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The Best and Worst Words to Use in Subject Lines – New Research

  |  August 18, 2014   |  Comments

This guest post from Abigail Boswell provides new research on subject lines, courtesy of Touchstone, a new tool from Alchemy Worx.

Note from Jeanne: All of us at Alchemy Worx are very excited about Touchstone, a new subject line tool we've developed that's currently in beta (sign up for free here). Below is an article written by Abigail Boswell, a marketing manager with our agency, with some learnings on subject line performance from Touchstone.

The subject line is the most critical piece of content in your email campaign - it is seen by and influences every subscriber that receives your email to their inbox and can be the most effective way to get your message across to a broad audience. So it's not surprising that writing the perfect subject line is like the Holy Grail for email marketers - and a popular topic for comment in the industry.

The problem is much of the advice lacks empirical evidence; it is based on known or observed spam filter rules, years of experience, trial and error, or received wisdom. I'm a huge advocate of looking at results to understand what the changes really mean for the bottom line, so I wanted to share with you some research from the agency Jeanne and I work for, Alchemy Worx, which looks at the most effective subject line words for open rates.

The analysis used Touchstone, Alchemy Worx's new subject line tool which provides an alternative to conventional A/B subject line split-testing, to process more than 155,000 subject lines corresponding to a total of 24.6 billion emails sent (and is growing), making it the biggest study of its kind.

The words were compared to the average email open rate from brands across a variety of sectors and generated some intriguing findings. Looking at the overall results regardless of sector, the word with the single biggest open rate lift against the average was "Jokes," with a 117 percent above average being opened. Honesty and good news proved to be good themes, where the word "Promotional" increased email open rates by 70 percent and "Congratulations" performed 68 percent above average. The words that were most apathy-inducing included "Suburbs" with an open rate of 50 percent below average, with "County" and "Inland" (-49 percent and -39 percent respectively), following closely behind.

The Best and Worst Subject Line Words for Open Rates


For most email marketers, however, one almost ubiquitous subject line theme is the offer. Here are 12 words on the theme of selling - surprisingly, "Half' can decrease your open rate by more than a quarter:


If your goal is engagement and you send a regular email newsletter, here are words to try (or avoid!) to talk about it:


In case you were wondering, in our analysis we found no correlation between words regularly cited on lists of "subject line words to avoid" and delivery rates, so basing your choice of subject line on what you stand to gain rather than what you stand to lose makes the most sense. As with any changes to your email program, it's important to understand how it will work for your subscribers.

If you're interested in predicting your subject line results and optimizing them to boost performance, register for a free Touchstone account while the tool is still in beta at www.subjectlinegold.com.


Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a recognized expert in the email marketing industry and managing director of digital marketing for Digital Prism Advisors. She has more than 20 years of experience in the email and online marketing and product development world. Jeanne's direct-response approach to digital strategy, tactics, and creative direction helps organizations make their online marketing initiatives more effective and more profitable. Digital Prism Advisors helps established businesses unlock significant growth and revenue opportunities in the digital marketplace; our clients learn to develop and implement successful digital strategies, leveraging data and technology to better meet bottom line goals. Want to learn more? Check out Jeanne's blog and Digital Prism Advisors.

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