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Keys To Optimizing Your Email Subject Line

  • by: Jonah Babnick
  • On: 9, Jan 2019
6 min read

No matter how powerfully written your email is, it won’t matter if the reader doesn’t open it. You could be offering free meals for life, but if your subject line doesn’t compel the recipient to open, read and react, the email will have been sent in vain. Many marketers create their email subject line as an afterthought, but in several ways the subject line is much more important than the email itself.

Email subject lines are the first, and sometimes last, impression you make on a potential reader. And they are the biggest factor in email open rates.

Remember that your email recipients are not reading your subject line. They are usually bombarded by email messages and are in a rush to read all of the subject lines in their inbox, quickly deleting the uninteresting emails as they skim along. If you don’t compel them with your subject line, your email is likely to be deleted or marked as spam.

Why Are Subject Lines Important?

According to Jay Baer, marketing author and award-winning keynote speaker, 35% of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone, while 69% of email recipients report email as Spam based solely on the subject line. And as surprising as this may seem, 21% of email recipients report email as spam, even if they know it isn't.

While these numbers may scare you, there is also overwhelming proof that a properly written subject line can bring many fruitful returns:

  • Open rate by number of words in the subject line: 6-10 words (21%), 0-5 words (16%), 11-15 words (14%), 16-20 words (12%) (Business2Community)
  • Emails containing personalization in the subject line are 22% more likely to be opened (Business2Community)
  • Email is 40% better at converting people (in comparison to Facebook and Twitter) (The Annuta Group)
  • 61% of subscribers/customers would like to receive promotional emails every week, 38% – more frequently. (Marketing Sherpa)

So how does a marketer stay out of the deleted and spam folders? Incorporating these simple techniques can make a huge difference.

Make it Brief

Keep your subject lines succinct to quickly grab the reader’s attention. You need to make it easily – and quickly – digestible so that the reader doesn’t click the delete button their mouse is no doubt hovering over.

The average subject line is 7 words in length, however a recent study of 18 million email subject lines showed that 3-word subject lines perform the best (21.2%, compared to 17.2% overall and 15.8% for 7 word subject lines). When exceeding 15 characters, each extra character is correlated with a 0.03% absolute decrease in engagement rate, or about 1% per 33 characters.

Try Adding Urgency

Adding urgency to your subject line may help to increase the open rate of your email. For instance, a subject line such as, “Come In For a Free Appetizer!” may be enticing for a reader and may not be deleted. But using a subject line such as, “This Weekend Only! Come in for Your Free Appetizer!” will compel them to open the email immediately to read about the details.

Also remember:

  • Subject lines with “soon” have higher engagement rates (21.9%) versus subject lines referring to “now.“
  • Subject lines referring to “yesterday” and “tomorrow” have higher engagement rates (20.5% and 22.3%, respectively) than “today” (11.8%).
  • Email subject lines that use the word “free” have significantly lower engagement rates (13.1% versus 17.2% for subject lines without “free”).

Optimize for Mobile

As of 2018, almost half of all emails were opened on a mobile device. Research also indicates that this number is expected to rise. Therefore, you should always be thinking about what your email will look like on a mobile device and optimize accordingly.

Shorter, more concise copy is usually best for mobile, as well as images that are smaller in file size. It is suggested that you create a test email and send to yourself to view on desktop and mobile devices. If it loads quickly and appears correctly on both platforms, you have a winner.

Be Clear, Don’t Be Misleading

Consistent clarity builds trust with your customers over time. Any misleading statements in your subject line will eliminate the trust and most likely get your future emails blocked or marked as spam. It is critical not to jeopardize the trust of your email list. The body copy of your email should always be consistent with the message you’re delivering in your subject line.

While it may be difficult to hone down your subject line to an ideal word count, it is imperative to maintain clarity. Spend the time to do so, as it will pay off in the long run.

Always Be Testing

It is also important not to rest on your laurels and keep sending out the same email subject lines. Once you’ve established a baseline, mix it up a little. Try different lengths and messages, and always make sure to research the results of each email sent.

If your changes provide a higher open rate, keep them and continue testing other ideas. If the change causes a drop in open rates, go back to the original message and try something different. Keep iterating, keep tracking and keep your email campaigns at an optimal level.

While the studies, statistics and tips mentioned above are considered industry norms and best practices, remember that all businesses are different, and no two audiences are alike. These tips can provide some great results, but you should always keep trying something a little different, striving for higher open and engagement rates.

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