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Make your Email Subject Lines Multitask

Email subject lines that work combine multiple winning elements

Every once in a while I receive a good subject line in my inbox and think, “Bravo, friend; Nailed it.” Then I copy it like a thief and save it for later.

Mequoda has been writing about the top email subject line archetypes for years. The clear and winning archetypes for subject lines that work include:

  • Keyword
  • Urgency
  • Benefit
  • How-to
  • Fascination
  • List
  • Intriguing Promise
  • Teaser
  • Question
  • News
  • Testimonial
  • Targeted
  • Seasonal
  • Issue-Based
  • Command
  • Reason Why
  • Hybrid

All but one of these subject line archetypes put only one characteristic to work for you. I think we should demand more from our subject lines! So today I’m going to write some subject lines that really work by combining two of our archetypes in one subject line – the last archetype on the list, the hybrid.

Subject lines that work double-time: Add the list

One of the easiest ways to get double duty from your email subject lines is to start with a great idea based on one of the proven archetypes and combine it with the List subject line. List subject lines that work are often something along the lines of “8 rabbit breeds to love” or “10 things you need to know about raisins.”

In fact, our friend Stuart Hochwert at Prime Publishing, who has multiple cooking and crafting online communities, uses List subject lines almost exclusively. He tells us he’s tried others, but the numbers almost always win. He admits his 20-odd editors get really, really bored writing the same kind of subject lines all the time, but he keeps them in line well enough to consistently earn open rates ranging from 10% to 20%.

Here’s a typical subject line that scored an 18.2% open rate:

20 Country Slow Cooker Recipes

How can you top that? Well, whether the writer knew it or not, here’s an even better email subject line that combines the number with an implied benefit – and, if you’ve been following Mequoda at all, you know that benefits are the single most powerful tool a copywriter can deploy.

Top 10 Lazy Skillet Meals

Shazam! A list and the benefit of easy meal preparation! That one zoomed to a 19.6% open rate, and that’s what I call a subject line that works!

Subject lines that work double-time:  Reason why

Here’s a great teaser email subject line:

What’s all the fuss about?

This email is promoting a marketing seminar. I decided to make it work double-time by also making it a “reason why” subject line:

Why marketers everywhere are so excited

We also like targeted subject lines. Here’s how this one works triple-time as a Teaser, Reason Why and Targeted:

Why New York City marketers are so excited

Subject lines that work double-time: Add the benefit

I found an email in my Junk folder with this subject line:

Contact Discovery

That’s one of the worst subject lines I’ve ever seen … I don’t even know what it means. I read the email to find out for the purposes of writing a new subject line.

Hi,

Would you like to reach your target audience with the most popular marketing platform?

We’ve measured email client popularity across many billions of emails and the results are phenomenal. We have complied and verified contacts from every business and commercial sector.

No matter how niche your target market is, we can get you lists from  …

Now that I know what the heck this email is about, I’ll start with a List subject line:

100s of qualified email leads available now!

Then I’ll add the benefit:

100s of qualified email leads that will make you millions

You could also write a How-To subject line:

How to reach eager buyers

When you add the benefit, you get:

How to reach eager buyers and make millions

Subject lines that work double-time: Turn it into a question

When we taught copywriting at our Intensives, we used as an example a sales letter for our composite publication called Hidden Gardens.

A perfectly adequate subject line for such a sales letter would be a Benefit subject line:

Impress everyone you know with your garden!

But let’s take it a step further and add the Question format:

Does your garden impress everyone you know?

Then there’s this wonderful Intriguing Promise subject line from Eat This, Not That:

Drop 1 pound every week!

Let’s turn it into a question:

Would you like to drop 1 pound every week?

And here’s the subject line from above, also turned into a question:

Why are New York City marketers so excited?

Subject lines that work double-time:  Make it fascinating

Here’s another great Intriguing Promise subject line:

Your key to finding the right job

Now I’m going to add Fascination – exploiting the reader’s curiosity – to make it even more irresistible:

Those other candidates don’t want you to know this key to finding the right job …

Subject lines that work double-time:  Make it personal

Finally, consider making your well-written subject line a Targeted subject line. Start with a List, like this one:

7 prostate cancer warning signs

Now make it a Targeted subject line:

7 prostate cancer warning signs for 50-something men

As you can see, it’s not that hard to write an email subject line that works double or even triple-time. In fact, it seems a shame to let a subject line see the light of day if it doesn’t work in more than one way. And it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Start by writing a one-archetype subject line, then  scan our list of archetypes again to see what can be added.

For even more fun, test the single-archetype subject line against the double-duty line, and let us know how it works out!

Posted in Audience Development Strategy

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4 thoughts on “Make your Email Subject Lines Multitask

  1. Mary says:

    Numbers in subject lines always works well for me too, but my best subject line for all of last year was:
    Students Think They Can Multitask. Here’s Proof They Can’t.

    44% open rate, or about double my average. Shazam!

    I think “here’s proof” was key and certainly the topic is one that strikes a chord with our audience, but I’m still trying to figure out how to re-create that one….

    Thanks for providing more food for thought.

  2. Mary says:

    Love it! I agree that “here’s proof” is pure gold. This one certainly is a teaser and provokes curiosity, both of which are always Good Things in subject line land. Thanks for the example!

  3. Dennis says:

    Nice post, thank you.
    Would love to see a test of your “Students Think They Can Multitask. Here’s Proof They Can’t” subject against the same without the initial capitals all the way through, ie “Students think they can multitask. Here’s proof they can’t”
    Everyone time we’ve run split-tests between ‘Title Case’ and regular-case subject lines, ‘regular’ has won every time, sometimes with a 20%+ better open rate.

  4. Mary says:

    I’d love to see that test that, too. Personally I hate the look of upper-lower, and when I was a journalist, we were rapidly abandoning it in headlines, mostly because it messes up the reason why we capitalize in the first place, to make it easier to distinguish proper names from other words when we’re reading … as opposed to Reading, which is a city in Pennsylvania. 😀

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