We do know an awful lot about what they should achieve and how.
But I also know what a painting should achieve and the key role of brush, paint and canvas. Yet, curiously, none of my efforts are hanging in the Louvre (last time I checked).
Sometimes we need to see what others are doing before we turn theory into practice. So following on from an earlier post on sites to inspire your design and tactics, here some resources to help you construct that winning subject line:
Subject line collections and campaign databases
Chad White’s near daily “AM Inbox” posts at the Retail Email Blog include the “subjectivity scanner”: a list of notable subject lines from that day’s retail emails. Be sure to also see the Subject Line Halls of Fame, dating back to 2006.
The VerticalResponse blog also regularly features collections of themed subject lines. For example:
Tweets with links need to get people to click while staying under 140 characters in length. Driving action in just a few words? Hmmm…sounds a lot like the subject line challenge.
Track the tweets of top stores, bloggers and media sites to see how they make use of limited space to get a response. For example:
- Dell Outlet and Amazon.com Deals on Twitter
- The “No turn on red” retail blog aggregates tweets from top retail and ecommerce Twitter accounts on this page
- The 100 most influential news media accounts
- Twittorati.com aggregates the tweets of the world’s top bloggers
In particular, when an article or offer is published look for other people retweeting the message. Many simply repeat the original tweet verbatim. Some will rewrite the headline and often improve on the original.
I’ve learnt much about headline writing from how others tweet about my articles.
Google Reader (or any RSS tool)
Talking of headlines…that’s another piece of copy obliged to generate interest and encourage further reading in just a few words.
The traditional media world helps here: look at the headlines and teasers featured on magazine covers, newspapers, news broadcasts etc. for examples of short and punchy action drivers.
Use an RSS reader like Google Reader and sign up for feeds offered by bloggers, retailers, competitors etc.. Set the reader to list headlines only and you can scan your way through dozens of headlines for inspiration:
AdWords and other Google tools
If you’re doing a lot of paid search marketing, you’ve probably researched keywords and PPC ad headlines that work well for your audience. Can you transfer those concepts to your emails?
Even if you’re not doing paid search, you can still exploit the tools search marketers use to come up with popular keywords that reflect audience interests or trigger attention/action: Christopher Penn outlines how you might use the Wonder Wheel and AdWords Keyword tools to identify subject lines to test.
While Tweets, AdWords headlines, blog post headlines, etc. may have some similarities to subject lines, they still operate in different online contexts.
So think of them as starting points which you can adapt to fit the special requirements of email subject lines in general and YOUR emails in particular.
Remember also that inspiration works in reverse. If you have some winning subject lines, they can provide inspiration for your AdWords campaign or next tweet.
So, where do YOU get your subject line inspiration from?