The email marketing environment is undergoing significant changes. Faced with an ever increasing downpour of marketing communications, consumers are becoming more and more apathetic to the volume of emails they receive and selective in the information they choose to engage with. As a consequence, brands are now faced with the challenge of trying to penetrate this barrage of content and achieve recognition and engagement in an already saturated market.

One of the most important factors for attracting recipient attention is the subject line. After all, it’s one of the first things a consumer sees when an email appears in their inbox, and it helps recipients decide whether to open or delete the message.

So, with the current environment being one in which email users are bombarded with such a large volume of marketing communications, and faced with the challenges brought on by an extremely saturated market, how can email marketers craft subject lines that help increase recipient engagement and boost ROI? Here are three ways to improve your subject lines:

1. Highlight the primary offer in the subject title

Too often, consumers are being sent marketing emails with vague subject lines and the main offer, the fundamental purpose of the communication, hidden near the bottom of the email. Most consumers don’t have time to hunt through messages for key information, and if your initial subject line fails to capture the recipient’s attention and relate to the email’s specific content, more likely than not the consumer will quickly decide to delete the email rather than spending time to filter through the content.

To optimise email performance, the most attractive offer in the email should be placed in the subject line and convey a sense of urgency to entice recipients to open the message and continue reading. But it is important that you don’t overpromise or deceive, as this will ultimately destroy the level to which recipients trust your messages and may even drive customers away.

2. Make subject lines personalised for each recipient

It only takes consumers a very short period of time to decide if an email is worth reading, assessing an email within seconds of seeing its subject line. Given the substantial number of emails that consumers receive every day, marketing emails must avoid having generic or uninteresting subject lines or they will inevitably find themselves shifted to the junk mail folder.

Avoid sending emails with subject lines such as ”Dear Customer”. Such emails appear generic and impersonal and contain no signs that you recognise or value the customer as an individual.

Instead, ensure subject lines are personalised with targeted content—based on preferences, demographics and behaviour—that shows that you have invested time into understanding your consumer and specifically tailoring communications to their interests. By doing so, you will help encourage recipients to engage more strongly with your message and any future messages you target them with.

Injecting personality and humour into subject lines can also be beneficial, as the rise of social media has led consumers to expect communications that have more of a ”human” face rather than being filled with corporate speak. However, humour must be used wisely and be consistent with the brand, as inappropriate use of humour could actually detract from the message and potentially damage a brand.

3. Test subject lines and measure carefully

Testing different subject line variables such as length, copy style or use of incentives is a savvy way to increase email performance. When you’re comparing results, though, be sure not to rely solely on open rate to return the best alternative, or you might select an underachiever. Instead, use your most important conversion metric to determine the winner – e.g. revenue, average order value, downloads or registrations. And always remember: test subject lines a few times to minimise variables that could affect the outcome and return skewed results.

Using relevant, interesting subject lines not only better conveys important information to the recipient, but also supports your brand image and is a major driver of click-through rates. By following these suggested guidelines, you’ll improve your chances of crafting subject lines that speak to the needs and interests of your recipients as individual customers, readers and prospects.

Richard Evans

Richard Evans


Richard Evans is Director of Marketing, EMEA at Silverpop