Natalie Ustymenko

Head of Direct Marketing

7 ways to compose a brief subject for your email

7 Ways to Compose a Brief Subject Line for Your email

«I would have written a shorter letter,

but I did not have the time».

Blaise Pascal

The most important things for mailing campaigns all the copywriters and email marketers are trumpet about are email subject lines. This is one of the top priority elements that affects the open rate of emails and client’s initial impressions.

How can we make the email subject shorter?

We often read and talk about the fact that email opening lines should be short; as short as it’s possible but without losing the main idea. Let's try to make experiments together using the examples from my mailbox.

1. Write and rewrite

The main problem when composing the subject is not to find the right words, but even bigger problem is how to be laconic and express the same idea with fewer words. Of course you can ensure your message with preheader, a brief addition or description but it's better when you try to express the main idea purely by subject. Subject line up to 50 characters is convenient for perception on mobile devices - it bypasses the email clients traps that are cutting email opening lines.

You can use the following method: write first a long sentence that answers the question "What is this email about?", then remove the minor details. Basing on this sentence will make it much easier for you to choose emotional words and synonyms.

When several versions of the subject are ready - let your family or colleagues read them, they will help you to get rid of unnecessary doubts and recommend the most catchy email subject line.

2. Reveal one single topic

This point is closely related to the first one. If you include several topics in one single message - you don’t need to mention them all in the subject. Focus on one main idea, so email subject will be shorter.

"IT’S IMPORTANT: Schengen changed the admission rules. Cheap tours for the November holidays. How to spend school holidays? Halloween: 6 creepy ideas”

A message contains four questions at once but it is better to use only the most important for email subject:

“IT’S IMPORTANT: Schengen changed the admission rules”

3. Make friends with synonyms

We often use certain words only because we are accustomed to them. But maybe it would be useful to pass the limits of usual words and expressions and find some shorter synonyms? For example:

In the past year
Last year (less by 5 symbols)
Pair (3 characters)
Buy (less by 5 characters)
Get involved
Take part (3 characters)

4. Remove the extra words

Are there some words in your subject that are not affect the text significantly? Not carry any important sense, meaning, emotions etc? These are the first candidates to be fired! And, even more, all the conjunctions and pronouns, all those "how", "what", "who" and "which" as well as words that require commas:)

"Four ways how you can refresh the image with the help of fashionable accessories"
"4 ways to refresh the image with fashionable accessories"
"A new collection that you will like"
"You will like the new collection"
«"Residents of Kiev complain about the state of roads"
"The Kievites complain about the roads"

Now we continue with my most fave:)

Sender: <"Jamaica" travel agency> 
Topic: "You can not only have a rest with "Jamaica" travel agency but also earn money"

Someone may not even stop with this and specify the sender once again, in the preheader. Don’t worry, readers will understand if you simply write:

"You can not only relax with us but also earn money"

5. Add math symbols and numbers

Sometimes numbers from one to ten may work better if written in words, but when we fight for brevity some experiments are possible.

"Seven ways to compose email"
"7 ways to compose email"

You can also add "&", "-", "+" or even "/" to shorten the text:

"There are 10 days left to winter!"
"10 days - to winter!"

Symbols «">, "<" can be used instead of "less", "more", "below", "above" when you communicate with certain segments of subscribers:

"Less than 10% of marketers are making experimenting with email subject line"
"<10% of marketers are making experimenting with email subject line"

Try "=" instead of "equal", "hence", "so" etc:

"Subscribe for 12 months and get 2 more months for free".»
“Subscription for 12 months = 14 months"

6. Abbreviate

Nobody is going to write United Arab Emirates when one can just write UAE. Abbreviations are useful if you follow these rules:

1) They should be clear for subscribers

"Professional" may be replaced with "pro", "joint-stock company" with JC is quite acceptable if subscriber knows what does that mean.

"Sales in the trade center City"
"Sales in the City TC"

2) No more than one abbreviation per subject

If subject of some online store mailing looks like "New from HB, YR and YSL" than not everyone will immediately understand that HUGO BOSS, Yves Rocher and Yves Saint Laurent are meant.

In addition, too many abbreviations are difficult to read and perceive. Email subject lines are not SMS messages to save on symbols so much.

3) Avoid meme abbreviations

Or use them only if you are sure that your audience is on the same wave with you. What works well in social networks - may be incomprehensible and confusing in emails. Imagine the email from some online store with subject "OMG, your order is delivered" or something like that...

7. Use colons and listing

If you solved the issue with abbreviations but the text is still hard to read, try to use a colon. For example:

"Email subject: how to make it shorter"

Or when it’s needed to specify something:

"Free delivery of the best brands: Calvin Klein, Steve Madden, KEDDO"

When it is better NOT to shorten the email subject lines

1. Not all the shorter synonyms are identical. Some different word may confuse the reader adding the unnecessary emotional touch to the subject

"Bye, November! Hi, winter!"

In email marketing, subject line of this type may have a right to exist but only for a smaller segment of clients or emails with a specific topic.  

2. Don’t cut your subject where is no need to do it. Excessive cuts may destroy style, humor, emotions and personality. Let's look at the example of quote by Charlie Chaplin:

    "Nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles".

One might say banally: "Everything passes"... and save so many characters, but are these expressions really mean the same?

Words are really matter, and a short subject is not always able to replace a longer one. Male small A/B tests, check the best email subject lines that were the most efficient for your clients (and on which devices). Don’t forget to be inspired by our ideas on subjects composing.

Maybe you have some ideas and examples of really catchy email subject lines too? Feel free to write;) We will kindly consider and discuss them together.


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Natalie Ustymenko

Head of Direct Marketing

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