How to Write Effective Email Subject Lines for Ecommerce

When any type of marketing email—whether it be a newsletter, cart abandonment email, promotion, etc.—is being prepped to send, the subject line is often treated as an afterthought. In reality, however, the subject line is critical because it is the only opportunity businesses have to convince recipients to open the message. If the recipient doesn’t see value from the subject line, finds it boring, or thinks that the message is nothing but spam, all the time invested in crafting the email itself is for naught.

Because marketing emails are an important part of any business’s strategy, it is that much more important to ensure that each subject line stands out from the crowd in an intriguing way. Below, we’ve outlined some foundational best practices businesses can use to increase the effectiveness of their email subject lines.

1. Keep it relatively short.

According to a Marketo study, an email subject line that uses 41 characters (or 7 words) leads to optimal engagement—though you can go slightly over or under and still see good results. While this does not appear to leave much room to get your point across, it does force you to only include the most important information without extraneous details. To help make your message more concise, try to eliminate as many filler words as you can.

2. Summarize the content of the email concisely.

Your subject line needs to tell recipients what’s inside the email in a very limited number of characters. It should nicely summarize the main point of the message, whether it’s an announcement about your business or a limited-time special offer. No need to employ puffery here—simply tell recipients what they’re about to read so that they can decide whether it’s worth their time or not. One important rule of thumb is to write the content of your email before writing the subject line—this allows you to capture the essence of the message in a concise and persuasive manner.

3. Emphasize why the recipient should open the email.

Place yourself in the recipients’ shoes and ask yourself why they would want to read your message in the first place. This exercise allows you to pin down the most compelling reason for customers to open your email, which should then morph into your subject line. Is it a notification about holiday shipping deadlines they need to know? Is it a helpful article on how to best use your product? Is it an alert to check their account? Include wording that conveys the reasoning behind why they should care.

4. Make the recipient feel special.

Think about the last time you looked through your inbox. How many emails did you ignore because they LOOK like mass emails that 100,000 other people received? Catch your recipients’ attention by using personalization—like their first name—to show that this message is for them specifically. You can also make it sound like the email is exclusively for them or a select group of your customers—if a recipient feels like they were singled out in a positive way, they are more willing to look at what you have to say.

5. Start with important and/or action-oriented words.

Since it’s difficult to know how many characters will actually show up on whatever device or email client each recipient is using, load the beginning of the subject line with the absolute most important words (i.e. “sale,” “action required,” etc.) so that they are guaranteed to see at least that portion of the message. If you have some wiggle room, try to make the first word of your subject line action-oriented (i.e. “save,” “open,” etc.) so the recipient feels like they should do something rather than scroll past.

6. Convey urgency with a deadline or other date.

Generating a sense of urgency is a great way to spur action across countless initiatives, and email subject lines are no exception. If your email is for a discount with an expiration date, mention the specific date (if it’s coming up very soon) or a phrase such as “limited-time” (if it’s further out) to make recipients feel like they need to purchase now. If your email is to register for an event, mention that there are limited spots available so that recipients are compelled to explore further by opening the email.

7. Avoid making it sound sales-y or spammy.

Although you want your recipients to be excited about opening your email, don’t make your email's subject line sound overly enthusiastic. For example, it’s a bad practice to use all caps (indicates yelling), multiple exclamation points (indicates desperation), or words like “free” or “act immediately.” Subject lines like this will remind recipients of the thousands of other sales emails they’ve received—and ignored. Additionally, it increases the chances of your email ending up in the spam folder.

8. Get creative with marketing emails.

Since you don’t want your email to look like every other marketing email in an inbox, don’t be afraid to make your email subject line stand out with some creativity. Ask a question that makes recipients think and want to learn more, or include a pun to inject some humor and pique interest. Just make sure your tone stays in line with your brand identity so recipients aren’t confused about whether your business really sent the email.

9. Don’t forget about the preview text!

While the subject line is the main draw in everyone’s inbox, the preview text can also be a helpful way to add additional information that catches the recipient’s attention. To ensure that your preview text is effective, follow similar rules as above—include the most important words first, tell them why they should open the email, make it personalized, etc. Just make sure the most vital information is included in the subject line, since the subject line is much more visible.

Final Thoughts

Investing adequate time and consideration into your subject line is a necessary practice if you want your emails to be delivered to—and opened by—your target audience. By following the suggestions above, you can ensure that your subject line is compelling while convincing recipients that your email is worth taking a few minutes to read.