The 7 Dos (And 5 Don’ts) of Email Subject Lines

Spoiler alert: there's no silver bullet for subject lines.

Even email marketing experts like our friends at Litmus have openly admitted that there’s no secret to crafting subject lines that will guarantee you opens and clicks. (I know, I was disappointed too). In fact, they’ll be among the first to tell you that writing subject lines is hard.

The good news? There are a few tips and tricks that these experts have identified that will increase your open rates, and others that they suggest avoiding. Let’s go through a few of these dos and don’ts to get an idea of current email subject line best practices.


1. Reference location. If you’re targeting an email campaign by location, add a personal touch to your subject line by saying something like “Great News for our San Francisco Users.” Including this small detail will add a touch of relevance to your email that it may have lacked before.

2. Use questions. A recent study (summarized in this infographic by Litmus) found that subject lines phrased as questions performed better than similar subject lines that were phrased as statements.

3. Be Brief. Longer subject lines tend to perform worse than shorter ones. Prevailing opinions suggest keeping your subject line under 50 characters--and keep in mind that in the mobile inbox, only about the first 35 characters of your subject line will be visible.

4. Convey a sense of urgency. The shorter the amount of time that recipients have to act, the more compelled they will feel to do so.

5. Make sure it’s clear who your email is from. You don’t want your email recipients to be confused when your email shows up in their inbox. If necessary, use a consistent identifier (for example, including your company or product name in brackets at the beginning of your subject line).

6. Be specific. When people read your subject lines, it should be obvious what your message is and why it’s relevant to them. Leaving your recipients guessing can cause frustration and lead them to ignore or delete your email.

7. Include a call to action. Sometimes, it’s helpful to clearly inform readers what their next step should be. Otherwise, their eyes will just skim right over your email subject line without understanding that an action is required on their part.


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1. Use special characters (%, #, *, etc) in your subject lines. These may increase the probability of your email being opened, but they have not been shown to increase clicks. (Note: This is different from using symbols in your subject lines).

2. Include numbers. While numbers can often increase engagement levels and pique interest, they can also put your email in danger of sounding like another one of those “special offers” floating around in cyberspace.

3. Use all capital letters. There’s really no need to shout your message at your email recipients. Trust us, they get it.

4. Include first names or personalization in subject lines. In a study conducted by MailerMailer last year, click-through rates and open rates were both negatively impacted by personalized subject lines.

5. Always send out emails asking for help. The fear of being scammed has made many consumers wary of emails that always ask for help or assistance.

Check out our Best of the Email Swipe File for examples of stellar email templates and subject lines from some of the top brands in the world.

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