How to keep your subject lines refreshed: The golden rule and top 10 tips

Last updated: 
June 10, 2022

It’s an indisputable fact of email marketing that your subject line is, and always will be, one of the most important parts of your email campaign. But if you’re contacting your subscribers regularly, subject lines can quickly become repetitive and tiring – for both you and your subscribers. And in the moment it’s not always easy to do something different, or even to know what you could do differently. But there is a simple way to keep your subject lines refreshed… The golden rule is to plan ahead.

To prevent your subject lines becoming repetitive, you need to put together a plan that assigns a different subject line tactic or technique to every mailing on a rotational basis. The more tactics you use in your rotation the fresher your subject lines will be. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about testing, just about doing something different on a regular basis. Not only will it save you time when it comes to writing your subject line – you’ll already know your content and how you’re going to approach it - but it will ensure you are offering your subscribers variation. That means you have a better chance of engaging more of your base, which ultimately means a lift in your results. So what tactics should your plan include?There are many different ways to approach subject lines.

Here our copywriters have shared their top 10 tactics:

Use extreme lengths

A lot of advice tells you to limit subject lines to 50 characters, but we frequently try extremely short or long subject lines. For one client we found that a segment of their audience actually responded better to long subject lines rather than short.

Include a CTA

Although one of the key aspects of successful copywriting is telling readers what they need to do, this can get overlooked in subject lines, where your focus is often on catching attention rather than driving action. We found for one client that telling subscribers what to do by including a direct CTA helped to boost engagement. So rather than just saying ‘Summer Sale’ it became ‘Summer Sale – take a look at the latest offers’.

Use questions

Using a question instantly makes your subject line look and feel very different in the inbox. It also helps you come up with completely new ways of promoting your email content. For example, you might go from ‘Save 50% today’ to ‘New favourite dress? Save 50% today’ – a jump that would have been hard to make without the framework of a question.

Use original words

We’ve written before that using original words in subject lines can boost click rate by 34%, yet less than a third of subject lines feature original words. Try using a thesaurus or taking inspiration from the dictionary definition to change some of your most-used words. Our subject line tool Touchstone also offers word recommendations, so you can try something you may not have thought of before.

Be creative with personalization

While first name personalization is very common now, it can still have an effect if you don’t overuse it. You can also look at available data fields to see what other personalization you can include in the subject line – such as surnames, recent purchases or location. Mailchimp research shows that including a city name can perform well, for example.

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Take inspiration from elsewhere

We find that being reactive and riding on the back of current events is a great way of writing a subject line that’s completely different to what you’ve done before. Your email doesn’t have to be themed, as long as your subject line makes sense and doesn’t mislead. For example it could be as simple as sending ‘Bored of the tennis? Escape with top 10 weekend breaks’ during Wimbledon.

Use symbols strategically

We’ve previously identified three different uses for special characters in subject lines – syntactic (as punctuation), lexical (to replace a word) and illustrative (as a decorative or design element). It’s a useful framework that can help you introduce symbols effectively and strategically.

Change your tone

Within a brand voice there is still a lot of room for variation in tone – for example in the difference between a promotional email and a service email. Try mixing them up where appropriate. So instead of ‘Hurry - check out our latest events’ you might use ‘we wanted to let you know’. But remember it’s about subtly changing the tone, not misleading customers.

Play with pronouns

One of the first things you learn about copywriting is to use ‘you’ more than ‘we’. But including ‘we’ or ‘our’ can be valuable if your customer trusts your brand and sees you as an authority. Try positioning your subject line from both points of view and see which is more effective. For example instead of ‘Top picks for you’ you might try ‘Top picks from our team’.

Keep testing and optimizing

Our subject line tool Touchstone lets you test and optimize hundreds or iterations of your subject line. So once you know your approach, you can continue to edit and improve it before you send a single email. Do you have your own techniques for approaching subject lines or keeping them refreshed? Share them with us below.

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