Create the perfect email subject line

First impressions count. How many times have you heard this expression?

But it is true! Everyone makes split second decisions and judgements about things; a new house, a new acquaintance, a film and even brands that we don’t like but don’t know why. The same can be said for my inbox. I have so many emails coming through each day that I tend to browse by nothing more than subject lines. Like when choosing a book, I will have favourite authors or senders, so I look through these first. But if the subject line isn’t inviting enough I will move on without a second glance. 33% of email recipients open emails based only on the subject line, so what is behind the perfect subject line?

It’s a simple formula. If your subscriber isn’t interested in your email subject line then the likelihood is that your email will remain unopened or discarded from the recipients inbox instantly. A subject line should engage the reader and reflect the most important part of the message contained in the email. But how can you ensure that your subject lines are appealing enough to your recipients? And what are the essential factors you need to consider when writing your subject lines? Well here are few pointers from us to help you on your way:

Subject Line Length doesn’t matter

Subject line length doesn’t necessarily matter anymore providing you keep it as short and concise as it can be and avoid any unnecessary words. We analysed our data over the past 4 years including the length of subject lines and how they have performed. Our data highlighted a rise in open rates across the board apart from subject lines containing just one word. Our data also highlighted that subject length isn’t necessarily the key factor to consider anymore, but more so ensuring that your subject line is clear and concise, highlighting exactly what the email content is about.

Avoiding spam filters:

When writing your subject line it is becoming more and more essential to avoid the ever intelligent spam filters hosted within email clients. It may sound simple, but avoiding common mistakes such as using capital letters, numerous exclamation marks, poor html and generic salesy type phrases are a must. And of course, ensuring that your lists are up to date, containing engaged recipients.

Valuable insight:

Nobody is going to open an email if they don’t see any potential value within the content. Without being too generic or over the top, make sure you tell the recipient what they will get out of the email within the subject line.

A/B and MVT tests:

Don’t forget to take full advantage of the functionality available to you. Testing your subject lines is crucial, use A/B testing and Multivariate testing to see which subject line performs best.

Always double check:

Sometimes the most basic checks are the most important. Always reread your subject line to make sure it reads how you want and that there are no haunting typos or spelling mistakes!

Consider your audience and the nature of your email:

Consideration towards your audience and the industry is essential, as well as the content you are sending. Analysis of your own data is the best way to determine what is and what isn’t working for you and your audience.

Now friend, go forth and create the perfect email subject line, I know you can do it!


Subject line inspiration

Run out of subject line ideas? Looking for subject line inspiration?

Check out our Favourite 5 Inspired subject lines of 2020 so far . . .if these don’t give you inspiration for your subject lines we don’t know what will!

1) LinkedIn: ‘Rupert, your SSI score is 30′

This email was sent to me with my SSI score embedded in the subject line. I had no idea whether this is good or bad, or what on earth SSI is (For those of you interested it stands for ‘Social Selling Index’). This however did intrigue me, making me want to open the email where I found out all about SSI and informing me I needed to improve my score.

2) Boden – Don’t keep it under-wraps – 25% OFF EVERYTHING

No copywriting entry could be complete without a Boden example. And here we are cheating and including several subject lines all from the same campaign. What makes Boden emails so fantastic is the brand really comes across in both the copy and imagery used. This subject line was backed with others in future sends including “There’s no time like the ‘present’ – 25% OFF EVERYTHING”, and “25% OFF unwraps MIDNIGHT”. All of these work brilliantly with the concept of each offer starting or ending and being replaced by a less desirable offer. Boden emails are fun and the quirkiness cuts through the clutter of boring flat copy from brands in the inbox.

3) Mothercare: Rupert, get 20% off your little one’s birthday present

I received this email a few weeks before my toddler’s birthday. The subject line shows personalisation beyond just adding my name, by being both personal and relevant to me, making it stand out in the inbox.

4) KLM: Treat yourself to some time

First name personalisation is often really tacky and simply stuck on. It can work but loses its effect after a few uses. We really like this campaign from KLM where they integrated the first name into the concept of ‘Me time’, making the first name worth including and not simply stuck on.

5) Lands End: Tick tock, tick tock… make sure you beat the clock!

There are many ways to approach urgency in the subject line. Many of us would have simply gone for a ‘HURRY’ or ‘Last Chance’ but here Lands End have gone for a different, less aggressive approach that still drives the urgency but also ties in brilliantly with the overall creative concept for the campaign.

So there you have it! 5 inspirational Subject lines that will provide you with inspiration to maximise the performance of your email campaigns.


Are subject lines overrated?

Many believe the subject line is the key to email marketing success.

I want to break that perception of best practice. While subject lines are very important, they aren’t as critical as you might think. There are other areas you need to focus on first.

Who is the email from?

The general sub-concious process your subscribers take when they see an email in their inbox is:

  • Who is the email from?
  • What is the email about?

It is more than likely that your subscriber will make the decision on whether to open the email or not, based upon the answer to these questions. Therefore the starting point should be to look at testing your from name, before looking at your subject lines.

Whenever we have tested the from name, we have experienced uplift of at least 20% in opens, and most importantly clicks. How? We use a first name as part of the from name, so ‘Name – Company Name’.

Why does this make a difference? Well we think it is because we all prefer email from an individual, rather than a blast from a faceless company. It also gives you the ability to add your personality into the email before they open it, with many of these made-up names becoming cult heroes amongst the subscriber base!

What they think about your emails

When asking themselves the question who is this email from, this then leads onto what do I think about their emails? If the last few emails they have received have had nothing of interest, then recipients may have already made the assumption that the content won’t be relevant, and therefore won’t even take your amazingly crafted subject line into consideration.

This is also why lists can fatigue quickly. GraphicMail’s ‘Lifecycle Report’ shows the average open rate per email a subscriber receives. On most ‘Batch & Blast’ emails the open rate has dropped by more than half by the 4th email customers receive, as they realise there is no value in the company emails.

To change this is not a quick tactical fix, but a change from batch & blast to thinking about relevance and value of emails.

It’s about the click, not open

Well for many it’s actually about the purchase you hope to generate from sending the email. Certainly getting the customer to click from the email onto your site is more important than them just opening the email.

If the customer has opened the email because of the subject line, but then they find nothing to back that intent up in the email, then it is a wasted exercise. That is why basic subject lines that simply state what is in the email underperform over open rate compared to subject lines that inspire intrigue, but 9/10 generate more clicks.

Currently there are a few tools out there which claim they can predict the best performing subject line based on words you enter. This is great but they miss the idea of making sure your subject line has the utmost relevance to the actual content of the email.

So should I ignore the subject line? No, that would be foolish as it still has an impact on overall response rates but make sure you get the most important factors right first.


Email marketing myths

There are loads of best practice articles, whitepapers and blogs out there.

Sometimes it gets confusing to see the truth from the myths. So I’m are going to dispel some of the myths for you.

“The subject line is most important thing for getting an open”

Actually no it isn’t, but it is an important factor that plays it’s part. There are actually other things to consider. Firstly, the biggest factor that determines if your email is opened, is actually the previous set of emails you sent to that subscriber. If they found nothing of relevance or value then they are likely to stop opening your emails no matter what you put in the subject line.

Secondly, it is often the ‘From Name’ used that has more influence, which is why we recommend using a ‘First name – company name’ combination which generally gets 20-25% more opens.

“10am on Wednesday is a great time to send email”

It might be this week, or in 2 months time, but the concept of a best time to send email is nonsense. By all means test this, but don’t expect your results to be too reliable or repeatable, especially as reader habits can change on a daily basis. Clearly avoid sending emails in the middle of the night, unless your target audience are Vampires, but don’t worry about scheduling emails for an optimum time. We recently analysed our data to see what times were the most effective with our clients. The results pointed to a number of results appearing as more successful. However it strongly depends on the nature of the email and the recipient.

“You cannot use the word FREE”

He is some FREE advice, yes you can! Junk mail filtering based upon keywords is very old hat now, so go ahead and use ‘free’ as much as you like.

“Gmail’s promotions tab is killing email marketing”

Research has shown it isn’t. Gmail implemented the promotions tab as a means of keeping some semblance of control with all the emails you receive. It helps a customer keep personal emails separate to commercial emails, making it easier to stay on top of everything. It’s probably had a small impact, but most people won’t notice anyway, and it certainly will reduce the amount of spam complaints as consumers no longer need to aggressively manage their email in the same way.

“You need to send more and less email”

There is always one person in the industry who insists it’s ok to send more and more emails, as it will increase the number of clicks you generate. That’s fine when measured in the short term, but in the long term you are going to fatigue your database. What makes this argument less convincing is when it comes from people who make money from sending more and more email campaigns.

Then there is another argument, that you need to send ‘less email’ – and this is often where you might be encountering junk issues at big providers like Hotmail and Yahoo. Be careful of this approach though, and consider if really that is going to help, or is it simply that you are on a shared IP with less desirable senders who are bringing you down? If thats the case, sending less email will actually do nothing to help.

“Deliverability is 100% down to your sending reputation”

If you are using a shared IP, your reputation is actually down to everyone else’s email as well. A good shared IP is great as it allows you to benefit from the reputation of other good senders. While a bad shared IP clearly leaves you with no hope of building a good reputation.

Thats why at GraphicMail we are very picky about who we work with to ensure when on a shared IP you are safe in the knowledge that you are sharing it with the very best.

Feel like I’ve missed something? Drop your question in the comment box or get in touch with one of our email experts today!


How to create the perfect welcome email?

Most businesses know they need to have a welcome email; it’s one of the most engaging emails you will send with open rates in excess of 50% and unique click through rates 105% higher than any other form of email.

But with that said I still see some very poor attempts at this first point of contact with the customer. Below are some hints and tips on how to create the perfect welcome email:


Ensure your newsletter sign-up form is easy to find and fill in. You should also clearly detail the incentives and benefits of signing up. 


It’s important that your welcome email is sent immediately after your customer has signed up, strike while the person’s interest is at its highest. If you leave it to late, people will presume something has gone wrong and this might put doubt in their mind with regards to your brand.

Subject line

Even with engagement so high with a welcome email it is important to get the subject line right, personalise with the customer’s name and remember to give customers a reason to open, include the incentive where possible.


Here are 3 recommendations for the perfect welcome email content;

  1. Remind the customer how they signed up – make it clear how and why you got there email address.
  2. Offer an incentive – while you’ve got the customers attention offer a discount for a repeat or first time purchase.
  3. Gather more info – include a link to gather more specific information from the customer leading on to better segmentation and targeting in later communication.


Instead of cramming all the above into one email, a series of welcome emails can work well.

  1. First email – immediately after sign up thanking and welcoming the customer
  2. Second email – 2-3 days after sign up offering an incentive
  3. Third email – 5-7 days after sign up asking for more information

There can also be room for some cleansing at this early stage, sending an email to non openers of the first email with the incentive and the opportunity to unsubscribe would be good practice. It’s better to remove people who no longer wish to be on the database now, rather than later.


Its easy once the welcome programme is set up to just forget about it and leave it, but there’s always room for improvement. Set up a testing plan to constantly push for higher engagement rates. Test the subject line test and tweak the call to action, to make the most of this first point of contact with your customer.

As one of the email marketing consultants here at GraphicMail I would be happy to review your current welcome programmes. If you would like to talk about welcome emails further, please to get in touch.