Why email subject lines are the ultimate micro content

6 min read
Emma Wilhelm

When it comes to getting snubbed, email marketing is right up there with online dating and job hunting. As an email marketer — amateur or pro — you must steel yourself to massive amounts of rejection. Most of your email overtures will be politely rejected or (more often than not) ignored altogether. Sadly, it’s true: Most newsletter subscribers are not going to open every email you send. Even your most ardent fans. And some subscribers rarely open your emails at all. But they still interact with each message you send, whether by scrolling past your email subject line or stopping to delete your email. They notice. I know I do.

Your subscribers interact with every email you send.

I receive gobs of marketing emails, and I open very few. But I continue to do business with the companies that send them. And I believe that email subject lines are at least partially responsible for that. Email subject lines might seem inconsequential, but I’d argue that they’re the ultimate micro content.

Wait, what’s micro content?

Most small business owners think that target content marketing seems like a good idea. Maybe they’re doing it, or maybe they’re just thinking about doing it (like they’re thinking about joining the gym). But they’re pretty sure that it’s a useful, economical way to bring in new business and engage existing customers. Except it seems hard.

Content marketing requires content, and most small business owners are not content-producing machines. Quite the contrary. They can lead an inspired yoga class, make a drool-worthy pizza or do taxes like a boss. But they don’t think of themselves as writers, and that makes content marketing feel scary. Blog posts and ebooks and guides, oh my!

But here’s the thing: Content doesn’t have to be big. It can be quite small. Think quote graphics, social media updates and — ta-da — email subject lines. Micro content is easily digestible for the easily distractible, which is just about everyone these days. It’s short. It’s sweet. And it’s often mobile-friendly.

Reaching people who don’t open your marketing emails through email subject lines

As I scan my Gmail account on my iPhone, I absorb several pieces of info about each email. I see the sender name, the email subject line and possibly the preheader text.

Here are [some] emails I received recently, as well as how I reacted to the email subject lines:

Sender: REI

Email subject line: Make your campsite come to life

My reaction: Ugh. I can’t believe we still haven’t taken the kids camping. We’re probably ruining their lives. I loved hikes and campfires as a kid. And s’mores. That’s a must-do for next summer.

Sender: Laura Vanderkam

Email subject line: Just a Minute: What I learned from tracking my time

My reaction: I think she’s that author who says we have more free time than we think we do. I should totally read her book. In the spare time that I don’t realize I have.

Sender: Priceonomics Blog

Email subject line: Which country has the meanest tourists?

My reaction: Well, that’s a compelling email subject line! The folks at Priceonomics are content marketing geniuses. How do they come up with such interesting ideas for articles?

Sender: Domino’s Pizza

Email subject line: More time for family fun. Let Domino's deliver!

My reaction: Soccer starts this week. No time to cook! Dear Domino’s: I will totally take you up on that generous offer. And thank you for letting me save my credit card info in your handy app.

While I didn’t open any of these emails, I did engage with the brands, even if only for a split second. And I totally ordered some pizza. So email marketers, take heart — open rates aren’t everything.

Assets to communicate with people who don’t open your emails

As an email marketer, you can communicate with your audience, even when they don’t open your emails. Think about scoring inbox impressions — not dissimilar from ad impressions. As you map out how to communicate with subscribers who don’t open your emails, you have a few assets to play with:

  • Email subject lines.
  • Your sender name (who sent the email, usually your brand name, but sometimes your own name).
  • Your email preheader text (a short email content preview in the inbox; often the first line of text unless specifically defined in a custom HTML email).

You can use all three of these assets to make an impression and convey vital information.

Make — or affirm — an impression

You can strengthen your branding, even with unopened emails. How? By being consistent with your sender name. You can also use your email subject lines to make an impression, even when your readers don’t click. Here are a few sample impressions a brand might want to make or affirm:

  • We sell funky, unique clothing.
  • You can count on me for delicious recipes.
  • I’m the go-to person for parenting advice.

These aren’t email subject lines — they’re impressions that you might make through your subject lines.

Here’s a list of recent email subject lines for the GoDaddy newsletter:

  • Ultimate Guide to Facebook Live in GoDaddy's blog
  • New customers are closer than you think
  • SEO for SMBs in the GoDaddy blog
  • SEO Month Kicks Off in the GoDaddy blog
  • How can watching Game of Thrones help your business?

The impression we’re hoping to make? We want to help you market your small business. We want your small business to thrive. And we like to have a little fun.

Even if our GoDaddy newsletter subscribers don’t open every email, these email subject lines may get them thinking about trying SEO game. And perhaps our subscribers come to think of GoDaddy as a reliable authority on such matters.

Convey vital information

You can also use your (unopened) emails to convey timely, important information like deadlines and limited-time offers. Here are a few examples of vital info:

  • My next show is Friday at the Uptown.
  • We’re offering 50% off through tomorrow.
  • Today’s the conference registration deadline.

Even if people don’t open your email, they might mention your event to a friend or visit your website for more info later.

Design email subject lines to make specific inbox impressions

The big-picture goal of email marketing is still to get people to open your emails, digest your longer-form content, and heed your calls-to-action. But in reality, you’re lucky to get a fraction of people to open any given email. So write clever subject lines that communicate with your readers every time, even when your emails go unopened.