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Email Subject Lines: Words and Tactics That Boost Open Rates

by Ayaz Nanji  |  
December 16, 2013

Email subject lines that convey a sense of urgency, such as those that contain the words "urgent" and/or "important," have open rates that are much higher than normal, according to a recent report by MailChimp.

The analysis also found that email recipients are much more intrigued by subject lines that contain positive solicitations rather than negative admonitions: Words such as "announcement" and "invitation" have significantly higher open rates than those containing "reminder" and "cancelled."

Below, additional key findings from the report, which was based on data from 24 billion delivered emails.


  • Name personalization (e.g., including the recipient's first or last name, or both, in the subject line) generally leads to higher open rates.
  • The most common practice, using only the recipient's first name, leads to a small but noticeable boost in open rates on average.
  • That effect varies by industry: The use of first names in subject lines has a large positive impact when used in government, creative services, and political emails; however, first-name personalization has a negative impact on open rates for the legal industry.
  • Though the inclusion of both first and last names in subject lines is less common, it has the largest overall positive impact on open rates.


  • The use of "free" in subject lines doesn't have a large impact on open rates overall (.02 deviation).
  • However, the impact of "free" varies widely by industry. For the recruiting, restaurant, and entertainment industries, it boosts open rates significantly, whereas its use actually hurts open rates for the medical, retail, and travel industries.

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Ayaz Nanji is an independent digital strategist and a co-founder of ICW Content, a marketing agency specializing in content creation for brands and businesses. He is also a research writer for MarketingProfs. He has worked for Google/YouTube, the Travel Channel, AOL, and the New York Times.

LinkedIn: Ayaz Nanji

Twitter: @ayaznanji

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  • by Gabriela Mon Dec 16, 2013 via web

    Interesting results.
    But how do you tailor your subject line, include some of the recommendations above and get through spam check?
    I think most of the tips here are great but also easily classified as spam.
    Do you have any statistics or research relating to spam?

  • by Jose Argudo Tue Dec 17, 2013 via web

    I'm also with Gabriela, some of these tactics, specially the use of entire capitalization could result in a small spam score.

    Moreover it seems difficult to use these tactics more than once, because, How many times are your subscribers are going to open your "Urgent" emails?

    I'm of the opinion that the subject of your newsletter should be an introduction to it, not only the means for the email to be opened

  • by Jill Tue Dec 17, 2013 via web

    Agree. Many of the tactics recommended above would never make it through SPAM detectors and can also impact sender score. So not sure these are best practices that should be advocated?

  • by C Jacob Thu Jan 2, 2014 via web

    Useless "RECENT" research report

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