Sending Email? Your Window Is 3 Seconds


Why My Emails Probably Get Opened More Than Yours (and what to do about it)

A “response-able” email subject line gets the recipient itching to open your email, whereas a blah subject line earns you an instant one-way ticket to the trash folder. Here’s a primer on successful email writing for anyone doing business.

Make it Short. Write short, intriguing, and straight to the point email subject lines. The majority of email providers only display 50 characters for subject lines, so anything after the 50th character goes unseen. These characters include letters, numbers, spaces, and punctuation, so it’s important to make the most of them. Ensure they pack a powerful enough punch to get the recipient to open your email to see what the body of the message contains.

Choose Words Carefully. Some words trigger the spam filter, which sends your email straight to the junk folder, where it is usually left unseen. Know what words trigger the spam filter so you can avoid using them in your subject lines so you make sure your email makes it to inboxes. According to Forbes, some of the top words that trigger the spam filter include: Shipping!, Today!, Here!, Available!, and Online! Notice that all of these words have an exclamation point – strongly suggesting that an enticing message does not have to shout. MailChimp also suggests that you avoid Help, Percent Off, and

Learn From What Works. Go through your own email account and look at the emails you have saved in your various folders. Review your trash folder; identify emails you read and ones you deleted without even opening. Take note of the word choices, length of subject lines, or other characteristics that made you take the action you did. Use your own open-or-trash behavior as your subject line quality filter.

State the Benefits. Write subject lines that show readers how they’ll benefit from opening the email. We are all busy and all get bombarded with hundreds of emails and notifications wanting our attention, so it’s common to wonder “What’s in it for me?” when you get an email. Readers want to know upfront what they get out of opening and reading your email. You can also use the email subject line to tell them what you want them to do after reading your email. An example is “Shop now for big savings.” You want them to shop now, and they benefit from doing so by saving money.

Don’t State the Benefits. I’m not necessarily saying to ignore Tip #4, just that it’s not always the way to go. If your subject line can suggest a benefit or sufficiently pique the reader’s curiosity, you might also have a winner. If you consider my above subject line, there is no overt benefit, although it’s certainly implied. I would contend that the edgy attitude and the punchy language (six of the eight words are just one syllable)

Run an A/B Test. Test your subject lines by splitting the email list in half. Create one subject line for the first half of the list (group A) and write a different subject line for the second half of the list (group B). The body of the email is the same for both groups. Monitor the open rates of the two different groups to see if one subject line receives a higher open rate than the other. Why is testing worth the time and effort? “A strong subject line can double the response,” list broker/manager Robert Mendez says. In other words, a 4% response rate can turn into an 8 percent response rate just by using the right subject line.

Be familiar. This really has nothing to do with the subject line, but it is important to keep in mind. According to DoubleClick, 60% of consumers surveyed said it was the FROM line (the sender) that determined whether or not a given email got opened. By contrast, only 30% of consumers said that the subject line was the primary factor. For example, I’ve been sending emails like this one to my prospect list for years. Some of my readers look forward to them. Some read them if they have the time. And some ask to be removed (an option plainly stated in each email). But I always get a few replies telling me that they’ve been getting my emails for years and finally have a project to talk about – always music to my ears. And not just because it means the possibility of a new client – but because it confirms that my own self-marketing strategy remains on target. I am no stranger to their inbox.

Pay off your premise. Cleverness or edginess in your subject line is one thing, but deceptiveness is a definite no-no. The content of your email needs to connect to your subject line in some logical way or else there is a whiff of dishonesty – or worse. People don’t respond well to “bait and switch” at the car dealer or discount appliance store, and they won’t take kindly to it in your emails. Be as enticing as you can with your subject – but don’t promise anything you can’t really deliver.

Personalization. There’s plenty of data indicating subject lines personalized with the recipient’s name have higher open rates. Test it to see if it works for you. Example: “Alan, 50% off site-wide for just 48 hours.”

Verbs. Start subject lines with active verbs to create momentum. Recent emails delivered to my inbox started with: Join, Indulge, Meet, View, Find and Stop.

Are Questions OK? Why should you use questions in your subject lines? Questions are a great way to focus your readers’ attention and pique their curiosity. Questions also feel incomplete on their own, thus motivating readers to open your email in search of an answer. The trick is to ask a question that engages rather than loses your reader. “Heating bill costs going through the roof?” arrived in my inbox (and got opened) because my last bill was weighing heavily on my wallet.

Symbols (code for “spam”?) Several years ago, the use of symbols (★ ☼ ♫ ☆ ♡ ⇒ ☺ ❤) became a hot trend and they’re still being used today. Symbols are a quick way to draw the scanners’ eye, but the rest of the subject line still needs to deliver value or intrigue to get opened.

Special Characters. Vertical bars (e.g ||||||) are an eye-grabbing way to | visually | separate | elements | in subject lines – but “less is more” should be your guideline. [Brackets], {braces}, and +s also link, separate, and/or save character space while catching the eye.

For 23 more tips on how to boost your emails’ open and clickthrough rates, go to

Alan Zoldan is a freelance copywriter based in Wesley Hills. You can reach him on his website at Last year, Alan published his first book, It Was Funny When I Wrote It: 518 of My Funniest Tweets.