Writing Effective Internal Email Subject Lines

How to Write More Effective Email Subject Lines

Subject lines are an underappreciated asset.

Internal communicators spend a lot of time crafting the stories in the content of an email–things like new employee announcements, recent news, and workplace health and safety memos–yet the subject lines are often just an afterthought.

Since subject lines contain a lot of power, this is an unfortunate oversight. To name a few benefits, an effective subject line can:

  • capture the recipients attention,
  • motivate a recipient to take action,
  • and spark interest and curiosity to read the content of your email.

Generally, people filter their limited attention based on who the message is from and what it is about. Subject lines provide context for the about. Are you ready to write more effective internal email subject lines? Here are a few strategies to employ.

  1. Keep it short and compelling. As with most copywriting and communications, the briefer, the better. The goal is to condense information. With a subject line, you are even more constricted by the number of words recipients can actually see. 

On desktop, the most popular screen widths are 1366 and 1920, with a minimum resolution of 1024. If you format your subject lines for the minimum resolution, it’s best not to exceed 70 characters. That said, mobile opens account for 46 percent of all email marketing opens and about 19% of corporate email opens. Mobile formatting cuts subject lines off at about 42 characters.

With that in mind, aim for seven words or less, and think of it as a challenge. Here are a few seven-word examples:

  • You heard it here first (we won!) (33 characters)
  • Say hello to Joe, our new manager (33 characters)
  • 5 pm deadline: We need your feedback! (37 characters)
  1. Avoid the obvious and redundant. Lead with the most important words and specific information. With just 42 characters to work with, leave nothing to waste. If there is an action or deadline, put it in the subject line. Use specific numbers and dates. If there are news items that don’t fit into a single sentence, try a short list of keywords.
  • Before: March 2021 Corporate Newsletter
  • After: News: 180 Hires | Record-Breaking Q1 | Coffee?

In the ‘before’ example, everyone knows the date they are receiving the messages, making those words unnecessary. Alternatively, the ‘after’ example tells people what the message is about, and offers key snippets to pique interest.

  1. Opt for simplicity over creativity. No one likes boring, but you don’t want creativity to complicate or confuse your subject line. Prioritize simplicity and clarity above cleverness. Some ways to do this: simplify your language and word choice, eliminate extraneous words, and speak to your reader directly.
  • Before: You thought we’d never ask. Think again!
  • After: Pulse survey due today: Office or WFH?

While the ‘before’ might be clever, it’s confusing. The ‘after’ is quite clear and more likely to inspire the response you’re looking for.

  1. Ask a good question. To spark interest and curiosity, it’s often better to ask rather than tell. Asking a question engages the reader’s mind, and if they don’t know the answer, your content is sure to provide it! The above ‘after’ is a good example of how to do this: “Pulse survey due today: Office or WFH?”
  2. Indicate when you need a response. If you need a response to an email, especially if there is a time-sensitive deadline, ask for it in the subject line. You can literally write, ‘Response Requested.’ When the objective is to get your reader to take an action, cut right to the chase in the subject line so your recipient knows to prioritize the email and respond by the deadline. 

Lines like “Save the Date: June 7th Outing” or “Confirm PTO by Friday EOD” or “Action Required: Security Form Due 5/2/21” are all effective examples that provide the key information as the subject.

The Impact of Effective Subject Lines

Effective subject lines will increase your readership by garnering interest in your message. A well-crafted subject line can be the difference between getting someone to read your email or not. It’s also an opportunity to set the expectation of what you want the recipient to do. 

If you have an email analytics tool, try A/B testing various subject lines on subsets of your audience and see how that impacts your open and attention rates. 

Surprisingly, it might take as much time to craft a compelling subject line as it does to write an entire informative paragraph. Editing, word choice, and twist of phrase are essential. If you need assistance or advice, seek out advertising or comedy copywriters; they tend to have the skills to compose compelling yet short one-liners.

When you take the time to be more intentional about your email subject lines, you can expect to see improved results in your email engagement and response times.

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