If you aim to succeed in driving traffic back to your landing page, make the art and science of subject line storytelling the forefront of your email marketing plan. After all, putting the audience first is at the heart of what we do.