Elaine Fogel

Everything You Wanted to Know About Email Subject Lines

It seems that every week there are new case studies and survey results about email subject lines. I’ll share the latest revelations provided by Econsultancy deputy editor, David Moth, including results from MailChimp, Adestra, and Mailer Mailer.

Please remember that you need to do your own testing and not take this information as the Holy Grail. As Moth says, “Obviously none of these rules are written in stone and it’s really up to marketers to test their own campaigns to find out what does and doesn’t work for their own customers, however this list does at least identify a few criteria to begin testing.”

Here are 10 things to know about email subject lines:

1. Personalization

Using recipients’ names in the body of your emails is fine, but be careful when personalizing your subject lines. It may be deemed as overly familiar. On the other hand, using both first and last names in a subject is less common but has the largest positive impact on open rates especially for highly personalized campaigns. 

2. Avoid overt requests for donations

Listen up my nonprofit friends…  avoid using subject lines that include charitable actions and donations – they have a negative impact on open rates and people ignore them! Of all the related words studied, “donation” had the most negative impact while “helping” had the best impact, though it can obviously be used in more contexts.


MailChimp 2013

3. Avoid upper case letters

It’s considered shouting when you use all caps. Besides, spam filters love to zap these subject lines.

4. Avoid these words:

Confirm, join, last chance, save, assistance, sign up, speaker, press, social, invite, free, reminder/s, cancelled, and announcements. Repeated reminders and cancellations don’t quite cut it either. And, get this… avoid using, “breast cancer.”

5. Avoid vague or uninteresting subjects

Overly creative subject lines are often vague or uninteresting and do little to grab the reader’s attention.

6. Don’t use too many characters

I’ve read conflicting studies about subject line length. However, with 40% of emails opened on mobile devices, some reports advise using between 20-30 characters. Moth cites a Mailer Mailer study that claims the “sweet spot” is between 4-15 characters. But, let’s be real. What can possibly entice people to open an email based on four characters? The word, “open” has four characters. Are you going to open an email with one word in the subject line?


7. Avoid too many exclamation marks

OK, so some people don’t like them. They run the possibility of being designated as spam.

8. Don’t use trickery

Avoid adding ‘FW:’ or ‘RE:’ to the subject line to give the appearance of familiarity. Click rates are lower than average.

9. Bad content marketing

Avoid words like, “report,” “webinar,” which have fewer open and click-through rates. Using “news,” “bulletin,” and “video,” produce better results.

10. Create a sense of urgency or importance

Words like “urgent” and “important” resulted in open rates that were much higher than normal. But, don’t abuse them or use them disingenuously.


MailChimp 2013









Have you used any of the words you’re supposed to avoid? What were your results? 
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