The Art and Science of Email Subject Lines


How can you write email subject lines that get recipients to open your emails? Creating email subject lines that work is both an art and a science—one that is always changing. Here are 10 tips that work now to get customers opening—and, hopefully, acting on—your email marketing messages.

  1. Keep it short. In general, 50 characters or less is best. If your email subject line is too long, it won’t display fully. Test how your emails look on different mobile devices and in different email programs.
  2. Modify your email subject lines based on what you’re sending. If customers subscribe to a monthly or weekly email newsletter from you, or if you are sending a notice about an upcoming appointment or an update on their account, straightforward subject lines are likely to work best. Don’t get cutesy with a subject line like “Spring is springing up all over!” for your gardening company’s May newsletter; something like “Louis Landscaping/May 2014 Newsletter” gets to the point.
  3. Focus on benefits, If you are sending a promotional email, you can have a bit more fun with the subject line. However, it’s still important to focus on benefits to the recipient, not the features of what you’re selling. For example, “Save Now on 100+ New Jeans Styles” is better than “100+ Jeans on Sale.”
  4. Include a call to action. Promotional emails get better open rates when they spell out what you want customers to do: “Order Today, Get Free Shipping”
  5. Proofread carefully. You should always proofread your emails, but especially important. How embarrassing to have a major gaffe in a 50-character subject line!
  6. Stay away from spam. People get so much email that most have developed a sixth sense for anything that smells of spam. Read and re-read your email subject lines to make sure they don’t sound cheesy.
  7. Avoid these words: One study found that including the words “help,” “percent” or “reminder” in subject lines had a negative effect on open rates.
  8. Include your company name. It may seem boring, but including your company name in the subject line is crucial to customers trusting the email enough to open it.
  9. Test and retest. Of course, what really matters is not what other studies found, but what your results are. It’s easy to do A/B testing of email subject lines to see what gets the best results. What works for your customers? That’s what you need to focus on.
  10. Mix it up. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can use the same subject line over and over. The ideal subject line has the perfect mix of familiarity (to make the recipient feel comfortable) and newness (to spark their curiosity to open it).