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Blog » 5 Ways to Upgrade Your Email Subject Lines for Better Engagement

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Email Subject Lines for Better Engagement

person sending an email

Did you know 47 percent of your email recipients open messages based solely on the subject line? 

This stat highlights an enormous challenge facing church communicators today: the fight for attention in overcrowded inboxes. In today’s digital age, information overload is the norm. Emails easily get lost among hundreds of others.

Think about all the hours you go through crafting the right message, picking the perfect images, and setting up the segmentation of your audience. If you don’t get your subject line right, the rest of the email is a waste. Few people are reading it. 

That means important messages about your church’s next sermon series, volunteer opportunities for your clothing closet, and missed donations for your church’s summer camp fund. Unread email messages aren’t just wasting your time; they’re leading to fewer opportunities to engage your congregation and community in the mission of your church. 

But no matter what kind of open rate you’re getting with your emails today, you can still have hope. By mastering the art of writing a subject line, you can increase the chance of your emails not just being seen but being acted upon.

This blog post will walk you through five ways to make your subject lines better.

1. Use Action-Oriented Verbs

Not all verbs are the same, particularly in your subject lines. Action verbs serve as a “call to action,” engaging your readers and making the email feel more immediate and relevant. They often resonate on a personal level, making readers feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

Plus, even beyond the opening of the email, they lay the groundwork for the action you’re hoping a reader to take as they engage with your content. 

You can put an action element in almost every subject line you craft. Determine the main action you want your reader to take. If you want readers to volunteer for something, “join our volunteer team” or maybe even simply “volunteer” may be the action you’re encouraging.

Pick the most vivid action word you can. Instead of using go, give, make, get, or do. Look for words like join, celebrate, or discover. You can usually picture vivid, descriptive action words much easier than you can vague ones. 

You’ll usually have several good options. Test different action verbs to make sure you’re choosing the right one. 

2. Personalize When You Can

You may already do some personalization for your email bodies. But if you want to increase your open rate, consider personalizing your subject lines, too. When you personalize your subject lines, you not only show your audience that you know their name but also signal to them that the email inside applies to them. 

Plus, personalization builds a connection between you and the email receiver. It’s a similar dynamic to when you’re talking to someone and you use their name in the conversation. 

You don’t need to do it with every subject line you write, but add the recipient’s name to the next one you craft. Instead of “Join us for Easter,” try “John, you’re invited to Easter!”

Also, the more you segment your audiences, the easier it will be to create personalized subject lines. You can even reference past involvement in subject lines. 

For example, if you’re sending out an email about an upcoming opportunity to serve at a homeless shelter, you could adapt your subject line to this.

  • To returning volunteers: Join us again at the shelter!
  • To parents: Jack and Jill, bring the kids to serve with us!

Most modern email marketing software should allow you to do this. 

3. Keep it Short

Good writing means making every word count. That’s especially true for subject lines. Most people today read emails on their smartphones. That means you have 50 characters at the most in your subject line to get people to open your emails. 

But a short subject line isn’t just about making your emails work better with mobile. Shrinking the main idea in your subject line forces you to distill your message to its essence, which provides a more immediate impact. Plus, you won’t have to worry about pesky spam filters deleting your message. 

To help with keeping subject lines short, focus on the most important words in the subject lines and build around them. Do a Google search for character counters and try to find one that shows characters as you type. This way, you can view a running character count as you try various iterations. 

4. Ask Questions

Questions help your subject line stimulate the mind, so your recipients are more likely to want to open the email to find the answer. They also help you set the expectations of what your recipients will find in the email.

Just make sure the question relates to the interests of your recipients. If you can segment your list, you’ll be more likely to present your reader with a question that seems relevant. For example, instead of asking a parent, “Will you be joining us for Easter?” you can ask: “What will this Easter mean to your child?”

Consider creating open loops where your question implies there’s valuable information in the body of the email. It might look something like this: “Are you making this common mistake in your Bible study?” Anyone with an interest in effectively studying their Bible will be curious enough to open your email and find out what you have for them.

Be sure to match your tone with the subject of your email. Avoid humorous or flippant questions with emails on serious subjects.

5. Test and Optimize

A culture of testing and optimization will gradually help your church create more effective subject lines. In A/B testing (also called split testing), you send out two variations of your headline to a small segment of your email list to see which headline performs better. This eliminates the guesswork so you can base your decisions on data instead of your gut.  

The key to effective A/B testing is to change only one aspect of your subject line at a time, whether it’s the wording, the use of the question, personalization, or urgency. This ensures that you’ll understand exactly what the results are telling you. 

Track your A/B testing over time so you can continue to learn what works best in your context. If one approach works consistently, continue to focus on it.

The preferences of your audience will change over time, so never stop testing.

Have fun with subject line creation!

Subject lines give you unlimited opportunities for creativity. Next time you’re ready to write an email, sit down with the list of suggestions above and have fun. Give yourself plenty of time and come up with way more ideas than you need. Your subject line is the most important part of your entire email.

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