12 Email Subject Line Tips for Small Businesses

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Pete Davis

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22 Jan, 2020

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Email marketing is often the most important marketing channel for generating revenue, especially for small businesses. But to get the most out of your email marketing efforts, you need to maximize your open rates, and that means nailing your email subject lines.

Subject lines are a small, often-overlooked, but incredibly important part of your message. They’re your ticket for standing out in your customer’s crowded inbox. The big question is: how do you craft an effective small business subject line?

We put the call out to small business owners and marketers asking for their top tips regarding small business subject lines to find out what works for them. 

Here’s what they had to say.

Make Your Subject Lines Visually Appealing 

What your email subject lines look like is just as important as the information they provide. If your subject line doesn’t stand out, it’s unlikely to get opened, much less read. Below are some expert tips for nailing the visual elements of your small business subject lines. 

1. Use Emojis

Emojis have become more and more commonplace with the rise of social media. Using emojis in your email subject line can be a great way of making them more interesting and eye-catching. 

According to the Mark at Authority Hacker, emojis in subject lines can have a great effect on your open rates:

“Traditionally, we thought this might be a bit tacky or over the top, but results don’t lie. We’ve seen around a 10% increase on our open rates when we use emojis in our subject lines”

However, inserting the emojis in a tactful way is all-important:

“We’re not talking about going overboard here, but just a single emoji that relates to the topic. I believe over time the use of emojis has become much more acceptable and considering how eye-catching, bright and colorful they are, it makes sense that they would have a positive impact on grabbing the reader’s attention.”

2. Include Numbers and Statistics 

Another great way to visually spice up your subject lines is to include numbers or statistics.

Carsten from said

“What the headline says is important, but what you say isn’t the only element that will grab – and keep – readers’ attention.  In general, numbers in headlines are good – i.e. ‘4 Ways To Improve Your Life’ or ‘10 Hacks To Get Free Airline Tickets’”

Naresh from Krish Media and Marketing agreed with this idea and believes that using concise statistics to draw readers in is an effective way to increase open rates, especially when targeting small business owners:

“SMB owners hate fluff. They also hate reading the same old subject lines that everyone else is copying. The thing that worked really well for us is mentioning very specific data and benefits in our subject lines.” 

For Example, ‘30% lower marketing spend by using social proof’. 

Naresh explained:

“Basically, we tease them into the story by revealing the results first in the subject line. It’s not a scam, it’s not deceiving, it’s not clickbait, it’s just showing people the most important information first.”

David from ESL Authority echoed both of these:

“We send a lot of job-related emails – by placing either the number of new jobs or the number of people who have applied to a specific job, we’ve seen a big jump in opens.”

3. Or don’t 

Although there are tons of marketing experts that believe that the use of numbers in subject lines can improve open rates, not all small business owners are in agreement.

Sohini from Hempure CBD thinks that there are certain cases when it’s best to leave the exact figures out:

“Whenever we have a sale, the open rate is 5-10% higher if we do not put the sale percentage in the email. If the email caption is something like ‘The Labor Day Sale Starts Tomorrow: Find out how much you’ll save’ it heightens the intrigue, and results in more opens and even clicks.”

4. Mention a video

Some small businesses have found that using videos instead of text in their email marketing has increased their conversion rates. However, in order for this to be effective, you need to let customers know that there’s a video inside instead of a bunch of text. 

According to Calloway from Illuminate Labs:

“One of the most tried-and-true ways to improve click-through rates on email newsletters is to include mention of a video. Consumers are bombarded with advertising messages in the form of text, but explainer videos are far more engaging. By using historical click-through and conversion rate data, the business owner can estimate whether investing in video production for a certain topic will be profitable.”

5. Include capital letters and emphasize words like ‘NEW’

Another handy visual tip is to make use of capital letters to emphasize important words. It helps the subject line stand out, and readers know straight away that they aren’t clicking an email that they have already seen. 

Jeff from Moriarty’s Gem Art finds that this trick works wonders with his weekly newsletters:

“[We use this technique for our] weekly email deals with new items we have just added to our website. We have tested this at least a dozen times and the subject line where we add NEW in all capital letters has won the highest open rate every single time. We believe it is a combination of the word new, which people seem to like, and the fact that it is capitalized that draws people in to open it.”

Appeal to the Readers Emotions

Once you’ve decided on what your subject line is going to look like, you should consider what information it is actually going to provide. One of the best ways to increase open rates is to appeal to the reader’s emotions – below are some tips on how to do this.

6. Create Controversy

A little bit of controversy keeps the world going around, and it’s a great way to pique the interest of your customers.

According to Raven from Brandalaxy:

“In every great story, there’s a hero and a villain. Well, in this case, the hero is your reader. Identify the pain point/challenge for your hero to overcome, and use that in the subject line. But here’s the thing, make sure the content of the body message truly answers/addresses the pain point. For example, when I took over a client’s marketing sequence for a bit, I used the subject line, The #1 metric businesses fail to measure. As a result, the subject line got 5x the normal average clicks. As you can see, it talks about a problem.”

7. Attract interest without giving too much information

Some people might like to call this technique ‘clickbait’ but as long as you’re delivering on what you’re promising in the subject line, it can be quite an effective method for improving your open rates.  

Ben from the Home Working Club told us

“I’ve had good success lately with things like ‘I nearly didn’t send this to you’ and ‘Perhaps you just need to get on with it.’ Yes, they’re a bit ‘clickbaity’ However, as long as you make sure you’re providing content and information that’s worthwhile, it’s not worth worrying too much about that. Unsubscribes are natural anyway and not to be feared!”

8. Spark curiosity by asking questions 

Asking questions is also a great way to attract attention to your subject lines. No matter what you’re asking, questions spark curiosity in readers which in turn can help to increase open rates.  

Laura from Sonder Digital Marketing often uses subject lines like  ‘Do you feel like you’re wasting your EDM budget?’ or ‘Are EDMs stressing you TF out?’.

“Questions, especially if they do resonate with your audience are a sure-fire way to stand out when they’re bulk selecting their emails to mark them as read.”

Make Your Subject Lines as Relatable as Possible 

Being too generic can be the downfall of any email subject line. You should aim for your subject to be as relatable as possible for the people you are trying to reach.

9. Segment your list and devise more targeted subject lines

Segmentation is a great way to ensure that your subject lines are relatable and stand out to your customers.

Matt from Remotely Working suggests that email segmentation can play a big part in making your email subject lines more relatable and improving your open rates.

“By separating your list into smaller groups, you can send out emails that are more targeted to specific groups and increase the open and click-through rates of your emails.”

According to MailChimp, email marketing campaigns that utilize segmentation produce:

  • 14.37% increase in open rates 
  • 64.87% increase in click-through rates
  • 8.98% decrease in unsubscribe rates

10. Appeal to specific business

Louis from Impact Web also agrees that segmentation is the key to producing effective subject lines.

“Great lines that work for us are relating to their business, for instance, if the newsletter appeals to Damage Restoration we use Flood Reports or Flood Alerts! – this results in them finding a mutual topic that results in more click-throughs.”

Bonus tips for creating professional email subject lines

If 10 tips aren’t enough, here’s one more bonus tips to help you create and perfect your email subject lines.

Related: Email Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

11. Reverse engineer the emails you receive

One technique that many experts swear by is the reverse engineering strategy. This is about studying your own habits, and seeing what type of subject lines appealed most to you.

Josh at Changing Your Business explained the process like this:

“Go back through your own inbox and find sales emails that you have opened in the past. Then copy the subject lines and reword them to suit your needs.

After editing all of the subject titles in our sequence, our open rate jumped to almost 22% with CTR over 5%. Despite many other edits since then, none have had a bigger impact on our open rates. So, I suggest subscribing to emails from the influencers in your industry. And as time goes by, take note of the emails you open and the subject lines they used. If they are working for you, there’s a good chance it will work for your audience too.”

12. Split test and iterate

It’s never been easier (or more important) to run tests on your emails or website as explained by Kristine from TEFL Hero:

“When we first started with email marketing, we spent a lot of time testing different variations of email subjects lines (and other variables like send time, length, follow ups, etc) to see which drove the most opens and clicks.  Not everything will work for your different segments and in the end we found the right combination of tone + composition + grammar that seemed to resonate.

Side note – it’s easy to let this manipulate your time – once you find something that works better than average, stick with it and don’t worry about testing for a few more months!”

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