Are the customers and prospects you’re trying to reach through e-mail
marketing missing your message? They might be. It’s not unusual for
business users to get hundreds of e-mails each day. With that kind of
volume to manage, e-mail users typically scan their inbox looking for
e-mails that are important and must be read. How do you make sure yours
is one of the important e-mails?

The answer is to use the “From” line and “Subject” line together to quickly tell recipients three important pieces of information:

  1. Who the e-mail is from
  2. What the e-mail is about
  3. Why the e-mail should be read

Let’s look at each of these components and how you can optimize them to increase the likelihood your e-mails will get noticed in the inbox clutter.

Who the e-mail is from
E-mails with recognized senders in the “From” line get opened first. Admittedly, senders who are friends, family and colleagues might jump to the head of the line, but then come the e-newsletters, the marketing offers, the proposals and more.

The “From” line should clearly identify the sender as you, your company, a specific brand or some combination of those three items. If you have a personal relationship with the recipient, definitely use your name in the “From” line. Otherwise, use your company name. Or if you have the capability, use a combination: Most e-mail programs allow you to customize the “From” line.

Another approach that works well with e-newsletters or other subscribed publications is to use a brand name associated with your publication. For example, “Solar Cell Monthly” or “GlobalSpec Product Alert.”

The publication you are reading right now — The Marketing Maven — uses the “From” line and “Subject” line to brand the company and publication. Subscribers become familiar with it and know immediately what they are getting. “From” line: “Subject” line: Marketing Maven: Your Guide to Online Marketing.

What the e-mail is about
What’s your main purpose for sending this e-mail? Is it to deliver recent news to your subscribers? Make a special offer? Announce a new product? Use the subject line to state your purpose; treat it as a headline to an important story. Consider these subject lines:

  • New RF tool accurately predicts signal loss
  • White paper: top ten reasons why hydraulic pumps fail
  • Webinar to demonstrate new applications for hydrovoltaic cells
  • Electric car expert will speak at energy conference

These subject lines have common components:

  • They work like headlines to stories, telling you what’s inside: information on a new product, white paper offer, upcoming Webinar, event speaker
  • Each is between 7-9 words and around 50 characters long; this is about the right length for a subject line because anything longer might get cut off by some e-mail programs

Is there a compelling headline (subject line) that will attract readers to your e-mail? If you can’t come up with one, it may be an indication that the content of your e-mail is not interesting or relevant to recipients. If that’s the case, you need to go back and work on your content strategy, making sure you have something valuable to say to your audience.

Why the e-mail should be read
Look again at the subject lines above. While they all serve as potential headlines to a good story and may entice a recipient to open the e-mail, all but one lack a critical factor that can mean the difference between having your e-mail read or not: a sense of newness or urgency.

There’s nothing like fresh news or the feeling that time is running out to get your reader to take action. The first subject line “New RF tool accurately predicts signal loss” has the newness aspect to it. The others lack urgency or newness. Can they be improved by re-writing?

  • Just published: Top ten reasons why hydraulic pumps fail. The words “white paper” are replaced with “just published” providing a sense of something brand new that’s worth paying attention to; the other powerful component of this subject line is the ever popular “top ten” list.
  • Registration closes Friday for Webinar on hydrovoltaic cells. This one uses the element of time to give it a sense of urgency. Maybe it’s the second or third invitation you’ve sent and now the concept of time running out takes precedence over the content of the Webinar.
  • Electric car expert to speak: September 12, Orlando. Again, adding a time element increases the sense of urgency. What’s sacrificed is information about an energy conference. The closer you get to the event, the more weight you should give to the urgency.

So what is the best “Subject” line? Only testing will tell. The easiest way to test is to split your list in half and send each group a different “Subject” line. Apply what you learn to subsequent e-mails.


  1. Thank you for the information. Especially info about the subject lines helped. It has not been always easy for me to decide what to write on the subject line.
    I will be looking forward to next articles on this subject.

  2. Good post.

    But Must disagree about the “newness” issue with “New RF tool accurately predicts signal loss” being a good subject line. I immediately thought “Pushy sales” when I first read it. Everybody says their product/service is the newest/greatest. I probably would not open it unless I was actively searching for that product.

    I do like the way you rewrote the other subject lines. Thank you


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