Discover the Best and Worst Words to Use in a Marketing Email Subject Line

Email subject lines act as a consumer’s first impression of a brand. Make the right one and it can lead to short-term sales and long-term loyalty. Make the wrong one and, well, expect the opposite. Think about it: Say you’re at a networking event. If a vendor came up to you and immediately started pitching a product, how would you feel? Too much too soon, perhaps? On the other hand, what if someone approached you, introduced themselves, complimented your company on a recent achievement, talked industry shop and, at the end of the conversation, gave you a business card and expressed the desire to stay in touch? Chances are, you’d be more apt to stay in touch. 

In other words, words matter. To help you find the best words to use in an email marketing subject line (and avoid the worst ones), we delved into data from thousands of retail and eCommerce campaigns we deployed for clients in 2017. Get consumer relationships started on the right foot with our insights. 

Avoid These Types of Words in Subject Lines — They're Old Tricks! 

Asking Rhetorical Questions 
There’s an old saying that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. That may be true, but our data shows using rhetorical questions in email subject lines isn’t the smartest way to get an open. Though a question like, “How much will you save?” sounds intriguing, people respond better to words and phrases in email subject lines that evoke more emotion, such as “because you’re a favorite…”   

Making Things Imperative
Leave the guilt tripping to your in-laws. Imperative, guilt-inducing phrases like “don’t delete this email” or “don’t forget” tend to be a turn-off. Guilt ranked 12th out 15 emotions in retail email marketing subject lines in 2017. It makes sense: Shopping is supposed to be fun! Instead, put more upbeat words in your email subject lines like “Welcome to summer vacation,” which evokes a feeling that a brand is speaking directly to a consumer (Intimacy).  

Being so Cliché
Who wouldn’t want to learn they’ve “hit the jackpot?” Apparently, the majority of email marketing recipients — probably because they’ve seen the same subject line numerous times since they signed up for their first email address. Strive to get more creative with subject lines and think outside the box to catch customers’ attentions. 

Add These Words to Your Email Subject Line Toolbox

Put The Spotlight On Ownership/Gain
The whole “hit the jackpot” subject line trick may have gone the way of mood rings (read: it was overused by the 21st century), but Gratification ranked fourth for retail and eCommerce email subject lines last year. The emotion, which stimulates excitement and interest specifically to value and/or financial gain, is exemplified in subject lines like “you’re getting a treat.” The phrase sounds concrete and holds promise for its recipient.

Be Warm, Yet Firm
Though guilt-inducing words and phrases tend to be some of the worst to use in an email subject line, using fear isn’t completely off the table — just use it wisely and with a touch of finesse. Veer towards Anxiety. The top driver of email campaign engagement in North America in 2017, Anxiety acts as a wake-up call and alerts a customer to act, but it doesn’t have to be jarring. Phrases like “friendly message” prompt Anxiety in a subtle yet effective way, causing customers to act quickly. 

Highlight Achievements
We all know it feels good to crack the code, especially when there’s a discount or sale involved. Perennially one of the top performing emotions across all industries (it was No. 2 for retail and eCommerce in 2017), Achievement praises or rewards a consumer for an implied accomplishment. Try out something like “you’ve unlocked a discount.”
Give Tokens Of Appreciation
As marketers, we tend to ask a lot of our consumers (“buy this!” “open that!”) But taking time to acknowledge customers is a good way to stand out from the crowd and get their attention. Gratitude was the third best-performing emotion in 2017. It looks like mom was right — a little kindness goes a long way! Give “We appreciate your loyalty” a shot. 

Make Them Feel Special
It’s nice to feel like you’re part of an elite, carefully-selected group or club. “For our email subscribers only” conveys a special privilege for your customers who took the time to sign up for your emails.