Does Your Email Subject Line Suck?

Tips and tricks for writing email subject lines that don't suck

If your email delivery rate is high and your open rate is low, your email subject line is to blame.

How much time and thought did you put into your email content? How much creativity did you add to your email design and images? A bad subject line can make all of that irrelevant.

Are you writing your subject lines at the last minute, without much thought or attention?

The Importance of Email Subject Lines

Email Overload - Email InboxEmail subject lines play a critical role in the email marketing process. For the purpose of this blog I will only focus on the subject line. I will not address the From email address or mask or whitelisting to keep deliverability rates up, or timing to ensure your email gets any attention at all.

Email subject lines have to get the reader to open the email. No more, no less. That is their ONLY role. But that doesn’t mean the role is easy.

Of course your subject line competes with all other emails, including families, spam, sales, and informational newsletters, but it also competes with their own time and task requirements at any given time of day. So how can you get through?

Subject Line Suggestions

  • Be clear and concise.
  • Don’t sell, let the email do that. Just tell them what to expect inside.
  • Make it short, about 50 charac ters, so it appears in the preview windows, and keep it to about 7-9 words. Many readers now access email through mobile devices, so it’s more important than ever to make sure your subject line is even seen!

  • Convey the message type they signed up for. If they signed up for promo emails, give them a deal, if they signed up for newsletters, don’t.
  • Stay away from spam trigger words. Words like Help, Free, Refinance, % off tip off the spam algorithms to review the other details of the entire email, so take care when using them. (Research online for triggered spam words in email subject lines, and also research in your own ESP to see what works and what doesn’t.)
  • Don’t use special characters. Exclamation marks, question marks, trademarks and other symbols typically don’t show up in email subject lines properly, so don’t risk it. It breaks up the flow of your message.
  • Make your message timely. Short time offers evoke exclusivity and encourage action. This is good to promote end dates or time spans.
  • Target to local areas, if applicable. It makes the subject line more personal for your audience.
  • Test different subject lines, always, with every send!

Your subject line is the first introduction to your message, offer, content that your reader sees, but your message is competing with all the others in the inbox, and all the other time pressing tasks at hand. Respect your readers time and tell them quickly what they can expect. Don’t make them try to figure out if they want to open your email.

Additional Recommendations

  • Test: Digital initiatives should ALWAYS include testing, because they can, and you can learn results quickly to adjust your tactics immediately.
  • Test email delivery days and times, and compare open rates.
  • Test  different subject lines and message construction.
  • Test different messages in the subject lines.
  • Segment: Even if your readers all signed up for the same email, they don’t behave the same way. Check your analytics and see how they can be split out and messaged differently.
  • Send different subject lines to those who open and those who don’t.
  • Send emails at different times to different groups
  • Test the subject lines based on what resonated with your users in the past
  • Details: The devil is in the details. You have to make sure that your email gets to the reader and is identifiable.
  • Make sure your email from and mask address match. Different email clients display from email information differently. Some show both the email address and the mask, some just one or the other.
  • If your company name is not clear in the email mask, it will need to be in the subject line. Your readers need to know who the email is from right away.
  • Make sure you take advantage of the summary text in emails. Another often afterthought is the first summary line in emails. They are the “preview” for text based previewers in email clients, and have become even more important with the increasing use of mobile devices to view emails. It should not merely repeat the subject line, but it plays a similar role.


An email subject line will not make a sale, but without it, your email won’t either. Give it the attention it deserves.