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The Answer is: 38 – 47

Question: “What is the age range I gave on my last birthday?”


The correct question: “The number of characters in the subject line that that stands between you and success in your next email campaign.”

How do you ensure that those characters deliver punch?

Subject lines: 13 Things to Know to Get it Right

1.  Continuity between the “From” & “Subject” lines
Your recipient knows who’s sending the email by looking at the “From’ line, while the “Subject” line entices them to open the communication.  Don’t waste valuable characters repeating your name in the Subject line.  Do use the space to brand regular communications, such as market updates, and include city, neighborhood or community/development names.

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2.  Take a lesson from the headlines
Turn to your favorite or local news site.  The headlines are typically succinct, highlighting the most enticing aspects of the story in a very limited space.  See what appeals to you and use that as a benchmark to craft your subject lines.

Your subject line should clearly state “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM), in this case the recipient.  From the subject line they should know a) what you want them to do  b) the benefit of reading the email – or – c) what’s in the email.  But, you won’t have room for all 3, so pick one.

4.  Don’t set your pants on fire
Don’t lie.  Don’t make any claims that you can’t substantiate or promises you can’t keep.  That will get you an opt-out or even a spam complaint.

5.  Speaking of SPAM …
Keep your email out of the junk folder by avoiding known trigger words.  100% free, Guaranteed, Prices and Opportunity  are sure triggers.  Here is a list of spam triggers

6.  Appeal to their need to know
Most people scan email and open what they deem important.  Typically first by sender (boss, spouse, etc.) then by subject line.  Intrigue them.  Appeal to their need to be on the inside track.  How?  Run it by peers, family, etc.  Ask them to tell you if they would feel out of the loop or missing out on something big if they delay opening.

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7.  Keep talking
Less is not more.  It’s ok to send 2 or 3 emails per month.  As long as the content is fresh and relevant, it will be opened.  Keeping the conversation alive keeps you top of mind.  Plus, it allows for a continuous localized story – on local lifestyle, market shifts, etc.  For example: “Danville school district ranks 8th in California for scholastic achievements” followed by “Graduates of Danville schools earn 23% more in their career”.  Note: those are fictitious and NOT subject lines.  However, don’t repeat subject lines!  Each one needs to stand out on its own merit.

8.  Look back to plan ahead
Hopefully you are using an email service provider, such as Constant Contact, or one provided by your broker.  Check the reporting to see which emails got the most opens and clicks.  Were the subject lines action oriented that included numbers or a download?

9.  Numbers rock
Ever notice that magazines have covers that scream “17 Tips to Lose 10lbs This Week” get your attention?  Years of testing have proven tips combined with numbers draw attention and drive sales.  It sets an expectation.

10.  List key info first
Remember, you have 38 – 47 characters.  Make them count.  And, make sure your subject line doesn’t get cut off.  Send yourself a test

11.  Speaking of test
Test, test, test.  Send the same email with 2 different subject lines to a portion of your list and track the reporting.

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12.  Look beyond opens
If you didn’t have a strong open rate, but a fantastic conversion rate (download, click-through, reply, etc.) that’s good!  Something in your subject line and email appealed to a more narrow, and potentially lucrative segment of your list.  The goal is conversion.  Keep that in mind.

13.  Hot today, bomb tomorrow!
So many outside factors – time of year, what’s going on the world, etc. – can influence behavior and the success of an email.  Something that hit it out of the park last month could fizzle this week.  Don’t sweat it.

Got any favorite subject lines?  Share, please!

Written By

Brandie is an unapologetically candid marketing professional who was recently mentioned on BusinessWeek as a Top Young Female Entrepreneur. She recently co-founded consulting firm MarketingTBD. She's held senior level positions with GE and Fidelity, as well as with entrepreneurial start-ups. Raised by a real estate Broker, Brandie is passionate about real estate and is an avid investor. Follow her on Twitter.



  1. Lani Rosales

    July 9, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    @brandiei do you think email is received differently depending on geography? You’ve got my gears turning… most people lazy out on this just to check it off their to do lists…

  2. Brandie Young

    July 9, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Lani – yes I do. According to MailChimp providing localization, such as including a city name, does help improve open rates.

    Other interesting data points:

    35 percent of email users open messages because of what’s contained in the subject line. – Jupiter Research (2007)

    Repeating the exact same subject line for each newsletter accelerates the drop in open rates.

    69% said they make the decision to click on the “report spam” or “junk” button using the subject line, according to the ESPC. – Email Sender and Provider Coalition (2007)

  3. Ken Brand

    July 9, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Turns out, every form of communication is a freaking science. Break it down, connect the dots, lather, rinse, repeat. It’s simple with a guide like this.

    Thanks for this blueprint. It’s the little details that turn a double-wide into an MTV crib.

    “Don’t set your pants on fire” – yikes:-)

    Thanks for sharing, I’ll forward your wise words and keep them hand for myself.

  4. Missy Caulk

    July 10, 2009 at 8:58 am

    Brandie, I changed how I do my monthly newsletter from the Subject: July Newsletter to a topic in the newsletter and my stat’s increased.

    I try to make the subject appealing to all, meaning past clients who have already bought, not just the current ones.

  5. Brandie Young

    July 10, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Hi Ken – it’s true – it’s all about collecting data! It’s at the base of everything we do for business, right? Measuring successes!

    Missy – great idea! I’m sure it’s not always easy trying to write for a diverse audience, but setting their expectation is respectful. You don’t intrude if that month they aren’t “hot” on a specific topic.

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