Making the Most of an Email Subject Line

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By Rebecca Palmer


Sometimes the hardest part of a project is just getting started. Nothing speaks to this struggle quite like staring at the blank subject-line box while drafting an email. Whether it’s a newsletter going out to all your members or direct email to a contributor, colleague, or other individual, it can be difficult to know where to start.


The subject line is the recipient’s first impression of the content, so you want to make it count. According to a CMB poll, a good subject line accounts for 47 percent of readers’ reasons for opening an email from a business or nonprofit. With that in mind, here are a few tips to making the most of an email’s subject line:

Pique interest. If you’ve got a hot story, lead with it. You want your reader to open the email, so tell them there’s something inside they’ll want to see. Don’t waste time obfuscating the email’s purpose, just be clear, honest, and straightforward. An email’s subject line is in many ways its headline, so keep it brief.

Personalize. If you’re writing an eblast for a large number of recipients, most mass email services offer tags for inserting information like an individual’s name or location into a subject line. Seeing personalized information in a subject line can indicate to readers that this is content they signed up for rather than spam from the anonymous ether of the internet.

Give readers a chance to enjoy your email. Let readers know that there’s more to your email than a dry news update or sales pitch. Make a joke or even a cheesy pun. In the age of social media, people have become accustomed to interacting with organizations the same way they would interact with their friends, so include some personality in your emails, and readers will appreciate your brightening their day.

Don’t be afraid to name drop. People are naturally inclined to be interested in the names they recognize, whether it is an individual, an organization, or an event. Every niche has its own celebrities, and when you have content that leverages these celebrities, you can grab readers’ interest.

Be specific rather than generic. Try not to lead an email with cliché phrases like “Don’t miss this great offer!” These days, everyone has an inbox full of emails wanting their attention, so what is yet another “great deal” email among all the others? Tell your readers what you’ve got for them.

Stay current. Do you have an event, webinar, or story that you can directly relate to an item in the news? Let the reader know. If they’ve already got a topic on their mind, they’re more likely to click an email offering more.

Don’t overpromise. It’s important to let readers know you have content that they want, but if you mislead readers just to get them to open an email, you can damage the relationship you have with them. An open rate is not the same as a click-through rate, and it’s definitely not the same as a conversion rate. If you sacrifice your reputation for your open rate, you may find yourself with an even lower open rate going forward — and a higher unsubscribe rate.

Avoid caps lock and excessive exclamation points. Nothing says “SPAM!” to a savvy reader like an all-caps email with exclamation points employed like sprinkles on an ice cream sundae.


Most importantly, remember that your email has information its intended reader wants, whether that is a promotional offer, details for an upcoming event, an update on your association’s activities or another purpose. All you have to do is let them know.


Rebecca Palmer is the acquisitions editor of General Dentistry for the Academy of General Dentistry.