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How to Write Better Email Subject Lines

It’s 3:30 p.m. It took you most the day, but you crafted the perfect e-blast, complete with compelling copy and an eye-catching design you’re sure your audience will love. You press send and relax, ready to celebrate your success. But the next day, you look at the results and your heart sinks. Only a 3% open rate? The e-blast was perfect, but only a small fraction of your audience ever saw it. Then you realize the problem — email subject lines have always tripped you up.

If this has happened to you, you’re not alone. No matter how great your email content is, a weak subject line can render it practically useless. But don’t get frustrated and chuck your keyboard at the wall just yet. Follow these simple tips, and you’ll be writing winning subject lines in no time.


Be Concise

People are pretty much glued to their mobile devices these days, so it’s likely that’s where they’ll first see your subject line. The number of characters displayed in the subject line depends on the device, but most will display at least 40 characters. If you want to make sure your readers see the full extent of your creative subject line genius, keep it short.

Research shows that subject lines of seven words or less tend to get the most opens. So in general, it’s best to be concise. But don’t forget — length isn’t the only factor that influences open rates. It’s better not to sacrifice quality for the sake of brevity.


Personalize Your Message

Emails with a personalized subject line are 26% more likely to be opened. Personalization can include everything from customizing your subject lines with the recipient’s name, job title or location to incorporating a specific service/product you know the recipient is interested in.

Don’t be creepy about it, though — make sure the data you use to personalize is either something the customer has already shared with you or something reasonably public. Personalization should never feel like an invasion of privacy.


Grab Attention

The average businessperson receives more than 100 emails every day. To stand out from the rest of the inbox clutter, your email subject lines needs to catch the recipient’s interest quickly. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this, and the best approach will depend on the content and context of your email. Here are a few techniques to try in combination or on their own.


  • Ask a question

Example: Are you making these common marketing mistakes?


  • Build a sense of urgency

Example: Medicare Webinar: Last Chance to Register


  • Be witty

Example: Put the “sure” in insurance — here’s how!


  • Use numbers

Example: 5 Easy Ways to Improve Your People Skills


  • Imply exclusivity

Example: You’re Invited — Private Event for Leading Marketers


  • Make an offer

Example: Share your input, get a Starbucks gift card


  • Spark curiosity

Example: What do businesspeople and BBQs have in common?


  • Start with an action-oriented verb

Example: Earn your certification in just 3 weeks


Whichever approach you choose, be careful not to mislead your audience. Make sure your subject line clearly relates to the information in the email.


Avoid Spam Triggers

Even the best email subject lines don’t do any good if your email gets sent straight to the spam folder. There are hundreds of words, phrases and symbols that can trigger spam filters, and it is best to exercise caution when using them. That being said, using a spam trigger doesn’t necessarily mean your email will be flagged, as spam filters consider multiple criteria.

Here are a few examples of subject line practices that may get your email sent to the spam wasteland:


  • Text in all caps (e.g., EVERYTHING ON SALE NOW)


  • Excessive symbols, emojis or punctuation — especially multiple exclamation points and/or dollar signs (e.g., It’s not too late!!!!!!)


  • Highly promotional words and phrases, such as free, limited time offer, increase sales, act now, guarantee, etc. (e.g., It’s free now if you act now!)


Improve Over Time With A/B Testing

Nobody’s perfect right away, and even the best marketers turn out some subject line flops occasionally. A/B testing is a great way to fine tune your subject lines over time. With every email campaign, try out two different subject lines and see which one earns more opens (make sure to divide your lists in such a way that the subject line is the only variable). This will give you clearer insight into your audiences’ behaviors and preferences. As you see which subject lines perform best, modify your approach accordingly.

Tired of thinking of email subject lines yourself? We’re here to help — give us a call any time!