“Open This Email Right Now!” What Makes a Good Subject Line?


by  John Habib You’re drowning in emails, right? Every day the inbox piles up with ever more sales, ads, offers, news, and even the oc...

by John Habib

You’re drowning in emails, right? Every day the inbox piles up with ever more sales, ads, offers, news, and even the occasional personal note. Some email providers like Gmail segregate your incoming mail in an effort to keep the important items front and center. Even so, your inbox and mail filters still stack up with messages. If you can’t get to every email you receive, how do you make sure your own email campaigns cut through the clutter in your readers’ inboxes?
Your subject line is the first and maybe most crucial tool in your email marketing kit. Often an afterthought, the subject line is actually quite powerful. Take advantage of that power by using “S.P.A.M.” Not the bad spam that gets you banned from mailboxes. An all-caps S.P.A.M. that reminds you that the best subject lines are ShortPersonableAttention-getting, and Meaningful to the reader. Here’s why these intertwining characteristics are important:


Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it’s the flesh and blood of email subject lines. Studies show that the best-performing subject lines — the ones attracting the most opens and the most clicks — are a maximum of 49 characters. That’s roughly one-third of your average 140-character Tweet. Subject lines with 49 or fewer characters attract 12 percent more opens than their lengthier counterparts, and their click-through rates are a whopping 75 percent higher. Start cutting characters stat!
To help keep your subject lines short and sweet, plug them into this free character counter. Remember, 49 is the magic number. Once you hit 50, open and click rates begin to drop. Yes, that includes spaces. Yes, people’s attention spans really are that short.


No one wants to hear from a bot. Subject lines that sound like they rolled off the assembly line can be sniffed out (and ignored) immediately. Even within the confines of 49 characters, it’s possible to be personable. If you’re a small business owner, chances are you know many of your clients pretty well. Imagine what they’d want to hear from you in an email, and use that knowledge to craft your subject lines so they sound like they could only come from you or your business.


Emotion is a strong, personable way to appeal to readers. People often make decisions based on emotion instead of reason, so write subject lines that invoke feelings. Surprise them, make them smile, offer solutions to their pain points, even create fear of missing out — elicit an emotion and elicit an open.


Emoticons, also known as emojis, are another personality-driven way to entice readers to open your emails. Not only do they make your emails stand out in inboxes, but they easily convey emotion, and studies show that they can increase open rates by 56 percent. That said, use emojis with caution. Some older email programs can’t read them, and not all emojis look the same across all devices and operating systems. If using emojis in your subject lines, be sure to test them well on different computers, tablets, and phones before deploying them in actual campaigns.


At heart, grabbing your readers’ attention is the most important role of a subject line. Here are a few ways to do that:


Humor is a wonderful way to attract attention to your emails. If you can craft pun-tastic or funny subject lines in fewer than 49 characters, go for it, as long as they’re relevant and suitable to your audience.


Comedy can be difficult, however, and often isn’t possible to pull off with every email. You know what else draws attention? Urgency. Flash sales, limited-time promotions, low quantities of popular inventory — all of these say, “Going fast, so open this email fast.” (That’s only 35 characters, by the way.) Urgency equals eyeballs.

Current events

Or consider adding some cultural relevance or timeliness to your subject lines. If you can skillfully play off a popular film or television title that’s in the public consciousness, or springboard off an event happening in the news, that can snag some opens. Of course, use caution when spinning current events into subject line gold — what you see as a promotional opportunity may not be greeted the same way by all your readers.

First names

Putting your readers’ first names in the subject line can also make them take notice. After all, people innately perk up at their own name, and a recent Experian studyindicated that names in subject lines can increase open rates by nearly thirty percent.

Pose a question

Another way to grab attention is to pique readers’ curiosity with a question. A question demands an answer, and it can prompt your recipients to open the email either to learn that answer or to confirm their own responses.

Meaningful to the reader

What value does your email bring to the reader? (That question is 47 characters, in case anyone’s counting.) All the humor, personality, and attention-getting tactics in the world can’t save an email campaign that doesn’t mean something to your readers. Whether you’re communicating about a special they won’t want to miss out on, a pesky problem that your business has solved for them, or a benefit they never knew they needed, your subject line is the first place to convey that this email will be useful to them.


One way to make an email meaningful is to imply exclusivity. Subject lines about private sales, VIP invitations, and special promotions for only your best customers can make your readers feel like privileged recipients, and more likely to open your email.


The more specific your emails are, the more likely your readers are to click on them. “Big Sale!” is too vague and open-ended to mean much. Instead, try something like, “Save 40% on our most popular model today only!” It gets right to the point, creates urgency, entices the reader, and invites curiosity: Which model is the most popular one, why is it so popular, how awesome is it that it’s 40% off, and what time am I going to get one?


That all said, don’t promise something with your subject line that you don’t deliver on in the body of the message. All it takes is one misleading or misdirecting subject line to lose a reader forever.

S.P.A.M., not spammy

Start examining the subject lines that stack up in your inbox. Which ones catch your eye, and which ones make you reach for the delete button? Which create a desire to open the email, and which are vague or nondescript?
LinkedIn is a master at effective subject lines. If you use LinkedIn, you’ve probably received an email that says something along the lines of, “Joe Schmo and 4 others viewed your profile.” This subject line hits all four intertwining aspects of S.P.A.M.:
  • It’s short, coming in under the 49-character threshold.
  • It’s personable; regardless of whether you know Joe Schmo, the use of his name adds personality and makes the email seem less automated.
  • It’s attention-getting and invites curiosity — who were the other four people?
  • And it has meaning: this email promises to aid your professional networking efforts.
Of course, you never can reach every single person with every single email you send. But to keep your audience opening and clicking on your campaigns, remember S.P.A.M. Make those subject lines short, personable, attention-getting, and meaningful to the reader.
Read more on crafting excellent subject lines here and here.



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#DIGITAL: “Open This Email Right Now!” What Makes a Good Subject Line?
“Open This Email Right Now!” What Makes a Good Subject Line?
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