The Ultimate Guide to Email Subject Lines (For Higher Open Rates)

It is no secret that the world of email marketing has become a much more challenging place in recent years. When email was a relatively new communication platform, the average email recipient might receive a handful of messages a day. Most of those messages were from personal contacts, and the use of the platform for marketing was relatively unknown. Back then, the spam filter was also a relatively unknown entity, and it would be quite some time before routine filtering would hit the world of the email marketer.


Things are much different these days. In today's world, it is not unusual for a single email recipient to receive dozens, or even hundreds, of messages a day. Simply sorting through those overflowing email boxes can be a real challenge, and many messages are deleted without a single look. In addition to the sheer volume of email messages, marketers face another significant challenge - the dreaded spam filter.

Spam filters have become better, but they also tend to be oversensitive. That means many legitimate marketing messages, including your own, run the risk of being filtered out. Every time you embark on an email marketing campaign, you run the risk that your carefully crafted messages will end up in the recipient's spam folder instead of in their inbox.

Does that mean that you should simply give up on email marketing and find other ways to reach your customers? Not all all. What the spam filter evolution means is that email marketers need to work smarter instead of harder. Instead of spending all their time on the body of their marketing messages, email marketers need to carefully fine tune and hone the subject lines at the top of the page.

Even in this age of social media and instant messaging, email remains a powerful tool for reaching existing customers and attracting new ones. Email is still one of the best venues for converting browsers into buyers and reaching audiences where they live. No matter who they are or what they are looking for, you can be sure of one thing - your customers are checking their email every day, and probably several times a day.

If your emails are not converting like they should, the problem could be staring you right in the face. Without a solid subject line, your carefully crafted emails may never even be opened. Worse yet, a poor subject line could land you in the dreaded spam filter, putting your future marketing efforts, and the future of your business, in jeopardy.

Now is the time to turn things around. Before you lose one more sale, you need to focus your laser like attention on the subject line of every email. Whether your goal is to convert browsers to buyers, convince former customers to come back or just showcase your latest product offerings, a great subject line can make all the difference.

Anatomy of a Subject Line

Understanding how your recipients view your email marketing messages is absolutely essential. If you want to succeed and craft a great subject line, you need to view your messages through the eyes of your customers.

One of the biggest mistakes email marketers make when crafting their subject lines is a lack of specificity. Generic terms like "fall into savings" or "sizzling summer sale" may seem like attention getters, but they are not exactly descriptive. If you want your recipients to open your emails, you need to tell them what to expect when they do.

Focusing on the benefits of your offerings is another smart way to make your subject lines pop. It is not easy to squeeze all that information into a short subject line, but focusing on benefits can be a very effective tactic.

Speaking of length, it is best to keep your subject line as short as possible when reaching out to current subscribers. While there is no statistical relationship between subject line length and open rates in the general market, studies have shown that subscribers prefer shorter subject lines over long ones. Think carefully about what you have to say, weigh each word carefully and proceed accordingly.

It is also important to think about how your subject line will look on various devices. These days, the majority of email is accessed through smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices rather than on desktop and laptop computers. Testing your email marketing messages in general, and your subject lines in particular, on mobile devices is absolutely essential.

Being mobile friendly has never been more important, and its importance will only grow in the future. If you are not testing your messages and your subject lines, you are missing out on a golden opportunity.

Speaking of testing, you should be conducting extensive A/B testing on every new email marketing campaign. Creating two different subject lines and assessing their open rates can let you know if you are on the right track or stuck at a dead end.

Last but not least, personalizing your subject lines can help you improve your open rates and gat more responses from your recipients. Everyone likes to be greeted by name, and email recipients are no exception.

The goal of this personalization should not be to fool the recipient or trick them into opening the emails you send. You want to improve your open rates, but getting the recipient to click on the email is only the start of a very long process.

Rather than tricking recipients into opening the email or convincing them that the message is from a long-lost friend, the goal of personalization should be to engage with the customer on the other end. By creating a personal connection with the recipient, you increase the odds that the email will be opened - and that the person on the other end will respond positively to what you have to say, and what you have to offer.

Subject Lines That Could Get You Banned

Crafting a good subject line is a great way to increase open rates and boost the response to your email marketing campaign, but sometimes what you do not do matters even more than what you do. While some words are sure to get positive attention and encourage recipients to open the email, other tactics could land you in the spam filter and even get your site banned.

Fighting spam has become a priority for email providers around the world. From Yahoo!, Microsoft, Google and other major players to smaller boutique providers, everyone is focused on stopping those spam messages from getting through. Using the wrong subject line could send you right to the spam folder, where the intended recipients will never see you.

The excessive use of emoticons and emojis has become a real problem for email marketers, and the makers of spam filters have been responding in a big way. If you fill your subject line with special characters, emojis and emoticons, you risk sending your finely tuned message straight to the spam filter.

There are other reasons to be careful when using emojis and emoticons. These special characters may not look the same on every device, and that can create real problems for you as an email marketer. If the subject line looks unusual or distorted, the odds of the recipient opening the message go way down. Chances are they will simply assume the message is spam and send it to the trash can or the spam folder.

The use of upper-case characters and spammy-sounding words in the subject line could also send your email on a one-way trip to the recipient's spam filter. Every good email user knows that typing in all caps is the written equivalent of shouting, and the makers of spam filters operate on the same principle. A capitalized word or two can get the attention of the viewer, but an all-caps subject line is a big no-no.

The word free is another one to be careful with, and this presents some real challenges for email marketers. Offering a free trial or bonus product is a proven way to drum up new business, but using the word free can be dangerous. Look for suitable non-spammy alternatives, like complimentary or no cost.

Words that are seen to be braggadocios could also trigger the dreaded spam filter. If your offer is AMAZING, INCREDIBLE or helps you LOSE WEIGHT WHILE YOU SLEEP, that outstanding offer could well end up in the dreaded spam filter.

No matter what you have to sell or what business you are in, email marketing can be a valuable tool in your online arsenal. Whether you are trying to reconnect with old customers and attract new ones, a carefully crafted subject line can be your key to success. Knowing what to include, and what to avoid, when crafting your subject lines can make all the difference in the world - and keep your finely honed marketing messages out of the recipients' spam filter.