Email subject lines.

There are a couple of camps you may find yourself in when drafting that oh-so-important sentence: 

  • Maybe you spend no time at all, and think it’s better to just get the email sent.
  • Maybe you spend twice the amount of time you did on the actual email struggling to come up with a witty sentence to increase your open rates.
  • Or maybe, you don’t know what the hell you’re doing one way or the other.

But, fear not! There are many ways to produce effective, click-worthy email subject lines, and none of them involve misleading your reader or an excess of exclamation points.

1) Length

This is an important factor to a winning email subject line. You need to make sure you’re able to quickly, and succinctly peak your audience’s interest, and you don’t have much time or space to do so. And there are numbers to back that up.

According to a study conducted by Return Path, open rates were 12.5% higher for subject lines with less than 49 characters, and click-through rates were 75% higher as well.

Not only do people not want to read a lengthy subject line, but most email providers don’t even show the full subject line once you get to 25 or 30 characters. So keep the length down, and you might just see your engagement go up. In fact, lines fewer than 10 characters have an open rate of 58%. Those are some powerful stats.


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2) Tone

Setting the tone in a subject line under 50 characters can be tricky, yet it’s not impossible. The way in which you speak to your audience can drastically alter your open-rate, for better or worse. For example, humor can work wonders but it needs to be used in front of the right people. The same can be said of controversial, “in-your-face” headlines.

One in three people open their emails based on the subject line alone, so it can make or break your content before the reader even gets to see your message. And don’t you dare waste their time with false leads or unwanted surprises. It’s the quickest way to an ever-present spam file.

Many of the most successful email subject lines also persuade readers by leveraging a sense of urgency. You can accomplish this by giving the readers a reason they need to act now, not later, and the appropriate incentive to go along with it. What you need to do is ask yourself why you’re sending the email—what is the end goal/objective you want the reader to accomplish? If you hone in on that, you can easily cut the fluff to ensure that the reader’s only available objective is to follow your workflow.


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3) Audience

But before you go writing any funny email subject lines (especially if it’s just to be funny), now’s a good time to step back and ask yourself, “does this work for my audience?” Do I even have an audience?

Effective email marketing is effective because it’s targeted at a specific audience or subset of people. You’re not going to send an email blast about life insurance to someone under the age of twenty, just like you shouldn’t send someone from California a promotion for your new location in New York City. This goes back to that whole, don’t waste people’s time motif I was going for earlier.

A savvy email marketer knows his audience, as well as how and why they spend their time. By putting in research, you’re able to get far more quality opens and clicks than you would by throwing it out into the internet and hoping your offer sticks, because you’re writing things they want to read.

For example, Abercrombie released an email blast with the subject line:

Get It On. Our Warmest, Softest, Fleece…

To their young demographic, this phrase is a perfectly tongue-in-cheek way of grabbing attention, as it’s humorous and relevant. But the pun might be a wasted effort if they were using it to target an older audience or demographic. Again, if subject lines persuade a reader to click 64% of the time, they aren’t something you should create without thought or intent.


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The Bottom (Subject) Line

When you’re able to combine the best practices of length, tone, and audience into a single email subject line, you’ll find your open rates are that much more successful.

Remember, there are over 3.2 billion email accounts in existence. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly half the population of Earth. So if you’re able to cut into those billions by rethinking the way you approach your subject lines, the clicks will follow.

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Originally published May 21, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated October 18 2023


Email Marketing