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Tips for getting people to open (and read) your email

By Jeremy Steele

The big day is coming! You have spent weeks or months planning. Now it is time to get the word out. You will use announcements in the bulletin and make a personal plea in worship, but first, you are sending your email. What should it say? How should it read? What are the tricks to get people to open it in the deluge of emails that come every day?

Drawing on the work of successful political campaign strategists and professional email marketers, here are some of the best tips to get people to open and read your mass email.

The tips come in two groups: the subject line and the lede (pronounced “leed”), also called “preheader” or “snippet text.” The lede is a line that many email clients (such as Gmail) display after the subject to give additional context. The email client grabs the lede from the first line in your email. Most designers put it before the top header image and make the font color light so it is not too distracting. You do not want it to say “view this email as a webpage,” so be sure to insert the lede before this message.

Optimize the subject and lede to increase your number of opens.

SUBJECT LINE

1. Shorten it: Subject lines are just that: subjects. When they are too long, people may get frustrated and move on. Avoid including your lede in the subject line; reduce the subject to as few words as possible. Avoid being overly descriptive. Make subjects intriguing to draw the reader into the lede. For example:

  • Use fascination: Another Incredible Week.

  • Pique interest: What You Need

  • Use lists: 10 Reasons to XWY.

  • Ask a question: Why Does Pastor Sarah Do XYZ?

  • Offer pragmatic advice: How to Do Family Worship.

  • Create urgency: Two Days to Register.

  • Use targeted subjects to make people feel special: To Church Leaders.

  • Use seasonal subjects: FALL into XYZ.

  • Give simple commands: Subscribe to XYZ.

  • Be goofy: Pastor Sam’s a Bieber Fan.

  • Use testimonies: Bishop Palmer explains XYZ.

  • Drop a big name: Bishop Palmer uses XYZ.

  • Use a hybrid of any of the above (testimony and big name): Bishop Palmer uses XYZ.

2. Get personal: A recent political campaign that raised more than $500 million discovered that the more personal the subject line, the more people opened the emails, resulting in more donations. Not only that, they also identified a clear top two of all the subjects they used. No. 2 “Hey” was dominated only by the first name of the individual as the subject of the email.

3. Take advantage of colon power: A colon denotes an expansion of an original idea and invites people to read more. As wild as it may seem, merely putting a colon at the end of a solid subject almost always gets more people to open the email than the subject line alone.

4. Don’t get stuck: Try new things constantly. If your subjects are always the same, people will begin to ignore them. Using these simple tips, improvise to your heart’s delight and continue to draw people past their inbox to read your important content.

THE LEDE (ALSO PREHEADER OR SNIPPET TEXT)

1. Ask a question. When questions stand on their own — and you do not provide the answer immediately — they create a tiny amount of unrest in the reader as his or her brain expects, and begins to look for, an answer. When writing a question, make sure it is broad enough to appeal to everyone and specific enough to make a strong connection that draws people into the rest of your content.

  • Did you fall asleep in church last Sunday?

  • What does your city need to hear most?

  • Who is our special guest this week?

2. Frontload the “you.” People engage when you involve them personally. The best way to do that in your lede is to incorporate some version of the word “you” as quickly as possible. That helps draw people in as they sense personal involvement in the email.

  • You are important to what is happening this Sunday.

  • Are you making a difference?

  • Your children need this.

3. Ask for help. We are social beings designed to care about others and respond when someone requests help. Use your lede to express your message in terms of needing help. Even if it is only an opinion or presence that you need, the words will connect to that deeper social element.

  • We need you to do XYZ.

  • What do you think about XYZ?

  • This cannot happen without you doing XYZ.

4. Discover the power in a single word. People scan. Single-word sentences break the scanning rhythm. They stop the scanner dead in his or her tracks and, if done well, entice them to read more.

  • Aggravating! Do you know how many people don’t know about XYZ?

  • Shhhh! We invite you to a special, private dinner honoring our volunteers.

  • What? Have you heard the buzz?

These tips can take your email to the next level. However, they are far from the only ones that work. Check out these ideas and resources to engage readers.