Write A Better Subject Line

I get a lot of questions about how to write a better subject line. It is possible to write one that makes a big difference in the number of people that stop and read your email. In a previous post, I explained that we all subconsciously categories our emails into three categories – Now, Later and Never. If someone stops on your name then you’re probably not a never. Your subject line – or a headline if it’s on facebook or linked in – is what will help your reader make the decision between now and later. And you don’t have a lot of time.

Typically when someone gets your email, you have about three seconds, total, to get them to stop and read your message. The first second is used stopping on the from name (where it says who the email came from or who posted it on a social media site). From there, you have two seconds left to compel someone to open your message and read it.

Use the 2-2-2 Principle to write a better subject line
2 seconds. First 2 words matter the most. Why does this message matter today? (Today is the third 2)
2 seconds is what you have left after that first of 3 seconds was used stopping on your name. It’s not 2 seconds to read your message, it’s 2 seconds to DECIDE to read it. 1 Mississippi. 2 Mississippi. it’s longer than you might think.

Those first 2 words really do matter. In the quick scan-to-the-point manner that many people sort their emails and social media posts,
they very often only read the first two or three words of a subject line or headline in order to make the determination. To decide whether you are a now, a later or a never.

Why does this email or message or social media post matter TODAY? This third 2 in the 2-2-2 principle is key. You must matter today. If you cannot answer this question, go back and rethink why you are sending this message and how you might make it relevant today. This does not mean that you go to the urgency well everytime – “Today only!”, “By close of business” or “Limited Time Offer” — this can get old and you may lose the weight of the words over time. Instead, this is more about making the message or offer relevant or timely.

People on my email list sometimes see workshop invitations that have a subject line that says something like “15 seats open tomorrow”. It’s compelling and it’s timely. It builds a sense of urgency without over doing it. Sometimes my subject line says “some seats open tomorrow” – but that’s when there are a lot of seats open. “52 seats open tomorrow” isn’t terribly compelling, right? 🙂

I’ve seen people tie their message or offer to a current event so that their subject can be timely and “matter today”.  If you have a lot to say, choose the ONE thing that matters most today to put in the subject line. Be honest, be clear, be brief. Answer the question “why does this message matter today?” as close to the first two words as you can and you’ll get more people to stop and give your emails a chance.

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