9 tips for writing a killer email subject line

emailThe subject line of an email actually wields a surprising amount of power. Indeed 35% of recipients open emails based on subject lines alone.  A strong subject header can mean the difference between an email being opened or passed over for something more appealing.

So, as a small businesses owner how do you make your communications stand out in the sea of emails your audience receives every day?

 144.8 billion emails are sent every day

At some time or another most of us have been guilty of hastily cobbling together an email header at the very last moment with little thought. However we should really be thinking of our subject lines as an enticing headline that supports the content of our email. Much like a newspaper article, a press release or blog post, time should be spent crafting the most effective headline as possible. Afterall what’s the point of having an email packed with cracking content if it doesn’t even get opened?

Of course different approaches will appeal to different audiences, but there are some universal tips you can implement to help you create more effective subject lines, thus improving your email open rates.

9 Top tips for effective email subject lines

1. Be clear.  If ever in doubt about what your email subject line should be, chose clarity. The majority of your recipients will want to know upfront about what they can expect to find when they open your email.

“Don’t sell what’s inside, tell what’s inside” Mail chimp


So be clear about your content. Most importantly, be honest about your content. You won’t win customers by trying to entice them in with false promises, in fact they more likely to bypass your email next time.

2. Keep it short. The general rule of thumb is to keep your email subject line as short as you can. Try to aim for under 10 words. Remember 40% of emails are opened on mobiles devices first so if you make it too long your meaning won’t come across in the 4-7 words that average mobile screen can fit.

If you are struggling to get the number of words down, keep to the point, get rid of any unnecessary filler words and put your strongest words at the beginning. Get into the practice of editing down. For example instead of ‘Enter our free prize draw to win £500 to spend on stunning jewellery from our latest collection’ (17 words) you could edit it down to ‘Win £500 of jewellery from our new collection’ (8 words). Same message just shorter with the keywords right upfront.

5 tips to improve online video content3. Try numbers . Using numbers in your email headers can be a great way of getting noticed. For example here are some ones in my inbox that grabbed my attention and got opened:

  • 5 ways to sprinkle on the sparkle (Boden)
  • 23 ways to blow your valentines socks off (notonthehighstreet.com)
  • 7 golden rules for content marketing (Econsultancy)

I’m not sure of the psychology behind it, but studies seem to agree that odd numbers and random specific numbers seem to get higher open rates, so it’s definately worth giving numbers a whirl.

4. Mix up your content. Your header is only as good as the content inside. So if you find yourself stuck in a pattern of sending the same type of emails over and over again, your subject lines are probably going to reflect this. So reboot your content and surprise your audience by sending out a variety of different email communications such as competitions, newsletters, special offers, blog posts, sneak previews, quizzes, surveys and so on. It follows that if your content is varied and interesting, your email headlines are more likely to be too.

adding humour to email5. Introduce some humour. This can be a tricky one to get right but if you manage it can work wonders. A bit of humour can be a sure-fire way to grab attention and get your email to stand to from the crowd. A good example is Groupon’s much applauded subject line:

“Best of Groupon: The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)” 

Puns or plays on word can also work well – holidays and seasonal promotions can lend them selves quite well to this. Here are a few of seasonal examples from notonthehighstreet.com who do creative email headlines really well.

  • They do say ‘drink and be merry’… fill your festive boots
  • It’s the best thing since Christmas…Easter we so glad to see you 
  • Pretend like you had this planned for ages…valentines day sorted

Being clever can be great but remember don’t try to be so clever  that no one can work out what your on about. If you do want to try writing some email headers with a bit of humour checkout this blog from Vertical Response – it’s got lots of examples of amusing subject lines alongside some great tips.

6. Offer a benefit . Including a clear benefit to you reader in your subject header can help increase your open rates. When you are crafting your subject line focus on the benefits rather than the features. Using strong benefit words can work well as they imply a promise of what is inside, for example

  • Increase
  • Discover
  • Learn
  • Win
  • Earn
  • Save

7. Urgency and Exclusivity. Subject lines that create a sense of urgency and exclusivity can give a 22% higher open rate. Here is a great example of an email I received recently from Banana Republic that covers both these elements. The subject line was: Our 40% online private sale ends today.

email urgency and exclusivity

And yes it did work as I did take advantage of the offer.

8. Don’t be mistaken for SPAM. The last thing you want is for your email to look like possible spam .

69% of email recipients report email as spam based only on the subject line.

People tend to steer clear of subject headers that look a bit ‘spammy’. So don’t be temped to oversell and be careful if you’re using overtly sales words like FREE in your headlines.  Definitely avoid using ALL CAPS as it shouts of spam.

9. Test and monitor. Most email service  providers will have ‘insight’ tools that will enable you to monitor your email performance. Simple A/B testing of your subject headers is a great way to find out what works best for your particular audience, helping you craft stronger performing headlines.

Finally, before you press SEND…

Before your send your email merrily on its way, double-check your subject line to ensure there are no typos and it can’t be misconstrued to cause any offence. If in doubt it’s always a good idea to ask yourself the following question: If you received this email would you open it, ignore it or assume it’s SPAM?

We’d love to hear some of your tips for creating powerful email subject lines, so please do leave a comment. 






The Impact of Shipping Methods and Policies on Conversions

Shipping methods and policies can have significant, measurable effects on ecommerce conversions. Design and site architecture tend to get more attention. But if you only change one thing about your ecommerce business, shipping could be the game changer.

Here are the top methods to drive conversions with the right shipping methods.

Free Shipping

Free shipping is one of the most effective ways to bump conversions. People really like free shipping, and it’s increasingly regarded as normal to offer it as stores get wise to how effective it is.

Free shipping sits at the point where our love of free things intersects with our dislike of additional charges. Psychologically, if we’re not expecting to pay for shipping (as online shoppers increasingly aren’t), we’ll experience shipping fees as a loss, and we all know how loss-averse customers are. If we’re offered free shipping, we’ll experience it as added value.

Free shipping eliminates one of the biggest hurdles in the ecommerce payment process. Asking people to pay is the hardest part of sales: without free shipping, you get customers over that hurdle – then immediately ask them to pay again. And you lose up to half of them doing it!

How to Implement Free Shipping

Time limit: Free shipping time limits are really effective. Offer a countdown to buy and qualify for free shipping: urgency is a powerful tool to trigger conversions by overcoming buyer procrastination.

Purchase cutoff: More than three quarters of shoppers have added items to their cart to qualify for free shipping. Lots of stores use a free shipping cutoff: Amazon offers free delivery on orders over $35 or small items, while JCrew uses intermittent free shipping on orders over a certain amount as a limited-time, urgency-triggering promo:

How to Implement Free Shipping
Free all the time: Bundling free shipping with everything all the time can be expensive, but it’s what customers say they want: most would prefer free shipping to a discount that’s actually worth more. There are ways to spread the hit, essentially by building shipping costs into product pricing. If there’s no way for you to do this try offering a flat shipping rate, or selectively bundling shipping costs with your least price-sensitive products while leaving the others unaffected. And remember free shipping drives conversions, so it should pay for itself in increased sales revenue

Shipping Time

Customers are extremely sensitive to shipping time, even when shipping is free. Shorter shipping times are perceived as a good, below a calendar week which is seen by most customers as a baseline.

Shipping time is perceived by customers as waiting, and as humans we are seriously averse to waiting. So offering shorter shipping times as a premium good has been done ever since there were two classes of postage stamp. E-tailers can leverage this to drive conversions.

  • 63% of consumers say it’s important that e-tailers provide estimated delivery times – the earlier the better in the checkout process.
  • 67% of shoppers want to be offered an expedited shipping service for an additional fee, but only about 16% of them will use it; 78% will use the standard shipping model.
  • 43% of shoppers have abandoned carts because of excessive delivery time.
  • 50% of online shoppers think tracking services ‘essential’ – and 71% prefer email notifications.

Shipping time intersects with free shipping: people will willingly wait longer for free shipping, but some will willingly pay extra for faster shipping. And even when they don’t plan to use it, customers want to be offered expedited shipping. They also massively prefer tracked shipping with notifications.

How to Leverage Shipping Time

Options: Customers like to be given choices. ASOS do this very well:

How to Leverage Shipping Time
Detail is important, and so is clearly stated value. ASOS win at this by showing exactly what each shipping option means to the customer, with crucial information bolded, and everything laid out simply.

Urgency: How can you make shipping times more urgent? By making them more concrete. Amazon does this well. Making the delivery date specific – ‘want it Monday, August 31?’ makes two-day delivery immediate, stating the benefit rather than the feature. Adding a countdown timer to qualify for two-day shipping drives urgency further.

Urgent shipping timesClarity: Customers prefer being told shipping options in detail, as early as possible and very clearly. Finding out they’ll have to wait ten days or more for their item could trigger abandonment! Popular methods of providing clarity are:

  • Flat rate shipping. Charging one flat rate for all shipping reduces friction and can be bundled with product prices the same way as free shipping, while letting you use free and expedited shipping as two contrasted ways of delivering additional shipping value.
  • Real time carrier times and rates. Link customers directly into carriers’ own offerings, generating trust and giving customers as much control as possible.

Tracking: Customers like tracking. Waiting for something indeterminate feels longer than waiting for something definite, so to provide a better customer experience offer detailed tracking, preferably via email. If you want to move to one of the high-accuracy granular tracking services now available that allow customers to track the van their product is in and offer half-hour delivery windows, be aware that the wrinkles haven’t been ironed out yet: early-adopt at your peril, but we’ll all be using those services soon.


Choosing the right carrier can make a world of difference to your shipping. People often strongly identify certain carriers with reliability and will perceive your association with that carrier as a reflection of your own trustworthiness. Knowing exactly who will be handling their packages gives customers an extra layer of control too.

Leverage carrier choice

Carriers differ markedly in the way they approach their provisions.

What do the options look like?

USPS: Use set pricing for all their services, so what you see is what you get. A good choice if your products are mostly small – it’s far and away the cheapest option for items under 13 ounces in the USA. See their business shipping kit request form here. Customers can track their order on the USPS website. However, USPS has a bad reputation for reliability with consumers – the ‘lazy USPS guy’ who leaves the ‘you were out when we called’ note without even knocking is not a myth, sadly, and many packages used to arrive in pretty poor shape too. The company has made big improvements over the last four years but will your customers believe that?

FedEx: Their expedited 2-day service can be pricey but ground shipping rates compare well with USPS on larger items. You can qualify for online discounts simply by setting up an account. FedEx apply a range of surcharges depending on location, fuel costs and other factors, including residential delivery and Saturday delivery. That means it’s harder to offer flat-rate shipping, and you can wind up paying far more than the basic price to get your products to your customers on time. If you ship high volumes daily this is less of a problem. To find out more, visit FedEx Small Business Center.

DHL: Also use a surcharge system. Customers can track their order on the company website. One of the most innovative carriers – it’s working on an app to deliver to parked cars! – has a strong international presence so if you deliver to Europe and China, German-based DHL are definitely worth a look.

UPS: The biggest carrier in ecommerce. Very good ground shipping rates for packages around the 2lb mark help explain that – free shipping on midsize items is easier to arrange on those terms. They use a surcharge system just like everyone except USPS and there’s no free package pickup service. The other key to their success is that they take delivery reliability extremely seriously and seldom deliver inaccurately or late. To get a good result from UPS it’s essential to ‘build’ your own rates via the company’s Account Manager based on your delivery volume. To find out more, check out UPS Small Business Solutions.


  • Offer customers real-time carrier rates to demonstrate transparency and empower the consumer. The downside? Too many options cause ‘paralysis by analysis’ and consumers click away, abandoning the cart!
  • Select one carrier and get the best out of that carrier, building their pricing into yours ‘invisibly’ and offering free shipping for most products.
  • Use an app like ShipRobot, ShipStation or Shippo to handle shipping for you.


ReturnsReturns are important for online shoppers who can’t touch the products they’re buying. For those who worry their product might be delivered damaged or inaccurately, or who feel less secure because they’re not dealing directly with an individual person, it’s an additional layer of security.

  • 82% of ecommerce customers want to know returns will be easy.
  • Free returns can result in a 357% increase in consumer spending.
  • 20% of all items bought online are returned – and in 65% or more cases it’s the merchant or carrier’s fault, not the customer’s.
  • 41% of shoppers will make an impulse purchase if free returns are offered.
  • 48% of returned purchases are returned free.
  • 92% of online shoppers will shop again at a store with an easy returns policy.

Returns are clearly important to consumers. Why? They’re buying products they can’t touch and they have to rely on your measurements, your pictures and your product descriptions to know what they’re paying for. That creates insecurity – and people don’t want to buy from a store that ‘will let them fail,’ in the words of Dr Amanda Bower, professor of business administration and marketing at Washington and Lee University.

Speaking to NBC News, Dr Bower explains: ‘Consumers are not weighing fair versus unfair. They’re thinking, “It costs me $7 to get it here, $7 to get it back to you, I’ve just paid $14 for the privilege of finding out your stuff doesn’t work for me. And I don’t want to do that again.”’

How to leverage returns

The most effective returns policy is also the simplest: offer free, any-reason returns within 28 days. Opting for free returns, as we’ve seen, shoots consumer spending through the roof. Gains far outweigh expenses. There’s a psychological factor too: before the customer buys, the idea of committing to purchase is psychologically daunting.

The Takeaway

Free shipping and free returns are the best investments you can make in shipping for conversions. Keep all the information about shipping – time, carrier, tracking, price – clear at every step to increase conversions.

Make that purchase commitment-free, by offering free returns, and the customer is more likely to buy. But once they have the product, will they return it? “Probably not,” says Shopify’s Mark MacDonald, “they’re already committed.”

Image Source: (1, 2, 3, 4)

How small business ecommerce can use Pinterest to drive online sales

PinterestWith its focus on the visual and inspirational, it’s no wonder that Pinterest attracts an audience of active users who like to shop online. A successful presence on Pinterest can help drive traffic to your small business website and increase your online sales.

With 72.8 million users Pinterest continues to grow at an impressive rate. Indeed its user base grew 25% between March 2014 and March 2015. One of the best things about Pinterest is its audience of savvy shoppers.  Research shows that;

To ensure you are doing all you can to maximise your small businesses presence on Pinterest, we take a look at a few tips to help you tap into all that this great visual platform has to offer.

Getting the basics right

Before going into more detail about managing your ongoing Pinterest presence, it is important to get off to the right start. Even if you have been up and running for a while there is no harm in going to back to revisit the basics to see if anything needs improving or amending.

The best place to start is Pinterest for Business itself. It will guide you step-by-step guide through setting up your business account, verifying your website, adding the Pin It button and creating pins and boards.

Profile. Make sure you complete your business profile and include your logo. Your profile page is where your boards and pins are kept. Your bio should be a snapshot of your business, who you are and what your business stands for. Don’t forget to include your website address. To humanise you business a bit more try creating a separate ‘about us’ board, giving a behind the scenes look at your business and staff. notonthehighstreet.com has a whole board dedicated to their craft sellers.


pinterest behind the scenes board

Boards. Categorise your pins into separate themed boards and give each board a specific title and a strong cover images. Don’t go mad at the beginning creating loads of different boards. It is better to start with a few, easily manageable boards until you get going. When starting a new board try to putting a number of pins up right at the start so that your board doesn’t look empty. An empty board is unlikely to inspire someone to revisit.

Showcasing your products

The first rule. As with any social media platform try not to overly promote your products. There is nothing more off-putting than blatant self promotion. Your aim should be to have a balance of content that taps into the lifestyle and interest of your target market.

Inspiring images.  Think more about how you can best set the stage for your products. Rather than using standard, run of the mill stock product photos, think about how you can create inspiring, beautiful images of your products.  Try photographing them  in real life situations and settings.  Take a look at jewellery retailer Stella & Dot’s Pinterest boards. The images are bright, colourful and inspiring.  Each of their boards have specific titles and a great cover image with the titles overlain (you can create just such cover images on Canva ). Don’t forget Pinterest is a visual medium so video can work extremely well too.

Pinterest for small businesses

Rich pins. To get the most out of selling your products online it is worth getting aboard with Rich Pins. These are specific tools to help you sell on Pinterest  by offering extra information about your product – making it easier for customers to purchase from you. As a small business the Product Pin is the most important Rich pin. Popular amongst Pinners, over 2 million save product pins to their boards every day. Appearing on your pin the product pin show realtime information about that product including pricing, availability and links straight through  to your purchase page. For further information checkout Pinterest Rich Pins.

Pinterest rich pins

It’s about lifestyle

To get the most out of Pinterest, you need to take a broader approach to content – think a bit outside the box considering the wider lifestyle and interests of your target market. Take a look at what other businesses in your industry are doing on their boards. What are the wider industry trends in your business? Create boards about what is on trending now or next season. Such as this ‘Trending Watch: Neon’ board from notonthehighstreet.com.

pinterest trend board



Womens sportswear retailer Sweaty Betty do lifestyle brilliantly on Pinterest. In addition to their lively and interesting product boards they have a huge variety of lifestyle oriented boards to appeal to their target market including Beauty Tips, Gym Hair, Healthy Selfies, Best Pools in the World, Guide to favourite places, Quotations and Mantras and Food & Drink. For a bit on inspiration take a moment check out Sweaty Betty’s Pinterest page.

Sweaty Betty Pinterest


Drive traffic back to your website

Of course driving potential customers back to your website is key to increasing your online sales. In addition to your great product boards, also include some other content to interest your audience.

Blogs. Have a board dedicated to your blog posts (I’m sure most of you have realised the benefits a blog can bring to your business by now!). This not only provides some great content for your audience, it also leads them onto your website. Here’s an example of ShopIntegrator’s own small business blog board.

pinterest blog board


Special offers. Special offers and discount codes are another good way to entice an audience back to your site and give a boost to your sales. Make it exclusive to Pinterest and don’t forget to promote your offer on your email newsletter.

Special seasonal boards: Creating fun and inspirational boards around seasonal gift ideas is a great way to grab attention from pinners and get them to click-through to your website. Gift company notonthehighstreet.com creates great boards at key seasonal periods – packed full of gift ideas for their customers.


notonthehighstreet pinterest christmas board


Learn as you go

Time is precious for small businesses owners so it is essential that the effort and time you are putting into social media is achieving results. It is important therefore to keep on track of how you are performing. Understanding what is working and what needs improving upon is essential to ensure a successful presence.

Pinterest Analytics: Once you’ve set up your business account you can access Pinterest Analytics. This way you can measure how your profile page is performing. Pinterest Analytics will show what pins and boards people like most from your page; including number of impressions, repins, and click-throughs. You can also learn about your audience demographics, their interests and other brands your audience engage with.

Check out other profile boards: Keep an eye on what competitors and other businesses within your industry  are doing so you don’t miss out on any opportunities or forthcoming trends. Pinterest has a page of case studies of business who have achieved real success with their presence. For some inspiration and ideas on how to take your business forward take a moment to check some of Pinterest’s success stories.

Engage with your audience: Social media is all about engaging with your audience. So don’t be afraid of asking their opinion – what are their interests, what would they like to see you pinning? Contests are a great way to engage with your audience and find out more about their interests. Try running a competition for new board ideas or themes or ask them to create a board using your products from your website.

pinterest contest


Most of all have fun with Pinterest. It’s a great platform for you to get creative with inspiring imagery and interesting content. We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences using Pinterest for your business, so please do leave a comment.