Which email subject lines work the best?

Posted under Email

First impressions count – never more so than in the email subject lines of your email marketing.

We all receive more emails a day than we can sometimes cope with. The personal ones are fine, we happily accept them and take time to open, read them and respond. In these cases, subject lines – in all their abbreviated and nondescript guises – actually don’t really matter to us.

However, time is precious and the continual streams of email marketing bulletins squeezing into your crammed Inbox means they really have to stand out to have any hope of catching your eye and being opened.

email subject lines means the difference in being opened and deleted

So this is where first impressions really count and the subject line has to do its job.

Here are five random emails that landed in my Inbox today:

‘Website Design and Development’ –  far too general, no idea what it’s going to be about, doesn’t grab my attention, haven’t got time to find out – delete

‘Catastrophic event causes death of…..’  – had to open this one to find out more, it’s a regional news publication (the media is slowly starting to understand the power of e-news to draw in readers) – open

‘Tour de France VIP giveaways’ – says what it is on the tin, I’ve bought cycling tickets before so this is relevant and makes me feel a bit special with VIP offer – open

‘Beat the rush this summer’ – no idea what I’m trying to beat – the rush to the airport? to the coast? to the supermarket for BBQ stock? – it was actually from an office supplier selling cooling fans! – delete

‘Dawn, here’s $50 to sponsor…..’ – not a chance, I’m annoyed because they’ve got my name yet I’ve never contacted them and I know for a fact I won’t be getting anything for free so why say so! It just makes me angry – delete

My reactions here will be the same as most people. And that’s why we need to think about our audience when we come to write a subject line.

With reference to our blog on how to make sure your emails get opened, keep to the 35-50 character rule and steer clear of using words that are picked up as spam on some of your recipients’ email servers, now you are ready to start being creative and set a wow email subject line.


  • Keep it simple, to the point, and give the reader a reason to want to explore further.
  • Simple means no complicated punctuation to clutter and confuse the message.
  • Don’t use capitals – some email servers will treat this as junk and it actually looks as though you are trying to shout at someone to get their attention!
  • Personalise a message – over familiarisation can turn people off who don’t know your brand (my example above) but when you have built up some loyalty, this is a nice touch but it must be followed through with personal content in the main email too.
  • Be honest and open. Don’t lead readers on with teasing subject lines that promise so much but never deliver in the content.
  • Mix up email subjects with varying content and offers – don’t keep using the same lines, readers will get bored.

The best advice is to put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Like me, you receive many emails a day. Use your own judgement first of all and then apply that to your target audience and what you understand of their decision-making and buying choices.

And if you want some more thoughts on the subject, check out Mailchimp which has recently completed its second survey on this subject, analysing open rates for over 200 million emails.

Dawn Strange

Dawn has been with MM since the year dot – well, technically, six months after it was born! That was back in March 1995. She was the first recruit and can honestly say she’s loved the journey to where we are today – and where we’re heading!

Along with Karen, she runs MM, keeping it on track at the same time as exploring new business opportunities and pitching in on business development.

Her passion is content, in its multiple guises. Having jumped out of journalism into the agency world she’s got a real thing about matching right content with the right audience, whether it’s 10 words of ad copy or a 2,000-word thought leadership piece.