Increase your Opening Rates with Effective Email Subject Lines

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To Open Or Not To Open

Email subject lines matter. They matter a lot. A subject line is the first thing your email recipient will see, and they determine whether or not someone opens your email. A good email subject line immediately grabs your attention and tells you why you should open the email. A bad email subject line almost guarantees your email will end up in the trash folder. In this case, your marketing efforts have gone to waste.

Subject lines can also serve as a tool for re-engaging subscribers who have stopped engaging with your brand. Generally speaking, email subject lines should be personal and descriptive, and should evoke the readers’ curiosity and/or create a sense of urgency. Whilst that’s a good starting point, developing an engaging email subject line is not easy, and, unfortunately, there is no exact science to it.

The Structure of Email Subject Lines

Subject lines are made up of two elements: the actual subject line, and the pre-header. They go together like peanut butter and jam. The subject line is the first part, displayed in bold. This is where you can put a catchy and creative message to grab people’s attention. The pre-header follows the subject line, and expands a little more on the email subject.

What The Stats Say: How Powerful Are Email Subject Lines?

Email subject lines are very powerful. In fact, they are so powerful, that 69% of email recipients would report an email as spam because of a subject line. Similarly, a whopping 47% of subscribers decide whether or not to open your email based on the subject line. Your subject line can make it or break it. Who cares how amazing your email content is if subscribers don’t even open the email in the first place?

Check out the infographic below for more statistics:


Size does Matter

The email marketing world has witnessed an ongoing debate about the optimal length of email subject lines, and advocates of ‘the shorter the better’ are winning. In fact, a 2017 report by Yes Lifecycle Marketing found that emails with shorter subject lines, especially those subject lines that have between 1-20 characters, tend to have a higher click rate.

With the move to mobile, shorter subject lines are becoming more and more effective. Whilst a laptop or PC displays 60-70 characters, a mobile screen cuts off subject lines at 20-30 characters. Stick to the motto ‘the shorter, the sweeter.’

Choose Substance over Clickbait

Of course you want people to open your emails. Especially if you put a lot of effort and thought into your email content, and you’re offering a truly amazing bargain. But that doesn’t mean you should trick them into clicking on the email and make promises you cannot keep.

One of the worst practices when it comes to developing an effective email subject line is using clickbait. If people open your email based on your subject line, and don’t find what you promised, you’ll get yourself a bad rep. And that bad rep will stick with your brand. A negative brand image won’t just cost you valuable subscribers, but also valuable customers who may no longer return to your store.

Communicate the benefits and a clear call to action

According to market research, emails with clear and straight forward subject lines result in a 56% higher opening rate. So whilst you might want to be trendy and clever - if the purpose of your email is not clear in the subject line, your attempt to be ‘different’ could backfire.

In the words of MailChimp, email marketing experts: don’t sell what’s inside, tell what’s inside.

Personalisation Is Key

People are more likely to open emails from a sender they are familiar with. Choosing a name that people are familiar with and referencing your past relationship with the recipient makes it more likely they’ll open your email and read it. Personalisation has become a lot easier using email marketing tools. If you are using MailChimp, for example, you can use Merge Tags to refer to people’s names and target each recipient individually in your email subject line.

Creating Effective Subject Lines With MailChimp

There is no one-size-fits-all formula for writing effective email subject lines. But there is a way to find out what kind of subject lines your target audience prefers. And MailChimp can provide you with the right kinds of testing tools.

MailChimp has become one of the most popular email automation tools in the marketing world. The platform offers tools that support you in your email marketing efforts, and allows marketers to measure performance and refine campaigns. For an introduction to MailChimp click here.

Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced MailChimper, testing email subject lines is an important part of creating effective email campaigns. Here are three ways you can use MailChimp to test your email subject lines before sending out your campaigns:

Check Before You Send: The Literal Test

This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many email marketers forget to do this: before sending out an email to your subscriber list, make sure to test it first by sending it to yourself. To make this process easier, you can create a ‘testing list’ that includes your own email addresses and different email providers. Sending out these trial emails allows you to see exactly what your subscribers are going to see. You can check if the entire subject line and pre-header is displayed, whether your email will stand out in a crowded inbox, and how the email appears in each different provider inbox.

Find The Right Words: The Keyword Test

MailChimp has designed a useful tool that can help you decide which keywords might be worth putting in your subject line. To get started, click on the ‘How do I write a good subject line?’ link below the Email Subject field in your campaign. Next, type in keywords that you think are relevant to the content of your email. MailChimp then compiles the data of all emails ever sent through their platform, and how often emails with the specific keyword or phrase have been opened in the past. A rating out of 5 stars then tells you how well the keyword has performed.

Know What Works: The A/B Test

Once you’ve come up with a few different possibilities for your subject lines, you can start testing them on your target audience. A/B testing is a powerful tool that can tell you which of your potential subject lines create the most engagement with your subscribers.

How It Works

In general, there are four things your can test: subject line, content, sending time, and ‘from’ name. Once you’ve selected to test email subject lines, MailChimp lets you create up to three different variations. The three test campaigns should be identical in every aspect, except the subject line. MailChimp will then send out the three versions to a random selection of your recipients. The tool then automatically picks the winning subject line based on a criteria chosen by you, and sends it to the remaining subscribers on your list.

What to test?

When it comes to developing an effective email subject line, there are several things you can test:

  • keywords and phrases: by changing one or two words, you can see which combination resonates best
  • two different value propositions: see which one is more popular with your subscribers - you can do the same with two different offers
  • short and long email subject lines
  • asking a question versus using a definitive statement
  • providing an incentive versus providing a teaser in the subject line: which one gets a higher click rate?
  • including your company name: will recipients feel more inclined to open your email if they know who it is from?

Need help?

Do you want to find out what the most effective email subject lines are for your specific audience? Elkfox supports Shopify store owners in their marketing efforts, and can help you build a stronger online presence through effective email marketing efforts. Contact us to find out more.

* Image via MailChimp