Email Subject Lines: The 5 Second Countdown & 6 Tips

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5Email Subject Lines: The 5 Second Countdown & 6 Tips seconds. That’s all you have to reach out a grab someone’s attention as he or she scans through email for eye-catching headlines.

50 characters. That’s all the space you have for to create a credible, tantalizing, valuable, appealing, relevant, descriptive, interesting headline for a high open rate.

Doesn’t sound like too much to ask… I mean, 50 characters is plenty of room. Granted, it’s 15 less than you’re allowed to see for titles on Google’s SERPs, but still, it shouldn’t be that hard. Right?

High Conversion, Low Open Rates and Clickable Headlines

Did you know it’s possible to have a high conversion rate (how many people click on the links within the email and buy, sign up, etc.) and a low open rate (how many people click on the headline to read the email)? It’s true! No matter how poor the headline is, you can probably get at least a 3% open rate, and those 3% may have a 80 – 90% conversion rate.

Diagnosis: The inside of your email is a lot better – more persuasive – than the outside.

There’s a lot of pressure on those poor little 50 character headlines. It’s not even 50 characters, really, because you have to count the spaces. So what can you do to beef up your email subject line and get better open rates? Here are a few tips:

1. Tell the reader what to expect

It’s not nice to tease. When readers click on a headline, they expect to read in the email what the headline promises. Think about the last headlines you read and why they grabbed your attention. Most of the time, I’ll be the headline sums up an important fact or promises something.

Example: Electronic Arts Acquires Playfish for $400 Million

Now, when you click on that link, you’ll not be surprised to find out that, my goodness, Electronic Arts spent a ton of money to buy Playfish.

2. Don’t be misleading

Sure, you want a kick-butt, grab you by the ears, interesting headline. However, don’t work so hard for it that you step over the fine line from “interest” to “misleading”. Being misleading is a good way to lose would-be loyal subscribers. In fact, studies have shown that straightforward subject lines tend to show higher open rates than creative, “interesting” ones.

3. Don’t recycle

Sure, going green and recycling is a wonderful thing… but not with emails. Don’t reuse your subject line; each one has the same five seconds to interest, impress or entertain. Each one has to stand out from the rest.

4. Make sure you don’t repeat yourself

You have a “from” line and a “subject” line. If your “From” line has your newsletter or company name, don’t include it in the subject line. The good thing about this is it clears up some of those 50 characters for better headlines.


You make think using ALL CAPS is an excellent way to gain attention. However, this is like a flashing neon sign that says “spam” to filters and people alike. Use proper capitalization.

6. Make sure your subject line isn’t cut o…

Most email marketing companies allow you to send yourself a test email. Use this feature! You don’t want to assume all of the subject line will be seen just because it’s under 50 characters.

Of course, the final tip is to always test. Another feature most companies offer is split testing. Test your headlines, test your content… and remember, you can always get better email open rates!

Gabriella Sannino
For the past fifteen years Gabriella has held positions as a consultant, web developer and creative director until she decided it was time to open Level 343, an SEO and copywriting company. She fancies herself an Italian rocker, rebel and SEO geek. She loves singing in the shower and keeps a notepad next to her bed.
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  • Moosa Hemani

    One of the fav. post by Gabriella Sannino… i usually tell to our content writers about the same and this goes not only to Email subject lines but it is true for Article title and Blog post as when it come up in the search results the viewer when clicking on the link is actually expecting something from the article by reading the title of the article or blog post!

    • SEOcopy

      Hey Moosa thanks 🙂 Link bait is so popular, that it’s hard not to fall into the trap. But at the end of the day we think in terms of longevity especially with articles. Organic, universal, and relevance have to play a major role in our strategies and campaigns.

  • The AdvertisingPlace

    I completely agree with point #1. Great teaser lines aren’t needed in the title line, they are needed in the second or third line of the actual email, to keep them reading the remainder of the message. Titles should be straightforward. And #5, DON’T YELL, ohh, that’s one of my pet peeves. Don’t do that in title lines, or in Tweets, or anywhere!

    • Rahul

      Eyecatching words are most important since it is where the reader excite to open or read the email.

  • Arnold Arnan

    well written post. It definitely encourages me to put more thought into my emails in general. Thanks for writing.

  • Arnold Arnan

    well written post. It definitely encourages me to put more thought into my emails in general. Thanks for writing.

  • balu..

    Nice post!!

  • Anonymous

    My doubts are cleared through this post.. Those informations are really inspired me.. Thanks for sharing this information with us..
    University Canada

  • AlinaGrinberg

    Cool post on something that definitely should not be overlooked in e-mail marketing campaigns and from my experience often is 🙂