5 Tips to Increase Email Open Rates with Powerful Subject Lines

The first step in achieving success with any marketing strategy is to know what success looks like.  For example, you might think your email marketing campaigns are the greatest thing since sliced bread, but that doesn't mean they're successful. You need to ask yourself what marketing objectives you're trying to achieve, and what metrics you’ll monitor to know if you’re achieving those goals.

To measure the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns, you should be monitoring several metrics.  One of the most important is your open rates, the percentage of subscribers who open your email instead of deleting or ignoring it. If your open rate is low, it could be that you're not effectively segmenting your subscriber list, or that your subject lines are falling flat.

How to Measure Success Using Industry Benchmarks

Benchmarking simply means measuring how well your emails are performing compared to other businesses in the same industry, and of the same size (among other characteristics).  For example, for computer and electronics businesses, the average open rate is 20.87%.  For e-commerce sites, the average open rate is 16.75%.  Average open rates also vary in relation to company size.  For example, companies with 50 or more employees have an average open rate of 22.83%, while those with 10 or fewer employees have an open rate of 21.53%. 

How to Improve Email Open Rates with Strong Subject Lines

Your goal shouldn’t be to match industry benchmarks—if you want to outperform your competition, your objective should be to outperform industry benchmarks, and that begins with strong subject lines that inspire subscribers to open your emails.  Here are 5 strategies for writing strong subject lines:

1.  Keep It Short and Sweet

There’s always the temptation to throw everything into your subject line, like “Check out one of our affordable refrigerators, stoves or dishwashers—free shipping!”  The problem is that most people scan their inboxes quickly—if your subject line is too long, it tends to get cut short, making it less readable, and more frustrating.  For maximum effectiveness, keep subject lines to no more than 50 characters (5 or 6 words). 

2.  Offer Useful Information Instead of a Sales Pitch

Unless you’ve established deep trust with subscribers, anything that sounds like a sales pitch could miss the mark.  Consumers are more savvy—and skeptical—than they used to be, so subject lines that offer advice and useful information tend to be opened more than those which push sales.  For example, Mother Earth Pillows, which sells essential oils, achieved strong open rates with the subject line: “Essential Oils…Learn what they do!”  Overly-salesy subject lines, like those which urge subscribers to “Buy now!” will also increase the likelihood that your emails are treated as spam.

3.  Leverage Urgency

If you have several items to buy, and one is being offered through a sale that ends at midnight tonight, you’re more likely to buy the sales item first.  Consumers are more likely to act (on something they want) when facing a deadline.  That’s how the Manchester Animal Shelter was able to find homes for its shelter pets using the subject line: “Cruisin’ 4 Critters is August 2nd Register Today!”  This strategy is especially effective with a series of emails, in which the first goes out days before the deadline, and subsequent emails act as reminders, with the final email a day or so before the deadline.

4.  Don’t Be Shy:  Tell Them What to Do

People who are in a hurry (like when they’re reading subject lines), want clear, specific direction, not hesitance or fumbling instructions, which simply leave them frustrated.  Don’t be shy about using command statements in your subject lines.  As long as you’re telling subscribers to do something they want to do, they’ll appreciate a direct and easily understandable call-to-action which uses declarative or exclamatory verbs, like “Join us for our annual Scholars’ Luncheon!”

5.  Make ‘Em Laugh

Your inbox isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, which means you can get attention and establish an immediate connection to your subscribers with a well-delivered joke, which is exactly how Boloco increased open rates with its “Real baseball fans eat burritos” email series.  One caveat:  humor can be tricky—your joke has to be funny, and it shouldn’t cross the line or offend subscribers.  You should A/B test your funny subject line before taking it to your entire subscriber list.


BJC Branding is the leading Master Certified Constant Contact Partner in the US. We focus on locking down a client's digital marketing. We work with hundreds of small businesses like yours to build professional email marketing programs, launch mobile-responsive websites, and drive your digital marketing success. Our seasoned team of experts will consult and manage your program based on our collective knowledge and experience, ensuring the highest level of quality and results.

To learn more about the ways improving the performance of your email marketing campaigns will help you grow your business, contact us today.

Bryan Caplan