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Subject Line Hacks to Get Your Emails Opened

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The email subject line is one of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal, and one of the most difficult to master. Not only are there many factors to consider, success rates vary wildly based on your audience, content and time and day of send. There’s no universal foolproof method for crafting the perfect subject line, but these guidelines will give you a solid starting point.

Subject lines that tell the user what the email will do for them are more likely to get your email opened. So rather than simply stating what’s in the email (Ways to Groom Your Dog), tell them what value the email will offer them (Grooming Techniques That Will Delight Your Dog).

Using ALL CAPS in subject lines can trigger spam filters, but it can be effective if used sparingly. For example, a test of a Halloween-themed financial planning email delivered with the subject line “DON’T GO IN THERE! Scary Financial Traps to Avoid” performed much better than the same subject line without the all caps.

Using symbols or emojis in subject lines is increasingly popular. Should you do it? It depends. Be careful what type of symbol you use, because not all devices will accurately display all symbols. And symbols must fit the personality of your company and the tone of the email. A study by Experian Marketing Services found that using symbols boosted open rates in 56% of the brands they analyzed, but that was back in 2012, when emojis in subject lines still felt new. Aside from potentially increasing open rates, emojis can make your email stand out, quickly convey a mood or idea, and help reduce character count.

Use Keywords
According to research by Yesware, certain keywords are more likely to get people to open and reply to your emails. The most effective word used in an email subject line was “steps,” which generated a 79% open rate and a 52% reply rate. Also performing well were “renewal,” “campaign,” “next” and “info.” Adestra did a similar keyword study, and found top keyword performers to be “Thank you” or “thanks,” “monthly,” and “bulletin.” Poor performers included “journal,” “forecast,” “training” and “whitepaper.”

Length Matters
Long vs. short email subject lines is a common debate in marketing circles, but also one that seems to have no real answer. Email marketing platform MailChimp recommends that you keep subject lines to 50 characters or less, but different studies have pointed to both 4-15 characters and 61-70 characters as the optimum length, so testing is the only way to be sure what works for you. Do remember, though, that mobile users will see fewer characters than those on a desktop—sometimes as few as 20—so put the important information at the beginning of your subject line and be sure that mobile users won’t see any unfortunate breaks that transform or hurt your message (Tips for Creating the Perfect Memory Blanket vs. Tips for Creating the Perfect Memory Blank…).

Next time you’re in the checkout line at the grocery store, take a look at the magazine covers. You’ll see a lot of numbers: “10 Surefire Ways to Look Younger,” 35 Great Meals You Can Make in Minutes,” etc. Magazine publishers know that people respond to numbers and lists, and that innate tendency transfers to emails as well. Bigger numbers do better, and odds are better than evens. And if you’re using a number in a subject line, use a numeral rather than spelling it out.

According to a study by Experian Marketing Services, emails that used a first name in the subject line were 29% more likely to be opened across all industries, with emails in the travel and consumer products and services industries seeing a bump of over 40% in open rates. Names aren’t the only way to personalize—you can also use location (Hot Happenings in Des Moines!), interests (Spa Deals for This Weekend—Book Now!), remarketing (Still Interested in Solar Panels?), and any other key data you have about your customers.

Preheader Text
The short summary text that follows the subject line when an email is viewed in the inbox (called the preheader or preview text) is a valuable piece of online real estate that too many email marketers don’t know about or use improperly. Rather than repeating the subject line or the headline of your email, use the preheader creatively to expand on the information in the subject line. So, if your subject line is “5 Crucial Ways to Winterize Your Home,” your preheader text might elaborate with “Avoid frozen pipes with these valuable tips.” As with subject lines, the number of characters displayed varies by email provider and viewing device, but a good guideline is to stay under 40.

Can you phrase your subject lines in the form of a question? If so, they will perform better, according to MailChimp. Questions naturally raise the reader’s curiosity, and make them want to know the answer (by opening your email). Instead of “Tips for Being a Better Boss,” for example, try “Are You the Best Boss You Can Be?”

Spam Words
There’s no definitive list of words or phrases that will automatically get your email tossed in the spam bucket, but words and phrases that will increase your email’s chance of going astray include “free,” “$$$,” “act now,” “cash bonus,” “earn extra cash,” etc. When in doubt, run your email through a free spam checker such as ISnotSPAM or Mail-Tester.

Imagine the tone of subject lines for emails you’re guaranteed to open—those from friends, family and colleagues. They’re usually casual and conversational, right? More “Hey, what’s the deal with dinner tonight?” than “Q1 Results of Marketing Survey.” In general, keep the tone of your subject line light and perhaps funny, but don’t get too silly unless that tone fits with your business’ brand. Keep in mind that you’re communicating with actual humans—what would you say to them in person to try to get them interested in your email? If you keep your customers firmly in mind when composing your subject line, you have a better chance of striking the right tone to get them to click “open.”