Crafting the Perfect Subject Line

Bryan GudmundsonEmail Marketing IdeasLeave a Comment

On average, people get around 90 emails: Every. Single. Day. With most of us suffering from chronic email-overload, it can be difficult to make your content stand out in an overflowing inbox.

In this week’s article, we’ll be discussing the three primary components of an email subject line: Content, Characters, and Strategy. Using these strategies will enhance your customer experience and increase your open rates.


If you’re not already personalizing your subject lines, you’re missing a big opportunity. While every ESP (Email Service Provider) has its limitations, implementing the following strategies can enhance the customer experience increase interest in your messaging.

Address Your Customers by Name

Including your customer’s name in the subject line is sure to draw attention. People are hard-wired to recognize their own name in a page of text, in the same way they can quickly identify the make model of their car on the highway.

Dynamically inserting your customer’s name also suggests a pre-existing relationship. If you have their name, then it’s likely they’ve interacted with your brand before and are interested in what you have to say.

Where In The World Are Your Customers?

Catch your customers’ attention by aligning your subject line with their location. Whether it’s regionally-specific products or simply a reference to their locale, personalizing subject lines based on geo-location gives the impression that you “get” your customers and understand where they live.

Change with the Seasons

As seasons change, so should your subject lines. Stay relevant. Take advantage of seasonal details that can creatively convey your message. Assist shoppers as they gear up for certain weather. Remind them of holidays relevant to their country.  These seasonal messages will make your emails stand out in a stagnant inbox.

For more seasonal marketing ideas, be sure to check out UpSellit’s Seasonal Marketing Guide: Spring

Mirror Shopping Behavior

Subject lines should reflect the reason for the message.

If you want a customer to return and complete a purchase, let them know why they should come back (incentive, low stock, etc). You can also mention a product that was in their cart, jogging their memory, and making it easier to return and purchase.

Also, don’t forget about keeping previous customers engaged. If they have previously purchased an item, sending a follow-up email not only keeps you in touch with your customers, it helps generate product reviews.

Employ a Strategy in Your Subject Lines

A subject line may be short, but it should utilize a strategy to get the email opened. With only so much information displayed to the user, make sure what’s visible is enticing.

Be Direct

Use the subject line to tell the customer what you want from them. Clearly state the goal in the subject line.  Are you offering a discount? Are you reminding them of their abandoned cart? The more direct you are, the easier it will be for the shopper to navigate back to your site. Engage the user with a clear call to action. The email body should deliver the goal you stated, whether it is a link to their discount or back to your page.

Get the Best of Your Customer’s Curiosity

Ask a question. The best questions elicit a need to open the email to get the answer. By sparking curiosity in the customer, you keep your brand top of mind. They will be more motivated to open the email and return to your site.

Create Urgency (Without Saying “Urgent!”)

The email subject line should excite the customer. Create a sense of urgency that compels the user to open the email.  Urgency can be conveyed without a demanding tone. Try including an offer’s actual expiration date. Alternatively, utilize time-sensitive language; let the customer know their cart is expiring soon or that the discount is a limited time offer.  “Don’t miss out” is a great example of creating urgency, while also invoking FOMO (fear of missing out) in the shopper- a perfect mix for a successful conversion.

The Exclusivity Factor

Appeal to your customer’s emotions by suggesting exclusivity. People love exclusivity. Exclusivity elicits desire. Basic economics tells us that as supply decreases, demand increases. With that small supply, the value is very high.  There is power in a limited offer and what feels like VIP access. A “Just for you” subject line can be sent out to thousands of people, but can make those people feel individually rewarded by your company.

Use the Right Characters

With content in mind and strategy in place, there’s just one thing left: characters. Following “netiquette” is a must because offenders will be sent to the spam folder.

Keep It Short And Mobile Friendly

Your subject line length should be short. Keep in mind that users are not only checking their email from desktops but from mobile devices, as well.  The vast majority of Gmail users access their email through a mobile device. Keep your subject line short and accessible for every user.

Special Characters

An email subject line should be easy on the eyes. Special characters are generally advised against, so avoid using symbols to replace actual letters. Also, avoid white space between letters. You want your subject line to be easily read.

The Caps Lock Debate

If you use all capital letters in an email subject line, expect backlash. Most people read all-caps as shouting. While some companies like NastyGal have turned this on its head, this is an exception, not a rule.

Ultimately, capitalization must align with a brand’s identity. For some companies, it might be very successful. But before you press that caps lock key, just remember: tread cautiously.

An Emoji is Worth 1000 Words

Emoji can be a great way to stand out in a flooded inbox. However, while using one or two can increase open rates, using more generally results in diminishing returns. A subject line with 5 emoji can easily cross the line from “fun” to “spammy.”

In the end, every brand is different. Emoji are playful by nature, so don’t be afraid to get creative with them. Understand who the email is being sent to. Know when to adapt your tone for the recipient: humor is great, but not always appropriate. With emoji, knowing your audience is key. A/B test subject lines so you can measure the subject line’s success.

Content, Strategy and Characters

With these primary components in mind, your email subject lines have a formula for success. Test different variables of each component and see what works for your brand identity.

Email subject lines have to be compelling. You don’t want the user to shy away from your message simply because you didn’t grab their attention with the subject line. You want to be creative, but focused. Don’t get lost in your experimental touch and forego the most important element of a great subject line: relevance.

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