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10 Tips for Clickable Email Subject Lines

Image by Adam Solomon via Unsplash

The subject line: A few simple words that introduce your email. It's easy enough, right?

Not exactly. Those who work in email marketing know the value of an effective subject line is not to be taken lightly.

It's the first point of contact you have with your audience, so it better be interesting. That's because, according to MailChimp, nearly 80 percent of marketing emails go unopened.

And a poorly-devised subject line that lands your email in the spam folder doesn't even give your recipient a chance to consider opening it.

It goes without saying that unopened and unseen emails don't lead to conversions, so it's clear that the first point of contact with your audience is of utmost importance.

Let's take a look at some strategies and key points to keep in mind when crafting your email marketing subject lines.

1. Put it to the Test

The best way to find out what's effective is to test it yourself.

If you're working with MailChimp, you can A/B test alternate subject lines by sending each to a small sample of your mailing list to see which performs better.

Once you've determined which version has a higher open-rate, you can blast it out to the remainder of your list.

Check out the tutorial below from Media Leaders for more information on A/B testing in MailChimp.

2. Get a Second Opinion

Before testing your subject line in your email marketing platform, it's probably a good idea to weed out any bad (like, really bad) ideas from the start.

For this, there's a great website called that will rate your subject line on a score of 1-100.

The tool takes a number of factors into consideration, such as use of "you" or "your," creating a sense of urgency and length.

So run your next subject lines through and see what you find.

3. Be Careful What You Say

Don't put your foot in your mouth in that email subject line

This exhaustive list from lays out 455 (yep, 455) words and phrases known to trigger email spam filters.

These "red flags" should be avoided at all costs.

Just for fun, here's one example for each letter of the alphabet (except for "K" and "Z," there aren't any for those letters 😒):

  • Act now

  • Bargain

  • Cash bonus

  • Discount

  • Earn extra cash

  • Financial freedom

  • Get it now

  • Hidden charges

  • Income from home

  • Join millions

  • Lowest price

  • Meet singles

  • No catch

  • Once in a lifetime

  • Prize

  • Quote

  • Risk free

  • Satisfaction guaranteed

  • Take action

  • Unlimited

  • Vacation offers

  • Weekend getaway

  • Xanax

  • You are a winner!

4. Be Short, Be Sweet

The "perfect" subject line length is a much-discussed topic among email marketers.

Experts in recent years have analyzed countless emails in an attempt to identify the sweet spot, but their findings vary a bit.

A quick look around online turns up several recommendations for character counts in various ranges between 50-70 characters.

But as mobile increasingly becomes the preferred device for digital media consumption, we say it pays to be even shorter than that.

That's because email inboxes cut off subject lines at far fewer characters than on desktop or laptop.

It can be tricky, but we recommend shooting for 35 characters or less.

Because which would you rather have: a succinct (yet full) thought, or one that's more detailed but displays incompletely to many (if not most) recipients?

If your answer is the former, less is more when writing your subject line.

5. Get to the Point

When writing your subject line—cut to the chase already!

This one sounds similar to our previous tip, but it's actually different.

Knowing that an effective subject line requires brevity, that doesn't leave much room to dance around the point with cutesy language or wordplay.

And that's a good thing. Because when writing copy, it's far more effective to be direct and to-the-point than clever and whimsical.

"Great copywriters know that cleverness too often leads directly to audience confusion," Sonia Simone, chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, writes for Copyblogger.

In some cases, a clever subject line that intrigues your reader to open your message might work.

But more often than not, your best bet is to tell them exactly why they should open your email. If they're interested in what you have to offer, they will.

So don't overthink things by trying to come up with a clever subject line.

6. Make Use of Lists

People like lists (in case you didn't notice, you're reading one right now).

Why is this the case? I'm actually not sure. They... just do. recommends using a numerical list in your subject line to pique your reader's interest.

Maybe it's something like:

  • 4 dishes we bet you haven’t tried… (highlight four exotic dishes at your restaurant and then mention they're on special this weekend)

  • The 5 top-selling dresses this week (put your most popular items front-and-center)

  • 10 reasons you deserve a vacation (this one's a little different; maybe you're focusing on one specific offer, like 15% off all hotel and airline purchases; but why not make a humorous list about why your reader deserves to get away [e.g. "you hosted your in-laws for the past month" or "it's hard to get a tan in Chicago in February"]?

7. Add a Human Touch

A touch of humanity goes a long way in marketing.

That's why HubSpot suggests using a real person's name in your email's "sent from" section.

And it makes sense. In a sea of promotional messages in my inbox, I always find it refreshing to see a real person's name. It really is more inviting.

"Nicole with LTS Chi." in the email sender name, as opposed to simply "LTS Chicago,"

makes it feel as if you're hearing from an actual human being

HubSpot also points out that you should never (NEVER!) use a "no reply" email. Talk about inhuman.

If your recipient is indifferent to your regular marketing email, they're likely revulsed by your "no reply" version.

8. Can I Ask You Something?

The use of a question is always a great way to invoke your audience's curiosity.

It's conversational, and it gets your reader thinking about everyone's own favorite person—themselves.

Below are some examples of question-driven subject lines for a variety of offers from businesses:

  • What are you doing this weekend? (Get 25% off when you bowl 2 or more games)

  • Need to get away? (Reduced fares to select cities)

  • Hungry? Why not bring a friend? (Get 50% off a second meal when you buy one)

Notice how each subject line gets readers thinking about themselves?

"What are you doing this weekend?" "Actually, I'm not sure. Why?! Do you have any bright ideas?"

This approach could have the potential to be more interesting than simply launching into your offer in the subject line.

9. Timing is Everything

OK, this one doesn't directly apply to subject lines. But if you want your all-star subject line to perform well, timing is everything. published a great article that summarizes analyses from multiple experts on the most effective times to send emails.

Day of the week

One analysis found that Tuesday and Thursday have the highest open-rates. Another one revealed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to be most effective.

Overall, the amount of opens varied only slightly throughout the work week.

What seems to be the more important finding is that opens decrease significantly on Saturday and Sunday.

Time of day

As for the time of day, experts found emails sent at either 10 or 11 a.m. in the recipient's local time zone are opened most often.

Keep in mind, as the author points out in his post, there's no one-size-fits-all approach.

While these analyses provide a valuable overview of best-practices, ultimately it's up to you to test what has the greatest effect on your open-rates.

10. Show Your Emojis 😁

Emojis are a great way to capture your audience's attention in your subject line.

It seems as if nearly everyone uses them in their own personal messages these days. Putting emojis in your subject line can be a great way to avoid sounding too dry and business-y.

So 🐝 sure to 🌶⬆️ your next 📩 with an emoji or two!

Groupon likes to make use of emojis in its email subject lines from time-to-time

Put these best practices to work and you should be seeing great results in no time.

And if things aren't quite to your liking, just remember Rule No. 1—test, test, test and test again.

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