Top 10 Email Subject Lines Do's and Don'ts

Teenagers are hooked on TikTok and adults can’t get enough email. Some may beg to differ, but statistics prove otherwise.  According to email experts, nearly 60 percent of all adults immediately check their email after waking up in the morning, and almost 21 percent check their email more than five times per day. On average, this leaves us sorting through an average of 121 emails per day! 

So how do you, as an advisor, cut through the noise and get your prospects and clients to actually open what you’ve sent? Of course, your loyal readers will likely continue opening your correspondence, but what about new leads, prospects, and those clients who aren’t engaging? While there are a number of strategies that need to be worked into your email marketing strategy—like list segmentation, retargeting, and timing—the email subject line is a great place to start. After all, studies have found that 35 percent of email recipients decide to open an email based on the subject line alone.

The subject line of an email is the single line of text people see when they receive your email. It’s what pops up in notifications and what your user sees when they scroll through their inbox. Essentially, it’s the only chance you get to encourage people to open and read what you wrote. 

Because so much is hanging on this one phrase, you can’t just go with whatever strikes your fancy. You’ll need to understand and implement some proven email subject line best practices to get the most bang for your buck. But, don’t fret. We’ve got you covered. Go ahead and subject (pun intended) yourself to these top 10 do's and don’ts to increase your open rate. 

1. DO Know Industry Open Rates

No marketing effort should go untracked. You should always keep a finger on the pulse of your performance to capitalize on what is working and ditch what is not. To determine the success of your email subject lines, you will want to track the open rate, which is calculated by dividing the number of unique opens by the number of people on your send list. Almost all popular email marketing platforms will calculate and track this for you. 

For the Financial Services industry, the average email open rate is between 23 percent and 24.8 percent, according to leading marketing platforms HubSpot and Marketo. By comparison, the average across all industries is between 18 percent and 21 percent. This means that you have a loftier number to hit; but, if the average advisor can do it, so can you!

2. DO Use Optimal Length

Most email service providers won’t show past 60 characters. That means you need to be brief in order to get your message across. The longer a subject line the more likely it is to be caught by a spam filter and labeled as junk.

Email experts differ slightly on the exact optimal length for an email subject line, but most suggest that the ideal length is actually well below 60 characters. Best practice is to use 28-39 characters (that includes spaces and any punctuation) and 6-10 words for both desktop and mobile devices.

3. DO Consider Devices

Email has increasingly gone mobile ever since Blackberry paved the way for smartphone usage a couple decades ago. Today, 46 percent of all email opens happen on a mobile device. After 40 characters, most mobile devices will cut off a subject line. So, you’ll need to make sure you take into account what device your prospects and clients are using the most in order to write an appropriate subject line. Short and sweet is generally best. 

4. DO Front Load Keywords

People want to know why your email is worth opening, so put all of the important words at the beginning of the subject line. According to Marketo, getting to the point quickly with keywords at the front can increase open rates by 10-20%.

And, if you are including a video or a link to a video in your email, be sure to add that keyword in your subject line. The word “video” can increase the number of opens by another 19%.

5. DO Use Personalization

As an advisor, you know how important personalization is when helping a client build their portfolio. Personalization is just as important when trying to garner an email recipient’s attention. Using their name or at least using pronouns like “you” and “your” can help improve your open rate. 

Additionally, according to HubSpot, using a recipient’s name in the subject line can also lead to higher clickthrough rates. Haven’t you noticed that emails with your name in the subject line tend to catch your attention right away? If only for a moment, we wonder “is this a marketing email or an actual email” and consider whether it’s worth opening. This split second though can make or break the probability of opening. 

6. DON’T Be Boring or Cliché

Think about how many emails you delete because they seem to say the same thing as all the others. 

  • “Don’t miss out on the Presidents Day sale!”
  • “Special offer: (insert product/service here)”
  • “Looking for a financial advisor?”

No one wants to read a boring or cliché email, so using a boring or cliché subject line (think cheesy car salesman here) likely won’t bode well for you. Be creative. Sound like a real human being. I guarantee you’ll see better results.

But, don’t be afraid to be clever. Marketo suggests that using rhymes, alliteration, and even eye-rolling puns can help boost open rates by 30-40 percent. Research shows that using emojis intentionally can also lead to higher open rates. They’re eye-catching and can help save on character space.

7. DON’T Use Too Much Jargon

As an advisor, you know a lot of complex processes and systems, but make sure you’re breaking things down into layman's terms in your subject line. A study by Boomerang showed that emails garnered 36 percent higher open rates if they were written at a third-grade reading level. You want to be able to reach and connect with your consumers, who veritably know far less about the financial industry than you do. Be sure you are reaching them on their level, not expecting them to do the work to figure out how to get on yours. Because in all honesty, they won’t do the work, they’ll just ignore you.

8. DON’T Forget the Preview Text and Sender Name

People don’t want emails from people they don’t know, and especially not from the Nigerian prince claiming they have a new inheritance to claim. So, what accompanies the subject line is also very important when it comes to getting readers to open your email. 

Stats from Litmus show that 42 percent of people look at the sender name and 24 percent look at the preview text before deciding to open an email. This means you should use your actual name instead of (or in addition to) your company name in the sender field. And for the preview text, which is what appears directly to the right of your subject line in the inbox, try to make it just as enticing as the subject line. Front load what will be in the email or entice them with a statement that makes opening hard to refuse.

9. DON’T Trigger Spam Filters

Cutting through the noise also means getting through increasingly savvy spam filters. Even if your prospects and clients have opted into your emails (you shouldn’t send to them anyway if you don’t), your painstakingly crafted emails may never even be delivered to their inbox.

There are a few things you can do to avoid getting filtered to spam. Don’t use all caps in your subject line. Not only will It trigger spam filters, it’s just plain bad etiquette. It’s quite literally the equivalent of screaming at someone through your computer. Avoid symbols like dollar signs and pound signs (aka hashtags) to get pushed to the inbox unflagged. And to be extra careful, avoid using  the most common spam trigger words, such as “free” or “deal.” 

10. DON’T Be Afraid to Fail

Conducting tests to see what works and what doesn’t should be part of your email strategy. An email that doesn’t perform well can reveal quite a bit about what you might want to change going forward. Also, don’t be afraid to also resend an email that maybe didn’t do so well the first time around. Two separate experiments were able to show 30 percent and 54.7 percent more opens simply by resending the exact same email to recipients who didn’t open the first time. But, before you do this, test out a new subject line and see if this encourages more opens. Don’t abuse this, of course, or you could see an increase in “unsubscribes” and lose a lead for good. 

Test, Test, Hire

If you are putting these tips into action and still aren’t seeing measurable results, the consultants at Lexicon would be happy to help. We specialize in helping independent RIAs, fee-only, and fee-based financial advisors with both their email communications and overall content marketing strategies. Contact us today to set up a call to discuss how we can help. 

Related: Find Your (Ghost) Voice in 5 Simple Steps