Top 5 Tips for Writing Better Email Subject Lines

As email marketing nerds, we’re big fans of a full inbox. But, even we have to admit that there can be too much of a good thing. In 2017, email users were sending and receiving an average of 269 emails per day – that’s a lot of competition for your email marketing campaign. However, a great email subject line could be the trick to getting that email opened.

So, what makes a great email subject line?

The answer varies for every business, and it depends on several factors – your brand, your audience, and your product or service.

It may take a little digging and testing to find the best formula for your company, but these tips will help get you started.

1. Know your audience.

Understanding your brand will help you determine how you want to communicate with your audience, which should directly translate to your email subject line.

Start by setting the tone.
Are you a casual business that speaks to customers like they’re your best friends? Are you a more upscale company that prefers to keep it professional? How you answer should determine the formality of your email subject line.

One company that perfectly captures its personality in its email subject lines (and frankly, entire marketing campaign) is Chubbies. It’s an unconventional example of writing great email subject lines that reflect its brand. They even tweak their email from names at times to work with different subject lines. See some samples below.

From NameSubject LinesChubbiesforty doll hairsPress ‘Forward’Then select ‘All Contacts’. Trust us.Layer@chubbies.comRe: “The Incident”I spywith my ginormous thighChubbsgivingFlannely…plaid shorts for your chest

Sure, the guys at Chubbies break every other rule in the book with their subject lines – but for them, it just works. And not by accident. Their email subject lines are funny, interesting, and a little weird – most importantly, their customers love them.

Be mindful of your reader’s time.

It may be tempting to focus on a solely creative subject line, using a play on words with your email. And while there is a time and place for creativity, keep in mind that your readers are busy people and may not have the time or patience to decipher a vague email subject line. Instead, they may just hit delete or skip over your email entirely.

Instead, stick with strong, clear language that tells your audience why they should read your email (translation: how it will benefit them) and avoid being cryptic. We’ll cover more on the best email subject line language to use later on.

Personalize as much as possible.

Making your readers feel special is always a nice touch and may just lead to more clicks to open your emails. Adding your reader’s name to the subject line is a classic example and an effective way to personalize your message, and let your readers know that you value their business. But, there’s even more that you can do.

Segmenting your audience takes things a step further to personalize your reader’s experience. Splitting up your content based on your audience’s purchase history or demographic ensures that your readers are getting the information they actually care about.

For example, if you’re a shoe company trying to attract customers, start your email campaign on the right foot by splitting your audience and sending content about Runners vs. High Heels vs. Mens Sneakers based on segments. Delivering the right content to the right reader could be the difference between an open or an unsubscribe. Your subject line is no different. Don’t be afraid to segment and send variations that work better than using broad and vague promotions.

2. Find the right length.

Arguing over the ideal subject line length has been a marketing pastime favourite for years. And while the magic number is still widely debated, we suggest keeping in mind the type of device that your readers are using to view their emails.

Keep it short.
In the days of old, desktops were pretty much the only option people had to read their messages. However, mobile devices are quickly taking over. According to a report by the Radicati Group, by the end of 2018, 80% of email users are expected to access their email accounts via a mobile device. So, what does that mean for your email subject line?

Mobile screens don’t have the same space as desktops. And with most emails being viewed via mobile devices, you need to keep space in mind when crafting the perfect email subject line. Shorter subject lines (around 20 to 35 characters) are better suited for viewing on mobile devices, because they ensure that the entire subject line can be seen without cutting off.

However, according to the above chart from Return Path, 61 to 70 characters had the highest average read rate compared to other email subject line lengths. And if you remember our reference to Chubbies from before, their email subject line lengths are usually around 10 to 15 characters.

So, how do you find the sweet spot for your email subject lines? Three words: Testing, testing, testing (okay, 1 very important word 3 times!) The key to figuring out what gets the most clicks for opens is to test what is working with your audience or segments.

Beware the break.
Mobile devices tend to truncate email subject lines to save space. So, try to avoid positioning certain words that may lead to an embarrassing message if cut off in the wrong spot.

For example, some words could mean something completely different if left in the wrong place of your email subject line – moot becomes moo, license becomes lice, etc.

Think of your preheader text.
With limited space, it’s recommended to keep the most important aspect of your subject line towards the front, so it doesn’t get cut off on mobile devices or smaller screens.

It also helps to take advantage of your preheader text, which allows you to control the preview text that appears in your reader’s inbox. It acts like a quick glimpse of the key points in your message or an extension of your subject line.

The right preheader builds on the story that your email subject line is telling, and is an opportunity to give your audience more details if your subject line gets cut off. And while they’re not technically necessary, it’s a feature you should take advantage of if you’re looking for opens. As you can see from the chart below, emails with preheaders get more open and click rates – which isn’t too shabby for a little extra text.

According to a recent study, an effective pre-header text can increase clicks by 104%.

However, keep in mind that while most email applications support preheader text, they may vary in how much copy they actually show. So, to keep your preheader text as effective as your email subject line, follow these simple tips:

  • Keep it short: Aim for the same length of your subject line or shorter.
  • Consider word placement: Like your email subject line, keep the important part of your message near the beginning of your preheader text.
  • Use a sense of urgency: Let your readers know why they should open your email RIGHT NOW.

3. Unlock keywords.

When it comes to email subject lines, magic words actually DO exist. Learning how to use language that drives engagement is a superpower that results in more clicks to open and increased audience engagement.

Determine your goal.
You’re messaging your readers for a reason, so know your objective before crafting the email subject line. Are you trying to teach them about your product or service? Sign up for a consultation? Try out your new product?

When in doubt, always focus on creating a sense of urgency in your email subject line. Words that instill a need to act NOW performed highest in testing. That includes words and phrases like:

  • Still time: +15.54% influence on read rate.
  • Limited time: +3.05% influence on read rate.
  • Expiring: +1.63% influence on read rate.

Reference: Return Path – The Art and Science of Subject Lines

Avoid sounding like spam.
No one likes dealing with spam in their inbox, and spam-sounding email subject lines could be a turn off for your audience. Worst case scenario, it could even get your email flagged and immediately filtered into their spam folder.

Grandiose promises and click-bait language are not only spam hazards, they also perform the lowest in the study we mentioned above – words including “What you need to know” (+0.62% influence on read rate) and “Secret of”, which came the lowest at -8.69% influence on read rate. Here are a few more negative performing words:

  • 2 for 1: – 6.62% influence on read rate.
  • Running out: – 3.30% influence on read rate.
  • Extended: – 2.95% influence on read rate.

Reference: Return Path – The Art and Science of Subject Lines

Go for clarity over creativity.
Your job is more than just entertaining readers – it’s also about getting people to open your emails. Use strong language that clearly communicates the value and benefit to your readers so they will be motivated to open the message and learn more.

According to a case study by MarketingSherpa, clear email subject lines received 541% more responses than the creative copy they tested against. That’s a lot of opportunity for a little clarity.

4. Consider emojis.

No one expects to see an emoji in their inbox, so using one in your email subject line adds an element of intrigue and surprise for readers. Have it match your message to drive your point home while adding a little whimsy to your email subject lines.

Find the right emoji.
If you’re new to the world of emojis, the sheer amount of tiny icons to choose from can be overwhelming. They have one for almost every emotion, animal, food, and even office supplies. To pick out one that fits your email marketing campaign, narrow down your options by going with a theme.

We’ve seen that using emojis for holiday campaigns has been a popular and effective tactic for email subject lines. According to research, these are some of the top performing emojis for the upcoming holidays:

  • Mother’s Day: The flower bouquet bloomed at 21% open rate.
  • Father’s Day: The wrench proved itself as the perfect tool, with a 22% open rate.
  • Summer Promotions: Sunglasses brought the heat, with a 23% open rate.

Configure them correctly.
They may be cute little additions to your email subject lines, but emojis aren’t all fun and games. Keep in mind that they may appear differently on the many types of mailbox providers and devices.

You should be careful to select ones that will show up on the types of systems that your readers use. If your emojis aren’t rendered properly, it could seem like there’s an issue with your email which could result in a delete or a complaint.

An emoji that appears as a white square indicates that the browser doesn’t support that particular emoji. Or, depending on the operating system your readers are using, emojis can appear slightly different on each device. You can look up how emojis will render on different platforms on

Reference: Litmus Emoji Support in Email

Keep them in moderation.
A single emoji in a subject line is usually a welcomed change of pace for your reader’s inbox. A straight line of emojis, on the other hand, can be confusing to your audience.

Not to mention that your message could get lost in the sea of emojis that take up valuable real estate in your short email subject line.

5. Test your emails

This is the most important aspect of coming up with the best email subject lines for your marketing strategy. Remember that while the above guidelines are handy, they are only general best practices for every business. Each audience is unique, and you need to let the numbers decide what’s working in your specific case.

Try A/B Testing.
This is the most tried and true marketing testing strategy. Essentially, you select two types of email subject lines and compare their performance to determine which one has the best results. You can easily compare similar subject lines to find out which one gains the most opens or highest read rate based on keywords, subject line length, or even your use of emojis.

Also make sure you have a big enough sample size for each group to test with otherwise the results won’t be as conclusive as you may want them to be.

Select your sample.
Having an extensive email list is a good thing – except when it comes to testing email subject lines. To save time and resources (and to keep a few tricks up your sleeve), select a small sample of readers to test subject lines. You don’t want to risk using a low-performing subject line for the masses.

Testing is also another area where segmenting your audience could make a huge impact on your results. If you have a broad list of customers, try filtering them by age, interests, recent purchases, and so on, to cater to a specific audience rather than relying on a one size fits all approach to communication.

Evaluate results and move forward.
Never forget: Your job isn’t over once the results are in. That’s just the new measure you have for future testing. Find out what works, and tweak it to make it better. Continue to TEST, TEST, TEST, every chance you get.

Crafting the perfect email subject line is both a science and an art. But with the right combination of structure, length, keywords, and even an occasional emoji, you’ll see your email engagement soar.

Whether you’re looking to fly solo with your email campaign or need a little guidance, our marketing gurus at Wired Messenger are here to help. Contact us today to learn more about what we can do for your email subject lines.