This article is courtesy of Constant Contact:

With all the work that goes in to creating the perfect email, it’s hard to believe that the effectiveness of your campaign can often come down to a few words in an email subject line.

Don’t believe it?

Well consider this: 47% of consumers make their decision about whether or not to open emails from business or nonprofits based on the content of the subject line.

That’s nearly half of your customers, clients, supporters, or volunteers who will choose to either open or trash your email based on the subject line alone. It’s a challenge facing all businesses and organizations, but it isn’t one you need to tackle alone.

This week, I sat down with Lisa Boles, Education Development Specialist for Constant Contact. Lisa hosts a number of our email marketing webinars. I took the opportunity to pick her brain and see what advice she had for designing effective subject lines.

Why are subject lines so important to a business’ email marketing?

A subject line is just like a headline in a newspaper or in a magazine. And like a headline, its purpose is to grab your attention.

We all know that we get lots and lots of stuff into our inbox everyday and the purpose of the subject line is to grab our customer’s attention so that your email is the one they’re going to pay attention to—that’s the email that’s going to get opened.

What are some of the key elements of an effective subject line?

We have a great formula—it’s called the 2-2-2 principle.

If you think about it, you really have two seconds to grab someone’s attention when your email shows up in their inbox.

When you do get their attention, it’s the first two words of your subject line that are going to determine whether or not someone takes the rest of your subject line seriously and moves closer to opening.

If you nail those two words and keep their attention, it’s your responsibility to tell them what you’re going to do for them today. Why should they care, today?

So, I guess it’s really two-two-to…

Along with that, there are a few other key elements you’ll want to keep in mind:

A subject line should be short and sweet and to the point. So, again we say a good rule of thumb is to use between five to eight words. But I don’t want people to think that needs to be a hard-and-fast rule. You don’t need to go through all sorts of gyrations to get the subject line shoehorned into five to eight words.

If you’re going to go nine words but it’s a strong subject line, that’s fine. Don’t worry too much about that.

Another important element is branding. We know that if you include the name of your business or organization—or even if you mention someone who is a mascot or just a readily recognizable member of your organization—in your subject line, you get a higher open rate.

You can have that information in the “From line” but not every email provider will treat email addresses the same. Depending on which provider your customer uses, your email or company name may show up differently when it arrives in their inbox. So be careful of that and look for opportunities to add your company name to your subject line—that’s important branding for you.

The other thing you want to make sure of is that whatever is in the subject line is carried out throughout the content of your email. You don’t want to mislead anybody by saying something in your subject line and then have the content of your email have nothing to do with the actual subject line. That can get you marked as spam, or worse.

Speaking of spam—there are a number of things you’ll want to avoid in the subject line to keep from being marked as spam. Things to avoid are:

  • Lots of punctuation marks
  • Lots of use of the word FREE
  • Misspellings
  • Grammatical errors
  • Using all caps

All of those things can get you flagged as spam. And if you have any doubt, you can take a look in your own spam folder, see what was marked as spam, and don’t do those things. If you’re a Constant Contact customer, you can use our Spam Checker tool to quickly run emails through to identify anything that could potentially be flagged as spam.

What’s your best advice for a business struggling to come up with subject line ideas?

I think the first thing—and this is something a lot of businesses don’t think about—is don’t do your subject line first.

Write the content of your email first and hopefully that will give you some ideas.

An example of a subject line that I like are ones that use lists. Let’s say you have an email you created it has your “Top 10 Holiday Picks.” Well, then a good subject line would be, “Our Top 10 Holiday Picks. It’s really that easy!

Look at what you’ve written. It will help you to not get flagged as spam because you’ll know your subject line will be tied to what’s actually in there.

If you’re still stuck, go into your inbox and look to see what types of subject lines appealed to you. What caught your eye and got you to open? That will help you figure out what type of subject lines may appeal to your customers.

Or, like we mentioned before, you can look at newspaper headlines and see how they’re constructed. Those are all great ways to get ideas and to really get your creative juices flowing.

This advice is courtesy of Spark & Hustle National Sponsor Constant Contact. Constant Contact’s leading email marketing, social media marketing, event marketing, local deals, digital storefronts, and online surveys — supported by free KnowHow , personalized coaching, and award-winning product support — help all types of small businesses and organizations find new customers, drive repeat business, and generate referrals. Today, more than half a million customers worldwide trust Constant Contact to help them drive success.