Email marketing is still a massive business, bolstered by the advent of new technologies. With the paid digital marketing landscape seeing diminishing returns as users become less patient with ads, it’s even more important that you get your emails right — and subject lines are essential for this.

Amazingly, your subject lines have the power to make or break every email marketing campaign you run. Research has found that 69% of people mark an email as Spam based solely on the subject line, a statistic that should strike fear into the hearts of marketers who aren’t giving that element the requisite time and attention.

On top of that, a 2012 study by direct marketing agency Epsilon found that out of 7.3 billion emails sent across several industries, the average open rate was 27.4%, meaning that almost 75% of people don’t open emails. So, how do you craft a powerful email subject line that will attract interest?

Top Tips On Writing Subject Lines

Let’s get personal

Adding a personal touch to email subject lines has been proven to significantly increase open rates and click-through rates. A study by the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing found that personalized subject lines improved open rates by an impressive 82%, and also benefited click-throughs, sales, and returning website traffic.

How to craft a powerful subject lune and boost your open rate 1
Screenshot: Neil Patel’s Website (

Subject line personalization can be broken down into the following categories:

  • First name. Out of the dozens of emails we receive each day, the ones that include our name will automatically catch our eye.
  • Birthday/anniversary. Compared to mass-promotion mailings, the total open rates for birthday and anniversary campaigns are respectively 235% and 135% higher, according to Experian Marketing’s ‘Birthday and Anniversary Report’.
  • Transaction history. Look at your customer’s transaction history to find out what they purchase and send them an email with a subject line concentrating on related products or services.
  • Location. Sending email subject lines about swimsuits to people who live in a part of the world where it’s snowing is a waste of everyone’s time, so it’s crucial to carefully consider where the customers you are targeting live. Local businesses can benefit from location-based subject lines by using the name of the city or area where the recipient lives to gain attention.

Think mobile: keep your subject line short

For desktop users, email subject line length has some room to breathe, but it’s a different story when emails are viewed on a mobile device. The number of characters that can be seen in a subject line when using a mobile device in portrait orientation ranges from just 33 to 44 characters, meaning that your carefully crafted message could be cut off and made unintelligible. With 55% of all email now opened on mobile devices, it’s probably still a good idea to keep your subject lines short and snappy.

Putting a word in [brackets] creates context

If the subject line provides clarity on the content of the email, open rates can increase. One easy way to do this is by putting a word in brackets, thereby immediately drawing attention to it. The bracket should contain the content type — infographic, worksheet, ebook, webinar, and so on.

Marketing automation software company Marketo found that using brackets in this way increased open rates by 4% and click-through rates by 47%, making it a worthwhile weapon in your subject line arsenal.

Encourage opens by creating a sense of urgency

Are you sending emails that compel your readers to act? If your emails can create a sense of urgency, they are 22% more likely to be opened. Urgent situations force the brain to make decisions quickly, so how can you present information to your recipients in a manner that will spur them into action?

  • Set a deadline. Whether you’re offering a great deal, asking people to subscribe to a podcast or webinar, or giving away freebies, setting a deadline will compel people to act. For example, offering a 15% discount if a purchase is made within 24 hours will garner extra attention and provide motivation.
  • Utilize the power of FOMO. Fear of missing out is a very real phenomenon in the digital age and something that will help you with open rates. Using phrases like ‘Limited Edition’ or ‘Final few items’ will encourage people to open your emails.
  • Mention a free incentive. The word free is tremendously powerful as the desire to get the better end of a deal will push someone past a lot of reluctance. Offer a template, an ebook, a podcast…something that people will want to click on, but make sure the content is good — at least as good as the email copy in case the user skips directly to the incentive.
  • Offer help with solving a problem. People love to have their problems solved quickly, so offering a resolution will create an urgent need to open your email. Take a common marketing problem, such as not appearing on the first page of Google rankings. A subject line such as ‘Not on the first page of Google? We can change that’ identifies their problem and immediately offers to solve it.

Leverage social proof

Social proof and reviews are a powerful psychological phenomenon where people do what everyone else is doing under the assumption that those actions are correct. A good example of this is product reviews: 63% of people are more likely to make a purchase from a site that has user reviews. In terms of email open rates, one excellent way to leverage social proof is to name-drop a famous customer.

Of course, not every company has a famous customer up their sleeve, but social proof can still be employed to persuade people to open your emails. Customer reviews or testimonials can be a great way of leveraging social proof — for example, using subject lines such as ’10 customers: 10 success stories’ to encourage people to read about how your business has worked for others.

If you keep a close eye on your audience through social media channels, use the information you glean from that information to come up with forms of social proof you think will work for them. There’s not a lot of sense in trying to sell the products of a punk brand by providing a glowing testimonial from a generic businessperson.

Overcome your fear of emojis

Emojis are hugely popular, with research showing that a staggering 5 billion emojis are sent every day on Facebook Messenger. Whether you personally love them or hate them, it’s clear that emojis are an incredibly valuable method of communication for many people. A study by Experian found that including an emoji in email subject lines leads to a 56% higher open rate compared to text-only subject lines. Still not convinced? Here are several more reasons to get on board with emojis:

    • Emojis capture attention. In an inbox stuffed with text, a picture will stand out instantly.
    • Emojis save space. As described above, keeping email subject lines short is good for mobile. Swapping the word ‘love’ for the heart emoji can save you three precious characters.
    • Emojis convey emotions. If you’ve ever sent an email subject line that is in all caps in an effort to express excitement or happiness, you’ll know how sensitive spam-filters can be to capital letters. A well-chosen emoji can convey emotion more effectively, and concisely, than words.

You can craft what you believe to be the best email subject line in the world, but the crucial question is whether it’s powerful enough to make your readers open it. Try a subject line tester tool before you begin, and then run A/B tests across your campaign once it has gone live to identify which elements are working and which ones are sending your emails straight to the bin.

Utilizing these tips will enable you to craft email subject lines that people can’t help but open, because they are personal, compelling and relevant. What works in a subject line also depends on your own content or industry, so it’s crucial to keep experimenting and testing until you hit on the perfect formula.

Guest Post by Micro Startups

Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to spreading the word about startups and small businesses of all shapes and sizes. Visit the blog for the latest micro biz news and inspiring entrepreneurial stories. Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.

If you have any more questions about email or anything under the umbrella of digital marketing, schedule a 30 minute strategy session with us. We’ll send you an email to get you going and be sure to look at our subject line!