I’m excited to be leading a session titled ‘Winning Email Marketing Strategies: Improving Opens, Clicks, Conversions and Return-on-Investment’ at ClickZ Live Chicago on Thursday, November 6, 2014. This blog post provides a sneak peak of two of the subject line tips and trends we’ll be covering in this session – visit the ClickZ Live Chicago Website to read the full session description and register.

One more note: I’ll also be leading a half–day pre-conference workshop titled  ‘Beyond Basics: Advanced Strategies and Tactics to Boost the Performance of Your Email Marketing Program’ on Monday, November 3, 2014 – I provide a taste of the advanced email marketing analytics section of that workshop in my 27-Oct-2014 ClickZ column. Hope to see you there!

Subject lines – they are one of the most critical parts of any email marketing  message you send. Subject lines can stop recipients in their tracks and get them to read your email right now — or they be yawn-inducing and drive people to scroll past your message without even thinking about opening it.

There’s actually been some interesting things going on around subject lines in the last few years; here are two trends worth following, along with tips for testing them with your own program.

Special Characters

Special characters in subject lines aren’t new; I feel like, for a while there, almost every subject line had a special character or three in it (well, maybe not every one, but a lot!).

In the most recent analysis I’ve seen, less than 6% of emails sent included special characters in the subject line (see the chart below from Email Marketing Trends for February 2014, Jim Davidson for the Bronto Blog, March 11, 2014).

special characters
As I looked through my various inboxes, in a completely unscientific study, I found only one subject line with a special character in it; it was from Foot Locker:

Footlocker Subject Line short

And while I love the little email image, I have to say that I don’t think it was closely enough tied with the subject line or the message itself — although the message did have to do with my Foot Locker email subscription. Did they test subject lines with and without the special character? And, if so, did the special character boost response rate? Would love to know.

Full disclosure: I did open, read and click on this email – I added my US Postal Service address to my profile because of it. So it worked at least at some level.

There’s anecdotal evidence showing a boost in open rates when special characters are used, but I’ve yet to prove a boost in bottom line performance (read: revenue or conversions). Even so, they are worth testing. The best ‘how-to’ resource I’ve seen is Symbols in Subject Lines, published by Experian back in 2012.


While it’s not new, personalization of subject lines is another tactic worth testing. In their 2014 Email Metrics Report, MailerMailer found that personalized subject lines depressed open rate (see below).

mailermailer Oct 2014 open rate personalization


But when they looked at click-through rate, personalizing both the subject line and the body of the message was the key to optimization (see below).

mailermailer Oct 2014 click rate personalizationI helped a client test personalization earlier this year — our key performance indicator was revenue generated. We found that personalizing both the subject line and the message with the recipient’s first name boosted revenue-per-email by 160% over the control, which had no personalization.

Give these subject lines trends a try and let me know how it goes. For more ideas to boost bottom line performance join me in Chicago next month!


Cory Cozad
Cory Cozad

Thanks for the excellent article, Jeanne. Another key point we consider for our subject lines is the length. We've found that our open rates are much better when they're within a certain number of characters in length -- between 50-65. Would you have any recommendations on good character ranges for different industries?

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