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How to Create Subject Lines that Get Emails Opened

With all the work that goes in to creating the perfect email, it’s hard to believe that the effectiveness of your campaign can often come down to a few words in an email subject line. A study conducted by Chadwick Martin Bailey and Constant Contact found that 47% of consumers make their decision about whether or not to open emails from business or nonprofits based on the content of the subject line.

That’s nearly half of your customers, clients, supporters, or volunteers who will choose to either open or trash your email based on the subject line alone. It’s a challenge facing all businesses and organizations, but it isn’t one you need to tackle alone. Here are 5 tips to help you create subject lines that get your emails opened.

Keep it short.

When it comes to your subject line, you have only a few seconds to capture their attention. It’s no surprise then that subject lines with less than 50 characters have open rates 12.5% higher than those with 50 or more, and click-through rates are 75% higher. Keep in mind the typical inbox preview pane will only show 30 to 40 characters (the typical mobile device shows around 15 characters). If possible, shoot for 25 to 40 characters or 5 to 8 words.

1. Be explicit.

Before sending your newsletter, stop and ask yourself: What action do I want the recipient to take? That action won’t always be one that has an immediate impact on your business (buy now!) but it should be the first step in some path toward driving real results from your email marketing. Keep in mind your subject line will be the first impression you’re email has on your reader—making it your first call-to-action will improve the likelihood of that action being taken.

2. Share your expertise

Many of your customers signed up for your newsletter because they want your expertise. So don’t just tell them what you’ve read or what you’ve heard—tell them what you know or think. Start by injecting yourself into the subject line with words like “my” or “our” and end with sharing your expertise. For example, if you own a bakery, you could use one of these subject lines : “Our secret apple pie recipe revealed” or “10 baking tips from our kitchen”.

3. Offer a sense of urgency

Don’t take this as a call to add “ACT NOW!” to every one of your subject lines, but consider using urgency to invigorate your customer base. This is especially true if you’re running a promotion, having a sale, or trying to drive attendance to an upcoming event. In these situations, the difference between using a subject line like: “Our annual end of summer sale is next week” or “Only 5 days until our end of summer sale” can be huge. One tells people you’re having a sale and the other tells people you’re having a sale and they better get ready.

4. Think “socially”

Businesses aren’t the only ones looking for inspiration for content to share on Facebook or ideas for things to tweet about—your customers are, too. If you have a socially-savvy audience, thinking of your subject line as status update on Facebook or a tweet, can improve your emails shareability.

Next time you are creating an email, consider integrating some of these tips, and watch your open rates soar.


Gina Watkins is a leading expert on e-marketing for small business – and has a real passion for helping businesses to succeed. Her ongoing series of dynamic lectures are filled with real-world examples, humor and results-driven wisdom garnered from more than two decades of sales, business development and marketing experience. In addition to owning her own business, she is an award-winning direct marketer, has been featured on WUSA Channel 9’s Mind Over Money show, Dr. Gayle Carson’s Women In Business radio show, Morgan State’s Briefcase Radio program, and in numerous other media. In her role as Constant Contact Regional Development Director, she’s presented to more than ten thousand seminar attendees about the keys to success with easy, affordable, highly effective technology tools that grow trusted business relationships.

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