A Three-Step Process to Crafting Effective Email Subject Lines

Find out how you can get past the three layers of scrutiny every email undergoes before getting read. Getting emails opened and read is about 90% of the battle today for online marketers. Will Newman, email pro gives you his three-step process for crafting effective email subject lines.


When you begin your career writing for the web, you are bound-sooner or later-to have a client request that you do some email copywriting. If you’re working on an email marketing campaign or using email promotions to contact potential clients, it’s absolutely imperative that you craft your subject line with care.

Think of the subject line as your envelope teaser. It’s can make all the difference in whether your email promotions get read or not.

The subject line for every email you send goes through three layers of scrutiny. If it doesn’t pass muster for any layer, you’re email marketing campaign is going to suffer because your email promotions won’t get read.

Layer One

First things first. It doesn’t take long writing for the web, before you realize that spam is a big deal. Whether it’s on a forum, on a search engine ranking page, or in an email inbox, spam’s an issue. Any email copywriting you do must not be spam.

That’s the first inspection. Before an email ever reaches your audience, it has to get by spam filters.

Internet Service Providers routinely filter spam in an effort to reduce the amount of spam that reaches their customers. If your email looks like spam it’ll be deleted before it’s ever delivered. Since your email is legitimate and targeted, you might think it should fly through without any trouble. But you still need to avoid triggering spam filters.

Here are the main guidelines to follow:

  • Your “From” and “Reply to” fields must have legitimate addresses. To check this, send an email to yourself.
  • Subjects should be simple, never blank.
  • Avoid All Caps.
  • Avoid excessive punctuation.
  • Avoid common spam phrases like “Lose weight now” or “Congratulations, you’ve won…”
  • Avoid numbers in your email address. Ideally, your email address should be tied to the domain name of your business. If that’s not possible, thenJoeSmith_writer@your_isp.com is a better email choice than JoeSmith2010@your_isp.com.
  • If you use HTML formatting, make sure it follows best practices. Give readers the option of receiving text-only messages.
  • Don’t write like a spammer. Don’t mention how to increase the size of certain body parts or get a lower rate on your mortgage or promise a free diploma or even say, “This message is not spam.”

Layer Two

So you’ve written your message with care. It’s made it past the ISP spam filters. Now it has to make it past the spam filters within your recipient’s software program.

Many email programs label suspicious email as “Junk” or “Spam” and even move it automatically to a Junk Mail folder. These user software filters use many of the same triggers that the server software uses to decide if an email is good or not.

User software filters can also be triggered by a spamlike sender’s name. In my own Junk Mail folder I’ve received messages from Sexy Girls, Liveliness, Casting Agent, and True Beginnings. The best way to avoid being filtered out is to configure your own email software accounts properly. Make sure your real name is entered into the account information.

Layer Three

The most obvious layer of scrutiny your email goes through before being read is your prospect. This is also the toughest in many ways.

Your subject line MUST be compelling, or your recipient will ignore your email and likely delete it without a second thought. Don’t use generic, boring words in your subject line like “Offer” or “Query” or “Something Special for You.” The best way to write a compelling subject line is to follow the 4 U’s and make it Unique, Useful, Ultra-specific, and Urgent.

As with any marketing campaign, the first hurdle is to grab the attention of your target audience and get your message read. Follow all of the above guidelines and you’ll have a much better chance of clearing that first hurdle.


Will Newman

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