Write Engaging Email Subject Lines To Increase Open Rates

Write Engaging Email Subject Lines To Increase Open Rates

Like many of you, each day I check my email to find several dozen emails that have arrived in my inbox.  The majority of the emails are from companies marketing their latest sale or product to me. Typically, I only open around 10% of those.  The remaining emails get deleted without so much as a quick glance.

What is it that made me choose between the emails that I open and read from the emails that I simply deleted to be never seen again? Nearly all of the time, it’s the subject line. Using the right subject line is huge – it is essentially the gatekeeper to the content in your email. Here are some tips on writing subject lines that encourage users to open up those emails and see what you have to say.

Build a Good Email Reputation

Consumers sign up to receive your emails and/or newsletters because they like your company and are interested in your product or service.  Knowing this crucial piece of information puts you in a very good position.  Here you are with a list of people who want to hear more from your company (or they probably wouldn’t have signed up in the first place), and you have the opportunity to market to them with their consent. Opt-in marketing channels can provide insanely high return on investment.

Don’t abuse this privilege that they’ve given you by continuously sending junk emails. Subscribers will very soon learn to delete your emails without even reading the subject lines.  Even worse, they will eventually unsubscribe to them altogether.  While your end goal is to sell your product or service, it is okay to mix up your emails with an occasional newsletter.  Your customers will appreciate the free information and it will feel less like you are trying to sell them something.  The more engaging content you have in your emails, the less you have to rely solely on your subject lines; likewise, the worse your content is, the more you time you’ll need to spend on subject lines.

Don’t Forget About Mobile

Checking emails via a mobile device or tablet is on the rise, making it crucial to keep mobile in mind when creating your emails and subject lines.  According to Litmus, in the past two years email opens via smartphones have increased by a whopping 330%. 56% of American adults now report to owning a smartphone, and over half of these people claim to check their email on their smartphone at least weekly.

Due to smaller screen sizes, email subject lines get truncated, leaving the longer ones cut off.  Keep your subject line short and sweet at 35 characters or less to avoid having it cut off.  As you can see in the two examples given below, this subject line has been truncated, losing its intended message. The subject line that I see on my computer lets me know how great this sale is, making me want to check out these flights, but the one on mobile leaves the most compelling part of the email out.

I’ve also received emails that include a heart or star symbol that stands as a red heart emoticon out when I check my email via my iPhone.  This is an interesting idea and would be good for companies to test out how it works for them.  This would certainly depend on the industry of a company – I can’t imagine that a company that sells construction equipment would see a great outcome by using this tactic.

Below is a great example of a symbol being used in an email subject line.  When viewed on my phone the plane symbol shows as a plane emoticon.  When scrolling through dozens of emails, this one stands out from the rest.

Create a Sense of Urgency

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but basically, if you add a sense of urgency to your subject lines, your subscribers can feel a heightened need to open the email so that they don’t miss out.  The longer your email sits unopened in the inbox, the less likely it is to ever be opened.  Here are a few examples of ways that you can provoke a sense of urgency in your email subject lines:


One Day Left!

Personalize with Caution

Contrary to what you may think (or have been told), including a person’s first name in a subject line has a negative impact on open rates.  However, there is a way that you can still provide an element of personalization that is appealing to your customers without coming on too strong.  When you are doing your email blasts via location, include that location in your subject line.  So for example, if you are doing an email blast for the Pittsburgh area, you could make your subject line “Special Offer for our Pittsburgh Users!” or something along that nature. This allows you to appeal to your email subscriber while taking the middle road in personalization

Get to the Point

Time is valuable and people tend to brief over email subject lines.  Be sure to get to the point right away and include a quick call to action.   According to a study done by MailerMailer, subject lines that contained 15 characters or less have the highest open rates in email inboxes.

Challenge yourself to see how you can get your message across using the shortest subject line possible.

What Not to Do

Whatever you do, don’t make your email subject lines looks like spam.  Use proper grammar and spelling and definitely DO NOT USE ALL CAPS IT LOOKS LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING.  Be wary of using special characters as they are so often used in spam emails that they might actually be automatically filtered to your spam folder and never even make it to your subscribers’ inboxes.  Also, use caution with your explanation points, one is okay but anything more than one is not only cheesy, but it looks like spam.  Above all use common sense; if you aren’t sure if something appears spammy, ask a friend or coworker for a second opinion.

In case you are wondering, yes, the below examples are real subject lines and yes, they are indeed spam.

Discover What Works Best for You

Of course there is no magic formula that you can use when writing your email subject lines so you would be best to test out a few different tactics to find which ones result in better open rates for your company.  There are a few great tools available online that can help with this such as Litmus’s Subject Line Checker.  This tool allows you to preview how your subject lines look for emails with different email service providers such as Outlook, Gmail, and Yahoo!

MailChimp also has a cool subject line tool that is similar to the Adword’s Keyword Tool. Their Subject Line Researcher allows you to enter multiple terms that you are considering using in your subject line.  It then compares these terms with all of the email subject lines that have been used in their system and provides you with a 5-star system to let you know how they performed for other companies in the past.


Photo by RafeB