Create a Powerful Subject Line: Choose Your Words Wisely

October 5, 2015

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Whether it be an email newsletter sent from a third party tool, or an email sent directly from your email address, your subject line will be the first thing the receiver will see.


After reading a great article from Mailchimp, who I use for my monthly newsletter, I decided to write this article to help you create a powerful subject line that will get the attention of your community, and potential customers.


People are inclined to scan the subject line of an email, before making the decision on whether they find it important enough, or powerful enough to open. Mailchimp decided to look into this, and see how much of a difference one single word can make in a campaign’s open rate.


They studied close to 24 billion delivered emails, with subject lines generated from approximately 22,000 specific words. This, is as Mailchimp said in their article “a lot of data” however, they understand the importance of having the right subject line and wanted to share their results with their community.


Before I share some of their results, this is what they had to do to get their data:



  1. Investigate campaigns that had their tracking turned on, and had been sent to 500 recipients or more. They also only investigated campaigns sent by users who have sent at least 10 campaigns.
  2. Mailchimp then calculated the open rate and averaged it against a lists open rate and standard deviation (a measure that is used to quantify the amount of variation or dispersion of a set of data values.
  3. Remove special symbols, and convert subject lines to lowercase. They also averaged the performance of all related subject lines to find the highest impacting words.
  4. Flag the subject lines that had high impact words. They then performed a correlation analysis to find the words that were frequently used together and flagged frequent word combinations.
  5. Finally, Mailchimp performed a linear regression analysis to calculate the impact a word had on campaign open rates when looking at other tested words. This was then repeated on industry-specific data sets.

The Results


Firstly, Mailchimp noted that personalization works. Mailchimp allows you to use merge tags to include the first and last name of your recipient (if you have included this information when importing your contacts. They found that personalization does increase open rates and surprisingly, the use of both first, and surname (although less common) has the largest impact on open rates.


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Mailchimp then looked into the use of the word “free” in a subject line. Whilst you may categorically think that using the word “free” would entice email opens, this isn’t always the case. Although you can see some positive results below, the word “freebie” had a much larger increase open rate and I’m sure “complimentary” would also give similar results. See below for industry-specific results.


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Something Mailchimp found interesting was the use of words that created a sense of importance and urgency. There might be times where you are sharing something that is time sensitive, and need an action taken straight away. Take a look at the below results around urgent action.


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If you have an event taken place and you want to invite your subscribers, you might think of using the word “reminder”, or “Invitation”. See below for results, so you know what word to use when inviting your audience to an event.


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Lastly, frequently used word pairings. I am happy to see a phrase that I always use in my subject lines “Thank You” has the most positive open rates.


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To see the full study, and other findings around first name personalization in selected industries, use of the word “cancelled”, donation requests and capitalised words, click here.

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