Why Are Subject Lines Important?

The average person receives a lot of emails every day. The Radicati Group said in a February 2017 report that it expects 269 billion business and consumer emails to be sent and received per day in 2017, with 3.7 billion email users worldwide.

Even when you eliminate the spam, that’s still a large number of emails hitting your users’ inboxes each day. Many of those messages will be of the transactional or notification variety, such as when someone makes a purchase or changes their password.

While notifications and transactional emails tend to have significantly higher open rates than newsletters and other commercial messages, it’s still important to pay close attention to the subject lines you use. After all, putting careful thought into the writing and design of the message inside doesn’t do much good if people don’t click to open it. That’s particularly true for notification emails that recipients didn’t necessarily ask for but which are designed to increase engagement, such as those “Your profile isn’t 100% complete” and “See who liked your post” kinds of messages.

Time To Get Started

Before you begin, take some time to review your user profile. Who are they? What are they likely doing when they receive your transactional or notification email? How do they feel at that moment? What will prompt them to open your message now, instead of one of many other unopened emails?

Keep the answers to those questions in mind as you read these 5 tips to help you write effective subject lines.

Personalization is key, but make sure it’s the right kind.

It’s standard operating practice these days to put someone’s name in the subject line, but there’s plenty of other information you can include. Just make sure you don’t overload the subject line.

Here are 7 ways you can insert personalization:

  1. Who they are (name insertion is key, but don’t stop there)
  2. Who they care about, such as friends and co-workers (such as the emails Facebook and LinkedIn send to you)
  3. What they did (not just purchases but also browsing and other activity)
  4. What they didn’t do (abandoning their online cart or not completing a profile)
  5. What others did in reaction to their activity (responses to status updates, or the number of reactions to a product review)
  6. What they have (account balances, or care or service instructions for a purchased product)
  7. Where they are (geolocation-based messaging, such as letting a customer know about a sale at their local store) For example: [FIRST NAME], [#] people replied to your comment – see what they said

Yes, you can use an emoji (or two), but remember the word “sparingly.”

An emoji can add a splash of fun to a subject line, especially if it’s something lighthearted, but you probably don’t want to use more than two emojis in a subject line. For example:
Wondering who commented on your review? 🤔

Just remember that emojis render differently across various email platforms, so make sure you double-check your choices with a resource like Emojipedia.

Be funny, or memorable, or just fun.

This is another potential minefield, but if you approach it the right way, your email could be the subject of a viral “Check out this great email I received” post on social media. At the very least, it can bump up your open rates.

If you’re not sure about turning your subject line into a mini stand-up routine, try making an impression with a memorable quote, fun fact, or pop culture reference. There are plenty of places online where you can find quotes and facts, and we assume you, or someone in your office, know a bit about pop culture.

For example: Dolphins still know each other 20 years later — don’t wait 20 years to reply to [USER NAME]’s post

Create a sense of urgency with a deadline.

You can let someone know that the items they’ve saved in their cart have low quantities on hand, or that those items will be cleared from their cart if they don’t purchase then by a certain date. Or that an offer they signed up for is about to expire. For example:

For example: Uh oh: Your cart will be empty – and lonely – if you don’t buy what’s in it by [DAY]

Try an old-fashioned straightforward approach.

If you feel like everyone else is trying really hard to stand out by shoving personalization, emojis, jokes, and deadlines into their subject lines (subscribing to your competitors’ services and using their apps can help you stay abreast of trends), maybe you should simply tell it like it is.

For example: Here’s your receipt for [ITEM] – thanks for your purchase!

Make A Great First Impression

Like all sorts of emails, email notification subject lines are important to get right. They’re the impression your user will have of your notification content and are a crucial step in driving activity and engagement with your app.

An effective notification subject line packs a lot of punch by capturing the essence of the information you’re delivering, as well as the action you want your user to take. Treat them as seriously as any other part of your app’s UX—not an afterthought. What are the most effective and creative email notification subject lines you’ve received from the apps you use? We’d love to see your examples. Tweet us or shoot us a note in our community slack channel.

Brent Sleeper

The Best in Email: 2017 Sparky Award Winners

How about that Oscars ending last Sunday? While the Sparky Awards don’t have nearly as dramatic of a twist, we are very excited to share the 2017 Sparky Award winners with you and recognize some seriously awesome efforts in the email space.

As word got out about the second annual Sparky Awards, our submissions nearly quadrupled in volume from last year. Our judges pored over nominations and eventually narrowed it down to a field of 2 top entries in each category and deliberated over the final category winners. Turns out you can have some fun with transactional emails, get super creative with subject line testing to gather data, AND solve important real-world problems with our API.

Without further ado, here are our 2017 Sparky Award winners:

Best Subject Line

Winner: Evite
Subject Line: Are you kitten me right meow?
Submission Recap: This email announced the launch of Evite’s new invitation category, “Pet Parties”. Evite had no data on which of their users were interested in pets, so the team needed an engaging subject line that would entice a broad group of users to open. They conducted a 10/10/80 A/B split test on the tone of the subject and message: Playful vs. Traditional announcement. The ultimate subject line for this email, “Are you kitten me right meow?”, had an open rate 2x higher than average. The then-proven “Playful” tone set the precedent for high open rates and engaging copy throughout the rest of Evite’s summer campaign

Best Transactional Email

Winner: Zillow
Submission Recap: Looking to increase engagement on favorited homes, users are sent an email with dynamic up-to-the-time-of-send stats on a favorited home (views & listings) within 24 hours of favoriting. More than 2 saves within 24 hours are batched into a digest version. There are many interaction points in the email – clickable images, links and multiple category buttons per image. Surfacing the number of people who have also viewed and saved that same home introduced an element of transparency (whether or not the home was popular) as well as competition (Be the First to See it!)

Best Use of the SparkPost API

Winner: Audio Images International, Inc.
Submission Recap: AIII operates a full-service multi-tenant messaging system specifically targeting property managers. SparkPost powers the fully integrated messaging service, complementing their best-in-class automated answering service. AIII’s focus is on empowering property managers to send timely and targeted communication to their hundreds of residents. Messages can be sent to individual units, or to an entire building. Residents receive messages in their format of choice, whether that’s html / text email, a text message, or both. AIII then processes webhook event data from SparkPost to let their customers, the property managers, know when they might have a typo’d email address (hard bounce), or what percent of residents interacted with the message (open and/or click). Their preference center and webhook-driven reporting make them stand out as a great use of the SparkPost API.

Grand Prize

The grand prize 2017 Sparky Award winner and recipient of up to $1000 in cash toward an industry conference is… Audio Images International, Inc!

Congratulations to all of the winners, you’ll all be receiving an engraved 2017 Sparky Award with your company name & category!

And special thanks to our judges: Dan Levinson, Clea Moore, Dave Gray & Celebrity Guest Judge Jack Wrigley.


Thoughts on the Sparky Awards or email in general? Leave us a comment below or tweet us.

If you’ve read about The Open Rate Paradox as championed by Dela Quist and Alchemy Worx, you’ll be familiar with the rallying cry of sending more relevant email. Most email experts get up in arms about the topic of email frequency, with both sides arguing the pros and cons of sending more.

At Interact 2013, we were able to hear from Dela Quist himself, who started off with an overview of demand response marketing versus demand generation marketing. While demand response marketing is based on giving the customer what you think they want, demand generation marketing is based on making the customer want what you have.


Are Email Marketers Leaving Money On The Table?

Anyone without an email address is the digital equivalent of being homeless. If you ask people if they want more email, they will say no, but if you ask people for preferred communications channel, they would say that it was email. Sell to them, because that is what they want you to do. Most brands reach more qualified customers and prospects via email than TV. Perhaps a reluctance to sell is based on email marketers being filled with fear and self-loathing because of the negative image of the industry.

“Engagement is like having a deaf blind canary in a coal mine”

Understanding the nature of engagement is key to email marketing success, yet many people who talk about engagement have no measurable goal.

79% of people who receive email do nothing with it, and only 1 in 2,000 people will mark your email as spam. A particular client’s cost of stopping an unsubscribe was $400, while the cost of acquiring a new customer was $5.  New people on your mailing list are most likely to open emails and transact with you.

According to Dela, marketing emails have a far higher chance of getting into the inbox at 95% and open rates increase on days of higher email volume. He advises companies to hire someone specifically to grow lists, as that is the easiest way to grow revenue – and to fire them if they fail. Two other tactics for growing revenue? Segmentation and increasing email frequency.

“Anyone who doesn’t send an email to their entire list once a week is dumb”

Email drives sales in other channels. Send an email with a different subject line to people who didn’t open it the first time – it can lead to a 40% lift in open rates. Dela says that 80% of email marketers use batch and blast because it works, and also introduces the concept of The Nudge Effect, where subject lines tend to influence people who do not open their emails. Being in the inbox is important, even if emails aren’t opened. It is important to understand that every email you send is affected by the one you sent before and the one after. While 90% of emails are opened within 24 hours of sending, only 15% of purchases may take place then, with the revenue possibly being generated days or months after deployment.

At Alchemy Worx, it is a policy that every email sent is a re-activation opportunity.  You can’t re-engage with an email you don’t get, and businesses with the highest frequency sends have the most engaged database. Deliverability begins and ends with the quality of your data, but marketing should not be driven by deliverability issues.

As always, Dela’s talk was a firecracker of a session inviting rebuttals from the audience and great debate. If you’d like to find out more about the issues that he highlighted check out his book:

Looking to increase your email frequency? Troubleshoot your deliverability issues first with our guide on How To Send Zillions of Email A Day!


Are you plagued by the paper version of SPAM like I am? Don’t you wish you could hit the “JUNK” button on that stuff as easily as you can with your email? I know I’m not alone in this, because an awesome comic hit my inbox this week:

A Comic by The Oatmeal
This comic was created by The Oatmeal, a talented illustrator and humorist that everyone on the internet should know by now.

Some Other Things I Wish Were More Like Email:


Phone Calls

I wish I could see a Subject Line of every phone call I ever got before picking up the phone. That way if I saw something undesirable, I could just ignore the call.


Long Meetings At Work

It would be awesome if we could set up filters the same way we can with many modern email programs for our ears! Whenever we get stuck in a long meeting that we only need a small tidbit of information from, we could filter out all the fluff and have the important stuff dropped right in front of us. It would save me tons of time, but I’d miss out on a few power naps.


Everyday Social Situations

I would probably go out way more often if I could block sender on obnoxious people at bars, clubs, movie theaters, and anywhere else fun is often spoiled. The world would be a much better place if we could mute all of the people that bring us down.

Email’s Not So Bad

It’s easy to be annoyed with the emails we receive, the programs we use for it, or the barrage we sometimes get when we mistakenly get put on the wrong list. But when I look at other communication methods like these, it reminds that email’s not so bad. And I bet a lot of that is because of great technological strides like DMARC.

So thank you DMARC. Keep up the good work. And please go see what you can do for other moments in my life when I need to communicate with other human beings.

To learn more about DMARC, check out our Webinar:

Don't Deprioritize DMARC webinar

Weekly Email Marketing News Digest

Perhaps the most important article in this week’s email marketing news is the one that highlights lost marketing opportunities in transactional email. In general, people are highly engaged with transactional email as it contains important personal information that is of value to them. They actively look out for it and rescue it from the spam box, hence it represents a great opportunity to upsell products. Not having a call-to-action in emails, in general, negate the effect of scheduled hours and enticing subject lines, wasting all those hours of testing for open and click rates.

Email Open and Click Rates, By Hour Scheduled

One of the first factors that determine whether or not your email is seen, is the time it arrives in the inbox. MailerMailer’s Email Marketing Metrics Report looks at just this factor, compiling open rates by time scheduled.


The results show the emails sent between the early evening and early morning receive the best open rates.

Which Subject Line Keywords Would Get Your Mail Opened Every Time?

Which words push your buttons? Adestra’s 2013 Subject Line Analysis Report has the answer.

  • Sale (Open Rate: +23.2%, Click Rate: +60.7% )
  • New (Open Rate: +17.2%, Click Rate: +38.2%)
  • Video (Open Rate: +18.5%, Click Rate: +64.8%)
  • Alert (Open Rate: +38.1%, Click Rate: +61.8%)
  • Daily (Open Rate: +27.8%, Click Rate: +100.3%)
  • Weekly (Open Rate: +27.1%, Click Rate: +50.6%)
  • Free Delivery (Open Rate: +50.7%, Click Rate: +135.4%)
  • Percentage Off (Open Rate: +10.5%, Click Rate: +27.4%)

The report has a list of words that don’t work so well too, so be sure to check out the words you should be using less of in your email communications.

The Missed Opportunity of Dead-End Emails

Food for thought: It doesn’t matter that your emails are being opened, if you don’t have a clear call-to-action. Transactional emails receive 30% to 40% open rates, yet most are mere plain text emails. Including upsell opportunities in receipts for example can increase clickthroughs by 20%.

The Four Commandments of Email 

Tom Monaghan, Hubspot’s email product manager, shares his four rules when it comes to email marketer.

  1. Have a standard format of a salutation, a body and a closing. 
  2. Only contact customers when you have something relevant to say.
  3. Replies are the best gauge of engagement.
  4. Send fewer and more specific emails to fill specific needs.

[Infographic] Mind the Digital Marketing Gap: The Economist Intelligence Unit Banking Survey Findings

Mind The Digital Marketing Gap Infographic

Want to see real life examples of how brands are using transactional email to upsell to customers? Download our free eBook on Transactional Messaging Best Practices today!

Transactional Messaging Best Practices

Weekly Email Marketing News Digest

We are taking a look at the relationship between optimizing for mobile and responsive design this week with the key challenge being the smaller screen size. Designing for the mobile age has become a particularly important topic due to studies that reveal statistics such as 69% of email opens on the mobile.

We’ve also snuck in Chris Penn’s take on the confirmation opt-in debate for readers who are still following that news thread.

Mobile Marketing And Email: 4 Ways To Use Them Together

Here are 4 ways to ensure the integration of mobile and email marketing.

  • Mobile Email: Make sure messages are readable on a smaller screen.
  • Mobile Sites and Apps: Ensure that you either have a mobile site or app that is easily accessible for visitors reading off smaller screens.
  • Location-Based Check-Ins: Tie email campaigns to check-in deals.
  • Geo-Targeted Ads: Consider sponsored search with keywords related to your brand.


Responsive Email Design: The Ins And Outs (article removed from original site)

Here are some mobile design best practices:

  • Design using large fonts (14px for body copy and 22px for headlines)
  • Clear call to action
  • Consider a single column
  • De-clutter the screen and provide minimal options for links
  • Have mobile-friendly landing pages


Optimizing for mobile? Don’t forget your subject line.

While you may be busy coding a new email template that is mobile-friendly, it’s important to keep subject line lengths in mind. Due to the smaller screen size, it’s best to keep your subject lines to 20-30 characters. Here are a couple of examples.


Mailbag: Single or Double Opt-In For Email?

Christopher Penn outlines the three different types of opt-ins used for email lists and gives his take on which works best for him. The choices?

  1. Single opt-in: Fill in a form and you’re subscribed to the list.
  2. Notified single opt-in: Fill in the form, you’re subscribed to the list and you get an email confirmation with an opt-out link.
  3. Double opt-in: Fill in the form, you get an email requesting confirmation by clicking on a link

For more information on the list confirmation debate, do check out The Debate on Confirmation Opt-Ins: Are they always necessary?

Responsive Web Design Infographic

Here’s a great infographic that explains the key features of responsive design.


Interested in finding out more about engaging your customers through mobile? Check out The New Communications Standard!

The New Communications Standard whitepaper

The Transactional Email News Digest

In this week’s transactional email news we’ve got a lot of helpful information on best practices, the pitfalls of using transactional email for promotional purposes, and some ideas on how to solve the problem of messages that show up in multiple places. Let’s start things off with our friend Chris Penn, VP of marketing technology at SHIFT Communications.

When To Use Boring Email Subject Lines

Chris makes the case that when it comes to emails that people are expecting – transactional notifications, newsletters, etc. – it’s smarter to use straightforward, utilitarian or even boring subject lines. Why? In a word, brand. You want recipients of, say, your newsletter about transactional email to recognize it when it shows up in their inbox. Changing up your “From:” line or “Subject:” line might seem like a way to grab attention, but over time you’re likely to see engagement rates slip. And as usual, what works for one business might not work for another, so do test and test again!

Getting Rid Of Stale Transactional Email

Guillermo Rauch, who’s CTO and co-founder of LearnBoost, and blogs at DevThought, proposes a solution to a problem that’s becoming more common as the popularity of social media and mobile apps grow. Say you get a new friend request on Facebook. The site generates a message that you’ll see on your timeline, and also (depending on your notification settings) sends an email that you’ll see in your email client. This is basically the same message, but it’s in two places. Let’s say you get the emailed message first. Wouldn’t it be preferable to have the message on the site go away, since you’ve already seen it in your email client? Guillermo discusses a code fix to make this possible.

Five Uncommon Ways For Ecommerce Retailers To Segment Their Email List

List segmentation is basically the ancient practice of audience targeting applied to the specific technical parameters of email marketing. Common approaches use demographic data, such as segmenting lists by gender or age, or geographic location and so forth. Michael Linthorst at Econsultancy shares some thoughts on how marketers can boost email marketing ROI by segmenting their lists on more arcane data such as customer shipping habits, or their level of social media engagement.

Webinar Recap: Boosting Loyalty Through Post-Purchase Messaging

Jim Davidson of Bronto Software hosted a webinar earlier this month focused on how merchants can use transactional messaging strategies to boost customer engagement during the post-purchase period. Jim advises that post-purchase is the crucial opportunity for cementing loyalty, when interactions with the brand can either convert customers into brand advocates and spur additional purchases — or sour the relationship irreparably. Read the whole thing on the MarketLive blog for specific how-to’s and customer case studies.

This is Not the Kelly Molloy You Are Looking For

Finally this week, Return Path’s Kelly Molloy relates her long history with mistaken identity and mistakenly getting automated messages for people who share her first and last name. It would be funny except for the fact that there’s usually no easy or automated way to correct these kinds of problems when transactional email gets sent to the wrong recipient. By way of Spamhaus, Kelly sets out some best practices that all transactional senders should adhere to avoid these kinds of problems, and make it easy for mistakes to be remedied quickly if and when they do happen.

Learn more about leveraging on transactional email to deliver better customer engagement and ROI with our Transactional Messaging Best Practices eBook!

Transactional Messaging Best Practices

Weekly Email Marketing News Digest

Facebook is the conversation centerpiece this week as the social networking platform debuts a new experience on Android – Facebook Home. With features like chatheads, Facebook has pitched Home as a people-centric rather than app-centric UI. It’s available through the Android app store on April 12 and on selected phone models like the HTC first, where Facebook Home is pre-loaded.

But lest we forget about email, let’s move on to the news in the industry on 2013 trends, where video is in demand and spam still sparks controversy.

A Look Into Email Marketing Trends for 2013

As we move into the second quarter of the year, it’s always good to recap on what works in the industry.

  • Radicati predicts that email accounts will grow to over 3.8 billion in 2014 from 2.9 billion in 2010.
  • The 2012 Channel Preference Study showed that 66% of consumers made purchases based on a marketing email.
  • The Forrester Email Marketing Forecast predicts that the amount spent on email marketing in 2016 will increase by almost a billion from 2011.

When it comes to email on mobile:

  • Adobe’s 2013 Digital Publishing Report shows 79% of people use smartphones to read email.
  • 40% of email is opened on a mobile device, more than on desktop or webmail.
  • 70% of consumers will immediately delete emails that do not display properly on mobile devices.
  • 2011 eConsultancy Conversion Rate Optimization Report showed that 14% of companies and 24% of agencies are designing emails specifically for mobile.

Daily Delivery – Adding Video to Email and the Numbers it Creates

Last week, we featured a piece on how social sharing boosts email numbers. This week, we found out how video affects email performance.

  • According to email expert, David Daniels, video in email can increase clickthrough by two to three times.
  • A Get Response Study shows customer emails containing video had 5.6% higher open rates and 96.38% higher CTRs.
  • Experian’s 2012 Digital Marketer Benchmark and Trend Report revealed that including the word “video” in an email’s subject line led to a CTR increase of 7-13%. Embedding a video generated a 21% higher conversion rate than a static image.

6 Tips to Avoid Your Subscriber’s Spam Folder

Almost 800 tests are run on your email to determine if it is fit for your recipient’s inbox. Here are some tips to lower your spam score:

  1. Don’t opt-in your email contacts, LinkedIn contacts, etc.
  2. Avoid automatic opt-ins.
  3. Deliver what you promise.
  4. Make unsubscribing easy.
  5. Clean up your HTML.
  6. Lower your link to text ratio.

Path Sued For Sending Text Spam

Permission marketing remains a problem for businesses. Path joins a growing list of companies that have been hit by a lawsuit for sending unwarranted mobile marketing messages. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act states that it is illegal for companies to use automated dialing services to send SMS messages without the recipient’s consent. Violations are punishable by a $500 fine per occurrence.

Global Marketers Still Rate SEO, Email Marketing As Tops for ROI

Email marketing is one of the top two channels getting props for return on investment from marketers. 75% of them rate SEO as “excellent” (32%) or “good” (43%). Email marketing garnered a vote of 22% in “excellent” and 44% in “good” bringing the total to 66%. Paid search and content marketing received decent scores as well.


Weekly Email Marketing News Digest

DDoS attacks continue to be the center of media spotlight.

We’re showcasing more of the controversy around Spamhaus in this week’s digest, together with a mish-mash of actionable email marketing best practices that boost conversion (eg. subject lines, autoresponders, social sharing). Pretty much something to pique everyone’s interest!

Global internet slows after ‘biggest attack in history’

Spamhaus has been under siege for well over a week and this issue was thrown into international spotlight after the BBC picked this news nugget up with the controversial headline that it was slowing the “global internet”.

While this might have caused initial panic among limited circles and networks, it was pretty much business as usual for most people. Gizmodo has a detailed account of the Internet Apocalypse – that wasn’t.

What is a fact is that this is the biggest DDoS attack in Internet history with attacks peaking at 300Gbps (gigabits per second) versus the usual 50Gbps against banks.

The record for the biggest DDoS attack was previously held in 2010 at 100 Gbps.

Study: Nearly Two-Thirds of Companies Do Not Use Autoresponders

A study on 500 companies from the Inc. 5,000 list has revealed that nearly 25% of companies do not offer an online contact form. Other startling statistics:

  • Only 37% of companies use autoresponders and send follow-up emails after an online form submission.
  • Of companies that do use an autoresponder, 78% send follow-up emails within one hour of a form submission

Several best practices recommended by the study:

  • Follow up form submissions with a timely personalized email
  • Having an unsubscribe option
  • Having a call-to-action

Six email deliverability lessons that you can learn from SEO

Search engines do not index emails, but there are still some lessons from SEO that email marketers can learn.

  1. Keep Coding Simple – A majority of clients are not able to load emails laden with scripts.
  2. Use Pre Headers – This provides a meta description of your email
  3. Find a good balance between Images and Text – Using too many images can lead to delivery issues
  4. Choose Keywords Wisely – Certain words are used to determine if the sender is a spammer hence monitor deliverability when using words like “free”
  5. Be Recognisable – Ensure email authentication processes are properly set up for a good sender reputation
  6. Be Relevant – The more relevant your content is to a recipient the less likely they are to “mark as spam”

Case Study: Creativity vs. clarity in email subject lines

I’ve often wondered about this myself and the AWeber team provides the answer. Emails with clear subject lines had:

  • 1,107% more comments
  • 315% more tweets
  • 331% more Facebook likes
  • 617% more traffic
  • 366% more email subscriptions

On average, each channel had 541% more response. For a detailed analysis on why detailed emails work better do read the full article.

Social Sharing Boosts Email CTR By 158% [REPORT + INFOGRAPHIC]

61% more users have social sharing buttons in their emails than last year. That’s good news for the industry as emails with social sharing buttons had 158% more clickthrough rate than those that did not. The average email CTR is 2.4% without social sharing and 6.2% with social sharing.


On this topic of social sharing, if you like what you are reading, why not sign up for our newsletter? And if you like our newsletter, we’d appreciate a social share!