11½ Tips for Better Email Subject Lines

Your email subject line. It’s an invitation, a front door, a salesperson, an ambassador. 47% of email recipients open email based on the subject line. They’re important, to say the least. Here are 11 ½ tips to make your subject line Don Draper not Al Bundy, caviar not tofu — in a word: better.

1. Test for bad words

Over 35% of spam is detected from email subject lines because of spam trigger words. Free, sex, video, trial, sample, mortgage. Just say no. There are lots of ways to test against spam triggers. SpamAssassin and MailTester are good places to start.

2. Keep sweet

The rule of thumb for email scribes used to be short and sweet subject lines, but apparently longer sometimes performs better. The key is to keep it sweet – good, relevant, intriguing. Customers click on the emails with subject line containing “coupon” but don’t trust those with words like “free” or “sale.” And don’t think short is bad. A lot of marketers have had success with one-word subject lines. (They’re certain to stand out).

  • Stuck?
  • Panic

3. Use a brand or buzz

A Marketing Sherpa study found that emails with branded subject lines are among the most opened and shared emails. Use your brand or the brand name of that study you are sharing, product you are discounting. Or add something buzz-worthy.

4. Use content that resonates

Content-related subject lines and “trigger words” that resonate with your audience work better than general subject lines. You may be sitting on rich data to help you figure out what interests your audience. Use Google Analytics (or other analytics tools) to assess what content (pages and keywords) website visitors were most interested in. These are the topics that resonate with your audience — and a good place to start with your subject line.

  • March Powertool Bonanza
  • 10 Tips for Better Mobile Emails

5. Scintillate don’t summarize

Nobody, except maybe your mother, is very interested in reading your email that bears the subject line “July Newsletter.” Something like “How we made $1 million in July” will generate many more opens. Teasers and questions work well, such as:

  • Are organic foods worth the extra cost?
  • Why 95% of traders lose money in the stock market
  • How to get 1,000 new email subscribers in one day

6. Focus on the User

Your email subscribers want to know what’s in it for them. Focus on a benefit to the reader of the email. Not surprisingly, the words “you”and “your” boost open rates more than “free” or “special.”

  • Some examples of user-benefit focus:
  • Boost ROI Tenfold with Segmentation
  • Your Input, Please: Annual Customer Satisfaction Survey
  • Look Your Best – On Us

7. Don’t be generic

Similarly, don’t be generic. Favoring specificity, USA Today goes with “Ex-NFL Player: Marijuana is a godsend for NFL players”over “Top news from August 10th.”

8. Don’t be repetitive

Even if last month’s newsletter had a killer subject line, chance are you’re better of not repeating it. New is good.

9. Don’t be repetitive

See what I mean?

10. Find the controversy, scarcity or intrigue

Give people a reason to open that email by focusing on something memorable, shocking, intriguing or notifying the user of scarcity. For example:

  • Eating French fries makes you healthier
  • 10 reasons why the stock market will collapse in 2015
  • Introducing the 4-Hour Workweek
  • Hurry! Only 2 days left to get 50% off suits

11. Make sure the rest of the email doesn’t suck

As @Copyblogger puts it, “There’s something special in this jaded digital age about being invited into someone’s email inbox.” Don’t take that invitation or granted. Your subject line is only as good as the email that follows it.

12. Never stop testing and thinking

Do A/B testing, look at what competitors are doing, look at open rates and other metrics, bottom line results, read relevant blog posts and studies, and keep a log of subject lines you like. “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…”


Here’s a good list from Winbound: “12 Email Subject Lines You Must Avoid.”
Do you need a killer subject line? We’re here to help.