Create Compelling Subject Lines

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 of "How to Get the Best ROI From Your Email Marketing Campaigns"

Open Me!

That’s what your subject line has to succinctly convey to your audience. Unfortunately, there’s no secret formula to creating a subject line that universally engages and drives action. Essentially you need to quickly and clearly state what your recipients can expect in the email message and say it in a way that grabs their attention. The following are some important strategies that we at FulcrumTech always review before writing subject lines.

  • Complement the From Line
    If your company name is in an email’s from line, you don’t need to put it in the subject line, too.  This frees up precious characters in the subject line to communicate your promotional message. Yet if there’s a brand you’re promoting, do include it in the subject line. Just like in direct mail campaigns, think of the from line and subject line combination as your “envelope.” And just as you invest time and effort in designing the direct mail envelope, be sure your subject line isn’t a last minute thought.
  • With Subject Lines, Length Matters
    To get the best open rates, the rule of thumb for subject lines is to have the length stay within 40 to 50 characters or about 5 words. However, a recent study by Alchemy Worx of more than 600 subject lines and 200 million email messages showed that:

    • Subject lines of 50 characters or less did have the highest open rates as previously proven
    • But click rates were optimized in subject lines of 70 characters and continued to increase past 100 characters. 

    So what does this mean? More people open emails that are shorter, but they may not be the right people. That’s why length may matter, but it isn’t everything.  Relevance plays a role, too. 

  • Determine & Incorporate Your Audience’s “Value” Words
    One of the most important things you have to do right with the subject line is to make it clear to your readers how they will benefit from opening the email. In this way, finding your audience’s value words – words that relate to a personal or professional benefit – is key to creating an effective subject line.

    In a recent email promotion for a client, for example, we at FulcrumTech tested two very similar subject lines: “Get 2 Vital Market Reports at No Cost” and “Get 2 Vital Healthcare Market Reports at No Cost.” By adding “Healthcare” to the headline, we achieved a 5% lift in open rates and a 75% increase in click-through rate. This demonstrates how establishing benefit and relevance can help your open rates, as well as work with the actual email to capture the right people who will ultimately click-through.

  • Create A Sense of Urgency
    Adding a deadline or some element of time to your subject lines is a good way to make your recipients think that not only is your email important, but it’s essential that they open it right away. So “1 day left” or “free shipping until the end of the week,” for instance, may be all you need to motivate more people to open your email now, rather than let it sit in their inboxes unopened for indeterminate amounts of time.
  • Be Safe, Not Sorry
    Run your subject lines through a spam filter before sending them out. Certain words, capital letters and exclamation marks can land your email in recipients’ spam boxes. “Free” is one of those words most people think will set off the spam alarms, however, that’s not always true.  In marketing, “free” consistently catches the consumer eye. So use it when it’s an integral part of your offer, but be careful not to over-use it. And don’t put it first in your subject line or all in capitals to avoid spam classification. While the word free may catch an email in more spam filters, it is typically far outweighed by the jump in open rates for those who do see the email.
  • Be Honest
    Being cute and clever in your subject line is okay, as long as you clearly represent the content and offer presented in your email. In addition to losing trust with your prospects and customers, deceptive subject lines violate the federal CAN-SPAM Act that stipulates subject line transparency and could even cause you legal trouble.
  • Best and Worst Subject Line Examples
    If you are interested in reading examples of subject lines that worked and didn’t work, check out this resource article at
  • Use Past Subject Line Metrics to Shape Your Strategy
    Testing subject lines and using metrics from past campaigns are important ways to help you find your market’s “value” words, as well as what triggers action in your audience.  Be sure to look at click-through and conversion rates, as well as open rates, as you further refine your promotional email campaign strategy.

In next month’s FulcrumTech issue of NewsLever, we’ll take a close look at the promotional email and suggest ways to help boost your click-through rates.


Email Usage Statistics

Here are some email usage and penetration statistics gathered by that demonstrate how important it is to “cut through the clutter” with your subject lines.


  • The number of marketing emails sent by U.S. companies will reach 158 million this year and is predicted to increase by 63% to 258 billion in 2013. (Forrester’s US Email Marketing Volume Forecast, 2008)
  • The average number of personal emails received weekly is 274, while business emails add up to an average of 304 weekly. (Jupiter Research, 2007)
  • Nearly 70% of respondents have more than one email account. (AOL/Beta Research Corporation, 2008)
  • 87% of consumers’ time online is spent reading emails. (Jupiter Research, 2007)
  • 81% of U.S. executives subscribe to industry e-newsletters for business intelligence and product information. (Wall Street Journal, 2007)

Related Links — How to Get the Best ROI from Your Email Marketing Campaigns:

Sign Up for NewsLever

Our free, monthly email newsletter

NewsLever is our free, monthly e-newsletter for B2B and B2C professionals who want to develop and implement powerful email-marketing campaigns that build relationships with prospects and customers.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Privacy Policy|Learn More|Current Issue