5 Email Subject Line Best Practices To Improve Your Open Rates (And Why They Work)

When aiming to get the attention of a customer, you’re competing not only with countless other brands, but with your subscribers’ entire email inbox, full of notes from family, pleas for petition signatures, and seemingly endless promotions for a free gift with purchase. 

Once Q4 begins, it might feel like all bets are off for marketers! Although there is no surefire way to guarantee they’ll open (or then click) on your email, you can increase the chances. 

Calling all email marketers: read on for a handful of email subject lines best practices to create effective email subject lines and achieve higher open rates, and some actual examples to put into action.

1. Test, test, test. Then test again.

Use A/B testing to learn what works best for your customers. After a few rounds, it’ll start to be clear what gets your email open rates to peak. Look at timing, character count, emoji use, and framing. Be sure to stay on brand to stand out (who can be you better than you?), and stick with what’s successful, but continue to experiment with different subject lines for your email marketing campaigns. 

Play with your email subject line and preview text in your a/b tests as well .  You want to catch the eye immediately (thanks, emojis) then hook ’em in enough to open, click, and convert.

Test out 2-3 completely different styles of email subject lines so you’ll have a clear winner after each round. Try asking a question in one, teasing out the content inside with an exclamation point the email in another, being straight to the point in a third, or integrating a personalized subject line when it makes sense. 

Once the campaign is finished, you’ll be able to see which attempt led to the highest open rate and click through, and then use that as a starting point for your next campaign— and your next test.

2. Keep it short and sweet.

There’s limited real estate in the inbox, and a limited attention span in your email recipients. Keep your email subject lines concise and to the point, and maybe even a little cheeky, if that’s in your brand voice. 

Skip any unnecessary words, and think mobile device first— that means keeping your character count below 50. Distill down why someone would care to open this email, and focus on that. Can you replace a few words with an emoji? 

A few examples of short and catchy email subject lines are: 

“This ships free!”, “You need more sleep”, or “Should you buy expensive skin care?” With these, it’s clear what the pay-off will be.

3. Strong language is encouraged. 

No, not that kind! Use enticing, brief wording that evokes an emotional response, a sense of urgency, or even just piques curiosity. That said, the last place you want to be is the spam folder, so avoid any spammy trigger words. This is your one shot to catch reader’s attention, but make sure the email subject line matches the email content, or email subscribers may unsubscribe if you aren’t delivering on the promise of your subject line.

Some of the best email subject line examples like “AI robots wrote this email”, “This is what they eat in prison”, or “Stop wasting time on mindless work” are catchy, evoke a bit of FOMO and intrigue, and are likely to get a quick open. 

This strategy can work well for follow-up emails as well, especially if it’s connected to an exclusive offer for subscribers or a last minute sale.  In those cases, you can even add emphasis using brackets or all-caps (sparingly!) around the headline. For example, [50% OFF] or [NEW VIDEO!] gives a good punch.

4. Segment your list.

The way to convert a brand new customer is different than how you’d retain a long time fan. Make sure the right content goes to the right person by using segmentation to split your subscriber list into several groups and personalizing emails accordingly — email marketing software such as Mailchimp or Omnisend can help with this.

Use purchase behavior data to strategically speak to each group to achieve your primary goal, whether that’s upping the click through rate or focusing more directly on conversion rates. For a new customer, you’re starting from scratch, and also want to introduce yourself. 

In a welcome flow automation, using language like “welcome”, “you made a good choice”, or even a simple “thank you” in your template starts off on a warm note, and maintain that tone in the body of the email and follow-up emails. 

To win back an older customer, you may need to be more explicit and personalized. Approaches like “We didn’t forget about you” or “will 25% get you back?” could both be beneficial for customer retention, depending on that customer’s behavior.

5. Be at the right place, at the right time.

It matters when your emails are sent. Is the content time-sensitive, or surrounding a topical event or limited time offer? If you’re aiming for the customer to replenish an order, when they get that reminder is a crucial moment. 

Once again, use your email list’s customer data and their consumption habits to contact them at the right time to increase chances of conversion and engagement. This is another opportunity to test, test, test. If you’re just starting off, send an email campaign at 2-3 different times of the day, or days of the week, until you see a positive trend towards a sweet spot. You may find that promotional emails do well on Tuesday mornings (Monday catch-up is over, now it’s shopping time), but editorial-focus content is a slam dunk on Friday afternoons (bored at work!). 

If your email is more topical or urgent and you don’t have the time to wait a week or test over several days, use historical data to make the most informed choice for your audience within the short time frame available. Use email automations to programmatically test out send times to expedite your data collection. 

When it comes to email marketing and great subject lines, the optimization game never ends. The takeaway is simple: be sure to continue testing your e-commerce and marketing strategies as you reach your goals, as customer behavior and consumer digital marketing trends will continue to evolve as your business grows. Come on — your email list is waiting for you!

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