5 Tips For Writing Email Notification Subject Lines That Stand Out

Brent Sleeper
Jan. 19, 2018 by Brent Sleeper

Why Are Subject Lines Important?

The average person receives a lot of emails every day. The Radicati Group said in a February 2017 report that it expects 269 billion business and consumer emails to be sent and received per day in 2017, with 3.7 billion email users worldwide.

Even when you eliminate the spam, that’s still a large number of emails hitting your users’ inboxes each day. Many of those messages will be of the transactional or notification variety, such as when someone makes a purchase or changes their password.

While notifications and transactional emails tend to have significantly higher open rates than newsletters and other commercial messages, it’s still important to pay close attention to the subject lines you use. After all, putting careful thought into the writing and design of the message inside doesn’t do much good if people don’t click to open it. That’s particularly true for notification emails that recipients didn’t necessarily ask for but which are designed to increase engagement, such as those “Your profile isn’t 100% complete” and “See who liked your post” kinds of messages.

Time To Get Started

Before you begin, take some time to review your user profile. Who are they? What are they likely doing when they receive your transactional or notification email? How do they feel at that moment? What will prompt them to open your message now, instead of one of many other unopened emails?

Keep the answers to those questions in mind as you read these 5 tips to help you write effective subject lines.

Personalization is key, but make sure it’s the right kind.

It’s standard operating practice these days to put someone’s name in the subject line, but there’s plenty of other information you can include. Just make sure you don’t overload the subject line.

Here are 7 ways you can insert personalization:

  1. Who they are (name insertion is key, but don’t stop there)
  2. Who they care about, such as friends and co-workers (such as the emails Facebook and LinkedIn send to you)
  3. What they did (not just purchases but also browsing and other activity)
  4. What they didn’t do (abandoning their online cart or not completing a profile)
  5. What others did in reaction to their activity (responses to status updates, or the number of reactions to a product review)
  6. What they have (account balances, or care or service instructions for a purchased product)
  7. Where they are (geolocation-based messaging, such as letting a customer know about a sale at their local store) For example: [FIRST NAME], [#] people replied to your comment – see what they said

Yes, you can use an emoji (or two), but remember the word “sparingly.”

An emoji can add a splash of fun to a subject line, especially if it’s something lighthearted, but you probably don’t want to use more than two emojis in a subject line. For example:
Wondering who commented on your review? 🤔

Just remember that emojis render differently across various email platforms, so make sure you double-check your choices with a resource like Emojipedia.

Be funny, or memorable, or just fun.

This is another potential minefield, but if you approach it the right way, your email could be the subject of a viral “Check out this great email I received” post on social media. At the very least, it can bump up your open rates.

If you’re not sure about turning your subject line into a mini stand-up routine, try making an impression with a memorable quote, fun fact, or pop culture reference. There are plenty of places online where you can find quotes and facts, and we assume you, or someone in your office, know a bit about pop culture.

For example: Dolphins still know each other 20 years later — don’t wait 20 years to reply to [USER NAME]’s post

Create a sense of urgency with a deadline.

You can let someone know that the items they’ve saved in their cart have low quantities on hand, or that those items will be cleared from their cart if they don’t purchase then by a certain date. Or that an offer they signed up for is about to expire. For example:

For example: Uh oh: Your cart will be empty – and lonely – if you don’t buy what’s in it by [DAY]

Try an old-fashioned straightforward approach.

If you feel like everyone else is trying really hard to stand out by shoving personalization, emojis, jokes, and deadlines into their subject lines (subscribing to your competitors’ services and using their apps can help you stay abreast of trends), maybe you should simply tell it like it is.

For example: Here’s your receipt for [ITEM] – thanks for your purchase!

Make A Great First Impression

Like all sorts of emails, email notification subject lines are important to get right. They’re the impression your user will have of your notification content and are a crucial step in driving activity and engagement with your app.

An effective notification subject line packs a lot of punch by capturing the essence of the information you’re delivering, as well as the action you want your user to take. Treat them as seriously as any other part of your app’s UX—not an afterthought. What are the most effective and creative email notification subject lines you’ve received from the apps you use? We’d love to see your examples. Tweet us or shoot us a note in our community slack channel.

Brent Sleeper

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