B2B Marketing Zone

12 Tips for Amazingly Effective Email Subject Lines

12 Tips for Amazingly Effective Email Subject Lines

12 Tips for Amazingly Effective Email Subject Lines

send me an emaikl and I'll ignore it laterEmail campaigns can be a vital part of a successful marketing communication strategy. But if nobody ever opens your messages, they won’t do your business much good. Getting your customers and prospects to open an email can be extremely challenging in today’s crowded marketplace. Many people get hundreds of emails every day. Which ones will make them click? Which ones will cause them to hit the delete button before giving them a second glance? We all know what works on us. But putting this knowledge into practice for our readers can be a challenge.

 An effective email subject line is a key factor in opens

That’s why it’s important to focus on the big attention-getter when it comes to open rates – subject lines. In general, they should be:

  • Short and to the point
  • Benefit-focused
  • Accurate about what’s inside the email

A great subject line will also be clever – and maybe even a bit unusual as well. Keep in mind, these are not hard-and-fast rules. Your audience will tell you with their clicks what works and what doesn’t. So use these guidelines to get started, but always test your subject lines first to find out what works for you (and for your audience).

12 subject line tips

  1. Focus on the benefit. Why should your reader care? Don’t make them guess. Announcing that you’re putting on a customer appreciation event is all well and good, but make sure you mention a reason they should come join it before you get into the details. (“Join CustomerFest in Boston, Meet Paul Revere”).
  2. Keep it action-oriented: Start with an action word like “save,” “get,” “watch,” or “join.” (“Get Big Discounts on Compact Cars”).
  3. Make it short: A good subject line gets the job done in 50 characters or less, because otherwise it can get cut off (depending on which email reader you’re using).
  4. Provide the important information up front: Always try to “front load” your email subject lines with keywords so the most important information is right at the start and nothing valuable gets cut off.
  5. Connect it with the preheader: On a mobile email reader (as well as some desktop email clients), the subject line can appear above the first line of your email copy. So if these two lines of copy can work together (rather than just repeating each other) it’s win-win.
    See how the preheader and the email subject line work together
  6. Put a number in it: People like numbers and lists – and the research proves it. So don’t just deliver tips or ideas. Deliver 10 tips or 5 ideas. Numbers promise the reader that this won’t take long, and that they’ll get a quantifiable benefit from reading what’s inside. It’s okay to use numerals instead of spelling numbers under 10 out; it makes the number more obvious and saves space.
  7. Use your big guns sparingly. That means ALL CAPS, urgency (act now), scarcity (don’t miss out) specific numbers (10% off) exclamation marks (!) and the word “free”. They can be powerful, but when overused, or if used together, they lose their impact. The same goes for symbols (J). They can make you look cheap (and spam-like, to both readers and the ISPs that can block your messages) very quickly, so it pays to know your audience and test before you send.
  8. Try being timely: You might consider taking advantage of big news or buzz-worthy current events in your email subject line. But be aware that something up-to-the-minute is also something unpredictable. Your “Shovel up these Snow Day Specials” email will be unwelcome if the morning’s flurries turn into the afternoon’s dangerous blizzard. And busy people sometimes don’t read non-urgent emails until days later.
  9. Call out their name or location. Personalization can help improve open rates, but using it too much can also reduce your impact. Remember, some people and places have long names that can turn your snappy subject line into a stuffy-sounding novel. (“Elizabeth-Anne: Here’s Your Guide to Lake Winnipesaukee-Area Deals”)
  10. But don’t try to act like you know them. That includes adding a “FW” or “RE” in your subject line or trying to be mysterious (“You won’t believe this…” or even worse, “Hi”).
  11. Ask a question or pose a problem: If you do this, be sure the answer or solution can be found in your email message. (“Are Your Open Rates Going Down?”)
  12. Be specific and be honest: Above all, your subject line should tell your reader what’s inside. You can send an email that says “SUBJECT LINE GOES HERE” and people may open it out of curiosity. But that’s all you’ll get – open rates. And that’s not enough… it’s just the start. When testing the performance of your subject lines, look at open rates, clickthrough rates, and the overall results of your message as well.

Notes about subject line formatting

A word about initial capitals: As you can see in the examples given, we capitalize the subject line as you would a title, beginning everything (except minor words such as the articles a, the, and, with, etc.) with capital letters. But that’s a stylistic decision. Here at Act-On, we consider the subject line like the title of a book or a magazine article, so it gets capitalized accordingly. Your results may vary, but whatever you do, you should be consistent about it. It’s part of your brand’s signature style, and people will come to recognize it.

And speaking of making your brand look good: be sure to double-check your subject lines for spelling errors and typos. It’s easy to forget this step when you’re in a hurry, and one glaring error can make your business look extremely unprofessional in a hurry.

Your results may vary

Consider these guidelines as you write your next email message, and remember that they’re only guidelines. Your results may vary. Overstock.com uses all-caps in their subject lines all the time, because it’s a strategy that works for them. But they know what works because they’ve tested their subject lines, over and over, to determine what their audience responds to.

Overstock.com's effective email subject line

Which subject line rules do you break on a regular basis? What have you found that works for your audience, even though it’s not a best practice? 12 tips email subject linesShare your subject line insights in the comments.

Subject lines can be one of the most important elements of your email program. It’s your first impression on your recipients and it’s what determines your email response and engagement. For more tips on how to create subject lines that will get your email opened, check out our eBook, 12 Tips for Amazingly Effective Subject Lines.


Lisa Cannon is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. With over 25 years of experience as a creative writer, editorial director, and email marketer, she specializes in making complex, technical subjects easy to understand. Visit www.lisacannon.com to learn more.

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  • Thomas Garcia

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  • Great post.

    On subject line capitalization, it is a stylistic decision but it’s also a performance decision because the way you capitalize impacts – on a large scale – how many people open:

  • abajan

    Useful info.

    http://titlecapitalization.com/ comes in handy for those who wish to double check their email subject lines for standard title casing but like you said, only testing can reveal which style would work best. Gregg Blanchard’s link makes a good point. Recently, I read another blog post recommending that we should avoid title casing for subject lines and capitalize just its first letter, so as to appear less formal and more and friendly to the recipient. Capitalizing just the first letter of the subject has the added advantage of it flowing more naturally into the first line of the message, which (as mentioned in point 5) can normally be seen before opening the email.