How to Write Great Email Subject Lines for Your Real Estate Marketing
By Sandra Manzanares
About Inbound Marketing
Everyone’s inbox these days seems to be flooded with email messages, so there’s high competition to get your email opened. Without an open, the great email you’ve spent time crafting loses value. Subject lines hold extreme power: Just like most readers don’t read beyond blog headlines if they’re not eye-catching, most readers do not click on emails with mediocre or salesy subject lines. Our brains scan inboxes for mere seconds, and as we identify the most interesting, relevant, and striking subject lines, we click on those emails. The non-winning subject lines head to the trash or stay in unopened purgatory.
Email marketing is an essential part of nurturing leads and clients, promoting content to website visitors, and marketing your listings and open houses. While there are other factors that affect open rates (the relevance of the content or sender to the reader, the timing of the email, etc.), you have total control of how attractive your subject lines are. Here are the keys for writing great email subject lines:
Staples of Good Subject Lines.
You have lots of choices for formatting your subject lines, but research has shown the best email subject lines have some solid musts you should adhere to if you want to increase the open rates of your emails.
Keep it short.
While a few brands find success with long subject lines, the standard for a successful open rate is under 50 characters (28–39 characters is even better). A MarketingProfs study showed subject lines with 6–10 words had a 21 percent open rate. But you’ll also want to consider mobile in those numbers: As of late 2013, 48 percent of emails were opened on mobile devices, but a typical mobile phone shows only 25–30 characters. Because of this, put the most important words at the beginning of your subject line: They will be more prominent for readers and mobile users will still get the full scope of your subject line’s value.
Avoid negative terminology.
Avoid promotional phrases, or use them sparingly. According to Mailchimp, the phrases “help,” “percent off,” and “reminder” have produced negative open rates. Words like “free” can trigger your email to be identified as spammy or too promotional — by the email system or reader themselves — and “free” was shown to have a direct negative impact on open rates for the real estate industry.
Target and personalize.
While names in email subject lines have produced some increase in open rates, it’s also a tactic so overused it could potentially not have any additional positive affect. Studies did show that personalizing with locations and targeting with details specific to the person you’re emailing can increase open rates significantly. Use your CRM to segment your list before attempting this, and try to get as detailed as possible to the person’s characteristics or activity on your real estate website.
The best subject lines are to-the-point and literally tell the reader what they will expect to read inside the body of the email. While some great email marketers have found success with ambiguous or alluring language, open rates are typically higher when recipients have a clear indication of what to expect in the email based on the subject line.
Use appropriate punctuation.
Sentence case and title case are used most often. All capital letters, or one word in all caps, can be used on rare occasions to increase open rates. Exclamation points are overused, typically in promotional emails, so you should avoid them, but question marks are good (see below for more on how to pose a question in an email subject line).
Craft a sincere voice.
Tone of voice in subject lines is twofold. On one hand, you should sound like yourself: Whether using quippy language, humor, or to-the-point professional phrases, the voice should sound authentically you. On the other hand, you want to understand your customer personas and how they enjoy being spoken to, and then determine the language and tone that will catch their eye. Find a good balance between the two.
It’s also a good idea to think about first person and second person addresses. Making your email personal can be alluring (“These are my favorite home-buying checklists on the Internet”), while speaking directly to the person can also encourage an open (“The home-buying checklists you need before making a decision”). Try out both techniques and see what fits for you.
“Write what should not be forgotten.”
— Isabel Allende
What Content Works Well in Subject Lines.
The content of your email subject lines should convey the greatest value of the email. Remember, this is the point when the reader decides whether your email is worth their time, so it’s important to cut to the value immediately. The following content tactics have been proven to effectively grow open rates.
Make it timely.
Nothing entices readers quite like a subject line that implies the information enclosed is just released, expiring soon, or specific to a time period. Use language that lets the reader know that not opening your email would result in a missed opportunity.
Make it important.
This one is simple: People like to feel they are in-the-know about important things. Use strong adjectives that signify importance: think “important,” “best,” “essential,” “most,” “must-see,” and “new.”
Use emotional storytelling.
Emotions are proven to increase engagement with emails, and starting emotional storytelling in your subject line can increase your open rate. Emotions like humor, sentimentality, and shock value work effectively to entice readers, but these depend greatly on your own voice and the language your audience prefers.
Many of the most popular blog headlines include numbers, including one in five viral posts. This tactic can be applied to subject lines as well. Try to use numbers whenever possible, focusing around small odd and even numbers, or large round even numbers.
Disclose the benefit.
We discussed showcasing value in your subject line, but that can be explicit or implicit. If your email offers substantial value for the reader, showcase it clearly in the subject line.
You don’t have to save newsjacking for just blog posts. Use terminology that discusses major housing market data, stats, or development right in your email that would be concerning or relevant to your readers.
Focus on local.
Real estate email marketing can be used to highlight great features of your area. For folks thinking about making a move, highlighting great local spots in your subject line can be a great way to increase engagement.
If you’ve got a great round-up or a series of information in your email that you want to highlight, consider introducing all of your topics in list form as your subject line. This gives your reader a range of topic options to choose from.
A teaser can be great for leaving your reader wanting more. The key to writing a great teaser is providing just enough detail in the subject line to convey to the reader the essence of your email, but then offering a new detail that you promise to reveal in the email.
People love easy how-tos. Advertising them in your subject line may be enough to get an open, as long as the how-to is something that’s very useful to your audience.
Include pop culture references.
If you’re very engaged with your audience and know the types of popular culture they love (and would understand), using references in your subject line can build an immediate inside-joke connection with your reader that will encourage an open.
Put together non-related things.
A flying pig or an elephant dancing ballet will catch your eye. This same principle is used in subject lines to incite opens. Put together two things that have seemingly no connection to intrigue readers.
With limited space, email subject lines should employ more action and less fluff. Cut down your words and use action verbs to create language that builds momentum and encourages a reader to take action with your useful information.
You’ve done keyword research for your real estate website and marketing, and many of those keywords are also positive triggers for your reader. Target your subject line with terms your recipient has likely searched for on their own. This also makes your email easily searchable, since the average user can’t open your email right away and will often return to it via search fields in their inbox. This subject line has both high-volume search terms and terms that are easily located should a recipient want to find again in their inbox.
“Good writing gives energy, whatever it is about.”
— Marilyn Hacker
Pose a question.
Subject lines framed as questions can perform better. By asking a question, a reader is subconsciously generating an answer to your question, and is encouraged to click to see what you reveal on the other side (which, hopefully, fulfills that need). Use specific leading questions based on user actions and expressed interests, but ask it in a universal way so you can already predict what the answer will be.
Start conversion at the subject line.
Call to actions (CTAs) are typically used at the end of the body of an email, but occasionally using them in subject lines for timely issues or high-quality content you’d really like to push can be effective. Tell your reader what to do right from the subject line. “Refresh your wardrobe” is a great example of a subtle but direct CTA.
Do you have something a reader can take away or download from your email, like tips, templates, or free guides? Say it right in the subject line. Giveaways work well for opens because they don’t force readers to stop what they’re doing to read through a step-by-step guide, but instead gives them the ability to immediately download the resource and save for later use.
Most readers think general emails are lots of writing and, pressed for time or inundated with lots to read, might skip over an email that you’ve sent that actually includes beautiful photography, infographics, or video. If you’ve got something visual in your email, advertise it in your subject line directly, separated by brackets or colons.
Enhance your email headline previews.
Marketers often forget that users are able to see a preview of the text that comes after the subject line, which also offers a glimpse of the value of the email. The problem? Many email templates use a generic headline. This is prime real estate to hook a reader who may be on the fence about opening your email. Use a headline that further develops the offer, value, or content of your subject line.
Tailor non-newsletter subject lines to the intent.
Some emails will have to be much more direct, like the ones focusing on business transactions or specific listings. For transactional emails, avoid ambiguous terminology (“Hey” or “Checking in”). Get to the point of your email right of the bat: “Had a chance to look through my new listings?” or, “Would a consultation help answer your buying questions?”
For emails advertising open houses and listings, focus on really getting to the heart of the selling points early, whether that’s focusing on a property style, price, region, or features: “Newly listed: Updated Colonial Lakeside Property at Pointview Road,” “Beautifully Flipped 5-Bedroom Just on the Market,” or “Open House: 375 Brush Hill on June 15.”
Tactics That Will Enhance Your Subject Line Writing
Write your subject line first, and give yourself options.
We’ve established that the subject line is the most important part of your email because it’s the only leverage you have to receive an open on your email. Your body copy is second to your subject line, and yet most people save the subject line for the last step. Start by writing your subject line first. Ask yourself these questions to get you thinking:
- What’s the core message, goal, or takeaway?
- What is the benefit to the reader?
- What words will convey this?
- Which of the techniques will I use?
Don’t stop there. Write 3–5 different subject lines. This exercise helps you run through different techniques and pushes you to refine your writing. Then, write your email body copy and return to your subject line options to choose the one that best represents the message of your email.
A/B test your subject lines.
As you attempt to improve your open rates, it’s a good idea to test exactly what techniques work better than others. A/B testing allows you to take segments of your list and send them the same email, but one group receives one subject line and the other receives a different subject line. Send these at the exact same time and compare and contrast your open rates and clickthrough rates.
Use your newsletter subscriptions to your favorite brands to gather inspiration. Look more closely at the emails you click on and dissect them to see which of the above techniques was used. Also, sign up for email lists from competitors and colleagues to get a sense of their subject line styles, and then flip that inspiration to your unique style.
Want to grow your real estate email marketing? See the 5 Emails Real Estate Agents Should Send to Every Lead and learn how to segment your customer personas to create quality targeted emails.
What are your favorite types of subject lines? What techniques do you use to get readers to open emails? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Published on October 7, 2014
Written by Sandra Manzanares
Writer, editor, and marketing manager with a passion for helping brands enhance their content marketing strategy. I'm a firm believer that creative storytelling is an essential part of the way we communicate. Constantly striving to fill my head with as much creative and analytical information as possible.