Mastering Subject Lines in 49 Characters or Less

The purpose of your email subject line is to get the recipient to open the email. It’s not a space-filler and should never be an afterthought.

You can’t take subject lines for granted.

Claudia Stevens, Black Sage (Salvia Mellifera). Botanical illustration.

Claudia Stevens, Black Sage (Salvia Mellifera). Botanical illustration, 18 x 24 inches. ©The Artist

Mix up your approach to subject lines to keep recipients interested. Break free from dull copy by bucking your usual conventions. Here are six tricks for better subject lines.

1. Make It Personal

Think about your subscribers and readers. Which ones are your strongest prospects? Which are your loyal collectors?

Write directly to these people as you’re crafting your message and your subject line by opting for the words You and Your over Me, My and Mine as much as possible. Write to them in a conversational, authentic tone.

2. Be Specific

Don’t use the same subject line for every email to your list. If we see the subject line News from Diane Jenson’s Studio every month in our inboxes, we begin to think it’s the same message over and over again.

You want readers to know that there is unique content in each message.

3. Add an Identifier

If you send a regular newsletter, create an identifying phrase to use at the beginning of your subject line. For example, notice that I use [ArtBiz] in the subject line for this newsletter. You can use something like [JensonArt] and add the topic after the identifier: [JensonArt] Small work, big ideas.

4. Read and Notice What Works for Others

Notice which subject lines you’re drawn to and which you delete without thought. Read newspapers for ideas and, as numerous copywriters suggest, study the headlines on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine.

5. Use Numerals Instead of Written Text — and Use Unexpected Numbers

The number 50 has more of a visual impact than the word fifty.

Speaking of which, fifty characters, including spaces, is a good length for a subject line. Note, however, that I chose to use 49 in the title of this article because 49 is a more interesting number than 50.

6. Ask a question

Questions are powerful! People have opinions about everything and are happy to be asked. If you want to engage your readers in a dialogue, use a question in your subject line. Something like: Will you be at the gallery on Thursday?

Look over your past few email broadcasts. How could you have written the subject line differently in order to get a better open rate?

Share your headlines below and maybe you’ll get some feedback.

Note: This is edited and excerpted for an article I wrote for the December issue of Art Calendar (now Professional Artist).

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8 comments to Mastering Subject Lines in 49 Characters or Less

  • Thanks for this great reminder – the subject line, like a headline, is what grabs someone’s interest and makes them read further. Or not. I’ve read varying opinions on subject lines for e-newsletters, and many “authorities” will tell you to use the same subject line so people will know what they are getting (ie: Painted Wind Studio News). But I like your suggestion of combining the interesting subject line with an identifier. Thanks again Alyson!

    • Kate: I think about what I open first in my inbox. And it’s certainly not anything that says “News” in the title. That sounds so boring to me. Especially if it’s the same every time.

      I used to send mine out with “Art Marketing Action” in the subject line every week — before I had this epiphany.

  • I have to admit I was kind of disappointed that there wasn’t some special reason for the number 49 because, yes, the first thought I had was “huh, 49? Why not 50?”

    Most tellingly, however, it did make me think and if I hadn’t already been predisposed to opening Alyson’s newsletter that might have enticed me. As for my own eNewsletter subject lines? I don’t even remember – and that’s certainly not good.

    So, thank for this because definitely I need to pay more attention to my eNewsletter and its subject line.

  • [...] you’re writing for a blog or a newsletter, spend extra time on subject lines and titles, images, links, and your call to [...]

  • I’ve been sending photographs to my mailing list under the subject line Photos from Linda (and then the date) for years. The next mailing will start *Linda’s Photos* (and then words related to the content). Thank you so much for this terrific advice. Your giving the reasons for this practice is what sold me.

    • Linda: See if that works for you. And, if you can, get the character count down for your identifier: LindasPhotos ?? Not sure. I’m beginning to worry about long identifiers because they take up so much space and make the email look the same. Wondering about this practice more and more and may have to rethink it for the future.

  • [...] example, I’m still getting emails from artists with lame subject lines. I also continue visiting artists’ websites and blogs where their names are [...]

  • I’m working on my first newsletter …gonna scratch that “news” word. Thanks for the lifesaver. I’ve got 5 subscribers and cannot afford to lose any!