Email Marketing: Characteristics of Effective Subject Lines

If you read last week’s post, you know the importance of email marketing as part of your overall marketing strategy. But how do you write emails that will get opened?

A great subject line is the first step to grabbing your subscribers’ interest and getting your email opened. Subject lines are the number one determinant of email open rates.

When dozens of messages flood your inbox every day, there just isn’t enough time in the day to read them all. If you’re like me, a quick scan is all it takes to decide whether each email will be opened or ignored.

Today, we’re going to look at characteristics of effective subject lines.

Characteristics of Effective Subject Lines

Strong subject lines are:


It is tempting to cram a ton of information and key words into the subject line of your email. Resist the urge to ramble on and instead, keep it short and sweet.

If your subject lines are 10 or 15 words long your open rates will plummet. They’ll not only cause the recipient to lose interest, your words may get cut off!

A quick look in my own inbox shows me a perfect example of a subject line that’s too long:

Clearance & Closeout. Up to 50% off. These deals set the bar high + your 20% off is…

That’s almost a paragraph!

Which brings us to the next characteristics of strong subject lines…


Another problem with the example above is that it is trying to accomplish too much. Remember that old adage that when you highlight everything you’ve highlighted nothing? The same rule applies here.

Don’t try to squeeze three or four benefits or messages into a single subject line. Stick to one message in your subject line. The body of your email may promote an upcoming event and also mention a free download that’s available – your subject line should concentrate only on the initiative at hand, not every offer your company currently has available.


Give your subscribers an incentive to open the email. Emails that will help the reader solve a problem or achieve a goal, or that contain a great offer too good to pass up are great motivators to get the email opened – your subject line will set the tone.

A few quick tips for writing motivating subject lines:

  • Avoid subject lines that are vague. Generic gets stale quickly. Weekly  Update from X Company. There’s nothing about that sentence that makes me want to read further.
  • Be motivating, not pushy. Subject lines that sound like they just want money are a quick way to get your message disregarded altogether.
  • Include a trigger event or deadline. Create a sense of urgency.

Here’s a quick test to test the effectiveness of your subject line: Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes – would you open it if you were them? If the answer is no, you haven’t found the best subject line yet.


There is a perception that good writing needs to be clever in order to generate interest. The truth is, if you’re trying too hard to be mysterious or cute, you may ultimately end up confusing your subscribers rather than generating curiosity.

A clear, well-written subject line is more likely to get opened. Why bother to open an email when it isn’t even clear what the email is about? The recipient is probably just going to move on.

TIP: The best subject lines have an originality about them. In other words, they’re not the same boring subject lines you see in every other email. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative while keeping your message clear and focused.

How should you get started writing strong subject lines for your emails? When crafting your subject line, don’t just  go with the first one that comes to mind. Brainstorm a long list of ideas – fill up a whole page. Then narrow them down by measuring them against these key characteristics.


What strategies work for you when crafting subject lines?

Next week, we’ll get to the meat of your email marketing – the body. Check back next week for tips on writing persuasive marketing emails.

If you need strong subject lines to improve your email open rates, contact me today to see how I can help!

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