As marketers we think of email as an incredibly powerful digital marketing tool.  We use it to keep in touch with existing customers and reach out to potential new ones.  We get all kinds of creative marketing ideas to use it in clever ways to communicate news, events, special offers and all manner of other things to increasingly tailored mailing lists.  Even the lengths we go to capture those email addresses in the first place is a key part of our digital marketing strategy.  

But let’s face it, as consumers do we always respond as positively to emails as we would hope when we send them out?  When we are on the receiving end do we not feel somewhat bombarded by marketing emails and perhaps delete most without even opening them? How can we prevent this happening to emails that we send out? Is there a lesson to be learned?

Some recent research by Touchstone indicates that yes indeed there is. Touchstone is a subject line tool from Alchemy Worx that helps to predict the result of your email campaign before you even hit Send! They conducted an analysis of their database of over 21 billion emails across a variety of sectors which is currently being used by 2,500 email marketers to optimise their subject lines. They came up with the following table of words that have been shown to actively encourage people to open emails and words that for some reason have the opposite effect.


According to Dela Quist, Founder and CEO of Alchemy Worx: “The subject line is the most important part of an email and the data from Touchstone analysed the subject line in its entirety to show that a single word or symbol can make a dramatic difference.”

It’s interesting to read this Touchstone research in parallel with other research on email effectiveness.  MailChimp and Adestra, a digital marketing firm, have both done previous research indicating that the best words in subject lines include “urgent,” “announcement,”  “freebie”,  “alert,” “daily,” and “free delivery”.  MailChimp have also been involved in research in the last couple of years that indicate that personalised subject lines get up to 22.3% more opens than emails without personalisation.

The above research recommends avoiding “Help,” “Percent off,” and “Reminder.”  Adestra even found a 18.7%  fall off in clicks when the word “newsletter” was in the subject line. Also be careful to avoid words that trigger spam labelling.  These do change over time, though HubSpot recently named “Cash,” “Quote,” and “Save” as prime spam offenders.

Finally, pay attention to the length of your subject line! In 2014, Retention Science, a personalisation platform,  analysed results from over 260 million emails sent via 540 different campaigns and found that email subject lines with 6 to 10 words produce the best open rate.

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At Xcite Digital we run effective email campaigns as part of our Accelerate digital marketing programme and understand the need to keep up to date with effective wording which does of course constantly change along with the market.  By all means continue to make email a part of your digital marketing strategy but keep up to date with research as to what does and does not work to ensure that you are engaging and not alienating your target market.