There is one surefire way to keep someone reading your content- that is to grab their attention, and then keep it! Easy peasy- you just need a strong headline or subject line. It’s as easy and as difficult as that.


Here’s the thing; for some writers it’s really not that easy. Case in point? Me, your friendly, neighbourhood potty-mouthed Word Nerd. My Band of Batchers have heard me say, repeatedly to the point of killmenow that I cannot write a headline or a subject line until I’ve written the vast majority of my content piece. I’ve always been like that. Other writers can’t write a thing until they’ve nailed their headline. They’re incredibly important to content marketing and to writing overall- they’re how we capture our readers’ attention.


First things first: by subject line, I’m referring to what you put in your email campaigns that will appear in people’s inboxes next to your name. By headlines,I mean anything you’re using for blog posts, opt ins, ebooks, White Papers, all that jazz. They both have the two same goals:


Number one: grab attention.


Number two: entice or compel people to keep on reading.


Let’s start with subject lines- these are much more fun than headlines IMHO. If you’re on my mailing list you may have noticed from my email strategy that I have a very consistent and distinctive subject line structure. This is for brand recognition to help me stand out in crowded inboxes, but also it’s also because it’s fun for me. More important than both of those is my structure is a nice way to highlight or showcase what the email is going to be about, to give a teaser of what it’s about with the goal of opening it.


There’s a fair bit of research out there about how to improve open rates. There’s some stats that say using a first name in the subject line increases open rates. That said, this research is primarily American, and it’s a strategy that I don’t like personally and never use. I find a bit cheesy; particularly when the author doesn’t know me personally. That said, if your open rate isn’t great, have a go for no less than three months and see if it works for you, see what happens, see how it feels. Or if you have an engaged Instagram audience it’s the sort of question that’s perfect for stories- you’ll get a ton of engagement AND see how your audience feels about receiving a digital marketing email with their name in the subject line.  Of course, the next obvious question is ‘are you on my list?’ and boom- hello list building strategy!


Another consideration to increasing open rates is to be creative, thought-provoking (not click-baiting!) interesting, or maybe even a little bit of FOMO-inducing. Whenever I have a subject line that’s about running away to write I always get a good response because people want to know what I’m up to.


Asking questions in a subject line also tends to perform really well according to the research.  Question-based subject lines can be tied to problems and benefits, as well as upcoming sales, or a hack that you’ve discovered. Some examples include: Has this happened to you? Do you want to save time or money?


The other thing you can try, if it’s in line with your brand, of course, is being funny. Emojis are an easy way to convey personality, warmth and humour if they fit your brand. If you’re a funeral director, perhaps you should leave the 😜 💩 and 🤦🏻‍♀️ out of your subject lines.


One final note on subject lines- use your pre-header or preview! All providers come with a standard pre-header along the lines of ‘if you can’t read this in your email, click here to opening your browser.’ Replace their default message with something that’s tied in to your subject line. Or use it to compel or entice. For example, the subject line might be ‘Do you want to save time and money?’ And then the the pre-header could say ‘you really don’t want to miss this email.’ Obviously, this example is very salesy. Eww. Here’s another example. The subject line might be ‘I just lost 10 hours and $200 clearing out my inbox,’ with a preview of ‘don’t make the same mistake I made.’ Bottom line, the goal is to entice people to open your email and read it, and keep on reading to the bitter end.


Holly with a sticky note party


Okay, next cab off the rank is headlines. My writing clients have heard me talk a gazillion times about power words and sprinkling these through their headlines, first paragraphs and calls to action. But before you go sprinkling these (and if you want to know more, please reach out), go back to what’s in it for me? Not Me the writer, but Me the reader.


Think about your readers’ pain and your solution. Here’s an easy example.The problem? How to lose weight. Now, let’s extend that a little bit more and add your kicker or your benefit. Now we have How to lose weight without feeling hungry. See? Problem, Solution, the perfect headline!


Lists and benefits are really, really powerful when it comes to headlines:

  • Easy ways to …
  • My number one hack to …
  • Think you’re getting the best rate for your home loan?
  • Is professional organising all about matching boxes? Think again!
  • Five ways to style a bed
  • My ten favourite hacks to claw back more time in my day
  • The top 3 must dos to have a seamless morning


In my book, Tell Your Story, I talk about the concept of a swipe file. Subject lines and headlines are really good ones to keep and obviously you don’t copy them word for word, but use them for inspiration.


Tell me, do you struggle with headlines or subject lines? Do you need 500 words before you can find less than seven?

I love writing about communications, writing, life in business and life in general! If there’s something specific you’d like me to cover in my writing, please shoot me an email or give me a buzz, and I’ll do my best to help, or address it in an upcoming blog post or on my social media platforms.

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