Email Subject Lines

Katya Constantine
December 10, 2012 — 1,682 views  
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In email one of the first most important aspects to get a user to engage with your communication is a subject line.  It is the first thing they will see when they open their inbox.  The keys to an effective subject line are several:

1. Make it short

Your subject line should be concise and short.  If your subject line is too long it will be cut off by the email source provider.  Thus, the customer will not will see the full message you intended and it will be cut off.  If your full message is not delivered, then the customer may not engage with your communication.

2.  Every letter counts

The subject line should also connect with what your friendly from says.  For example if your friendly from states the company’s name, then there is no need to restate the company’s name in the subject line.  Instead you can use those six, seven, ten characters to help convey the message of your communication. There are many companies who’ve done testing on this and  yet you still see some brands who don’t exercise it.  For example, one of the largest online retailers, their friendly from will say but many of their communications will start with the same message such as “ Save on Groceries”.  Make sure that when you think of your subject line that it connects with what your friendly from says.

3.  Tell your customer what the message is about

Your friendly from should have a very specific call to action such as ‘last chance’ or ‘save now’. If you give the customer a preview of what the email is about, they will know why they should engage with the communication.  It’s not a way where the brand talks about a marketing message, its a way and a place where a brand conveys a specific tactical action that you want the customer to take.  That is how you get the customer to engage in your communication.  So, if your email is about your account update you start a subject line with Account Update.

4.  Tell them what to do

There are certain types of messages that get customers engaged.  One of such is a ‘last chance’ message.  When your sale is expiring let the customer know, this promotion is expiring.  Put it in the subject line.  It will be the first thing the customer sees and they will be more likely to engage in your communication.  Very often brands will see a spike in their sales when they put a last chance line in their communication especially when they are running a large promotion.

5.  What your subject line should not say

Putting things in subject lines such as exclamation marks or question marks does not get customers to engage.  Instead, you are more likely to be put into the Spam folder by the email service provider.  Do not use things such as words like Free or Sexy or XXX — These type of words or keywords will greatly increase your chances of being put into the Spam folder.

These are some of the practices that I have found to be very useful when coming to optimizing email.  They were based on testing, from working in major e-commerce brands in a consumer sector.  The fact is, subject lines are probably one of the most important aspects of an email.  Email is your cheapest channel to get the consumers to engage, subject lines are your first opportunity to get your customer to engage with your communications.


Katya Constantine


Katya Constantines is the founder Digishopgirl, which provides guidance to small and medium size business on digital marketing. Katya has worked for Amazon, Expedia, and Accenture.