Email Subject Lines: First Impressions Matter

Written by: Phillip Nones

Unlike a postal mailer, where eye-catching graphics and copy engages the reader from the start, e-mail content resides behind a “checkpoint” – the From and Subject lines.

Research shows that more than one-third of e-mail campaign recipients decide whether to open an e-mail based solely on what the subject line says.  So, when crafting the all-important subject line, it’s good to keep a few key points in mind:

Characters count – When it comes to subject line length, up to 35 characters (including punctuation and spaces) seems to be the sweet spot.  Also, 35 characters is generally the maximum number of characters you can feature without the subject line getting cut off on a mobile device.

Open rates tend to be better on e-mails with shorter subject lines, too.  One recent study showed an 18.5% open rate on e-mails when subject lines were shorter than 20 characters, versus a 13.8% open rate with lines that were longer.  Clickthrough activity and other engagement behaviors were also better for e-mails that had a shorter subject line length.

Message type matters – Triggered e-mails such as “welcome” or “abandoned cart” messages do better when they have shorter subject lines.

Industry category – If you’re in the B-to-B or consumer services world, somewhat longer subject lines work better than if you’re a retailer or wholesaler.

Personalization may help – Studies show that e-mail messages containing certain types of personalization can boost engagement.  However, it isn’t personalization by recipient name but rather by a status factor, such as an abandoned shopping cart alert or the pending expiration of loyalty program points, that drives better response.  If you think that putting the recipient’s name in the subject line is going to move the needle, you’re probably going to be disappointed.


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