The Subject Line Tells All

Lynda Starr

According to market research firm The Radicati Group, a business person sent and received, on average, 112 emails a day, in 2015, and this trend is expected to grow to 129 emails a day by 2019.  Moreover, while technologies such as social networking, instant messaging (IM), mobile IM, and others are taking hold, email remains the most pervasive and ubiquitous form of communication in the business world.

How can we give our email messages a chance to rise above the growing tide of emails? The short answer, to paraphrase The Shoop Shoop Song; it’s in the Subject Line. This blog will offer tips on how to write subject lines that will increase the open rate of your emails.


The subject line is the most important part of your email; consequently, it should be given the respect it deserves. Write the subject line first to highlight the main objective of the email while piquing interest.  Keep in mind your audience and what you can do for them.   A typical subject line should be roughly eight-to-ten words with the most important words first. As people use mobile devices with small screens to read email, they may only see the beginning if words are cut off.  With under-10 words to use, each one is critically important and should not be wasted.   It is useful to guide the reader with words such as FYI, Response required, Due August 15, etc. Avoid any words that the email service would pick up as SPAM such as BUY NOW, FREE, or ACT NOW and moreover, do not use all capital letters.

Some appropriate email subject lines include:

  • Need your report feedback for 9/8 meeting (Action-oriented)
  • Register Now: Best Datacenter Webinar (Action-oriented)
  • Sales Directors: Need Your Reports for Monday (Action-oriented)
  • Ready for some Fun?—Annual BBQ August 23 (Action-oriented)
  • Application Delivery and Security Webinar:  Early Registration ends 9/30
  • You’re Invited: Company Anniversary Party
  • 2Q expense reports due Aug 31 (Action-oriented)

It is useful to test the subject line with a subset of the full recipient list if doing a large email blast.  Take two of your possible subject lines and your email message and send half the test group one and half, the other.  Keep track of the number sent to each and the response and open rates for each one.

On a related topic, you may want to change your email “from” name based on the email. Internal emails can use your first name and last name while emails sent in email blast or as part of a warm or cold “call,” should include your company name and may not need your name at all, depending on how recognizable your name is to the recipients.

Writing a good subject line is a balancing act. On the one hand, you need to be concise and leave out unnecessary words; on the other hand, you need to avoid being vague so that the reader can quickly identify why the email would be of interest.

With time, practice and evaluation of results, everyone can become a great subject line writer, which leads to better open and response rates.

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