You know that every e-mail you send to customers and prospects is important for them to read, but how does your audience know that? The answer lies in your subject line. Write a compelling and relevant subject line, and recipients will open your e-mail. Write a weak one, and your open rates will be disappointing. Sometimes it really is as simple as that.

The fact is business users are swamped with e-mail. Most people scan their inboxes to quickly sort important e-mails that must be read now from those that can wait for later—or never. Here’s how to make sure your subject lines stand out in a crowded e-mail inbox, get the attention of your audience, and instill that “must-read now” feeling about your e-mail.

Promise valuable information
The first and most basic rule: use the subject line to let recipients know why your e-mail is important. Whether you’re making a special offer, sharing company updates through your newsletter, or inviting them to an event, treat the subject line as a promise of valuable information. For example:

• New RF tool accurately predicts signal loss
• White paper: top ten reasons why hydraulic pumps fail
• Webinar to demonstrate new applications for diode lasers
• Solar cell expert will speak at energy conference

The above 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

While 50 characters is a standard length for subject lines, the first 15 characters are the most critical. Many business users read e-mail on their mobile devices, which often have room to display only the first 15 characters.

If you can’t come up with a compelling subject line that motivates readers to open your e-mail, this may be an indication that the content of your e-mail is not interesting or relevant to recipients. If that’s the case, go back and work on your purpose and content, making sure you have something relevant to say to your audience.

Create a sense of urgency
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 timeliness 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 lasers. This one takes advantage of 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. You could also use words and phrases like “Last chance” or “Final reminder” to instill the sense of urgency.
September 12, Orlando: Solar cell expert to speak. 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, especially if your e-mail is one of a series.

Have your subject line and from line work together
Just as important as the subject line is the from line, which tells recipients who the e-mail is from. E-mails with recognized senders in the from line get opened first.

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. Combine a person’s name with a company name for more impact. From: AudreyJones@CompanyName.

The from line should be consistent. The subject line should not. Even if you are sending a regular newsletter to your audience, try to avoid a generic subject line such as ‘January newsletter.’ Instead, you could put the name of the newsletter in the from line, and save the subject line for something specific, beneficial, and compelling that appears in that issue of the newsletter.

What have you found to be successful subject lines and “from names” that generate opens? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


  1. Interesting article. Perhaps add that if in the headline some benefit can be offered that is relevant to the recipient [eg • Register now for Friday’s Webinar on reducing your laser costs]an even better response is likely. Offering knowledge may be attractive but offering a valuable benefit makes it almost irresistible [providing the targeting is right!]

  2. I am most interested in the criteria for what constitutes junk mail…..obviously, I never want my emails segregated as junk mail or spam…..are there any tips, advice, no no’s that you can impart?

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