How to Write Email Subject Lines That Get Opened

Monday, July 22nd, 2013
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One myth about email subject lines is that that they only drive open rates. The truth is subject lines can affect any metric that you care about, including click through rates (CTR), conversion rates, complaint rates, inbox placement rates (IPR) and more. You want to think about your subject lines holistically as a way to drive response in general. A second myth is that putting “free” in a subject line will get me blocked from the inbox. This is actually not true at all. Content filters are just a small part of the equation for inbox placement rate (IPR). What really matters is reputation.

Many people believe that a subject line that generates a high open rate is automatically a success; however, this is also not true. Subject lines that trick a user into opening an email then fail to deliver on the promise can have negative results. Subject lines can also be used to create brand awareness, inspire loyalty and demonstrate value. Even if someone doesn’t open and click into your email, just seeing that message in the inbox along with your brand name is effective.

When constructing your subject line the most important thing to think about is your objective. If you don’t know what your goal is going into writing your subject line, you’re most likely not going to achieve it. It is also import to segment your list. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Since you have a limited number of characters, a specific subject line is going to perform better than a vague subject line. Being able to send the right message to the right people and communicate the benefit to them is crucial.

Try to remember the 4 C’s:

  • Clear – Why should I open this? What’s in it for me?
  • Concise – There is only so much you can fit, especially on mobile phones
  • Compelling – I need this product. This offer is too good to pass up.
  • Creative – Use your imagination; consider using symbols to draw attention

Here are 7 steps to help you write amazing subject lines:

  1.  Brainstorm: quickly write at least 6 potential subject lines by stringing together the words that are relevant to your message and goal.
  2.  Examine: Ask yourself whether there are certain words that keep popping up and whether you’re struggling over word choices. Make sure you have at least a few compelling options.
  3.  Refine: Eliminate or revise any inappropriate options.
  4.  Count: Do a character count for each option and make note.
  5. Reassess: Do any of them really catch your attention? If not, return to step 1.
  6. Choose: Pick at least 2 subject lines to test that are clearly different from each other. Determine which element you would like to test: word choice, length, etc.
  7. Measure & Repeat: Know your objective and measure the right way. Take a look at all metrics but focus on the metrics you’re looking to improve.

Follow these quick steps and you’ll be a master of email subject lines before you know it!

Additional Resources:
Return Path (
Subjectlines (
MarketingProfs (
Copyblogger (

Currently an eCommerce Account Manager at Nexternal, Matthew enjoys helping businesses succeed online. Prior to joining Nexternal, Matthew spent years implementing innovative marketing campaigns for a world renowned design firm and is particularly passionate about online marketing and entrepreneurship.