University Marketing & Communications

May 7, 2018

How to craft subject lines that get big results

University of Washington

We’ve all been there — a full inbox with a seemingly never-ending stream of messages. With only a few minutes to move closer to inbox zero, you scan for the most relevant, important messages. One of the biggest motivators for you to stop scanning and start opening is the all-mighty subject line.

Below are some tips to find those few words that could make a big difference in your email’s performance.

  1. Be descriptive and specific
    Avoid terms or phrases that could mean anything.
    →Instead of “Winter updates,” try: “Winter programs & facility hours”
  2. The shorter, the better
    Subject lines often cut off after just a few words. (For example, on an iPhone in portrait view, the cut off is at about 41 characters.) To make the most of your copy, always ask — am I using every word purposely? If not, what details can I remove? Also, you don’t need to include “update” or “newsletter” in your subject line if it’s already clear that’s what the email is.
    →Instead of “Bay Laurel Holiday Catering available starting on Nov. 15” ” try: “Delight guests with new holiday catering options””
  3. Convey a sense of urgency and importance, without causing alarm
    Although your content might be important, you don’t necessarily have to say “URGENT!” Front-load important phrases or action items to grab your reader’s attention.
    →Instead of “Alert: Network security changes,” try: “Upcoming changes to improve UW network security.”
  4. Say thank you!
    Write those two words to make someone’s inbox a little more pleasant, engaging and personal.
    →Instead of “Registration confirmation: Dawg Daze 2017,” try: “Thank you for signing up for Dawg Daze!”
  5. Be personal
    Use “you/your” when appropriate and use key terms to make people feel special and selected.
    Try: “Your Workday log-in process has changed”
    Try: “Exclusive sneak peek at the new Burke Museum”
  6. Ask questions!
    Engage your audience! They’ll want to know the answer to your question — and the only way for them to find out is by opening the email!
    →Instead of “2018 Husky 100,” try: “Are you ready for what’s next?”
  7. Front-load the important words
    Lead with a clear call to action and powerful words.
    →Instead of “Fiesta Bowl 2017,” try: “Cheer on the Huskies at the Fiesta Bowl!”
    →Instead of “The Best of UW 2017 and beyond,” try: “See what made our Best of UW 2017 list”
  8. Brush up on your rhymes, alliteration and puns
    It’s time to revisit high school English class. Use these devices to intrigue the reader.
    →Instead of “Arts & Sciences news,” try: “Classics and Catapults”
  9. Don’t forget the numbers
    Most of us love a good list. In subject lines, numbers can organize your calls to action or give a timeline for the reader to follow.
    Try: “3 days left: Help set a record for this year’s Combined Fund Drive”

Questions? Contact Cris Barajas, digital marketing automation specialist, or Elise Perachio, director of e-communications.

— Hannah Myrick