An email subject line is an invitation to communicate. Any email that doesn’t get opened is a message that has not been delivered. So to increase your chances of your emails being read and messages received, here are some important tips on the effective use of subject lines.
Note: This article refers to business emails, not marketing emails or e-newsletters, which is another story!
- Use a subject line that matters – If you want your recipient to read your email and take action, then give him a reason to open it. When an email arrives without a subject, it might be considered a virus or otherwise it will almost surely be considered unimportant. Use a pertinent subject line that tells your recipient why you’re writing to him. That way, he can prioritise how he opens his emails and might just open yours sooner rather than later.
- Stop simply hitting ‘reply’ on old emails – Open up a new email and use a new subject line! Every time you reply to an old email just so you can avoid having to enter the recipient’s email address again, you really just add clutter to their inbox. If you have a fresh topic, then make it clear. The day you ask your recipient to refer back to an email you sent about a particular issue, he’ll have a devil of a time finding the exact email or conversation you’re referring to!
- Avoid keeping the ‘fwd’ element – You may have a very good reason to forward an email to another person, but considering the saturation level of forwarded junk and joke emails, those three letters – ‘fwd’ – are a trigger for a happy delete button finger. Simply remove the ‘fwd’ from the subject line and let the recipient know what they’re receiving.
- Remember that subject lines are searchable – We all use our search boxes to locate specific emails we need to revisit. Make it easy for your recipients to search for exactly the email they need and you’ll spare them an awful lot of frustration.
- Don’t use generic subject lines – A subject line that says ‘hi’ or ‘email’ has no value whatsoever.
- Use specific information when sending stock standard emails – If an architect uses the words ‘site visit’ in every single email he sends about appointments to various building sites around town, how can anyone ever narrow those emails down to particular sites? Same goes for graphic designers who might use ‘latest revisions’ and retailers who type ‘new product order’. Add a site address, a job type/name or an order number.
- Keep subject lines short – Anything more than 35 characters could be invisible to your recipient, depending on which email platform he uses.
- Induce urgency – If your email is genuinely important, say so in the subject line. Some email platforms enable viewing panes or make the first couple of lines visible before opening the email itself. That means we can become complacent about what’s in the email and avoid opening it, thinking it’s nothing new. But using “Open today – date-critical information inside” or “Please read asap” are all it takes to alert the recipient not to overlook the email.
- Use the tools available – Most email platforms enable you to ‘edit subject line’ before replying to an email you’ve received. It means you can retain the momentum of the conversation but be very specific about the content of your latest reply.
- Don’t use ‘re’ to say ‘about’ – Everyone knows that ‘re’ means ‘reply’ or ‘response’ but if you start using ‘re’ meaning ‘regarding’, you’ll cause confusion. Your recipient may think they’ve received a reply to an email they didn’t write, accompanied by a subject line that’s completely unfamiliar.
Being wishy-washy or lazy with your business email subject lines can cause your emails to be left unopened, or worse, deleted. Adopt these tips and you’ll find your recipients take far greater notice of your communications.