Email Subject Lines: It’s Not Rocket Science, But It Is Important

Like many things we see all of the time, email subject lines are easy to overlook, especially when drafting them. Too often, though, copywriters, content marketers, and others fail to give enough thought to their email subject lines. They’re an afterthought. Something quickly thrown together and easily overlooked, not only by those writing them but those seeing them in their email inboxes! And that’s the problem.

Fail to pay enough attention to your email subject lines and your audience will too.

Why Email Subject Lines are so Important

A marketing email subject line is important because it is what your audience sees before making a decision to read, or even click on, the email you have sent. The problem is that your audience isn’t generally seeing your subject line in a vacuum. How many times do you just have one email in your inbox? Likely never.

Consider the number of incoming emails you do typically see every time you look at your email inbox. Chances are there are dozens of them, maybe more. As you look at these emails and consider which you will open and which you will move to the trash bin, there are two key elements that will influence your decision:


  • Who sent the email?
  • What does the subject line say?

If an email comes from our boss, a key client, or a good friend, there’s a very good chance we’ll open it, regardless of the subject line.

If it comes from a vendor, marketer, or someone we don’t know, we’ll look at the subject line and then make a decision about whether or not to open it. That’s why what we say in our subject lines, especially when we’re trying to communicate with an audience that may not know us well, is such a critical factor in determining whether we get an open, or get sent to the trash bin and maybe even blocked.

Key Elements Your Subject Line Should Include

Your marketing email subject line should include compelling information designed to entice the recipient to click on the email to open and read it. Very importantly, you need to think about your email subject line in the context of how recipients will be viewing it. It will be one of among potentially dozens — or more — other subject lines that appear in their email inbox.

When reviewing email, people first pay attention to who the email is from. You will have an edge if you have an existing relationship with the recipient and if they value the information you send to them. If you don’t, your subject line will have to work even harder to entice them to open your email.

Your email should offer a clear benefit to the recipient in terms of something they value–information or an offer that is pertinent to their personal or business life.

How long should the subject line be? A typical email subject line will allow users to view about 60 characters, but the general recommendation is to try to keep your subject line to about 50 characters.

What Should You Avoid in Your Subject Line?

In addition to things you should make an effort to include in your subject lines, there are also some things to avoid.

Above all else, we would recommend avoiding a “bait and switch” approach or being misleading in any way with your subject line. If people feel “tricked” into opening your email because what it contains is not reflected in the subject line chances are they’ll never open another email from you again. Worse, they will very likely add you to their spam filter.

Another don’t do — don’t fall prey to hucksterism — consumers are turned off by email subject lines that are obvious pitches screaming, “buy, buy, buy.” Work to offer value in your subject lines that is aligned with your audience’s needs and interests.

If you’re finding that your email open rate is low, the problem may be your subject lines. What could you do to boost the odds that your next email promotion will prompt the opens you need to engage with your audience?


About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create, and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve your desired results.

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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