How to write email subject lines that drive higher open rates


Nearly everyone judges a book by its cover, despite age old advice to the contrary. Email marketing has it even worse than that. The open rate for poorly formatted campaigns sits near the bottom of the spectrum.

It is for this very reason, having a compelling and effective subject line can and will make all the difference between receiving an interested perusal of what your business has to offer and becoming a nameless bundle of bytes destined for deletion. Let’s take a look at how to improve the quality of an email subject line by examining a few examples of what does not work.

Don’t Get Clever

Here’s the problem with that approach; it’s unprofessional. Nothing screams SPAM or spyware more than seeing t_ext C0nstr-cut3d l1ke th!s in a subject line. It should go without saying that this is wholly and utterly unacceptable but alas, the mistake continues to be made.

Skip the Lead In

‘You won’t believe what happens next!’ Is not a professional pitch line. You’re right, the average consumer won’t believe it, nor will they waste their time opening your email to find out what it is they can’t possibly miss out on. Delete.

Fact is, people are growing more and more numb to specialized tactics aimed only at tricking people into listening to a sales pitch. You’ll need more than gimmicks to attract today’s consumer.

Stow the Negativity

So that covers the shady business practices but there are other common mistakes that reputable businesses make that are unwittingly costing them views. Consumers are only interested in one thing when they view their inbox, or any other location where advertisements may appear. How does this affect me? Studies have shown that positive reinforcement has a much higher success rate than punishment.

Using words like miss, out, last and chance may garner a few clicks but overall are far less productive than the much more positive intonation of words such as upgrade, promotion, bonus and even holiday. The average consumer wants to hear the good news, especially if there is something in it for them.

Know your Niche

Here’s where doing your homework comes in handy. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to a better open rate. You need to know who you are marketing for.

For instance, media consumers may respond better to keywords such as renew, information or content. Likewise retailers can appeal to the cares of their customers with words like shipping, notice and the magic word ‘please.’ Understand your audience and which keywords they identify with, and use this to attract their attention to what they really want to see to begin with.

Be Up Front

Again, consumers are brighter than given credit for. They receive thousands of unsolicited advertisements per day. Any messages that are muddled, cryptic or suspicious will be ignored outright.

The subject line for a standard email is pretty short, but long enough for a clear explanation of what is inside. ‘Free shipping until June 1st.’ will attract a lot more click-thrus than ‘A special surprise just for you!’ What surprise? Why is it special? I don’t have time for this. Delete.

Good subject lines are deceptively simple in their implementation. Following are a few guidelines of what does work.

  • Personalization – Including a person’s name or city of residence in the subject can drive the point of relevance home.
  • Clarity – Get to the point. If a consumer cannot understand what you’re offering they will not bother opening your email, period.
  • Be Personable – Being too ‘salesy’ in a subject line is like going to a used car lot. No one wants to be sold to. They want information they can understand presented in a way that makes it easier to form their own opinions.
  • Be Courteous – Part of gaining a person’s trust is showing a sense of courtesy. Using words like ‘welcome’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way towards establishing a relationship, even if only for a few moments.
  • Stay on Target – If you’re issuing an opt-in campaign such as a newsletter or requested discount notifications, make it clear that this is what you’re offering. These are the updates your consumers requested, give the people what they want!

In conclusion, effective email marketing campaigns rely on the ability to understand the customer and what they expect from retailers. Time being the most valuable commodity in today’s world, making a clear and honest case for your product or service will go a long way towards increasing your overall success rate.


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