In email marketing, the subject line can make the difference between a successful and a “so-so” email message. It’s more than just a summary of your email; it’s actually a mini marketing message. Plus, it’s your opportunity to stand out in a crowded inbox. With so much inbox clutter these days, make it your goal to write better subject lines that make people want to click open instead of hit delete.

Here are six tips to help you rise above the clutter.

1. Keep the email subject line short.

Under 50 characters or nine words is best. Your readers typically scan through their inboxes quickly. Plus, email subject lines will get cut off if they’re too long on mobile devices, which is a problem since the majority of people are opening emails on their smartphones. If you can, try using subject lines with only a word or two—sometimes those can stand out the best and get the most engagement. If you feel the need to elaborate, use the preview text, the short summary text that immediately follows the subject line when viewing an email in an inbox.

2. Avoid certain words.

The word “free” tends to trigger spam filters, especially in the first word of your subject line, or if followed by an exclamation mark or written in all caps. Same with “ACT NOW!” or “100% SATISFIED!” If you can think of your subject line as less promotional and more educational or focused on sharing information, that will help you avoid most of the biggest spam triggers. Here’s “The Ultimate List of Email SPAM Trigger Words” by HubSpot if you want to check to see if any of the words you frequently use in your subject lines could be a SPAM trigger.

A tip about emojis: Many businesses and organizations wonder if they should use them in subject lines, and the truth is, research varies. Some studies show that emojis increase open rates, other research has shown they make no difference or that they can actually have a negative impact.

What we recommend: Test on a small sample of your email list. Use the exact same subject line for everyone, but add an emoji to the subject line for your small sample and compare open rates. Did that emoji make a difference? Also, use them sparingly; be sure they make sense for your brand and your industry and be sure they render properly by checking that the emojis you use are supported by the mailbox providers and devices your subscribers use.

3. Ask a question.

Why? Because questions are a great way to focus your readers’ attention and pique their curiosity. They also feel incomplete. Using a question will often motivate your readers to open the email in search of an answer.

“Is your website making these 7 mistakes?”
“How much house can you afford? Find out now.”
“How can you boost your SEO in 3 steps?”

If I’m interested in the answers to any of these questions, of course I’m going to click on the email to find it, and then you’ve got me where you want me—smack dab in the middle of an engaging email that’s going to compel me to learn more.

4. Create urgency.

Subject lines that convey a sense of urgency have a 22% higher open rate than those that don’t. Leverage this power by creating a subject line that communicates urgency or scarcity. You can include a deadline in your subject line to make your message a high priority, if that’s appropriate, like “Early bird registration expires June 5.” A successful promotional strategy for an event or a special appeal, for example, will likely include a series of emails, including an initial announcement with an upcoming date, then a final reminder with a tight deadline to act. You can even make the turnaround time as short as 24 hours—subject lines with a “now or never” tone tend to be very effective. But like we mention above, stay away from anything that sounds too salesy or screams at the reader: “ACT NOW!” or “LIMITED TIME OFFER!!!”

5. Tell them what to do.

Some people respond best to direct instructions. If your email has a direct call to action, like encouraging people to register for an event, let your subject line reflect that. “Register by Friday” or “Order your T-shirt today” is short, sweet and to the point, which works well with subject lines. Of course, be sure your email is very focused on that one particular CTA (Call to Action), or you’ll come off looking a little sleazy, like you used a “bait and switch” technique. You don’t want to tell someone to order an event T-shirt in your subject line, then make the main body of your email about how they can make a donation. If you use a CTA in the subject line, be sure it’s the same CTA you’re using in the email.

6. Make an announcement.

If you have something new, exciting or groundbreaking to share about your organization, channel that enthusiasm into your subject line. This will make your email subscribers feel like they’re getting the inside scoop on what’s happening with your nonprofit and encourage them to read on for more details. “New downtown shelter now open,” for example, is a good way to entice readers to learn more. Just be leery of ALL CAPS and a bunch of exclamation points (!!!!!!!!), because your reader doesn’t need to feel yelled at, and you don’t want to trigger SPAM filters.

Write better subject lines.

Email marketing remains one of the most cost-effective and successful marketing tools available—if you do it right. If you’re unsure about whether you’re using email marketing to its full potential for your organization, why not let us help? We can take a look at your current email marketing program and offer suggestions, or even hand things over to our accomplished creative team members, who can write and design your emails for you.


Let us help you write your emails