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How To Craft Email Subject Lines With High Open Rates

Thoughts by Gracija Atanasovska • Content Team Bento

Sometimes all it takes is one line.

Yes, that’s right, a successful email marketing strategy starts, first and foremost, with the subject line.

Subject lines are the single most important tool to leverage and capture the attention of your recipient.

If you want to create a good subject line, it usually needs to be descriptive and personal. What’s more, it needs to give your (potential) client a reason to open the email in the first place.

And this means only one thing: the readers (the recipients) are the most important factor to have in mind when writing a good email subject line.

Why Аre Subject Lines Important?

Email subject lines are the ones that decide whether your recipient will open the message or not.

A survey conducted by CMB Consumer Pulse “found that 47% of respondents open emails from businesses based just on the subject line.”

This means that it doesn’t matter how well-curated and well-written the content of your email is. If you don’t succeed in drawing the readers from the subject line, the email can easily end up in the category of unopened emails.

What Аre Good Subject Lines?

In order to craft a high performing subject line, you have to know your audience, basically. You will have to test different words, phrases, or sentences to see what resonates with them the most and find out what kind of phrasing is necessary for them to open the email and actually read what’s in there.

So the first thing you have to remember when writing an email subject line is to always think about how important they are for the overall email message.

The three basic commandments of a successful email subject line you have to know are:

  • Keeping the email subject lines short and concise;
  • Keeping the subject descriptive and concrete;
  • Making sure your subject line is personalized and corresponds to the particular details and habits you know your customer to have.

But, there’s actually a lot more to it than just these three basic rules.

Tips on How to Write Good Subject Lines

In this section, I want to take a look at some of the other things you should have in mind so you can write good email subjects. Feel free to use some or all of these tips to write the perfect subject line.

Personalization of Email Subjects

Personalization is among the top three most important things for tailoring the perfect subject line.

What does this mean?

It means that email subject lines should contain some sort of information in them that will be relevant or pertinent to the recipient. This can include their first or last name, their birthday, their profession, a purchase, or a transaction they’ve made. Or, it can be something else entirely, as long as it has to do with their personal info.

See, the thing is, users don’t want you to see them as just a number. They want to be seen as individuals and feel like there’s a real person behind that virtual presence.

If you set out time to do this - to show your customers and users that you care about each and every one of them - it shows. And, of course, this goes for the whole email marketing setup. When you pay attention to personalizing the content, the subject line, the messages, and just, overall, when you try to deliver more relevant content, you’re very likely to experience more user engagement and higher open rates, as you will see from the stat below.

According to a study done by Experian Marketing Services, which is an international data-analysis company, “emails with personalized subject lines have 26 percent higher unique open rates than non-personalized emails”.

Another statistic shows us that, besides the increase of unique open rates, by paying attention to email subjects, you’ll also manage to increase your click rates, your transactional rates, and your revenue. email-subject-lines-statistic


Ways you can make your email subjects more personal:

  • Put the user’s name in the subject line and in the email as well. That way you’ll be able to invoke trust in your recipient. Not to mention that it paves the way towards sustaining a longstanding client-business relationship.
  • Wish them a happy birthday. This is one of the most basic pieces of info you can have of a client/customer but it’s incredibly important and useful. People like to feel acknowledged and catered to, especially on their birthdays, and what better way to do it than show them you care in the very subject of the email you’re sending them? Add to this some kind of personalized offer, and you have a winner.
  • Mention something about their activity, like their cart. Oftentimes, customers will put something in their carts, only to not buy it in the end. What we’re left with are abandoned shopping carts. So why not remind them of what they’re missing? These kinds of emails contain information based on the browsing data of that particular customer. What you’re going to offer them will depend on your company or business politics. For example, if it’s some kind of eCommerce business, you can offer them free shipping as a way to encourage them to get back to your website and finalize their intended purchase.
  • Translate the email subjects and the email content in the language of your recipients. If you’re working with an international audience, consider translating your message and the subject line into one your customers are more comfortable with, or in their native language.

Be Descriptive and Specific

What this means is that you should focus on current offers or opportunities (such as promotions or deals), as well as novelties in your subject line, rather than writing something vague and unspecific.

If you have a hard time keeping the email subject lines specific and concise, try thinking about which of the words you’re using matter more than others. Also, consider deleting certain unnecessary details you think you can do without.

One example is with order confirmation info, where a phrase like “{{ visitor.first_name}}, your order has been confirmed” or “Order is being packed at the warehouse” works much better than something like “Order #231178345642 has been confirmed” or “Order #231178345642 has been processed”.

The same goes for stuff like informing customers about an update, or if you’re sending a newsletter. You don’t have to include those words in the subject itself. It’ll only take up unnecessary space - the content of both the subject and the message will be clear enough to inform readers what it’s all about.

Make Sure the Subject Is Short, but Clear

When writing subject lines, try to stick to less than 50 characters and use no more than 9 words.

Nowadays, people read emails on their phone more than they do on their laptop or PC, so you have to keep subject lines mobile-friendly as well. In fact, one statistic provided by emailmonday, a service that deals with email marketing consultancy, says that “61.9% of email opens occurred on mobile, 9.8% on desktop and 28.3% in a webmail client”. Another statistic, also presented in their overview of email statistics, shows how “about 3 in 5 consumers check their email on the go (mobile) and 75% of them say they use their smartphones most often to check email”.

Маке Them an Offer They Can’t Refuse

This is not to say that you should threaten your client, no (as they actually do with the “can’t refuse offer” in The Godfather).

What I mean by this is that you should come up with a discount, a sale opportunity, or some kind of promotional deal that will serve as bait and grab your client’s attention.

If you’ve just started with a sale, you can inform your clients that they’re up for a bargain immediately. What’s more, you can even use numbers in the subject line, and tell them about a particular discount percentage.

Ask Them a Question

Another way to capture your recipient’s attention is to ask them a question. This will engage them immediately and will make them more likely to open the subject of the email. This is because people are by nature curious, and that will always get the better of them.

Also, when you pose a question, you give out the impression that you already have the answer to it, and that you will provide them with the solution they’ve been looking for.

Provide Valuable Information

Similar to the previous tip, this one is also based on the premise of providing information to your recipient that will tickle their fancy and make them curious about the subject matter.

In this case, we’re talking about some kind of valuable insight or information that they’d like to know more about. It can be about an attractive promotional deal, a teaser about an upcoming product or service, and the like.

The important thing to keep in mind here is to be consistent in what you’re delivering in the email subject. Don’t just lead on your customers without actually providing valuable info, because you’ll just end up frustrating them.

Add a dose of urgency

This works well for offers that have to do with limited supply products, as well as deals that last for a designated amount of time.

Showing your customer that the deal is time-sensitive and a one-time opportunity will make them act fast. It will spark their curiosity and make them feel like they don’t want to miss out on a good deal. In addition, this will also spur them into action and make them engage with your product faster than they otherwise would.

Incorporate a Call to Action

When you write an email subject line, you should always have a goal in mind. For example, what is it that you want the recipient to do when they read your email?

Once you know the answer to this question, you just ask them to do it.

So, say your company has an ongoing promotional deal and you want to inform your customers. You can easily send them an email with a subject such as “Click to see the best offer on the market” or “Take a look at our latest promotional deal”.

These kinds of subject lines include a call to action and manage to tell your recipients the purpose of your email, concisely and clearly.

If Possible, Use a Sender Name That Sounds Familiar

People like familiarity, so, if you can, use a familiar, human name as a sender/from name in your email.

For example, sending from [email protected] looks way better than getting an email from [email protected]!

Personal names sound friendly, and professional, whilst managing to come out as both unintimidating and appealing to the recipient. Putting a name and a face (figuratively speaking), rather than just seeing an abstract company name, can awaken confidence in clients and make them feel closer to whatever you’re offering.

So, in this case, the name of the sender is complementary to the subject line. If it’s familiar to the reader, and someone they’ve already interacted with, they’re just much more likely to open that particular email.

Timing Is Everything

It’s not just about sending an email with the right subject. It’s also about timing.

A great subject line combined with great timing can do wonders. This, of course, will also depend on what kind of business you’re in.

For example, if you’re into tourism services, and the holiday season is coming up, well then, you get down to business. If you have info on the clients’ habits and vacation plans, you can hit them up with offers a couple of months prior.

Or, say you’re doing services related to restaurants and bars - you can always send your recipients info on promotional lunch deals an hour before their lunch break or happy hour offers an hour before their workday ends.

Make Your Recipients Feel Special

This goes on par with the personalization techniques I talked about earlier.

I mean, everyone likes to be included and everyone likes attention. It’s simple psychology. So, when you make your clients feel special with the right phrasing, you also make them feel like they’re part of the group.

What do I mean when I say the right phrasing? Well you can include lines such as:

  • “Only for our best customers”
  • “A gift for our beloved client”
  • “A special offer for our loyal user”

When your customer feels like they’re being appreciated and like they belong, they are more likely to become a loyal customer.

Truth Is in the Numbers

Remember that thing about being concise and precise? Well, numbers help you do that. You can easily escape being vague in email subjects by using numbers and data.

Numbers will help your emails get more easily noticed, and they will offer clear info on what your recipients can expect to read in the content of the email.

You can mention the percentage of a particular discount you’re currently offering. Or, just talk about the number of users or clients who’ve already signed up for one of your products or have used your services. You can use something like “Join more than 10 000 active members”, for example.

What Are Some of the Things You Should Avoid Doing When Writing Subject Lines?

In the previous section, we covered the do’s of email subject lines. Now let’s take a brief look at the don’ts.

Don’t Use Too Much Punctuation Marks or Emojis

Yes, punctuation marks and emojis are another thing you have to consider when writing an email subject.

Use too many of them and you risk making your message look like spam and hence, unprofessional. Try to use a maximum of three punctuation marks per line, and limit your emojis to one per subject line.

Also, don’t use emojis as a replacement for actual words. Rather, use them to enhance the words, but make sure that the message you’re conveying is clear enough.

And another thing you shouldn’t forget while we’re still on the topic of emojis: there are different versions of them depending on which operating system you use. So, if your clients use different operating systems, and you rely too much on emojis, the subject may become unreadable with too many weird, jumbled signs.

Don’t Use 'No-Reply' as a Sender Name if You Don’t Have To

The thing is, the more unfamiliar the sender name sounds, the more people will think it’s spam, and the less likely they are to open it.

The same goes for ‘no-reply’ type of senders, which just sound very abstract, cold, impersonal, and pretty unreachable. And who wants their company or business to leave that kind of impression?

So, if you can, try not to use [email protected] or [email protected]. What’s more, this kind of sender name will definitely prevent your recipients from adding your email address to their address book.

Just stick to sending emails from an account that sounds more personal and approachable.

Don’t Write the Entire Email in Your Subject Line

Email subjects need to be short and concise, we talked about that earlier.

There’s no need to cram every bit of info from your email message into your subject. It won’t look good on mobile phones and it won’t be as informative as you’d like it to be because it’s super hard to read. Also, it will look unprofessional and completely misses the whole point of the email subject.

Another thing: whatever you do, don’t put a link in your email subject. It’s just going to be unclickable and totally useless for your recipient. If you want to put a link, just do it in the content of the message. There’s plenty of space in there!

Don’t Use Clickbait to Draw in Recipients

Clickbait is reserved for shady news websites and Youtubers. To be honest, nobody that is a little bit serious about what they do will like it in their inbox.

Remember when I talked about how you always have to deliver in the message what you anticipate in the subject? If your subject is only designed to make a promise for the best deal ever or the best offer in the universe, and it doesn’t deliver or turns out to be vague and misleading, then you’ll just end up with a very unhappy customer.

Don’t Waste Precious Space With Meaningless Words or Characters

In email subjects, every character is precious. You don’t want to occupy extra space with too many questions, such as “Did You Hear…” or greetings like “Dear Mr. Smith…”.

Be friendly, personalize it, but don’t overwhelm it with fluffy phrases and hellos.

Don't Use Question Marks and Exclamation Points in the Same Subject Line

“Looking for the best deal? Then click right away!” - see, there’s something about this line that’ll sound fishy. If not to your recipients, then definitely to the PLING_QUERY rule.

This is a directive implemented in the Apache web server and its job is to indicate that an email is spam if the subject line contains both a question mark and an exclamation point.

So, just don’t do it. Keep it light with the exclamations, question marks, and punctuation points.

Headline Examples That You Can Use for Your Business

Now, I want to wrap up this article with a range of email subject line examples that you can use next time you’re sending your round of emails to your clients along with catchy subject lines.

If you want to sound competitive and a little bit aggressive:

  • “Get there first! Sign up for the deal of the month!”
  • “Nothing can come between you and your friends, except this!”
  • “Stomp your competitors with this guide!”
  • “Be a winner!”

If you want to make it sound urgent:

  • “Alert: Don’t miss out on the deal of the century!”
  • “Valid only till today: 75% off for all plans!”
  • “Weekend only: Purchase one and get another one free!”
  • “Ooops! Your prescription is expiring in 10 days”
  • “There’s still time to catch up on this offer!”

If you want to spark a bit of curiosity in your clients:

  • “Mystery box for our greatest customer!”
  • “Want to know the hottest trends in email marketing?”
  • “Don’t open if you can’t handle this offer!”

If you want to show them, loud and clear, what benefits they’ll get from engaging with your message and offer:

  • “90% faster hosting than …!”
  • “Use these 10 rules and increase sales by 30%!”
  • “Work on your email conversion rates with these 7 tools”

If you want to inspire your clients with your offer:

  • “Everyone can be a hero by donating to these top 10 charities”
  • “Need advice to kick-off your marketing career? Then search no more!”
  • “You don’t need to be a nerd to have a superb site if you follow these steps”
  • “Let us bring you the best jobs on the market right in your inbox!”

If you want to get a tad more personal:

  • “Happy birthday Sophie! Claim your surprise inside!”
  • “Two gift cards for your two best friends - totally on us!
  • “Free this afternoon after 17:00? Happy hour time!”

Feel free to use these email subject templates and tailor them to the needs of your business and your customers. Most of them are deliberately vague - the only thing you need to do is tweak them, just a tiny bit.

Email Subject Lines From Famous Brands and Companies

Take a look at these examples from successful business around the world and see how they utilize the power of email subjects:

  • HP: “Flash. Sale. Alert.”
  • La Mer: “A little luxury at a great price”
  • Sephora: “Your beauty issues, solved”
  • Duolingo: “Learn a language with only 5 minutes per day”
  • Guess: “Wanted: Cute and affordable fashions”
  • Evernote: “Stop wasting time on mindless work”
  • Pizza Hut: “Feed your guests without breaking the bank”
  • Bonobos: “Hey, forget something? Here’s 20% off.”
  • Target: “The price dropped for something in your cart”
  • The Muse: “We Like Being Used”

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there’s a lot more to email subject lines than it seems. It’s easy to dismiss them as just a marginal, short piece of content related to your email message, but this would eventually make for one very unfair judgment.

The important thing is to get creative with email subjects - tweak them and tailor them to your own brand, business, or the services you're offering. More importantly, make sure you always consider the expectations of your clients or customers.

A good subject line is nothing without a recipient that goes a click further, opens up your message, and actually reads it.