6 May 2014
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What subject line should you use for your emails

Sending bulk emails? How do you get a high open rate?

Let me be honest with you. If you are reading this to find out how to create the perfect email subject line that guarantees you opens, then you will be in for a disappointment. I’m sorry but there is no such magic formula. In fact, even email experts are admitting that writing a good subject line is not easy. That’s why we tend to leave writing email subjects the last, after we compose the email contents.

Studies in America have shown that 1 out of 3 recipients open their emails based on the subject lines. This means that there’s a high chance that a poorly worded subject line will get your email junked or worst, labeled as spam. An email or newsletter that does not get opened is an email or newsletter that is worthless.

Does that mean that there is nothing we can do about our subject lines that can increase our open rates? Fortunately, there is. Here are some suggestions on what email marketers are advised to do and not do while writing subject lines.

Do understand that spam filters can be triggered based on a combination of factors and that recipients react differently to the same email subject. Therefore, these are tips and suggestions rather than hard and fast rules.

Tips to write good email subject lines

In 2012, it was estimated that that there are 2.2 billion email users in the world sending 144 billion emails per day (source). With so many emails zipping across the Internet and landing in inboxes (and spam folders), how do we draw attention to our emails and not let them drown in a sea of other emails?

Email subjects

  • Avoid spam triggering words

    The first step to getting emails opened is to get your emails into inboxes. Simple but it’s easier said than done. Among the first things a spam filter looks at is your subject line.

    One way to stay out of spam filters’ way is to avoid using words that are considered spamming in your subject line. For example, email marketers have long been advised not to use words like “free” and “click now”. And that they should never use all caps for their subjects. Exclamation marks are also a no-no.

    While I agree and have written on these in previous articles, I would also like to point out that nobody fully understands how spam filters work (besides its developers). But we do know that spam filters assign “points” to certain words. So the famous four-letter word “free” is not wholly responsible for your email being labeled as spam. However, it does raise your email spam score.

    In short, your junked email would need to have a few spam factors (trigger words, reputation etc) before being considered as spam. So, review the entire subject line together with other spam factors before sending your email.

  • Keeping it short and simple

    When it comes to writing email subject lines, minimalism rules. Subject lines that are too long will get truncated by the email client. Guessing games frustrate your recipients and they may just delete your emails. At the same time, having them too short will risk your ability to deliver the message or information efficiently.

    Studies have shown that emails with 28 -39 characters in their subject lines score the highest chance of being opened. The percentage of emails being opened, decreases when subject lines characters are less than or more than this range.

    So, keep it short and be specific. Get to your point without beating round the bush. Remember, your recipients have many other emails to look at too. And since we are on this topic, do not use the “bait and switch” method either. Not delivering what’s promised in your subject line will risk hurting your brand’s reputation.

  • Understand your recipients

    The more you know about your recipients, the easier it is for you to create a subject line that appeals to them. What are their demographics, their age groups or their interests? You can easily obtain these details from their sign up form (another good reason why you should have opt-in recipients rather than purchase a mailing list) or from previous purchases made on your website. From here, you can choose the subject line words that match their personality or interests.

  • Be relevant

    Take note of what is happening around e.g. an election or the time of the year e.g. spring. If you are able to build your subject lines around these current events, then your email will seem more relevant to your recipients compared to other run-of-the-mill marketing emails.

    Another way to be relevant is to personalize the email towards the recipients’ location like offering special promotions for a particular area. An example of this could be a 20% discount for purchases at a new outlet during the launching week.

    Yet another way to connect with your recipients is to send emails relating to their previous purchases. If a customer had purchased children’s clothes before, chances are that they may be interested in children’s toys, bags etc.

  • Using numbers in subject lines

    You can also consider including numbers into your subject lines. It definitely stands out among other wordy subject lines. Consider these two examples:

    “Greatest deals” or “10 greatest deals for 2014”

    Which would you open? We are somehow drawn to numbers. Besides being easier to notice, it creates curiosity and that helps your email get opened.

  • Questions anyone?

    Sometimes, a question can work to your benefit, especially if your topic is related to a sensitive issue like “Is Your Family Safe?” This type of subject line is able to stop more recipients on their tracks and make them think. You can engage them better and thus, they feel as if you are having a conversation with them. This is what you want. When they stop and think about it, it shows that they are interested to know more and chances are that they may continue to open your email.

    However, not all topics can be turned into questions. You will need to use common sense and do ensure that it is relevant to your email contents.


With around 20% to 40% of the emails that get delivered to inboxes get opened, the pressure to create a perfect subject line that beckons to your recipients is high. You will need to come up with creative ways on how to create a subject line that is interesting for your recipients to want to open your email… and not make it sound like spam! It takes time and lots of trial and error to be able to master this skill. That is the reason we always recommend that you test your bulk email campaigns over and over again, not just for subject lines but other issues too. Find out the one that generates a higher open rate and modify it to further improve it.

Hopefully, the above tips will be able to help you come up with better subject lines in a less stressful way and quicker too. One last advice, do bear in mind that you should create a subject line that you will want to open should you receive the email yourself! After all, we are email recipients too.

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