7 tips for writing the perfect healthcare email subject line

This article is published with permission from Healthcare Success Strategies.

Email, as a healthcare marketing tool, has a lot going for it: It's inexpensive. It's fast. And it can be highly effective.

Email also has a lot of things working against it: It's easily ignored. It can be filtered as spam. And it just might not communicate at all.

Arguably, the most important part of any email message, especially healthcare email, is the subject line. It can be a single email message or an opt-in -- and vitally important -- message for many recipients. It can be business or it can be personal.

The subject line determines if it will be opened, ignored or deleted. Unfortunately, the humble subject line — the golden key to an effective message — is often neglected...perhaps it's written in haste, maybe it's poorly constructed or perhaps it's forgotten entirely.

There's no magic formula to writing the perfect healthcare email subject line — and frankly, it's not easy — but here are some useful guidelines to gain attention and not get tagged as spam:

  • The ultimate writing challenge is to get it right in (about) 50 characters. Email subject lines have the dual duty of (a) capturing attention and interest, and (b) communicating a meaningful and concise message in only a few words. It's tough. About 50 characters or less is the general guideline, but the acid test is to effectively communicate efficiently.
  • The subject line is the first thing and the last thing to write. Writing a tentative subject line first is a technique to crystallize the main idea and help the writer stay on point and focused. With the final draft completed, re-read the subject line. If the subject line and the content don't say the same thing, re-write one or the other.
  • Tell — don't sell — in the subject space. An obvious red flag is the subject line that makes noise without substance, or even a clue as to what the message holds. ("Wow!!!" "Look at this!" "Don't miss this sensational offer!") Provide the recipient with a distilled idea of the content. Noisy subject lines are not only bad form, but — if they get past the spam filters — they are quickly deleted.
  • Be relevant and important…with a dash of urgent. This is where your 50-character allowance can be a shoot-out between "effective" and "efficient." Using a carefully selected keyword in the subject line links the reader with "what's-in-it-for-them." One or two words can convince them that it is pertinent or appropriate. "Importance" means it is worthy of their attention, especially with an element of urgency or timeliness.
  • Personalize, customize or tailor. A corollary to the "relevant" tip is to individualize the subject line when possible. A reader's attention is naturally drawn to their name in print, and that's a useful technique for one-at-a-time messages. When sending the same message to multiple recipients, consider variations with greater specificity, such as sub-groups within the global list.
  • Understand and avoid spam trigger words. At several checkpoints between your "send" and their "inbox," machines and algorithms "read" email to detect and derail unwanted spam messages. But it's not a perfect system and even legitimate messages — a single email or multiple emails — can hit a digital detour and become deliberately lost in cyberspace.
    Words such as "free," "money," "win," "deal," are among the obvious, but the list of trigger words is miles long. What’s more, some innocuous words, such as “help,” “percent off,” and “reminder,” may not trigger filers, but can seriously cut down on readership.
  • A one-word subject line never says anything. A single word would be brief, but there's no compelling reason to open and read. What's worse, with too little information (none), there is reason for recipients to suspect spam or a virus-laden message.

A few additional DO and DON'T reminders:

  • Do have a single subject (if at all possible), and stick to it.
  • Do send a sample to yourself (and selected others) first to see how it reads.
  • Do testing before rollout and tracking during rollout.
  • Don't leave the subject line empty. (It will seldom be opened, and lost forever.)
  • Don't use ALL CAPS or multiple exclamation points!!! (Or any exclamation points.)
  • Don't use multiple and mismatched fonts and colors.

An outstanding subject line is a make-it-or-break-it element, and — in 50 characters or less — it's a mighty tough assignment. As someone once observed, "If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought." 

This article was originally published as a Healthcare Marketing Exchange post, and is used here with permission of the authors.

© Copyright Healthcare Success Strategies, Inc. and used with permission. Lonnie Hirsch and Stewart Gandolf, MBA, are two of America’s most experienced healthcare marketers. They have a combined 30 years experience, have written hundreds of articles and have consulted with over 3,500 healthcare clients, including medical groups, hospitals, doctors and corporations. As co-founders of Healthcare Success Strategies, they lead a team of over 40 Healthcare Marketing All-Stars. You may reach either of them via email at .