Lyris Connections Blog

Opened, Deleted, or Spammed: The Importance of Email Subject Lines

Mar 04, 2014 by

There are three key elements of an email that determines if readers will open it, delete it, or mark it as spam before they view the full message:

  1. Sender line
  2. Subject line
  3. Pre-headers

In this blog, I am going to focus on subject lines

Email on mobileFirst you have to ask yourself why subject lines are so important in getting your message across. The subject line of an email is important because this is the first hint as to what your message is about; it can also target and spark interest in readers you are trying to engage with.

Getting the subject line just right can be very challenging as there are a lot of rules you need to adhere to. Your subject line not only needs to grab a reader’s attention, but it also needs to follow best practices. Otherwise, your subject line can lead to your entire email not getting delivered.

Let’s have a look at common best practices associated with email subject lines:

Your subject line should be no longer than 40 – 50 characters in length.

Shorter subject lines have been proven to have higher open rates than longer ones. Keep in mind that most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) sometimes shorten the subject line preview, so it is important to ensure you get your message across effectively within this limit.

Avoid spam words like free, guarantee, act now…

If used in the past, these words would almost certainly get your email spammed, but now ISPs are relying a lot less upon certain words and focusing more on the content. However, it’s still recommended that you not use these words as there is a possibility of your email not getting delivered as a result.

Avoid using UPPERCASE letters when possible.

Using uppercase letters isn’t the most effective way for getting a message across or driving urgency; rather, it gives the reader the impression that you’re shouting. This is counterproductive as most readers will normally delete the email instantly. In addition, avoid over-punctuating (!!!,???) as it signals anxiousness to your readers.

Avoid excessive use of special characters, e.g.  $$, %%.

Using a special character in a subject line can trigger spam filters, so it’s not recommended. Describing the message with words instead of symbols is an effective way to avoid the issue.

Avoid misleading or incomplete subject lines.

Make sure your subject line matches your content closely. Further, try not to deceive the reader with false promises. This is a sure way to get your message spammed by the reader directly. This is also true for incomplete subject lines as the reader shouldn’t have to guess what you are trying to say.

Now that I have highlighted some best practices, let’s take a look at different ways of engaging your audience through the subject line:

Make it compelling.

Your email subject line is the first call-to-action (CTA) of your message. Getting your reader to open the message is the precursor to all other CTAs in your email. To achieve this, it is advisable for you to use words that create a feeling of excitement or urgency when the subject line is read.

Make it personal.

Personalization – if used correctly – is a great way of engaging directly with readers. It makes them feel special and unique compared to using one subject line to address an entire audience.

Make it simple and clear.

As the sender of an email message, you are aware of the content and what actions you are trying to get the reader to take. However, does your subject line reflect this? Many marketers try to say too much in the subject line, which results in it being too long or too general. Best practice here is to be as clear and honest as possible without losing the message you are trying to get across.

Make it consistent.

Make sure your subject line consistently matches the context of your email message. For instance: do not offer free shipping within your subject line when on the main site that offer is not reflected as well. The consequence here would be that your reader leaves feeling disappointed due to being misled. This will eventually lead to readers not opening your emails and even potentially unsubscribing from them.

Make it dynamic.

With dynamic content, you can display predefined text conditions within the email subject line based on custom field attributes of the reader. So you can send one email to different groups but have the content in the subject line relate to or specifically change according to the values of the customer in each group.

Finally, it is always recommended – no matter how much faith you have in the quality of your subject line – that you test it with a segment of your audience. This is commonly achieved through A/B testing or most recently A/B/C/D testing if this functionality exists within your platform. As a result, you will have a first-hand view of how your audience responds to different subject lines as well as the impact on the open rates. With this knowledge you can now determine which subject line is the most effective and thus can lead to higher click-through rates and conversion rates.

In my next blog, I’ll review what you need to know about designing HTML emails. In the meantime, please add to the conversation on subject lines by sharing your insights in the Comments section below.

Lyris Marketing Team

About the Author: Lyris Marketing Team

With over 20 years experience, Lyris is a global leader of innovative email and digital marketing solutions that help companies reach customers at scale and create personalized value at every touch point. Lyris’ products and services empower marketers to design, automate, and optimize experiences that facilitate superior engagement, increase conversions, and deliver measurable business value.

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