How to Write the Perfect Email Subject Line [Infographic]

Let’s start off with one of the things everyone wants to know: The dos 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 121 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 (craploads of it). 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 dumped right away?

Easy, you write a perfect email subject line.

Sure, it’s that easy. (Keep reading!)

How you actually write an effective subject line

Writing an effective subject line is one of the hardest parts of email marketing. The infographic from Litmus explores 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, mind you: just to highlight the occasional word)
  • The word FREE (debatable, don’t sound like spam)
  • An exclamation point!

2. Use geo-location to increase personalization. Collecting and using geolocation info can improve open rates by being personal and relevant.

3. Frame your subject line as a question. Target the question at the types of problems your customers/leads need answers

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.

5. Don’t use the following chintzy tactics:

  • Symbols and special characters: they might get people opening them out of curiosity, but they make you look cheap.
  • Don’t use FW: in your subject to imply it’s come from a trusted source. That’s shitty marketing.
  • 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 actually 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 your 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.
how to write the perfect email subject line
Infographic by Litmus.com – Click for full-size version.

Then make sure you’ve got a killer landing page…

Sure, it all starts with the perfect email subject line.

But let’s say you’ve followed all my advice and you’ve kicked your open rates into high gear. That still doesn’t guarantee a conversion.

So what’s next?

To accomplish that goal, you’ll want two more things:

  1. Amazing content that your subscribers will actually look forward to reading whenever you appear in their inbox. This will encourage them to click the email’s call to action and visit your web properties. (Read this incredible article by our friend Chris Hexton for some big ideas on this topic.)
  2. A tailored landing page that keeps the conversation going and further boosts your conversion rates. This is how you close that gap between the inbox and your website and prevent people from falling through.

Make sure your landing page is fast and mobile-responsive too because a lot of people check their emails on their phone.

You should also run a/b tests on your landing pages, your emails, and your subject lines to ensure you’re always hitting the right pressure points. These things all work together to ensure your success.

That’s it.

Like creating an effective subject line, it’s easy to get started but hard to perfect. If you have any other tips or ideas that you found to work to boost your open rates, please share them with the class in the comments below.

Landing Pages for Email Marketing
About Oli Gardner
Unbounce co-founder Oli Gardner has seen more landing pages than anyone on the planet. He’s obsessed with identifying and reversing bad marketing practices, and his disdain for marketers who send campaign traffic to their homepage is legendary, resulting in landing page rants that can peel paint off an unpainted wall. A prolific international keynote speaker, Oli is on a mission to rid the world of marketing mediocrity by using data-informed copywriting, design, interaction, and psychology to create a more delightful experience for marketers and customers alike. He was recently named the "The 2018 Marketer to Watch," in the under 46 category, by his mother.
» More blog posts by Oli Gardner

Comments:

  1. Web Design Firm

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

    Reply
    • TechieTami

      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

      Reply
    • Rank Watch

      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.

      Reply
    • Sam O'neal

      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.

      Reply
    • Seo

      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

      Reply
  2. Michael Chazin

    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.

    Reply
    • Oli Gardner

      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.

      Reply
  3. Michael Chazin

    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?

    Reply
  4. Frederik

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

    Reply
  5. Jeanne Heydecker

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

    Reply
  6. Friday Catch-Up: Most Interseting News And Posts About Online Marketing and SEO This Week Promodo Blog

    […] 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. […]

    Reply
  7. Angie Schottmuller (@aschottmuller)

    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. =)

    Reply
    • Oli Gardner

      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

      Reply
  8. Marketing Day: January 25, 2013

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

    Reply
  9. Bill Sebald

    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.

    Reply
  10. Lauren from Powered By Search

    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.

    Reply
  11. Catherine Kolkoski

    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…

    Reply
  12. Joe Watson

    Is it possible to download a readable version of the infographic

    Reply
    • Oli Gardner

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

      Reply
  13. Recommended Reading 02/12/2013 | dsd2mail.com

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

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  14. Ryan Key

    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

    Reply
  15. Locksmiths Dublin

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

    Reply
  16. JMan

    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

    Reply
  17. E-Mail Writing 101: Simple Rules to Remember | Knavish Kirby Keith

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  18. Say it right in 39 letters or less. | Brand Central Station

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  19. Piotr Stankiewicz

    Great piece of information Oli… Thank you!

    Reply
  20. Strategic Advisor Resources April with 169 links

    […] 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/ […]

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  21.   The Anatomy of the Perfect Subject Line by Getentrepreneurial.com

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  22. Stacey

    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!)

    Reply
    • Gary

      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

      Reply
  23. Can your team make email better? | Big Blue Communications

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  27. 10 Tips to Mastering the Subject Line | Cisionblog

    […] 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 […]

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    Great subject, any prediction for 2015-2016? Bye!

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  43. Rafael

    Hi, that subject lines are exactly the opposite what I know as good practices… it totally look like a spam email. I would delete it. Sorry, but need to share my professional opinion.

    Reply
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