Elite digital marketing
Author: Shai Aharony published:
Jan 04th 2016
last updated:
Jan 04th 2016
Prodding Google’s algorithms just for fun

Outreach - How to Compose the Perfect Subject Line

Reboot Line

The average business person receives over 100 E-mail’s every single day, Many from SEO companies meaning 90 percent of them will most likely be swiftly deleted to make a busy inbox more digestible.

The aim of the outreach game is to get your E-mail opened and read – and that’s where subject line becomes the most important element of outreaching content. Yep – you read that right. One little subject line can make or break your whole outreach campaign, so make sure it’s a good one.

But how exactly do I make sure it's great, I hear you ask?

When it comes to the tricks of E-mail marketing, the people at Mailchimp’s words of wisdom are pretty simple, yet thoroughly effective:

The best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst sell what’s inside”

With this in mind, we’ve put together a handy guide to help you ensure your subject line game is on point.

Whilst there is no such thing as crafting a perfect subject line, we’re confident that using our selection of tips we use on a daily basis for our Digital PR outreach, you can get pretty damn close…

Personalisation Matters

If you were trying to get a friends attention on the street you’d call out their name, right? Well the same goes for email marketing. Putting your recipients name directly into the subject line is sure to make it stand out in an overcrowded inbox – after all we’re used to responding to our own name! And there’s proof - research has shown a positive effect on opening rates of emails when the recipients first and last names are prominent in the subject line; Personalised subject lines are 22.2% more likely to be opened.


Don’t be afraid to be visually different. People tend to respond well to things that are striking, so use CAPS, punctuation and even brackets to catch your recipient’s eye. An exclamation point will immediately ignite curiosity in someone, in the same way that a question mark will. Quotation marks are another great way to make your subject line different from the rest of an inbox and very readable.

Call to Action

Use the trusty CTA technique and ask your potential reader a question! People are hardwired to answer questions, and when asked (or told) to do something, they generally will respond. Try subject line starters such as ‘did you know?’ or ‘can you help?’ to boost your open rate by more than 50 percent.

The ‘From' Line is Key

Using ambiguous terms like ‘info’ in your ‘from’ line can have a negative effect on opening rates – no one wants to open an email from someone that they don’t know from Adam. Put your full name into your from line if you know the recipient, or if not be sure to include your company name to give the impression that the email is from a reputable company and isn’t just spam or a virus.

Short and Sweet

Research has shown that shorter subject lines have a greater chance of being read (subject lines with 30 or fewer characters have an above average open rate) so as a general rule, keep your subject line as close to the lower end of 50 characters as possible. Short, clear, concise and punchy are all qualities you should be aiming for when creating subject lines -this is because people favour things they can more easily read and digest.

Keep Mobile Devices In Mind

Think carefully – how often do you check your email on your phone or tablet? With our society’s smart phone addiction, chances are it’s a pretty common occurrence. 40% of emails are opened on mobile first – where the average mobile screen can only fit 4-7 words max! This means you need to consider how your email is going to show up in different outlets as well as the traditional desktop computer. IPhones cut off subject lines after 35 characters in portrait view and 80 in landscape view, while Android limits are 33 characters in portrait view and 72 in landscape view. On both devices, the “From field” is also more prevalent than the subject line. Be sure to keep this information in mind when crafting an email.

Choose your Words Carefully

Crafting a subject line can be compared to a fine art; it requires creativity, savvy and most of all a great knowledge of your target audience. The use of certain words in a subject line make it more likely that your email will get opened and seen by the recipient, and therefore your content will reach as many people as possible – happy days. ‘Urgent’, ‘important’, ‘announcement’ and ‘invitation’ are all good ways to go, as opposed to ‘reminder’ which research has shown immediately turns people off. Finally, using common sense to assess what your audience wants to receive can be a great help; people love to be thanked and complimented, so do this in the subject line to promote opening of your email.

Practice Makes Perfect

As aforementioned above, there is no exact formula or science for writing the perfect subject line. In fact, like most art it’s very subjective and what works for some people won’t work for others and vice versa. We recommend you use general guidelines and send out a few different emails to people and record the opening rates. Whichever method got you the most opening rate should be your go-to subject line – simple! This experimental approach will save you a lot of time and should get you the results you want.

*What Not to Do*

So now you know what makes up a great subject line, but can you decipher what makes a terrible one? What makes a subject line so bad that your E-mail isn’t simply disregarded but will actually provoke a response of pure anger?

As you can see, the E-mail sender provoked a less than polite response in his attempt to outreach using the subject line ‘Heads up’.

So what’s so wrong with his choice of subject line?

Well, pretty much everything; using our guide as a checklist, you’ll see straight away that he has clearly made a plethora of mistakes.

First up, there isn’t a name in sight, making the subject line deeply impersonal. Secondly, there’s not a hint of punctuation or variation in capital and lower case letters; the subject line almost blends into the page and isn’t visually eye catching.

The recipient hasn’t been asked a question or told to do something; instead the subject line is a blank statement with no call to action, meaning the recipient automatically feels less inclined to respond.

Although the subject line is well under the 30 word limit, none of the target words have been used and neither has flattery or any sort of complimentary language.

Fundamentally, this subject line managed to completely miss the point– the aim is to catch your recipient’s attention and tell them something about what is going to be in the E-mail. ‘Heads up’ tells us nothing about the sender, and shows us that he knows nothing about the recipient or his company. Nine out of ten times this will not produce the result you want i.e. exhibit a (above).

This rather extreme response isn’t hugely common (and may well have been down to someone with a particular antipathy for spam having a bad day) but the principle remains that spammy subject lines will be ignored and E-mails disregarded.

To avoid this, you need to write subject lines which make your outreach seem appealing to your recipients and most importantly, not spammy!

*Some of our Personal Favourites*

Just for fun, here’s some of the subject lines we’ve seen that we think should go in the ‘Subject Line Hall of Fame’ for greatness – watch and learn:

LEAN STARTUP: Baby Got (Feed)Back - Putting the Lean in Learn

Because everyone knows (and secretly loves) Sir Mixalot’s nineties banger.

Please Touch Me! Enterprise Delight via Multitouch

Cheeky and bold, this subject line is sure to catch your recipient’s attention for all the right reasons.

Defence Against the Dark Arts: ESAPI

To appeal to the Harry Potter fan in everyone.

Do Gamers Dream of HTML5 Sheep?

We don’t want to say this kind of joke would rise a laugh in a room full of gamer geeks, but if the shoe fits…

Best of Groupon: The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)

Just Groupon, being hilarious.

Barack Obama: “Hey”

Pure genius. Who in their right mind wouldn’t open a person message from the President for crying out loud?!

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