So you’ve prepared a perfect email campaign with a responsive template, graphics that display properly, a design that gets attention, ALTs in place and little technical mistakes eliminated. You put time and effort into getting everything right and it seems to be working just as it should. Now you just give a title and hit “send”, right? Not exactly. Take a look at these stats:

  • 33% of subscribers open messages based only on its subject
  • Just 16% open messages with “FW” in the subject line
  • It goes down to 14% for messages with “newsletter” in the title
  • 69%  of subscribers will label a message as spam without even opening it

You can see that spending a few minutes on preparing an appealing, effective email subject line can pay off in terms of getting more subscribers to open your mail.

Guidelines for making great email subject lines

Read to the end for the short version of the do’s and don’ts of subject lines!

1. Less is more - get to the point

Our research shows that subject lines that contain up to two words get the best results. Look at how the subject line from Littlewoods stands out by being shorter than the others.

In the case of subject lines, less it more. If you’re concerned that you can’t get all the info you need to communicate in just a couple of words, put it in your preheater.


source: FreshMail


Obviously, it’s hard to get every subject line down to two words but experiment and see what works for you. When using longer subjects of 25-70 characters, remember that mobile devices have limited space for display.

54% of subscribers use a smartphone to check their mail. If your reports tell you that mobile devices are especially popular among your subscribers, design your messages with this in mind. Also, refer to past campaigns and use A/B testing to optimise your subject lines.

2. The preheader is your friend

The preheader is the first sentence from your message that email service providers display in inboxes, just after the subject line. Marketers usually place a link at the beginning of the message that allows recipients to view it in a browser window. You’re probably familiar with the standard formulation:

“If you have trouble viewing this message, click here”
subject-line8 If you want to get more information in your messages, remember to always use your preheaders. Below are some good examples of how to put them to work.

The subject line mentions the sale on specific products and the preheader encourages recipients to open the message with a reminder about the limited time of the promotion.

The preheader can be added to the content of the mail, as text of just 1px in the same colour as the background. This simple addition can increase the Open Rate of your campaigns.

3. Signs and emojis

Should you add signs and symbols to your subject line? Yes, if they fit your text. Signs and symbols get attention. You’ll find them in both B2C and B2B communications although it’s better to moderate their use in the latter and ensure that they are appropriate.
subject-line6 subject-line5
FreshMail makes it easy to add these special characters to your subject lines at the message creation level. In the first step of the process, just select “Insert symbol”. Then click on the symbol you want to use in the subject line. You can also use copy paste character.

4. Check test, experiment and use A/B tests

As an example, let’s use a fitness center that wants to motivate customers who stopped working out to come back and start exercising again. So the goal is to bring back old customers and sell more gym memberships. What is the best strategy to do it? Use A/B tests to find out.
Let’s say that the fitness center creates a special offer and wants to send it by email. We want to test which subject line is more appealing:

  • the one based on personalization or
  • the one mentioning the specific offer?

The subject lines could look like this:

Mark, you haven’t been to the gym for a while so we have a special offer for you!


Special offer for you: 3 month pass for only $79!

Use FreshMail’s A/B tests to set up a new test. Select how big the test group should be. We recommend using at least 2000 recipients for a test.

5. Staying away from spam folders and getting to inboxes

SpamAssasin filters your email campaign to ensure that it gets delivered to subscriber inboxes without being labeled as spam. Here are a few things you should pay special attention to in order to avoid problems with spam filters:

  • don’t use CAPITAL LETTERS in your subject line
  • don’t use phrases like “click here” or “special occasion” or “unbelievable offer”
  • don’t use too many punctuation marks!!!! Why would you do that??? Also, no “$$$”

See more about how SpamAssasin works and how to keep your messages spam-free.

BONUS: A quick look at making effective subject lines

As promised earlier, here are the subject line essentials.

Let’s start out with the DON’Ts of subject lines.

SAVE the DATE? But what date? Elva Fields 2017 - what does it mean? Is this a famous designer or what? And then we see “Unsubscribe”, so is this an incentive to unsubscribe from this newsletter? It’s too general and there are no details. Remember that subscribers make almost instant decisions about whether or not to open a message. If it’s unclear of confusing, it will most likely be a “no”.

Remember the rules of the 4 U’s when crafting your subject line:

  • Urgent
  • Unique
  • Ultra-specific
  • Useful

Here’s a subject line that gets attention. Hubspot is signing off? From what? Aren’t I the one who gets to decide to sign off? Curiosity is likely to get plenty to people to investigate further.

Following the 4 U’s here, we have: Urgent, since we’re almost out of time, ultra-specific because the offer is only for certain products and useful because there’s a discount. H&M did something similar, focusing attention on the deadline (urgent), a discount (useful) and jeans (ultra-specific)


This time the subject is very useful and including a hashtag is great way to get attention. You can go to #FindYourSpring in social media to get all the details and more.

The bottom line on email subject lines

Subject lines in email aren’t the first thing you think about when it comes to email marketing but they definitely play an important role. Remember to experiment and change things around so you can unlock the right formula for getting the best response from your subscriber database.


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