January 23, 2009

Are You Selling Yourself Short?

If you are at all involved in email marketing, I wonder if you have considered the impact that your email subject line can have on your bottom line profits?

Common sense dictates that the decision to open an email is based on very little information.. the most popular email clients and webmail programmes will only show the sender and the subject. So, what you put in your subject line is likely to have a significant influence on your open rate.

This begs the question.. Are you testing your email subject lines?

Another factor to consider is what the potential reader will actually see. For example several of the top email providers limit the number of characters that are displayed in the subject line:

  • AOL, which is responsible for approximately 22% of the U.S. email market, limits subject lines to roughly 38 characters
  • Yahoo!, with 21% of U.S. email, has a approximate limit of 47 characters per subject line
  • Hotmail, which has 14% of the U.S. email market, uses word wrap to display subject lines on multiple lines, allowing approximately 45 characters per line

Therefore, 57% of U.S. email recipients see only the first 38 to 47 characters of a subject line when making the decision to open an email. Additionally, the growing reliance on mobile devices, and their smaller screens that display even fewer characters, affects this trend as well.

If you put a [firstname] type field in the subject line to personalise your message, then this limits your subject line even further. A firstname is likely to fall into the range of 3 - 10 characters and the first name is often followed by a comma and a space. So this is likely to leave only 30 characters for your subject, coincidentally the length of this blog posts title.

My own testing would suggest that shorter subject lines tend to get a higher open rate.

Do you monitor your open rates?

Have you spotted any differences between short and long subject lines?

Filed under News by John

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Comments on Are You Selling Yourself Short? »

January 23, 2009

Simone Icough @ 7:55 am

Nice article John, and a new way of thinking, I like the logic and I will certainly pay more attention to this in the future, we send newsletters for one company every month and I don't think we even consider the subject line!

There are a few reasons leading to this that I won't go into here, but the long and short of it is, if they had more money to spend then we could cover all these areas, however, they don't so they do it themselves and just pay my partner to programme it but never ask my opinion (being the SEO) -

Liking the article though


David Congreave @ 7:56 am

I have done a couple of split-tests on subject lines with mixed results. I haven't tested the length of subject lines.

Personally, my decision to open an email is primarily influenced by the text in the "From" field.

If it's someone I know personally, or a marketer I really enjoy hearing from, I'll open it straight away, regardless of what the subject line says.

David Congreave’s last blog post..Traffic Tactics That Work: Special For Lucid Readers

John @ 7:59 am


I had to laugh at: "the long and short of it" ;-)

It might be worth pointing out to your client that people who don't open the emails won't be clicking any links. Getting the email opened is an important step in the process.


Jason Finch @ 8:00 am

I regularly do emails out to members of my social networking websites, both regular users and people who've not been back in a while - the email subjects that have worked the best do not include the person's name… it *always* looks spammy in my view - how many genuine non-automated emails do you receive from friends and contacts that put your name in the subject line?

Email subjects need to be treated like headline writing - it doesn't necessary need to be personalised to every single reader (you can do that, and should do that, in the opening paragraph), but it does need to attract attention and create curiosity.

Jason Finch’s last blog post..twusiness: @happygeek Was it not like that prior to the appointment? :p Hello Davey!

John @ 8:01 am


Yes the sender field is important too. But when pushed for time, it's the subject line that has the biggest influence on me personally.


John @ 8:04 am


I agree, it is very similar to headline writing.

Good point about the personalisation of the subject lines, something else to test. ;-)



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Robin Houghton @ 9:09 am

Yes, a very good point and always worth reiterating. I have tried various things with clients over the years and no definitive patterns have emerged. Long vs short, keeping the same 'standard' subject line vs varying it every time, etc.

When starting out on email marketing with a new client, the subject line is absolutely immportant and should be tested. However, as time goes on, I believe the 'from' name takes over as the crucial factor.

Once you've established yourself as a sender of consistently great content then the subject line becomes less mission-critical.

Robin Houghton’s last blog post..Another news coup for Twitter as plane crashes into the Hudson River

John @ 10:31 am


I agree with your comment: "Once you've established yourself as a sender of consistently great content then the subject line becomes less mission-critical.

There are people whose emails I will open because I've come to know that they consistently deliver good quality content.

Great point.



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