How to Write Effective Email Subject Lines

Few email marketers pay enough attention to the lowly subject line. Writing the subject line is often the last quick step just before sending the email sent out. Yet those fifty characters could spell success or failure for your email marketing campaign.

Along with the “from” line the subject line is the only message that your email recipients see and also use to decide whether your email deserves to be opened or not. An effective subject line can boost your open rate while a poor one can cause your email to flop.

Here are some important tips to help you craft the most effective subject lines for your emails.

You subject line should compliment your “from” line.

If you use your company name or a personal name in the “from” line (and you should consistently use just one), then it’s needless to repeat in the subject line who the email is from. Keep in mind that you have just a very limited space to work with, so every word must count. No use wasting important space here with needless repetition.

Personalize the subject line.

The use of the recipient’s name in the subject line has been shown to increase open rates. The use of the subscribers name often differentiates your email from the typical SPAM emails where the spam sender will seldom know the person’s first name. As the subscriber scans through his inbox it’s hard to ignore emails with his name in the subject line.

Model headlines from print media.

Your magazine stand and newspaper are an endless resource of catchy headlines. These headlines often tease the reader into the body of the story by promising a benefit for reading the rest of the story. If you use subject lines that combine curiosity and a benefit for reading your emails, you’ll see a boost in your open rates.

For instance, “This strategy will get you more subscribers” is an example of a subject line which combines curiosity with a benefit. Many hours and resources are spent on writing headlines that would get magazines and newspapers flying off the shelf, so don’t be afraid to take important lessons from these resources.

Build urgency in your subject line.

Urgency is very effective in getting people to take action. If you indicate what the recipients would lose if they don’t take action by a certain date, then this would get their attention. A countdown over a period of time works even better. So “You have 48 hrs left”, followed by “Only 24 hrs to go”, then “12 Hrs and it’s over!” will get your emails attention and action.

Test and keep a record of subject line open rates.

There is no one formula that would work for every situation and market, which means that it’s very important that you try different headline techniques to see which works best with your list. Your email service provider should be able to keep a log of your emails sent along with the open rates so you can quickly compare which email subject lines got the highest responses. What works for your list may be different to what works for other email marketers, so your test results are more important than any other advice you may read.

Don’t trick your subscribers

You do not want to deceive the recipient into opening your emails. If you make a false promise such as, “Read this and get my next product free!” only to explain in the email body that there are other conditions to be met, then this can be looked at as deceptive marketing and hurt your company’s reputation. Subscribers may even seek to hurt you by reporting your email as spam or simply unsubscribe from your list. Respect your subscribers enough to give them the clear truth.

Avoid words and formats that trigger the spam filter.

Not many people would bother to open an email with ‘Viagra’ in the subject line because so much spam is sent out with that name as a part of the subject line. Spam filters have learned the common words used by spammers and sometimes legitimate words may also get filtered. The only safe way to find out if your subject line would pass the test is to run a content test before the email goes out. If there are any words that would trigger the spam filters then simply avoid them. At the same time, do not assume that words such as ‘free’ or ‘discount’ are automatically forbidden words. Also if you use ALL CAPS along with exclamation points, then you would not only appear unprofessional to your subscribers but get the spam filters attention as well.

Keep the ultimate goal in mind

If you have a 0% open rate then your conversion or click thru rate would obviously be 0% as well. But a high open rate doesn’t automatically translate into a high conversion rate. Your subject lines do help to get more of your emails opened but subject lines that give you a higher conversion rate is what you should pay more attention to. Tests have shown, for example, that a pure curiosity headline would boost your open rate but not necessarily your conversion rate. So write your subject line with the real end in mind—a higher conversion rate.

If you spend just a few more minutes to craft your email subject lines you’ll be rewarded with higher open rates and subscriber retention. There is no other set of characters in your entire email that carry so much weight.


About the author: Ray Edwards

“Ray L. Edwards is a direct marketing sales copywriter, coach and online marketing consultant who enjoys helping small to mid-size businesses optimize their online marketing results. Over the past 12 years he has helped his clients make tens of millions of dollars through his copywriting and consultation services. He is the author of several books on the subject of online marketing, many promoted under the names of other marketers (ghost written) who have profited handsomely from his writing skills. He is available to a limited number of clients each year who want to expand their businesses or want to launch with an experienced copywriter and online marketing consultant.

This article was first published by Ray Edwards

4 replies
  1. Jeffrey Jones
    Jeffrey Jones says:

    Figure it’s like a billboard and the recipient is whizzing by at 80 mph.

    There’s no pitch.
    Just memorability, curiosity…, and opening.

    • Ray Edwards
      Ray Edwards says:


      One of the most powerful word I find for a subject line is “This”.
      For example, “This will surprise …” or “You’d never expect this …”
      “Did you see this?”

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