How to create powerful subject lines by Kenny Van Beeck @Kvanbeeck

How to create powerful subject lines

How to create powerful subject lines by Kenny Van Beeck

When people receive an email, it is just a matter of seconds to decide which emails they are going to read.  Email marketing can be very effective and the open rate can be very high, if it is done correctly.

  1. The most important thing to pay attention to is the “subject-line”. After all, the purpose of the subject line is to intrigue readers into opening the email.
  2. Success also depends of the “from-line”.
  3. Finally one should find the best timing to send the email.


To have a successful subject-line, your subject line should

  • Directly state what the recipient will learn when reading the email
  • Express the key-benefit the recipient will receive
  • Be urgent, unique, ultra-specific, useful (4 U’s)
  • State an offer (*), that hints at business results (save time, earn money)
  • Announce exciting news
  • Appeal to the how-to instinct: reader will find out in the email “How to…”
  • Be in a problem/solution format
  • Ask a question

(*) Be careful with the word “free” or promotional words or phrases.  They can be trapped by a spam filter or deleted by the reader!


  • Personalize your subject-line
  • Using your reader’s name might be too pushy
  • Use the word “you”
  • Make sure you know your readers and tune your subject to them
  • Use a short and snappy subject-line (eight words or less)
  • Arouse curiosity, by leaving out an essential element in the headline
  • Tease the reader so he has to click to learn more (don’t overdo this!)
  • Get to the point quickly, be specific, be brief

Get the readers attention, use words like:

  • New, discover, introducing, announcing, now, it’s here at last, just arrived
  • How to, why, sale, quick, easy, bargain, last chance, guarantee, results, proven, save
  • Stress benefits, offer an incentive
  • Use good grammar
  • Create the feeling of exclusivity and immediacy: make sure they wish to read your mail straight away. If they save it for later they will most probably not read it


  • Use the word “hype”
  • Use all cap lines
  • Use multiples exclamation points
  • Write cute puns or play-on words
  • Use the abbreviation “ADV”
  • Use the word “free” or promotional words or phrases


People are more likely to open an email from a sender they know or recognize.

As from line you can use:

  • A company name
  • A personal name
  • An email address
  • A department address

But, make sure you keep the “from” name the same over time.  After a while you will become a sender they know and you will benefit from it. If you got a strong brand or a person in your company who has a great brand name, use it!

Remark: in a business environment it is not always possible to put a personal email address in the “from” line. Still one can create a personal touch by using a specific email address like [email protected] instead of a general email address like [email protected]


Apart from the subject line and the “from” line, one should also consider the best time to send the email. Although we will give some general ideas here below, it is clear that there is no “magic” solution. For instance one can imagine “business” readers require a different approach than “consumers”.

  • Make sure you don’t send the email in the middle of the night.  Otherwise, it will appear in a very full inbox the next morning.  This will increase the possibility of being deleted.
  • Make sure you don’t send it at the end of the day.  People are anxious to go home and they will clear their inbox without even take a look at the email.
  • In some cases it might be better to send your email during the weekends or in the evening to allow you readers to read them in quiet.
  • For newsletters it might be good to follow a fixed rhythm, so your readers will expect your email.


Of course it is important that once you have reached your desired open rate, that you can maintain this level in the future. On that matter the content of the email is key, in combination with the lay-out, structure and look&feel.  Here below some tips about content that will keep your open rates at a high level:

  • Make sure your content is in-line with the expectations that you create in the subject line.
  • Expand your subject line in the header or first paragraph of the body of the email
  • Use an editorial approach: a brief intro from the editor addressing the reader
  • Try to involve your readers: allow them to ask questions, react
  • Use their feedback in the next issue…

Meet the author:

Kenny Van Beeck

Kenny Van Beeck

Kenny Van Beeck is a certified Marketing Experiments Email Marketing professional and is past president of the Belgian IAB email marketing taskforce. Hi is a common blogger and speaker in the field of email marketing. Also known as the former editor of the EmailGarage weekly tipmail with more than 5000 readers. As email marketing consultant he worked for several international companies such as Unilever, Thomas Cook, 3M, Microsoft, … Kenny is owner and senior email marketing consultant of Etale.

Connect with: Kenny Van Beeck

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  • Kelly Lorenz
    September 14, 2011 at 3:01 am

    Okay where to start…I’ll start with the good: your feedback regarding the from line and how to engage subscribers is really good. However, I have serious issues with your recommendations regarding subject lines and timing.

    Subject lines: What you recommend against often are the ones that perform the best! “Free” nor any other promotional phrases will not get caught in the spam filter, and I for one would appreciate if experts would not perpetuate this fallacy. A large number of people sign up for marketing emails to get promotional offers and deals! Promoting in the subject line what your subscribers want and are looking for will win over trying to be “safe” for nonsense reasons. I think I’ll leave it at that, but suffice it to say that I don’t agree with the majority of your recommendations in this section and have case studies and proof from clients the exact opposite of what you’re saying.

    Timing: “Make sure you don’t send an email in the middle of the night.” “Don’t send at the end of the day.” You couldn’t be more off base. In fact, a study just came out (I believe from DMA) that said it actually doesn’t matter when you send it because people will go through all of their unread emails when they come back to their inbox. The important takeaway is to send when you have something valuable to say that your subscribers will act on no matter the time of day you send. Period.

    I realize I’m coming across harsh but I am a little flabbergasted at your advice in this article when you are a respected email marketing expert.

    -Kelly Lorenz

    • Chief eMail Officer
      September 16, 2011 at 1:20 pm

      Free in the subject line might work but I personally dislike it and it is one of the words that pushes higher on the Spam Assign hit list when used with percentages such as 50% Free or 100% free.

      As for the rest, I say TEST TEST TEST and don’t stop til you have TESTED some more.

      PS I am not in to the middle of the night thing but do love the 7am rush. As for end of day, I say stay away from that one unless you are testing it 🙂

      On a side note to timing have you tried Sunday yet?

      Thanks for the input and comments Kelly.

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