Refer a Friend

How to Optimize your Email Subject Lines for Better Engagement

How to Optimize your Email Subject Lines for Better Engagement

by Mike Fowler

The subject line, though small, is one of the most important tools in your email communications arsenal. It is the gateway to your email’s content. You can have the most compelling argument in your email, but first you have to convince your reader to open the door and walk through. I’m going to share some of my personal experience in how to improve email open rates.

First thing’s first: There are two pass checks that your email recipient uses to determine if they want to engage with an email.

  • Sender’s name and email address
  • Subject line

 Of these two items, the sender’s name is most important. If the email recipient knows you and has a good relationship with you, the subject line won’t be as important. unfortunately, We don’t always have much control over this aspect of our communications. We do, however, have more control over the other two aspects.

The subject line tells the reader what to expect in an email. They will make a snap decision about the worthiness of your email’s content based on your subject line, so it’s important make a good first impression. In my experience with email marketing, there are a few trends that I’ve come to notice that can help optimize your email’s subject line.

Don’t use your subject line to sell

People are quick to judge the content of an email based on the subject line. If you have a cheesy tagline, the email is probably going to go straight to the trash bin. Here are a couple examples of email faux pas that you should avoid:

  • Using all caps in a subject line – “SAVE BIG BY SWITCHING NOW” or “check out this FREE DISCOUNT.”

 The implied intent with all caps is that you are shouting your message at the reader. It is very aggressive and gives people the impression that you are an unreputable business. You should also avoid using buzzwords like “free,” “discount,” or “exclusive offer.”

Avoid exclamation marks and special characters used to draw attention

Use of exclamation marks and special characters is another way that less reputable business like to draw attention to their emails. If you use these types of devices, your recipients will associate you with those businesses and want nothing to do with you.

Email servers dislike subject lines with special characters or multiple exclamation marks. Your email is more likely to end up in a junk folder if you include these items.

Keep it short

As I mentioned earlier, people read through subject lines very quickly to determine whether or not to engage with it. If your subject line is a full sentence, you are leaving room for your reader to lose interested. Depending how they have their email platform set up, your subject line may also be truncated if it is too long. In this instance, the reader would only see the first few words of the subject.

I’ve found through my own experimentation that when I sent the same email out with two subject lines, the short subject line (under 4 words) tended to out-perform the long subject line. In a group of 4,000 contacts, the engagement rate for the short version would be on average 5-6% higher than the long version. On the surface this may seem like a small difference, but the more people you email, the larger the impact of these small changes can be. In a group of 4,000 recipients, the short subject line reached 200 additional people.  

Use the subject to tell instead of sell

Instead of trying to sell the email recipient a product or idea with your subject line, just tell them what is in the email. If you are trying to invite someone to attend a webinar, there are multiple ways you can write your subject line.

 “Join us for a FREE webinar on first time home buying”

This subject line uses “free” as a sales buzzword. It also is too long.

 “First time home buying webinar”

This subject line is shorter and more to the point. It doesn’t use any buzzwords and simply states what the email is about.

I think the simplest way to frame this concept is by looking at how we email of friends and colleagues. When you send an email to someone in your office, you wouldn’t use the first example. You aren’t trying to sell them on the webinar. No, you are just trying to tell them about it so your subject line would look more like the second one. Take this principle and use it when emailing leads, prospects, or clients.   

Personalize the subject line

Another great way to increase your open rates is by personalizing your subject line. Tailoring your subject line with either the contact’s name, location, or relevant interests has proven to be very effective at increasing engagement rates.

Just be careful not to force it.

It can be difficult to find a way to organically include the recipient’s name in the subject line. if used incorrectly it can hurt more than help. It is often easier to incorporate geo-location instead; which, depending who you ask, is more effective anyway.  

Measure your success

Unless you are communicating through an email marketing platform or CRM, it may be difficult to track the success rate of your different subject lines. Without any process for measurement, it’s all just a guessing game. There are some options for those of you without these fancy tools, though.

There are two key performance indicators (KPIs) that you want to measure within your email communications: open and click rates. Open rates are difficult to track, especially without using 3rd party software. If you use outlook, you can request a read receipt. This relies on the user responding though and doesn’t result in accurate information. Instead, I would focus on something easier to track: click rates.  

Click rates indicate the number of people who interact with your email. If you are sending an email template to several people, you can assume a correlation between the click rates and open rates when you lack the tools to track both. The more people you send the same email to, the more accurate the results will be. Keep track of the click through rates of different emails and analyze which ones tend to have higher engagement rates.

There are several free and easy options for tracking when people click the links in your emails. They lack any of the robust features offered by more sophisticated or paid options, but they still get the job done. – Google’s URL shortener that also tracks the number of times the link is clicked. It isn’t the most sophisticated option, but it is free.

ClickMeter – A more robust option. ClickMeter has a free subscription with basic link tracking features. The free version limits the number of links you can use in a given month, so it isn’t a great option for high volume.


If you still have issues with low engagement rates after applying these methods, consider these issues…

Send Frequency – sending similar content too often can alienate your recipients causing them to tune you out.

Relevance – make sure that the recipient would actually benefit from the information before adding them to the send list.

Creating the perfect subject line takes practice and methodical testing. Applying these suggestions for your subject lines will improve your open rates and email engagement. Adding the measurement technique will help hone in the effectiveness of your improved subject lines.

Do you know someone who might benefit from this blog?

Share it now!

Share This Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Email and Name is required.