September 7, 2022

Super Subject Lines and CTAs for Marketing Emails

By: Mary Hiers

The copy in the body of your marketing emails is important, of course. But subject lines and calls to action (CTAs) probably matter more.

Why? Low-quality subject lines can land your email in the trash before the recipient reads it. Lackluster CTAs can quash the recipient’s interest even after they read the body copy.

Great subject lines and CTAs wrap your compelling marketing message in packaging that makes readers want more. Learn to create good ones, and you can see your open and conversion rates rise.

Here’s how to make sure your subject lines and CTAs enhance, rather than diminish, your email marketing message. 

Marketing Email Subject Lines & First Impressions

The old saying is, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” But with marketing emails, you sort of do. 

Think of each marketing email as a new opportunity to make a first impression with your subject line. This is necessary because your email will compete with dozens of other ones in the average inbox.

Whether people think they do or not, they each have an internal “algorithm” that tells them which emails to delete unread. Usually, they pick emails with spammy subject lines (in all caps, full of exclamation marks, or emoji-laden) to trash first. And that’s if their spam filter doesn’t trap them.

Writing a great subject line takes practice and skill. Ideally, it should:

  • Be brief
  • Communicate something clear
  • Reflect something of value
  • Avoid spam-trigger words
  • Convey a sense of urgency

Do all this in 35 to 50 characters and you’re all set. It’s not easy, and you won’t be able to do it 100% of the time. But that’s OK. You get better at it with practice.

Think of Preview Text as a Subtitle

Preview text is what shows up in addition to your subject line in an email inbox. They’re usually limited to 150 characters.

While preview text may not be as important as the subject line itself, don’t let it be an afterthought. Good preview text can reinforce the message in your subject line. 

Shoot for 150 characters or less, in a simple sentence that expands a bit on your subject line. For example, if your subject line is, “Holiday Sale Begins Friday,” your preview text might be, “Shop all plumbing fixtures at 20% off from Friday through Wednesday. We’ve also added new clearance items at bigger discounts.”

Bad Subject Lines Can Cause Emails to Be Reported as Spam

A bad subject line may cause a recipient to delete your marketing emails without reading them. Even worse, your recipient could mark it as spam.

You have taken the time and made the effort to create marketing emails that are informative and valuable. Don’t negate that effort with a subject line that doesn’t do it justice. 

Ideas for Subject Lines in Marketing Emails

The following table shows bad subject lines, and better versions of them. Learn to recognize the hallmarks of bad subject lines so you can avoid using them.

Bad Subject LineBetter Subject Line
You’ll lose your mind over this sale! 🤓🤯😵‍💫Our Annual Flagship Outerwear Sale Starts Now!
YOU MUST ACT NOW!!!!!Last Call for SEO Webinar Registration
This email will change your life.Our Barcode Tool Revolutionizes Inventory Planning
Open to find out what everyone says about our new tool.See Why Reviews on Our New Tool Are Outstanding
We completed our study on scanner software, and the results are included at the end of this email.Scanner Software Study Ranks 5 Popular Brands

Bad subject lines contain elements that turn people off and trigger spam filters. Too many emojis, punctuation abuse, and commands in all caps rub people the wrong way. 

Excessively long or boring subject lines remind people that they have better emails waiting. And subject lines that deliberately leave people hanging (until they open the email) often annoy their way straight into the trash folder.

Calls to Action Make Your Work Pay Off

At the other end of the short customer journey that is the marketing email is the CTA. A great CTA ushers the customer across home plate and scores you another conversion.

With CTAs, you usually have momentum on your side. The recipient has read the subject line, opened the email, and arrived at the CTA. A great CTA button is often just the nudge they need. 

Words and Aesthetics Matter in CTA Buttons

Subject lines are all text, and there isn’t a lot you can do to make them stand out visually against other emails in an inbox. While the occasional emoji is fine, overuse leads to “ad blindness,” where readers completely ignore them. 

CTA buttons give you a bit more scope for aesthetics than subject lines do. You can choose the text, button color, and white space to make them harmonize with the rest of the email.

Perhaps the main problem with CTA buttons is that they can be completely uninspiring. Don’t just default to “Learn More.” Put a little more effort into your CTAs and you should see more conversions.

Bad CTAs Mean Your Efforts Were for Nought

A CTA that doesn’t get a click is like leaving a runner on third base when you get that third “out.” For whatever reason, your reader chose to open your email and read it but lost interest before clicking on the CTA. 

Great CTAs roll with the momentum and the tone of the email and compel your reader to go for it. They often reflect what an excited reader is thinking, and that enthusiasm can make a difference in whether you get the conversion.

Ideas for CTAs in Marketing Emails

The following table shows bad CTA copy and better versions of it. Calls to action do not have to be boring or “all business.” Use some creativity!

Bad CTA CopyBetter CTA Copy
RegisterJoin Us in June!
Click HereSign Me Up
Claim OfferGet My 25% Off!
Find Out MoreActivate Discount Code
Shop NowDiscover New Looks

In some ways, bad CTAs are the opposite of bad subject lines. Bad subject lines are often over the top and frantic. Bad CTAs are often dull and uninspiring. 

Good CTAs are short and simple, but they’re relevant to the email content rather than generic. Don’t be afraid to put your CTAs in first-person (“Sign Me Up”). This can give the reader a sense of doing something for themselves rather than just adding yet another tab to the browser that they’ll eventually need to deal with. 

Surround Email Copy with Excellence

Bookend your marketing emails with compelling subject lines and inspiring CTAs and you can see higher open rates and conversions. Maximize the chances that your great marketing email copy will get results by “wrapping” it in worthy subject lines and CTAs rather than leaving these elements as afterthoughts. 

If you need help with your email marketing or other digital marketing, schedule a call with our team. We know that small businesses in particular are often stretched thin with obligations. It’s not always easy to devote time to learning the skills that boost marketing effectiveness.

Our goal is to help you make your digital marketing efforts pay off. If you don’t have time to do it yourself, we can help. Our digital marketing expertise is geared toward small businesses that have to make every dollar count. Get in touch, and let’s talk about leveling up your digital marketing. 

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