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How to write delete-proof subject lines in your emails

Your subject line can make the difference between getting your email read and having it deleted unnoticed. This article gives you do's, don't's, PowerPhrases and Poison Phrases for email subject lines. Learn how to write the best email subject lines to get great results. 

“Please delete me.” How to write delete-proof subject-lines

Use subject-lines to attract interest

You wouldn’t write an email header that said “delete me,” “irrelevant,” or “not worth your time”… or would you? Many subject lines are the persuasion-equivalent of a request not to open your email. It’s essential that you write strong subject lines to get your reader interested enough to take the time to read the email.

An email subject line is just a few words, but those few words make the difference between the success and failure of your emails. Here are some tips for email subject line development that will get your point across. 

1. Focus on them 

DON’T: focus on yourself.
Why not?: People care more about themselves than you. (Sorry to break it to you.)
DO: make it about them. 
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “Need your input regarding the update project.” 
POISON PHRASE / What not to say: "I need input."

2. Include your requested action 

DON’T: bury what you want them to do deep in the email. 
Why not?: What you want them to do as a result of the email is usually the bottom line of the message and needs to be prominent. 
DO: feature the requested action in the subject line.
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “Activate your account by Friday.” 
POISON PHRASE / What not to say: "Please activate by Friday," buried deep in the body.

3. Present a benefit

DON’T: feature why the email is important to you. 
Why not?: People are more interested in what’s in it for them. (Your mom may be an exception.) 
DO: mention a benefit to them in the subject line.
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “Please reply by Friday to get a great seat at the conference."
POISON PHRASE / What not to say: "Please reply by Friday so I don’t have to scramble at the last minute."

4. Think of the subject line as being like a book title or headline

DON’T: throw a subject line together. 
Why not?: The subject line is too important and can make the difference between results and no results. It’s worth the time invested in customizing email subject lines.
DO : get creative and take the time to craft the words for a brief, pithy headline. 
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “Why the Friday deadline for early registration matters to you.”
POISON PHRASE / What not to say: "Registration deadline is soon."

5. Be as specific as you can 

DON’T: use vague words that convey little meaning. 
Why not?: Specific words are more powerful. 
DO: choose the most specific words you can. 
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “Article for your immediate review.” 
POISON PHRASE / What not to say: "Article"

6. Don’t cry wolf or hype routine messages

DON’T: use exclamation points!!!, flags, ALL CAPS and other alerts for routine emails.
Why not?: You’ll lose credibility and won’t be able to get attention when you need it. 
DO: place the appropriate emphasis. 
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “Proposal deadline extended until June 3rd.” 
POISON PHRASE / What not to say: - "URGENT CHANGE IN PROPOSAL DEADLINE!!!"

7. Use subject-only headlines for quick messages

DON’T: make people open an email when you can say it all in a short subject-line. 
Why not?: Emails with the message in subject line get read. If the entire message fits in a short subject line, people will be more likely to see it than they would be if they have to open the email. Subject-only headlines save you and them time.
DO: put quick messages in the subject with an EOM at the end to indicate there is no need to open the email. (EOM is end of message.) 
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “Leaving on vacation June 3rd, back in two weeks. EOM” 
POISON PHRASE /What not to say: "Vacation" in subject line, "Leaving for vacation on June 3rd, back in two weeks" in body.

8. Use intrigue to entice your reader to open the email 

DON’T: try to say everything in the subject line when the message is long and the recipient needs to read the body. 
Why not?: Sometimes foreshadowing is a more effective subject line strategy.
DO: consider piquing the recipient’s curiosity with tidbits, hints, and/or questions. 
POWER PHRASE / What to say: “Four policy decisions that affect you.” 
POISON PHRASE / What not to say: "New policies regarding vacation notification, contract guidelines, email policies and conference room registration.

Email subject line development is a fine art worth developing

Strong subject lines in your emails comes with high ROI. (Return on Investment.) Take the time to develop the habit of customizing email subject lines to get the results you are looking for.

Effective email in PowerPhrasesFor more information on how to write effective emails read the article: Read these five tips before you send your next email and get my PowerPhrases! book.

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