Image with laptop and text Good Email Subject Line: Boost Your Engagement Now

Today we’re zeroing in on a critical aspect of email marketing: “Improving Open Rates with Good Email Subject Line.” But before we jump right in, let me share a quick story with you.

A few years ago, I was consulting for a startup company that was struggling with its email marketing. 

Despite having a substantial email list, their open rates were dismal, and conversions were practically nonexistent. 

They had quality products and sent out regular newsletters, but their efforts weren’t translating into results. After a closer look, it was clear that the issue lay in the first touchpoint of their email – the subject line

It was generic, vague, and didn’t incentivize the recipient to open the email.

This experience was a turning point for me, and it emphasized the importance of crafting compelling subject lines. 

It’s not just about informing the recipient about the email’s content; it’s about arousing their curiosity, creating a sense of urgency, and making them want to click and open that email.

Now, let’s unravel this further.


I. The Indispensable Role of Relevance: Unpacking the Power of Good Email Subject Line


Black girl reading the email with good email subject line and smiling



In an era where our inboxes are persistently bombarded with a myriad of messages, it’s no secret that standing out in this digital landscape is quite a challenge.

Whether you’re sending a critical business proposal or a compelling marketing message, the first hurdle is getting your recipient to open your email. This is where the importance of a carefully crafted subject line comes into play.

So let’s delve into the concept of relevance in email marketing, particularly focusing on the significance of subject lines.


What’s in a Subject Line?


An email subject line serves as the initial point of contact between you and your audience. It’s akin to a first impression. In a sea of unopened emails, it’s the beacon that can either draw readers in or leave them uninterested, making it a pivotal determinant in the success of your email campaigns.

A captivating subject line can enhance your open rates, making your email marketing efforts more effective and more pertinent to your audience.

With an open rate being the percentage of recipients who open an email from their inbox, it’s clear that a higher open rate translates into more eyes on your content and, subsequently, better chances of achieving your email marketing goals.

The Power of Relevance

Man and woman watching in the laptop and smiling because they got an email with good email subject line


I have a client, a niche online store selling vintage musical instruments. Their customer base was highly specific – musicians and collectors who deeply appreciated retro gear.

Their email campaigns were regular, featuring new arrivals and exclusive deals. However, their open rates were not as high as they had hoped. Digging into the issue, I realized their subject lines were generic and could apply to any music store. They read something like “Check out our new arrivals!” or “Exclusive deals for you!”

These lines weren’t wrong but irrelevant to their specific audience. These musicians weren’t just interested in new arrivals or deals but in vintage guitars, retro synthesizers, and classic drum sets. So, we decided to make the subject lines more relevant.

We began specifying the type of instruments in the subject line, for example, “New Vintage Gibson Guitars Just Landed!” or “Exclusive Deal: 20% off on Fender Rhodes!”

This relevance resonated with the audience, and we immediately saw a significant increase in open rates. It was proof that subject lines, when highly relevant to the reader, can make a massive difference in the success of an email marketing campaign.

Now that we’ve emphasized relevance’s importance, let’s explore how to create compelling, relevant subject lines.

What does it mean for a subject line to be relevant? 

First, it implies a direct connection or applicability to the matter at hand, in this case, the content of your email. An appropriate subject line accurately portrays the email’s content, creating an immediate link between the recipient’s expectations (based on the subject line) and the actual content.

While click-bait headlines might draw a recipient to open the email, it can lead to disappointment and annoyance if the content does not align with the headline. This mismatch can harm your brand’s credibility and decrease future open rates. Hence, keeping the subject line relevant is important, not just catchy.

II. The Heart of Engagement

heard from hands



Engagement in an email context is about creating a connection between your message and the recipient. It’s about making your email not just another message in their inbox but something worth opening and reading. An engaging subject line should tease the content of the email, spark curiosity, and convey the value of opening the email. It’s the hook that reels the reader into your content.

As we continue exploring the intricacies of email marketing, I recall an encounter with a client who ran a successful travel blog.

They had a large email list comprised of travel enthusiasts eager for insights on hidden gems and off-beat travel experiences.

Their subject lines, however, were straightforward and direct, such as “10 Things to Do in Rome” or “Best Eateries in New York.”

Although these were relevant to their audience, engagement was lacking. The open rates were decent but not as high as they could be.

I suggested a new approach to spark more curiosity and engagement.

Instead of plainly stating the content of the email, we tried crafting subject lines that told a mini-story or asked a thought-provoking question.

For instance, “Why Rome’s Best Kept Secrets are Off the Beaten Track” or “New York’s Food Scene: What’s the Buzz About?”

This change immediately caught their readers’ attention. The open rates shot up as subscribers were intrigued to know more.

It was no longer just about the destination but the unique narrative around it that encouraged people to engage.

The subject lines were not just relevant. They were enticing, engaging, and piqued the reader’s curiosity.

With the power of engagement in our subject lines, we saw firsthand how the right wording could turn a standard email into a conversation starter.

To conclude, an engaging subject line should tease the content of the email, spark curiosity, and convey the value of opening the email. It’s the hook that reels the reader into your content.


Elements of Engaging Subject Lines


  1. Intrigue: An engaging subject line should be intriguing. It should pique the reader’s interest and make them want to learn more. For example, a subject line like “Unlock the Secrets of Successful Marketing” is intriguing because it promises valuable information that the reader may not already know.
  2. Value Proposition: Your subject line should also clearly convey the value of opening the email. Why should the reader care about your email? What’s in it for them? A subject line like “Save 30% on Your Next Order” clearly communicates the value proposition to the reader.
  3. Personalization: Including the recipient’s name or other personalized information in the subject line can boost engagement. Personalization makes the email feel more tailored to the reader, which can make them more likely to open it. For example, “John, Don’t Miss Out on These Exclusive Deals” is more likely to grab John’s attention than a generic subject line.


III. Actionable Wisdom: Essential Tips for Crafting Effective Email Subject Lines


Image of laptop and many envelopes that fly around it


Let’s navigate to another chapter of my marketing journey, where I worked with a fast-paced e-commerce startup. They had the relevance and engagement parts well-managed but were struggling with creating actionable subject lines. Their emails were opened, but the click-through rates were lower than expected.

One particular campaign comes to mind – a limited-time sale. The subject line was “Massive Sale on Selected Items,” which was relevant and somewhat engaging. However, it failed to drive the action they desired. The subject line was missing a crucial ingredient: a call to action.

We decided to revamp the subject line, adding a sense of urgency and a clear call to action. We changed it to “Shop Now! Save Big in Our 48-hour Flash Sale.” This slight tweak gave the subscribers a clear indication of what action to take – “Shop Now,” and why they should take it – “Save Big in Our 48-hour Flash Sale.”

Almost instantly, we noticed an increase in click-through rates. The subscribers knew exactly what was expected of them and were eager to make the most of the time-limited offer.

It was a powerful lesson in the importance of actionable subject lines that drive conversions.

As you can see, crafting the perfect subject line is a delicate balancing act.

It should be captivating, communicate the essence of your email, and prompt the recipient to action – all within the confines of a limited character count.

It’s a lot to ask of a single line of text, yet it’s vital to the success of your email marketing campaigns.

So how do you create a subject line that checks all these boxes?

Here are some actionable tips for effective email subject lines:


Keep it Short and Sweet.


In the world of email subject lines, less is often more. With most emails now being opened on mobile devices, which typically display between 35-50 characters of a subject line, brevity is key. In addition, a concise subject line ensures that your entire message is visible to most email clients, improving readability and engagement.

For example, instead of writing, “Check Out Our Latest Collection of Summer Dresses Now Available in Our Online Store,” you could say, “New Summer Dresses – Shop Now!” This shorter version communicates the same message in a more digestible format.


Power up with Action Verbs


Beginning your subject line with an action verb can make it more enticing, creating a sense of momentum that encourages the recipient to click. Action verbs are persuasive; they inspire action and give your subject line a sense of urgency and excitement.

For instance, compare “Our Sale Starts Today” to “Discover Huge Savings Today!” The latter, beginning with the action verb ‘Discover,’ is more engaging and likely to pique the recipient’s interest.


Inject a Sense of Urgency


Creating a sense of urgency in your subject line can give recipients that extra nudge they need to open your email promptly. For example, phrases like “Limited Time Offer,” “Sale Ends Soon,” or “Last Chance” can motivate recipients to take immediate action to avoid missing out.

However, it’s crucial to use this technique judiciously. Overusing urgency-inducing language can lead to fatigue and may decrease effectiveness over time. It’s also essential that the urgency is genuine – misleading your audience will only lead to mistrust and decreased engagement in the long run. Also, some urgency words often are spam words, so use them only when you have something huge to offer


A/B Test Your Subject Lines


Even with these tips, there’s no guaranteed formula for the perfect subject line – what works best can vary widely depending on your audience. This is where A/B testing comes in. By creating two versions of a subject line and sending them to a small portion of your subscribers, you can see which one performs better and use that version for the remainder of your list.


Personalize Where Possible


Personalization can make your emails stand out in a crowded inbox. Including a recipient’s name or other personalized information can increase engagement and open rates. But personalization isn’t limited to just names – you could reference a recent purchase, a relevant event, or even the recipient’s location.

For instance, “John, Your Personalized Summer Savings Are Here!” is more likely to catch John’s attention than a generic subject line.


Avoid Spam Triggers


Lastly, avoid words and phrases that might trigger spam filters, such as “free,” “act now,” “guarantee,” and “no obligation.” Even if your email isn’t spam, including these can increase the chances of it being flagged and ending up in the spam folder.

Crafting a compelling subject line may seem daunting. Still, with these actionable tips, you’re well on your way to capturing attention, driving engagement, and maximizing your email marketing results. Remember, the key is to keep your audience at the center of your strategy, testing, learning, and iterating as you go.

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Leveraging Emotion and Curiosity


Emotions play a critical role in decision-making, including opening an email. A subject line that elicits an emotional response—be it excitement, curiosity, or even mild fear of missing out—can significantly increase your open rates. For example, a subject line like “Unlock your exclusive VIP benefits” can elicit feelings of exclusivity and privilege, making the recipient more likely to open the email.

Curiosity, in particular, is a powerful tool in your subject line arsenal. Subject lines that pique the recipient’s curiosity can be incredibly effective, as people are naturally inclined to seek answers to questions and resolve feelings of uncertainty. For example, “You won’t believe what we’re unveiling today” creates a sense of suspense that can compel recipients to open the email.


Keeping it Relevant and Timely


Relevance and timeliness are also crucial factors in crafting an effective subject line. People are likelier to open emails that align with their interests or needs or relate to current events or trending topics. For instance, if you’re a retailer, your subject lines might reflect the changing seasons, upcoming holidays, or recent fashion trends.

Moreover, if there’s a big event happening in your industry, you can create a subject line that ties into it. For example, a tech company might send an email with the subject line, “Our take on the latest iPhone release,” when a new iPhone is being launched.


Using Numbers and Lists


Numbers and lists can also be effective in email subject lines, as they promise a quick, easy read. They set clear expectations for the reader’s gain from opening the email. For instance, “5 tips for a productive workday” or “3 new features in our latest update” are both compelling because they tell the recipient exactly what they’ll get from reading the email.


IV. The Art of Design in Email Subject Lines

Fingers on laptop and flying envelopes around


When discussing design, our minds typically wander toward tangible, visual elements like logos, websites, and brochures. However, design principles extend beyond these elements and into areas you might not expect, including your email subject lines.

Who would have thought that design principles could be applied to something as text-based as email subject lines, right?

This story takes us to the heart of a marketing agency where I led a team dedicated to email marketing for various clients.

One of these clients was a trendy fashion brand, particularly popular among the younger audience. They were known for their bold and vibrant style, which was clearly reflected in their emails body content.

But there was a disconnect when it came to their subject lines. They were generic, bland, and didn’t match the brand’s energy.

We decided to treat subject lines as a part of the brand’s design language.

For instance, instead of using “New Collection Now Available”, we decided to embrace the brand’s playful identity and opted for

“🔥Hot Drop Alert!🔥 Our New Collection Just Landed 🚀”.

The use of emojis added a visual element to the text-based subject line, making it more appealing and brand-consistent.

The results? Open rates soared, and feedback suggested that subscribers felt the emails aligned more with the brand’s identity.

The subject lines stood out in crowded inboxes, pulling in the recipients’ attention and compelling them to click.

How you structure, format, and visually present your subject lines can greatly impact their effectiveness. Here’s how you can leverage design principles to optimize your subject lines.


Emphasizing Key Points


Using punctuation and capital letters can help emphasize key points in your subject lines. However, like any design element, these need to be used judiciously.

Brackets or parentheses can effectively draw the reader’s eye to important information or unique selling points. For example, a subject line like “Get 20% off all items [Today Only!]” immediately conveys the message’s urgency.

Capital letters can also be used for emphasis, but they should be used sparingly to avoid coming off as shouting or seeming spammy. For instance, “FLASH SALE: 50% off all products” is acceptable, but “GET YOUR DISCOUNT NOW!” may turn recipients off.


Using Emojis for Personality and Emotion


Emojis can add a touch of personality to your subject lines and make them stand out in an inbox. They can express emotions, represent objects or ideas, and even replace words, thereby saving precious character space.

For instance, if you’re running a summer sale, you could use the sun emoji: “☀️ Summer Sale: Get 30% Off Now!” Or, if you’re sending an email around Halloween, you could use a pumpkin emoji to add a festive touch: “🎃 Spook-tacular Halloween Discounts Inside!”

While emojis can make your subject lines more engaging, they aren’t appropriate for every audience or every message. Consider your brand’s voice and audience’s preferences before adding emojis to your subject lines.


Readability and Length


As with all design, readability is critical when crafting your subject lines. Remember that a significant portion of your audience will likely read your emails on mobile devices, typically displaying fewer characters in the subject line. Aim to keep your subject lines under 50 characters to ensure they are fully visible on most devices.

Regarding length, it’s also crucial to front-load your subject lines with the most important information. This way, even if part of the subject line is cut off, your readers will still grasp the main message.


Testing and Optimizing Your Subject Lines


As with any design project, testing your creations is important. A/B testing different subject line formats and styles will allow you to understand what resonates best with your audience. This continual testing and optimization process is essential to refining your approach and improving the effectiveness of your email campaigns over time.

V. Yield: The Key Metrics to Measure the Success of Your Email Subject Lines

Icons for KPIs


The ultimate objective of crafting compelling email subject lines is to yield results. These results can be measured by the actions your subscribers take after receiving your email. However, determining the success of your subject lines isn’t as simple as looking at one single metric, like open rates. You need to consider multiple factors to get a holistic view of your subject line’s performance.

As we round up our journey through the intricacies of email subject lines, we step into the world of numbers and graphs – the exciting realm of yield, where we measure the success of our subject lines.

Let me take you back to my early days in email marketing while working with a small non-profit organization. They sent regular email updates to their subscribers, sharing their activities, achievements, and calls for donations. But they were struggling with low open rates and even lower click-through rates.

We decided to revamp their email strategy, starting with the subject lines. After a few weeks of brainstorming, testing, and implementing new subject lines, we started seeing an improvement. Open rates were gradually increasing, but I wasn’t ready to declare victory just yet.

The real measure of success came when we dug deeper into the data. It wasn’t just about how many people were opening the emails but what they did after that. We started tracking click-through rates and the number of donations made after each email. Here, we saw the real impact of our new subject lines. Click-through rates were up, and more importantly, there was a noticeable increase in the number of donations.

This experience taught me a vital lesson: the success of a subject line isn’t just about getting people to open an email. Instead, it’s about sparking interest, prompting engagement, and ultimately driving action. This is the real yield of an effective subject line – and it’s where the magic of email marketing truly comes alive.

So let’s look deeply at every metrics


Open Rates: The Initial Interaction


Open rates represent the percentage of recipients who open your email out of the total number of emails sent. This is the most immediate metric you can use to measure the success of your subject lines, as it directly reflects whether your subject line was compelling enough to prompt an initial click.

However, while open rates are important, they only tell part of the story. A high open rate means your subject line was enticing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your email content was effective or that your audience took the desired action. That’s why it’s important to look beyond open rates when assessing the success of your subject lines.


Click-Through Rates: Engaging Content


Click-through rates (CTR) track the percentage of email recipients who click on one or more links within an email. This metric is an indicator of how engaging and relevant your email content is after the recipient has opened the email.

In the context of subject lines, a high CTR can suggest that your subject line accurately represents the content of your email. It indicated to recipients that they would find value in your email, and they did, which prompted them to click on your links. Conversely, a low CTR may suggest a disconnect between your subject line and your email content, causing recipients to feel misled and therefore less likely to engage with your content.


Conversion Rates: Driving Action


Conversion rates are perhaps the most important metric when assessing the effectiveness of your subject lines. This metric measures the percentage of email recipients who completed a desired action after clicking on a link in your email, such as making a purchase, filling out a form, or downloading a resource.

A successful subject line should not only entice opens and encourage clicks but ultimately drive conversions. This is the ultimate goal of most email campaigns, as it directly contributes to your bottom line. If your subject lines are leading to high open rates and click-through rates but low conversion rates, it might be time to reassess the alignment between your subject line, email content, and offer.

In conclusion, crafting effective subject lines is part art, part science. It’s about understanding your audience, being creative, making data-driven decisions, and continually testing and refining your approach. Remember, your subject line is your first impression on your email recipients – make it count.

And there you have it! Implement these insights into your email strategy and start noticing an improvement in your open rates.

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