E-mails, like any other collateral, have become a struggle to get the reader’s attention—even if it’s a personal note to a friend. And the key to getting somebody to read your e-mail, much like the key to getting somebody to read your ad, Web page, press release, or direct mail letter, is the headline. When it comes to e-mails, your subject line is your headline.
Sure, this may sound like an extreme measure to take, especially for a personal note. But think about how you view e-mails. Are you more likely to read one with no subject line or one that states some sort of purpose? Will you read an e-mail with a subject line that says “Hello” before one that says something specific like “Potential new client” or “Meeting availability?”
Granted, it depends on who’s sending you these e-mails. Even e-mails from friends we rate based on the subject line, particularly during the workday. If it doesn’t have a subject line or says something simple like “hello,” we’re more likely to put it aside for a later time.
For business e-mails, it’s even more critical to treat subject lines like headlines. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be ultra creative. Just to the point. Remember, most people get more e-mail than they can handle. Most of us want to know what the e-mail is about without actually reading it—kind of like how we read headlines of a newspaper before committing to a particular article.
So be specific, to the point, and, brief. Try to keep the number of characters in your subject line to 72 characters or less—preferably less. Like anything else, the less work you make the reader do, the more likely they are to do what you want—in this case, read your e-mail.