What's Stopping Your Emails from Achieving a Unicorn ROI?

"No single technique has brought in more business to my company than email."

"Email marketing has the best investment of any marketing channel."

"30% of my company's sales are from email."

Phrases like these are common on marketing blogs, forums, and even social media. But, you're not feeling it. You've spent time working on your email, filling it with useful content, and building a list.

But your open rates are crap.

It seems like your email is buried by the 120+ other emails in your subscribers inbox.

Never seen, and not delivering results. But, there's a simple way to fix that. Crafting better email subject lines.

Why Everything Depends on your Subject Line

As we already mentioned, individuals typically receive upwards of 120 emails in their inbox each day. What's worse, is that the average individual is only reading 30-40 emails a day. That means that up to 90 emails they receive go straight to spam or are deleted without a second glance.

Your email can't just stand on it's own, it has to compete with dozens of other emails, all fighting for your subscriber's attention. To even have a chance, it needs to get clear the subscriber's spam filters and avoid then avoid being pushed off to a "bad tab" (If you're unfamiliar with bad tab placement, it's when a email client - like GMail - places your email in something other than the Primary tab - greatly decreasing the risk of never being seen.)

The odds are stacked against you, and what do you do?

Well, if you're like most, you draft up a quick subject line, revise it maybe once (if that), and send your email on it's not-so-merry way.

“80% of your email's ROI comes down to the effectiveness of the subject line.”

Your subject line is your first impression, but you may only spend a couple minutes putting it together. That's nonsense! If you're familiar with the Pareto principle, you'll know that 80% of effects come from only 20% of causes.

In this case, 80% of your email's ROI is going to come from that subject line. The 20%.

But, you don't spend enough time on it. You don't refine it. You don't test it. And you don't master it.

How to Make Killer Subject Line

Some people think that optimizing a headline is like smoothing out a race car so it's slightly more aerodynamic, in reality it's more like making sure the car doesn't plow head long into a tree.

Which is why it's crucial to check your subject line against the all too easy to make mistakes that plague marketers. Even if you think you've got a winner of a subject line. Even if all your colleagues think it's going to do great. Without checking against the basics, you're going to make a mistake and your open rates are going to pay for it.

“Optimizing a subject line is like making sure a car doesn't plow head long into a tree.”

We're going to cover some of the things you shouldn't miss in the rest of this article, but if you're pressed for time: we've built an automated subject line analyzer to handle all these things for you:


It prevents fifteen different types of errors, provide you with an overall grade to compare subjects, and offers suggestions on how to improve.

Test it for Yourself

1. Ensure Your Email Won't Be Put in Spam or a Bad Tab

This is likely one of the most important steps, and one which often presents trouble. Let's just take a look at a few statistics:

  • 2.34% of emails use "Free" in the subject line. This is known to cause issues due to overuse by spammers and marketers.
  • 6.49% of emails contain a word that may be flagged as spam.
  • 14.94% of emails contain something that'll hurt their tab placement.

This means that at least one of every ten emails sent by marketers is likely sent to spam or promotions folders. To fix this, you'll need to avoid using flagged words and phrases.

Unfortunately, each email client has it's own list, and it can be tough to identify just what words are on them. Additionally, there's so many words and phrases to keep track of that you likely won't be able to remember them all.

This is where a subject line analyzer comes in handy as it'll pull these lists for you and automatically check for these.

2. Take Inspiration from the Greats

Now that your emails are no longer ending up in the spam or promotions folder, we can move on to making them stick out more.

After all, you're likely still competing with dozens of emails. At this point, it may be best to take inspiration from some of the best subject lines out there right now.

From lists compiled on HubSpot to Entrepreneur, one thing is common. Top email subject lines contain personalization.

You might be asking, how do you personalize a subject line? It's really quite simple. All you have to do is mention industry, name, title, interest, or even geographic info.

I'm 98.58% sure you aren't using personalization in your subject. (Based on the fact that a tiny 1.42% of email subject lines contain it.) And if I'm correct, you're making a big mistake. Personalization within the subject can be one of the most powerful ways to increase open rate.

“Mention industry, name, title, interest, or even geographic info to increase your opens.

But how do you do it? Well, that largely depends on your target audience, size of list, and how much data you have. Here are a few examples of personalizing your subject line to help you get started though:

Personalized B2B Subject Lines:

"I'm looking to help grow a business in <Geographical Area>, Are you Interested?

"<Name>, when X gets tough, we've got your back"

"Are you still interested in <Original Lead Offer>?"

Personalized B2C Subject Lines:

"$15 off <Item on their wishlist or in their cart>"

"Still looking for <Product_Category>?"

"<Name>, we saved this for you."

Personalization like this is one way to help your emails stand apart from the crowd. Just be sure not to make a mistake with the personalization. Sending in your email is almost as bad as sending with no subject at all.

3. Make Your Subject Unique with Emojis

Another thing not commonly found within email subject lines is the emoji. These are only in 2.50% of subjects today, but are shown to increase open rates.

Don't go overboard with emojis, but copying and pasting one from getemoji.com will help your email stick out in an inbox filled with just text.

A great comparison is like the difference between sending a tweet with an image vs one with just text. The image will draw more eyes to it and stick out more prominently in the see of tweets.

A Simple Process for Writing Better Subject Lines

Even without the tips above, there's a simple way you can start writing better subject lines. It's based on the same process I use for headlines, but tweaked for an email subject.

Start by making a spreadsheet with two columns. The first column should be the subject itself, and the second it's score (provided by a subject line analyzer). 

Next, set a threshold score. It's easiest to make it a bit lower at first and then raise it as you get better at creating subject lines. on a 0-100 scale, you may start with 70 at first, then raise it to 80 and finally 90.

(Note that this is based on our subject line analyzer's grading methods. Some work differently. For example, the headline analyzer I use grades much differently and a score of 20--30% is average while a score of 50% is very good. Be sure to set your goal according to the way the subject line analyzer grades.)

After this, start creating subjects. Aim to write at least 10 and record each in your sheet. Once this is done, pick the highest score subject and hit send!

Additionally, if possible, you could incorporate a step that BuzzFeed uses. Instead of just selecting the highest score subject, select the top 3 and send them to  a handful of your co-workers. Ask them to vote on which subject is best, and then use the one that has the most votes!

(Tip, it's best to have 5 people to vote in total, including yourself, to avoid ties. With 5 individuals, you may run into 2 of the subjects receiving 2 votes, in which case you ask the 5th to pick from one of those two.)

This process will have your writing better subject lines and getting higher open rates in no time. 

Ending With a Challenge

For the next month, follow the advice above. Then after the month's over compare your open rate to that of the previous month. If you followed all the steps above, a higher open rate is basically guaranteed.

P.S. If you found this useful, you're going to love our Email Subject Line Tester

Get More Opens With Every Email Send

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Are you being filtered as a 'Promotion' instead of a 'Priority'?

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If you like this article, you'll like our Subject Line Tester