How to Write a Damn Good Email Subject Line

Stop. I know what you’re thinking.

You think email is lame, backwards and not worth your time. If that’s you, think again. I’m about to turn everything you knew about email newsletters on its head.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to prove to you that not only is email better than the “new” technology like blogging, but email newsletters are more essential than blogging. Let me explain.

Email: The Most Powerful Internet Marketing Tool for Real Estate

Don’t get me wrong: social media is important. James Carey, Columbia University journalism professor, said this about the absolute human need of community:

“Man is a diurnal creature. He’s up during the day. He sleeps at night. And he has to sleep somewhere. And because he’s vulnerable, he sleeps in a shelter. And then other people come and sleep in their shelters nearby. And before you know it, they realize they will be safer if they join together. Next thing you know, they have a police force, and someone picks up the garbage.”

This may explain why social media is so hot. Social media like blogs.

How hot?

In February 2007 the Gallup News Service estimated that 57 million Americans read blogs. Somewhat astounding in a nation of over 300 million.

However, to put that in perspective, read this: The same Gallup poll found that reading blogs is far less popular than email. Approximately 87% of Americans read emails.

That’s roughly 261 million people. And that makes email ubiquitous, relevant and one of the most powerful real estate marketing tools on the Internet.

Four Principles You Must Know Before Writing Truly Great Emails

Crafting an email is pretty easy, right? Slap some copy in a message and hit “Send,” right? Dead wrong.

There’s four basic things you need to know up front about writing compelling and powerful emails.

•  Nearly half of email readers look at just the first few lines they see in the preview pane to decide if they want to continue reading the message. Less than a third will read the whole thing.

•  According to Loren McDonald at EmailLabs, 75% of email readers who use the preview pane use it in a horizontal format and most often see either 4-5 inches deep of content (44%) or 2 to 3 inches (41%).

•  The average time allocated to a email newsletter after opening it is only 51 seconds says Jakob Nielson.

•  People are highly inclined to skip the introductory, happy talk in newsletters. Happy talk, you know, “Welcome to my newsletter. Thank you so much for reading.”

The takeaway from these four bullets: your subject line and early sentences have to hit hard, fast and furious, or the entire email newsletter will not survive inbox congestion.

The Unique Relationship Between Email and SEO

Here’s something else to take into consideration: With more email services offering large amounts of gigabytes to store emails, users are archiving more.

However, doing this adds to their information overload. But, it enhances the value of email. That means email newsletters are now part of someone’s personal inventory.

How this can work in your advantage is that these emails will be found when people search their inboxes .

And like Jakob Nielson said, “And although your newsletters don’t need full-fledged search engine optimization, you should consider how users might want to retrieve old issues in the months or years to come.”

That’s why one of the most important components of successful email newsletters is the subject line.

Introducing the Art of Writing Microcontent

Subject lines are part of what online writers call “microcontent.”

In a nutshell, all microcontent needs to be clear, concise and compelling. Usually under 140 characters. Think summary. Think keywords. Think subject line. Think Twitter. These are examples of microcontent.

With the subject line you get about 40 to 50 characters to explain your macrocontent–what your email is about.

So no matter how persuasive and electrifying your email is, unless the subject line makes it absolutely clear what the email is about, people will never open it.

The Essence of Writing Subject Lines That Capture Attention

Subject lines should say something valuable, timely or important. It should say “If you don’t open and read this email, you’ll miss out on something big.”

Subject lines should also work in tandem with the from line. Save the From line for your or your company’s name.

Subject lines must intrigue people the same way a well written headline does. It must stroke the right emotions.

Indeed, subject lines are a major driver of click-through rates, as they “direct” people to pay attention to specific articles, offers and information. Every email you send should have an implied strategy behind it.

Subject lines must recognize this and “speak” to the needs and interests of your people as individual customers, readers or prospects.

As a result, the job of a subject line now must not only entice someone to open an email, it must discourage the recipient from deleting it as an unwanted email. You must plummet something deep into people’s psyche with your subject line. Something that makes people restless until they read your email.

To do that, follow these 13 tips:

1. Personalize
Don’t put something generic like “Loren, Your Personalized May Newsletter.” Make it specific to them, their business or their life. Know thy customer.

2. Segment
Each segment should receive appropriate and different subject lines. This is related to personalizing, but deserves it’s on line. Segmenting and creating subject lines to your readers’ interests should improve open and click-through rates.

3. Use a Consistent Style
After testing and learning what style works best for your audience, stick with that approach: humorous, provocative, incentive-based or tip-oriented.

4. Have Someone Else Write, Edit or Review Subject Lines
Have someone other than you write, edit or at least review the subject line. Use this person like a newspaper story editor who will push your copy to new heights of relevancy and interest.

5. Send Subject Lines to Yourself
One of the best gauges of the strength of a subject line is to send sample emails with different subject lines to yourself. What kind of response do they warrant when they arrive in your inbox: “holy mother of God!”, “Boring.” or “hm, interesting, I’ll read later”?

6. Watch Your Own Inbox for Good Subject Line Ideas
The greatest inspiration for writing subject lines may come from watching your own inbox.

7. Track and Measure What Works Best

Track and analyze the type of subject lines that produce the best open and click-through rates. Open rates are the most obvious measure of the success of subject lines, but click-through rates are also an important measure of how well the subject line drove people to take action and click on a specific link.

8. Tie Subject Lines Into Current Events
A news angle is especially effective when promoting real estate offers affected by current events on a daily basis.

“How to Stay One Step Ahead of the Latest Fed Rate Cut to Get a Deal of a Century” is a good example.

9. Test Short Versus Long
I’ve heard that subject lines of less than 50 characters achieve higher open rates than those of 50 or more characters. That being said, there is much debate about shorter versus longer subject lines.

If you can, test various lengths and words to see what generates the best results with you.

10. Avoid The Generic and Boring
Don’t be afraid to be very specific in subject lines. Broad and generic subject lines: Bad, terrible, lazy and emails with such subject lines deserve banishment. Your subject line should be as narrow and specific as possible to generate interest and action from a majority of people.

11. Write It First
Perhaps the most common mistake marketers make is waiting till the last minute to write their subject lines. Don’t. Jt down multiple potential subject lines for your email early in the game. Never start from scratch at the last minute.

12. Push the Frickin’ Envelope
Don’t be afraid to try subject lines that are more aggressive, creative, tantalizing, specific or controversial. Of course, test everything.

13. Test, Test and Test!

Like every facet of email marketing, the most certain way to know if something is working is to test it. And email subject lines are the easiest thing to test. Split your email subscriber list in two, send one list one subject line, the other list a radically different subject line. Once you’ve discovered the winner, continue to test and tweak that subject line.


Still think email’s a backwater cousin to blogging?

Consider this: outside of traffic, subscribers and click through, the real ROI of blogging has yet to be cemented. Email, on the other hand, can give you cold, hard facts about the effectiveness of your campaigns quickly.

Sure, blogging has important intangibles that you must cultivate. But I wouldn’t depend on it to feed my family.

Leave a comment if this post was helpful or if you have anything you’d like to add. And if you like what you read, subscribe to the Real Estate Marketing Blog.

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[…] ProQuest Technologies recently talked about this on their blog: Here’s something else to take into consideration: Now that most email services provide multiple gigabyte-sized storage, users are archiving more newsletters than they used to. […]


We need some killer subject lines to get our emails opened and better yet, get called back.

We have a consulting service that offers remote consulting service to build or remodel a home. Any thoughts???

Gary Elwood

Great question, Marianne.

After looking at your site, here are a couple of ideas:

Everything You Need to Know to Build Your Own Home

Not a Fluke: Remodel Your Home in Under 4 Hours a Week

Two Good Reasons Right Now Is the Best Time to Build

Hope that helps!

John Duncan

This was a GREAT post. For the past 6 yrs I’ve been using opt in lists and email is a huge portion of it. From this article it’s evident, I’m nowhere near where I need to be!

Thank you for a well written article.


Gary Elwood

John, well let us know how we can help. Would love to in anyway. Gary


looking for productive tag lines for our email blast campaigns

Gary Elwood

Hi Rhonda, so what’s the email campaign about? Tell me more.


I have many internet real estate clients that I pay for and need a compelling subject line to get them to open the email. I cater to seller and buyers.


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