How to add a second subject line to your emails

Now that so many people use Gmail, copywriters should take advantage of the opportunity this gives you to essentially insert a second subject line in your emails.

A Gmail inbox shows the first sentence or so of the email before the person opens it.

If the subject line is the headline, the opening line would be the subhead and the two flow together. In the emails I write for clients I now try to cut down on the clutter in the opening line so that there’s more flow.

Let’s look at how some other marketers have used that space:

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Look at the opening sentence: “Do not reply to this email.”

When you write a sales letter would you include “Do not respond to this message” as a subhead?

I don’t think so.

Excuse me while I indulge in a customer service rant: is it that hard to send an autoresponder message from an email address that your customers can reply to?

This particular company has several people on staff. Surely there is someone that can respond to their emails.

If yours is a one-person business you have no excuse either. Email is a personal medium and is a form of two-way conversation. To have a “do not reply to this email” line anywhere in your email is yet another example of broken customer service.

OK, let’s look at this one:

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This was an affiliate email sent out during someone’s product launch. I opened that one right away because I was all, “What??? I didn’t order $197 DVDs!”

Of course the email ultimately was about getting free DVDs but I had to open it to make sure it wasn’t really an erroneous order.

I bet that email had a great open rate because it used a scare tactic. Would you use a tactic like that if you knew it would get the email opened?

I will say this: it used the second subject line space in an efficient manner and got right to the point.

Below is an example of something I see regularly – the subject line and first line of the email say basically the same thing:

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A first line that said something like, “Here’s a coupon for 15% off your next visit” or “We hope you come back. Here’s a coupon…” would be less redundant.

So what do you think? Please feel free to chime in with a comment.

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  • julietaustin



    Thanks so much for this. I am with you on the “do not reply to this email” thing–it drives me crazy when I want to send an email to the business.

    And for the pointer on making the opening line different to the subject, I am going to make sure I follow that rule from now on.

  • Ryan Healy

    Anita – Great point about Gmail offering a little more space to get attention.

    On a side note, I've noticed that the emails that get the most attention often get fewer sales than those that get fewer opens.

    Here's some real math:

    Email #1: 741 opens, 17 sales
    Email #2: 1,430 opens, 9 sales

    The product and price were the same in both emails.

    I'll probably be writing about this early next week because the longer I'm in this biz the more I realize that getting attention does not equate to sales.

  • anitaashland

    I look forward to your post about that, Ryan. I'd love to hear about the type of subject lines you used. Subtle ones or more direct?

  • Ryan Healy

    Both subject lines were fairly subtle… and both piggy-backed on a current event.

    In the first case, I piggy-backed on the 2009 Superbowl; in the second case, it was China's move to default on the fraudulent derivative products sold to them by U.S. banks.

    Email #1: Long-Shot Leads to Unexpected Win

    Email #2: China tells U.S. to “go straight to hell.”

    Obviously, the second one is more compelling. You can hardly resist reading it. But for some odd reason, it did not pull sales nearly as well as the first.

  • anitaashland

    Thanks for sharing those subject lines. I've always preferred subtle subject lines but one of my clients has asked me to start writing more direct headlines because they get better open rates. I guess the niche, sender, etc. all play a role as well. Looking forward to your post about how getting attention doesn't always equal more sales.

  • Ryan Healy

    Anita – Just finished the blog post. I started thinking about it and just had to get it written. 🙂

    (Feel free to delete this comment if you want.)