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“You had me at hello.”

That’s a profound statement that goes well beyond the movie Jerry Maguire, where it became famous.

First impressions can make all the difference in the world.  And marketing is all about first impressions.  When it comes to reaching prospects by email, the first impression is not made when someone opens your email—it’s when they see the subject line and think, “Should I open it?”

You have just a couple of seconds to grab your readers’ attention and interest them enough to open and read your message. So if you’re going to email prospects via direct email or through an email marketing blast, don’t make an attention-getting subject line an afterthought.

Read on to get our tips on how to write an effective subject line.  One of our tips is proven to increase click-through rates by 41 percent!

1. Make it personal

Knowing who the email is from is one of the most important factors behind whether someone decides to open your email. In fact, seven out of ten people say they always open emails from their favorite companies, according to ExactTarget.  Two-thirds say knowing the organization that sent the email is their biggest reason for opening the file, market research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey found.

A personal subject line makes recipients feel like you know them.  Personalized promotional mailings have a nearly 30 percent higher open rate and 41 percent higher click rate than non-personalized mailings, says Experian. Individuals are also more likely to open messages that are targeted to where they live or work.

2. Create a sense of urgency

Including a tight deadline in the subject line increases the odds that readers will make your email a priority and respond. Use phrases like “Please reply by EOB” or “limited space available.” “Now or never” types of deadlines are often the most successful.

3. Keep it short

Since you only have 3-4 seconds to grab the reader’s attention, and a limited amount of space, you have to keep it short. Experts recommend about 10 words (no more than 50 characters) in the subject line. In a study of 200 million emails, the email distribution service MailChimp found that 28 to 39 characters had the highest click rate.

There’s another important reason to keep it short. Various studies have shown that from 50 percent to more than 80 percent of people read emails on their mobile devices, and 75 percent of those are smartphones. The typical subject line on a mobile phone is even shorter, just 25 to 30 characters, or only six to eight words. So it pays to be succinct and “mobile friendly.”

4. Put the best words first

With such a premium on space, and since you don’t know how much of the subject line will be viewable, you have to lead with the most important words. According to HubSpot, words like “Posts” and “Jobs” generate the highest open rates.

Regularly and thoroughly test keywords and phrases to see which garner the best open rates, and include keywords that will make the email searchable later. But by the same token, don’t constantly use the same words or worse, repeat the same subject line for each campaign. Eventually the reader will learn to ignore them.

5. Avoid “spammy” words

Words like “free,” “reminder” and “percent off” will either be ignored by the reader or consigned to the spam folder by many email programs, so avoid them. The same goes for subject lines with ALL CAPS and exclamation points.

6. Offer advice

Email marketing can be most effective when you offer something to help the reader. Your subject line can indicate you will be offering tips to help recipients solve something, or could pose a question about a common problem.

Not sure whether you can create winning subject lines? Our highly experienced industry writers can help you write emails that get read—and get star-quality results. For more information, reach us at

By Rosalie Berg, President, Strategic Vantage