Email Subject Lines Matter

email

I spent the past decade of my life as an “email marketing dude.”

If you’ve been following along, you know those days ended a few months ago. But, well, I still think a lot – a LOT – about email. Less about about email marketing and more about email. Personal email. Email as a communication tool.

The truth: Most people suck at email.

I don’t write that to be all negative or to be dramatic. Nope. I truly believe it. It’s not that people are intentionally bad at email. It’s just that there has never been a course, a class, a session on “how to email.”

Think about it.

I just googled “Email Etiquette.” While there are 29 million+ results, most of them are … well … like this one. Now don’t get me wrong, some of Laura Stack’s 12 tips in that article are pretty good. This Business Insider article, 7 Email Etiquette Rules Every Professional Should Know, is pretty good. But still, nobody is going to read that.

{Hopefully you will keep reading my thoughts on email subject lines. Ha!}

One of these days I’ll write a longer post breaking down every part of an email, but for today, I want to talk about email subject lines. They matter.

Why Email Subject Lines Matter

An email subject line is similar to a blog post title, a newspaper headline, a movie title, a tweet, the first few words in a Facebook post, the introduction to a book, and so on. It’s the hook. If it captures your attention, you read on (or open, in the case of email).

Now don’t get me wrong, there are certain people – my wife, close friends, etc – who can use any subject line and I’ll likely open their email. However, they are far and few between.

Let’s take a look at some of the subject lines I received over the past few days (along with my commentary next to each one)

  • In the area … What area? Who are you? When will you be “in the area?”
  • LUNCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! … When? Where? Today? Now? Crap. Am I late? (as it turns out, because of the person sending this email, I knew what it was about. But normally … )
  • Wasn’t sure if you were aware … I wasn’t. Wait. Aware about what? Sure, this piques my curiosity, but just tell me!
  • Recipes … Food? Beer? Cooking meth? (not sure why I wrote meth. Damn you Breaking Bad!)
  • Possible times … For what? When? JUST TELL ME WHEN WE ARE MEETING!
  • Question … Do you have a question for me or are you about to reply to my question?
  • Introduction … Got it. But why not just tell me who you will be introducing me to!?
  • FW: … This is just lazy. Take the 5 seconds to change the subject line!
  • Invite request … I have no clue what I’m being invited to. Or wait, am I supposed to invite you?
  • Dude!!! … Okay. This one gets a pass. This person clearly knew me. Dude is one of my 4 favorite words.
  • Favor and a reminder … both a favor AND a reminder in one email? YES! Wait.
  • Reconnecting … Are we putting puzzle pieces back together? Are we getting together? When? Who are you again?
  • Fan … As in the thing that goes around and around and around or are you a fan of something I do? Ha!

Do you see what I mean? Does it make sense why subject lines like those above … kinda suck?

Now, let’s look at the flip side – some of the really good subject lines I’ve received over the past few days (along with my commentary next to each one)

  • Small Favor, DJ? … Sure, they could have been a bit more clear about what the “small favor” was, but it was enough to get me to open!
  • big tent can suck it … Awesome. I definitely know what this email is going to be about.
  • Work Talk Show: Big 100th Episode Extravaganza … Direct. To the point. Kinda fun!

Here are a few email subject lines I used over the past few days (no commentary this time):

  • Yo PJ. This is DJ. Friends with JR.
  • Your Passion: Art, Travel, Email?
  • Guest on Living Your Passion? ZERO PREP (on your end)
  • You. Writing. Living Your Passion. Doodle. #SSS
  • Your Living Your Passion iTunes review
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Yo. CMXSummit. SF. Talk to me.
  • Yo. Still on for meetup in SF on Wed?

See the difference here? Now, I’m not saying I’m a professional email subject line writer. I’m far from perfect. However, I do my best to:

a) Make each subject line interesting and unique.
b) Make people smile when they see my email in their inbox.
c) Be direct, to the point, and actionable

Another Reason Email Subject Lines Matter

I love Google – Google Drive, Google Maps, Google Nose, Gmail Blue, and … especially good ‘ol GMAIL.

I’m an inbox zero guy. I archive like it’s my job. Ha! Because I archive so much, Gmail search is my best friend. And that’s why email subject lines matter so much, to me. Try finding an email you really need … and the subject line is “Introduction” or “Question” or “FW” or “Reconnecting.” Ain’t gonna happen!

Call me anal (I call it smart and organized. Ha!), but I actually change subject lines all the time when I hit reply. Remember that subject line “Introduction”? I changed it to  “Living Your Passion Podcast: Yes?” when I hit reply. Remember “Question”? I changed it to “Answer” in my reply. Okay, I was being a smart ass in that one.

But the point is this, if you want to be able to more easily find archived emails, be sure the subject line makes sense.

Have I convinced you that email subject lines matter? Do you think about email subject lines as much as I do? I want to hear from you (email me … with your BEST subject line – no pressure). Drop a comment below.

Talk to me …

17 comments
Lara
Lara

Gah......I'm in this post and NOT in a good way! Oops. In my own defense, I DO try to make sure my subject lines are typically clear and give the recipient the idea when I'm sending more formal emails. It's in my less formal stuff that I apparently slack off. Oops. Appropriately SCHOOLED!

djwaldow
djwaldow

@lisagerber LOL. I owe you are few email replies .... and just found the one you sent to Waldow Social <--- never check that account!

seancarp
seancarp

DJ - I think the people who need to work the hardest on a catchy, fun, "sure to be opened" email subject line are definitely the people who have a 43 line email signature for how else will they get someone to see their name, address, job title(s), 14 contact phone numbers, email adresses, inspirational quote, gif of a cat playing piano and hash-tagged bible verse if their email is never opened?

What's that? That subject is going to be covered in another post? Oh well...never mind.

KerryGorgone
KerryGorgone

"Yo, nice article, Dude!" ;) Seriously, I appreciate your attention to detail, and hope others will follow suit when they email me. I also hope they will forgive me when my subject lines suck (which has been known to happen). #SSS

iSocialFanz
iSocialFanz

What are your thoughts on apps like @Mailbox which is what I use for all my gmail now that allows me to swipe into a folder without ever opening the email... because this is mobile the length and start of the email really determines if I swipe left or right with the email... Curious your thoughts!  Great post love this stuff! 

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@iSocialFanz Personally, I didn't love Mailbox. Love the concept, but did not work for my ... email workflow. But yeah, subject lines matter even MORE when it comes to mobile. Good point!

Dennis_H_ Wilson
Dennis_H_ Wilson

Agreed.  When you do end-user support and need to sift through thousands of e-mails it really helps to have a little more descriptive Subject line.


Another issue I have is when someone using "REPLY" to send an email to me about a totally different subject matter.  Aarrgghhh.


And lastly...One subject but 2-3 different unrelated issues in one email.

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@Dennis_H_ Wilson Ha. Exactly, Dennis. And you last point ... that's an entirely new blog post. Maybe I'll write that next!

djwaldow
djwaldow

@dzhergz ha ha. Awesome on many levels. Was curious actually how to pronounce your first name

dzhergz
dzhergz

@djwaldow yes I rate email subject line 11 on a scale of 10. Handle is pronounced Shegz. You can call me Ade.