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December 17, 2014

Increase Your E-mail Open Rate By Improving Your Subject Lines

Image courtesy of (Stuart Miles)/

It’s been said many times that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

But when it comes to e-mail, no one seems to have a problem with making a snap decision.

Just like a direct sales letter, the subject line of your e-mail is usually the most important part of getting your readers to actually read your e-mail. If you have a compelling subject line the chance of your e-mail improves dramatically.

According to a recent survey, 40 percent of e-mail marketers said testing changes to just their subject line had a high impact on their return on investment (ROI). Forty-five percent said subject line changes accounted for a medium ROI and only 15 percent said that testing changes to their subject line results in a low ROI.

Your subject line is your first impression on your reader.

The words you choose for your subject line can have a big impact on if the hard work you’ve put into your e-mail will pay off.

Spending a little extra time on your subject line will help you boost e-mail open rates, avoid the junk folder and get your message in front of the right people.

For every e-mail you send, you’ve got room for about 50 characters in your subject line so use them wisely to improve your open rates. Below are some tips to help improve your subject lines:

Test the subject line – Take a look at e-mail campaigns you’ve sent in the past. Which subject lines worked the best and gave you the highest open and conversion rates? You might find that for a particular topic there’s a general trend or subject style that resulted in higher open rates.

The subject of importance – Try and put as much important and relevant information into your subject lines as possible. For example, if you’re sending out an e-mail about a special offer make sure the product name and details on the offer appear in the subject line in a clear and concise format such as ‘$40 off ACME Widget Until – Today Only.’

Personalize the subject line – If you have details about your contacts then you can use them in your subject line to get their attention. A subject line containing the contacts first name can sometimes out-pull one that doesn’t.

Avoid spam keywords — Most e-mail servers automatically filter out any e-mails that contain spam keywords in their subject line — Words such as free, stock, eBay, password, mortgage, etc all trigger spam detection software so keep them out of your subject lines at all times.

Trigger curiosity – The best way to improve your open rates is to pique the interest of your contacts. A compelling headline that entices them to open and read the contents of your e-mail can do wonders for your conversion rate. Headlines that trigger curiosity can sometimes work well for example: “Hi [First Name] – I have a question for you.”

Make the offer clear – If you’re making a special offer to your contact then be upfront and include it as part of your subject line. People love bargains and special offers so let them know about it before anything else.

Emphasize the benefits – We use this technique for our newsletters. We always use the format of “Newsletter – [Benefit].” In our case, benefit is always the title of an article contained in the newsletter, such as “Company Newsletter – 10 Tips for Better Subject Lines”. It works every time.

Easy identification – Make sure your contacts know the e-mail is coming from you. Deceptive subject lines can confuse people so always try to include your company name in the subject line. Also, make sure you set the “From” attribute of your e-mail to include your name and your company’s name, such as “From: John Smith.”

Exclaim nothing – Avoid using excessive punctuation at the end of your subject lines. Google bans punctuation from AdWords ads for a reason – too much hype can annoy and confuse people.

Tips for Writing Subject Lines

The best subject lines are straightforward.

Sounds simple, but subject lines should describe the subject of your e-mail. When it comes to e-mail marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside.

Don’t confuse newsletters with promotions. If your e-mail is a newsletter, put the name and issue of the newsletter in your subject line, because that’s what’s inside. If your e-mail is a special promotion, tell your subscribers what’s inside. Either way, don’t write your subject lines like advertisements.

Always set your subscribers’ expectations during the opt-in process about what kinds of e-mails they’ll be receiving.

If subscribers signed up to receive updates on your company, don’t send an e-mail with a subject line like, “10 percent Discount! Open Now!” On the other hand, if your subscribers specifically opted in to receive discounts and promotions, there’s nothing wrong with saying there’s a coupon inside.

Use groups and segments for your list.

Collecting subscriber data to use with groups and segments helps target subscribers who are most interested in what you have to say. If your subscriber data indicates that someone is interested in vegetarian recipes, then they probably won’t open an e-mail with a subject line about the 10 best meat recipes. If subscribers provide information to help target your message to them, then use it. Otherwise, you’re cluttering their inbox with e-mails they don’t want and likely won’t open.

But don’t rely on our advice alone.

Take a look at your own inbox and see which e-mails you’ve been opening. Putting yourself in your contacts’ shoes is one of the best ways to write a subject line that will get you noticed and boost your business.


Nikhil is a digital marketing expert with more than 10 years of experience in this area.