How to Write the Perfect Email Subject Line [Infographic]

By | Google+ , January 23rd, 2013 in Email Marketing | 55 comments
writing the perfect email subject line

This is day 4 of our “Smart Email Marketing Conversion” week, make sure you keep coming back to catch the rest of the posts, and check out the ones from earlier in the week.

Monday (today)
The Smart Guide to Email Marketing Conversion” ebook

Tuesday
3 Steps to Turn Your Blog Subscribers into Customers

Wednesday
Creating Irresistible Email Teaser Campaigns [Case Study]

Thursday
How to Write the Perfect Email Subject Line [Infographic]

Friday
The Email Marketing Report Card

Let’s start off with one of the things everyone wants to know, the do’s and don’ts of email subject line writing.

Do
Set your subscribers’ expectations and clearly state what’s inside the email

Don’t
Write your subject lines like advertisements. The folks at MailChimp say it perfectly: “When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside.”

Why do these things matter? Well, the average business person receives over 100 emails a day. I know that personally, on the commute to work every day, I delete 90% of them, so that my inbox is more digestible by the time I get to work. In short, there’s a lot of crap out there. And despite the promise we all tell ourselves to unsubscribe from all of the emails you don’t want to receive, some companies make you jump through hoops to do this, which is discouraging at best.

So how do you cut through the clutter and make sure your email isn’t one of the ones that get’s dumped right away? Easy, you write a perfect email subject line. Sure, it’s that easy.

Writing an effective subject line is one of the hardest parts of email marketing. The infographic explore some ways to do this, so first I’ll summarize fundamentals before getting into a 6-step checklist for your next campaign.

  1. Don’t be afraid to use the following:
    • ALL CAPS (not for the whole subject line, just to hight the occasional word)
    • The word FREE
    • An exclamation point!
  2. Use geo-location to increase personalization.
  3. Frame your subject line as a question, and target the question at the types of problems your customers/leads need answers to.
  4. Keep it short: 50 characters or less works best. According to MailChimp, 28-39 had the highest click rate in a study of 200 million emails.
    • email open rate
  5. Don’t use the following chintzy tactics:
    • Symbols and special characters: they might get people opening them out of curiousy, but them make you look cheap
    • Cheating: don’t used FW: in your subject to imply it’s come from a trusted source
    • Scams: People have become wary of requests for help
    • Numbers: details of your special offers (50% off etc.) can be useful, but don’t overuse them or you’ll establish yourself as a sales merchant
    • Names: Using first names in the subject line can reduce open rates

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of to do and what not to do, here is a 6-step process to improve your open rates:

6-Steps to Improve Email Open Rates

  • Step 1: Be useful and ultra specific – make sure it’s relevant and useful for your customers
  • Step 2: Identify yourself – mention your most identifiable brand product in the subject line, or prefix the subject line with a consistent identifier
  • Step 3: Be visually different – make you subject stand out visually by trying square brackets, sparing use of capitalization, phone numbers or quotes
  • Step 4: Use timely topics and urgency that are top of mind, and use urgency occasionally to point out deadlines
  • Step 5: Use a call-to-action (CTA) by asking a question
  • Step 6: Test your subject lines so you can repeat what works best

If you have any other tips that you found to work, please share them in the comments below.

how to write the perfect email subject line
Infographic by Litmus.com – Click for full size version.

Tweetables

Share these email tips with your followers. And don’t worry, you can change the tweet text before it goes out.

  • When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst sell what’s inside
    » Tweet This «
  • The average working professional receives more than 100 messages a day
    » Tweet This «
  • Collecting & using geolocation info can improve open rates by being personal & relevant
    » Tweet This «
  • Including the recipient’s first or last name does not significantly improve open rates
    » Tweet This «
  • Test which subject lines resonate best with your audience
    » Tweet This «

– Oli Gardner


About The Author

Photo of Oli Gardner

Co-Founder of Unbounce. Oli has seen more landing pages than anyone on the planet. He is an opinionated writer and international speaker on Conversion Centered Design. You should follow Oli on Twitter
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Comments

  1. Oli very nice article and infographic. Solid advice but I am still hesitant to recommend the word FREE in a subject line.

    • TechieTami says:

      I agree..”Free”, special symbols, overuse of caps…I believe that spam filters grab some of these things and I know I tend to disregard them

    • Rank Watch says:

      Absolutely true including ‘FREE” in a subject hurts sometimes but not all the times. Good infographic Oli. Good email subjects surely must be short to get a good click through. Must entice the people to click and take the necessary action.

    • Sam O'neal says:

      I think no matter how great your copywriting skills, there’s always room for improvement in your conversion rate and search rankings. You just need the proper tools and the right guidance. Premise provides detailed conversion optimization seminars, split-testing directly from inside WordPress, and SEO tools that ensure you’re getting the absolute most out of your landing pages.

    • Seo says:

      Well this is good to know. As my thinking without infographic there is not article its boor the reader and user just see the content and leave the page and go for some one else. So infographic is most import in this point of view

  2. Michael Chazin says:

    Wondering about the use of exclamation points. Do they really make a difference?

    Do you have any data on this? Would be especially interested in seeing results for the same line with and without. Personally I believe they are ignored.

    • Oli Gardner says:

      Hi Michael,
      I don’t have any data, but it would be a really interesting A/B subject line test to see what impact it had.

  3. Michael Chazin says:

    Also in terms of click-through rates. there may not be a significant difference (statistically that is) between 3.8% and 4%. Where is the data?

  4. Frederik says:

    Okay – this is one of the greatest email marketing articles I have ever read! Thanks :)

  5. As usual, brilliantly written. Your posts are always “must reads”. Keep them coming! :-)

  6. […] Achieving results with email marketing is tough. Not writing a catchy subject line makes it even harder. What you can do is learn the tricks required to write the perfect subject line for an email. That way, you make sure that your emails are opened and read and the recipients don’t just close the window. Learn more in this infographic at Unbounce. […]

  7. Love the infographic!

    The stat on use of first or last names not improving open rates seems over-generalized. I’ve seen use of first name boost open rates 20%. As long as it’s not over-used, anything personal tends to grab more attention.

    Regarding no-fear on use of occasional ALL CAPS and an exclamation point, those can still be spam triggers. Doing a few test emails to see what gets caught in the spam filter helps big time. (When you test make sure you have an address that’s not whitelisted in your spam filter tool, so you can accurately assess if it will get caught.) In my experience, it’s not the subject line alone that can flag the email as spam. The same subject line with a different body can fail. The relevance and proximity of the ALL-CAPS keywords in the email body play a huge roll in if it will pass. Emails with a low text-to-images ratio seem more likely to get filtered. Increasing the amount of relevant text in the body will often help pass the spam filter because the algorithm has more info to assess relevance of the content. An exclamation point (!) and other punctuation generally pass as long as it’s not excessive!!!! =)

    Like you said, TEST to see what works for [passing spam filters AND] your audience. =)

    • Oli Gardner says:

      Great comments Angie!!!!!! (see what I did there?) :)

      I definitely have some reservations about a few of the tactics, but testing is key. I don’t know about other ESP’s but MailChimp has a good A/B subject line test. You can send the two subject lines to 10% each and the winner get’s sent to the remaining 80%. A cool feature.

      Thanks again Angie

  8. […] How to Write the Perfect Email Subject Line [Infographic], unbounce.com […]

  9. Bill Sebald says:

    A/B testing is really important here if your application can do it. I have tested the caps thing myself, and only saw a slight lift, so it really didn’t make it into our style guide. Giving me thought to maybe try testing it again for different segments this time.

  10. Thanks for the post! A/B testing always comes in handy when investigating the reaction of your particular audience. Email tracking can help businesses learn who opens what and use this to improve future titles.

  11. I sped more time on the subject line than I do with the actual email. I do know that people are motivated more by fear than by hope. My subject lines are usually geared toward the customer missing out on something, what they need to know, what they need to do to avoid something, etc…

  12. Joe Watson says:

    Is it possible to download a readable version of the infographic

    • Oli Gardner says:

      Hi Joe,
      If you click on the infographic, you’ll be taken to the full-size version that’s more readable.
      Cheers
      Oli

  13. […] How to Write the Perfect Email Subject Line [Infographic] -tg […]

  14. Ryan Key says:

    Practice makes perfect, and making sure those open rates are good is a great way to keep a happy client. Crafting email subject line titles is truly an art. Great post

  15. Hi Oli, Brilliant info graphic. I’v sent it to my marketing team and we are now going to start email marketing this week!

  16. JMan says:

    Oli,

    I been mailing ex members for the last 6 months and what you have covered in a very specific fashion with some great graphics are things that I have experienced and learned from.

    I will definitely continue to follow your work and also promote it to other email marketers I know and work with.

    Kudos

  17. […] Proper Capitalization Proper Punctuation Five Cs of Writing CC vs BCC E-Mail Fonts Perfect Subject Line […]

  18. […] subject line for your email is the key to opens and engagement – and Oli Gardner’s article on writing the perfect email subject line provides some excellent advice on how to do just that […]

  19. Great piece of information Oli… Thank you!

  20. […] How to Write the Perfect Email Subject Line [Infographic]: This is day 4 of our “Smart Email Marketing Conversion” week, make sure you keep coming back to catch the rest of the posts, and check out the ones from earlier in the week. Let’s start off with one of the things everyone wants to know, the do’s and don’ts of email subject line writing. – by Oli Gardner – http://unbounce.com/email-marketing/perfect-subject-line/ […]

  21. […] In fact, data compiled by MailChimp suggests that the most successful subject lines contain between 28 and 39 characters. Make every word count, and cut anything that’s not adding to the […]

  22. Stacey says:

    I think the play on the negative is also a great tactic. Things like “Find Out Why You Can’t Afford Not To …….” or “Learn What Not To Do When …….” Peaking curiousity is a big key in getting the email opened and read. I personally prefer the subject to be clean however. Very limited to no special characters and only capitalizing the first letter of each word. (P.S. Great series of posts on email marketing!)

    • Gary says:

      Stacey: This is likely a tad late but was just reading the article & replies and was prompted to respond: “Piquing curiousity is a big key…” as in ‘to excite or irritate’ n’est ce pas

  23. […] How to write the perfect email subject heading [infographic]. Unbounce.com […]

  24. […] I could write a whole article about this, but if you want to learn more checkout this great infographic that describes subject line best practices in more depth. […]

  25. […] Take advantage of time. Use timely topics on everyone’s minds; people love their news. Emphasize a sense of urgency occasionally to point out deadlines or drive limited-time sales. (Courtesy of Oli Gardner) […]

  26. […] goal is to get the reader to open the email and read it, not give everything away from the start. A Mailchimp study found that subject lines with a length of 28 to 39 characters had the highest click rate. It’s […]

  27. […] or less is generally recommended, as some mail clients may cut off subject lines that are longer. According to MailChimp, subject lines that are 28-39 characters have the highest open rate. The exception is for highly targeted […]

  28. […] or less is generally recommended, as some mail clients may cut off subject lines that are longer. According to MailChimp, subject lines that are 28-39 characters have the highest open rate. The exception is for highly targeted […]

  29. […] a subjective difference, but the question implies a call-to-action. Litmus pulled together an awesome email marketing infographic that also emphasizes the power of […]

  30. […] a subjective difference, but the question implies a call-to-action. Litmus pulled together an awesome email marketing infographic that also emphasizes the power of […]

  31. […] a subjective difference, but the question implies a call-to-action. Litmus pulled together an awesome email marketing infographic that also emphasizes the power of […]

  32. […] liter – według badań Litmus, najwięcej konwersji kliknięć mają tytuły z 4-15 lub 28-39 liter. Jednak także w tym […]

  33. […] the subject line clear: When recipients receive your email message, they should be able to see at a quick glance how the […]

  34. […] or less is generally recommended, as some mail clients may cut off subject lines that are longer. According to MailChimp, subject lines that are 28-39 characters have the highest open rate. The exception is for highly targeted […]

  35. […] goal is to get the reader to open the email and read it, not give everything away from the start. A Mailchimp study found that subject lines with a length of 28 to 39 characters had the highest click rate. It’s […]

  36. […] very specific about who will benefit (channel partners) from the tool, and why (close more sales). Click here to view an Infographic from Unbounce on how to write the perfect subject […]

  37. […] goal is to get the reader to open the email and read it, not give everything away from the start. A Mailchimp study found that subject lines with a length of 28 to 39 characters had the highest click rate. It’s […]

  38. […] all of the testing and re-testing of subject lines, it appears that subject line perfection remains a mystery to the masses. Let’s see if we can unveil the secrets behind the best subject […]

  39. […] more tips for crafting compelling subject lines? Check out this infographic from the masters of customer conversion at […]

  40. […] Perfect Subject Line | Unbounce […]

  41. […] it short and sweet. Don’t exceed more than 50 characters. MailChimp found that the most successful subject lines were between 28-39 […]