{Email} Marketing Campaign Subject Lines: Length

I mentioned in my intro to Subject Lines, {Email}’s Oldest Topic That No One Agrees On: Subject Lines, that there are a ton of references, tests, best practices, and professional/expert opinions on what’s best and most effective, and I also mentioned that most experts and tests don’t agree with each other. Optimal subject line length, while in theory a simple topic, is one which has email marketing experts running in circles.

I believe that optimal subject line length is a topic that isn’t necessarily something you can test for – at least not practically, because of the wide range of variants that can alter test validity and therefore produce skewed results. As an example, if a sale offer is sent this week to a target to run an A/B test splitting the target in equal parts (50%/50%), testing two different subject line lengths, the results might be dependent on the nature of the offer, the products the offer applies to, the target it was sent to, the day/time it was set, etc.

Ok, let’s run a second round of this test, and attempt to minimize variables. Let’s send the same test to the same target using the same offer and content, but we’ll send it two weeks later, using the same two subject lines, but swapping the subject line used per segment, so those that received A previously will receive B this round, and visa versa. Smart. But, is it? If you’re sending the same offer, can you expect conversions to be on par to the offer sent two weeks prior? Considering it’s the same target, you’ll likely see a drop in conversion count and rate, as those likely to convert may have converted the first time around. There is literally no way to run a second test without some skew.

Ok, we’ll run a hundred tests instead. That’ll work, right? Nope. While you will reduce your variance and minimize impact of outliers by increasing test count, you simply cannot derive finite results. I’m sorry.

So, then what? Don’t worry, and don’t overthink it.

Some reports have “determined” that the optimal subject line length is 6 words, and others may say the perfect number is 7. While I don’t doubt the validity of the tests and results, I do question the applicability and relevance of their findings because setting a word-count target is fairly arbitrary and can produce some truly garbage subject lines from people believing their emails simply won’t be opened, or won’t be effective, if they use 6- or 8-word subject lines. You can become so focused on meeting the word count that you compromise the quality of your work.

Other reports may tell you 30-character subject lines work best, while some may say 60’s the way to go. And, I’m sure they’re all 100% correct. Yes, every one of those conflicting reports could be 100% correct. I believe there is literally no way to determine finite, concrete best practice, and I believe that any “perfect” recommendation is only as accurate and effective as the target, sender, and subject matter it references.

Instead, my recommendation is really quite simple: write your subject lines in the length that allows you to best inform your reader of what’s inside the email.

If you want to press, if you want to force a number out of me, or if you want a baseline to work from, I’d say that subject lines should be roughly 35 characters in length. No, this is not an arbitrary number. And, no, I have not exhaustively tested this character count. And, no, I do not think my lack of exhaustively testing (which is completely impossible) flaws either of recommendations.

Why this recommendation, then? Common analysis reports indicate that at least 50% of emails are opened on mobile devices. And, Apple iPhones are the most popular, or, at least, are the most common. And, most mobile devices display roughly 35-50 characters in the subject line of both native and third-party mobile email applications, dependent on settings (zoom, etc.), view mode (portrait/landscape), etc. So, if you shoot for 35 characters, and hit it, your entire subject line will be seen, and hopefully read, by most of your target. Go over 40, and you start to lose some of your message, and with it, some of the impact.

“Ok, whatever. I write really long subject lines, and I get more people to open my emails because people need to open them to see what the subject line says.” Actual response to my recommendation in the past. I believe that person was previously a used car salesman who listed all their cars priced at “Call for price” or “TOO LOW TO LI$T”. No need to waste the time of your subscribers, as that long subject line might belong to the last email you are able to send them before they unsubscribe. Tell them what’s inside, don’t make them take an action to find out your car prices are really just 15% over blue book.


If you have any insights on subject lines, please let me know in the comments below – would love to incorporate more perspectives.

{Email}’s Oldest Topic That No One Agrees On: Subject Lines

If you follow more than one expert on email marketing, you’ve likely seem more than one opinion, or more than one data-driven conclusion, on what makes for an effective subject line. It honestly seems that no one agrees on length, content, purpose, tone, sentiment, or really any other characteristic. And, for good reason, as no two audiences are alike, no two email marketers are alike, and no two testing processes are alike.

So, here we are, we have a myriad of trusted, influential sources, all testing the same thing (email subject lines), all coming up with different answers, and all deriving different “best practices”. I haven’t seen them all, and, honestly, don’t plan to. Why? Because they’ll likely differ from others, and they will likely believe, and propose, that they are more correct than the others.

I started this blog with the intention of “Demystifying {Email} Marketing [Black] Magic”, and I believe there is no more important subject to cover than email subject lines – the first thing you subscribers see, the first step in driving engagement and conversion. If each test and resulting analysis and best practice is different from the next, it’s difficult to decipher what’s bad, what’s biased, what’s good, and what’s best.

Instead, I plan to break down email subject line composition into three fragments: subject line length, capitalization, and focus (subject line subject); and provide you with my own personal insight to help you derive your own conclusion and your own formula for the “perfect email subject line”.


Frist up, {Email} Subject Line Length. If you have any insights on subject lines, please let me know in the comments below – would love to incorporate more perspectives.

Unlocking the Unblast Step 2: Personalization

We defined the concept of the unblast: “The Secret” of Effective Email Marketing, and we introduced Step 1 in creating an unblast, so what next? Personalization. Personalization is considered a basic aspect of a successful email marketing program, but I think that may be a bit loaded. If you use personalization to cater the message content to that which the subscriber has interest, you win, but, if you only use the known first name in your email subject lines or content, you may have some work to do.

One of the most valuable and effective opportunities for personalization is using indicated interests, such as those selected during the email subscription process; or theoretical interests, such as those perceived from available data points, including order history data such as seasonality or other identifiable shopping trend, previously purchased products, items in or formerly in a shopping cart, etc.

These interests allow an email marketing message to be tailored to the customer, potentially to a one-to-one perfect match between their interests and your promotions – resulting significantly better engagement and conversion. How so, you ask?

Let’s go back to the snowboard shop. You have a handful of special offers, you have content and creative available for each, and you have a standard email template. Maybe one of the special offers is an additional 10% off closeout gear – that applies to most people, or, most people would at least find interest in it. That’s your main element.

Next, you have a sale on women’s snowboards, men’s snowboard boots, kid’s outerwear, and men’s sweatshirts. You can use dynamic content and a set of queries to push one or more of the elements into the email content.

The result? First, let’s say you only set up a few interests, such as men’s, women’s, and kid’s gear, non-exclusive. Using basic personalization and dynamic content, anyone who indicated they were interested in men’s items could the main element, the sale on closeout gear, and two additional elements, men’s snowboard boots and men’s tees. Any subscribers who indicated an interest in women’s gear would receive the main element as well as women’s snowboards, and those indicating an interest in kid’s gear would receive that content. If someone indicated an interest in men’s and women’s gear, they would receive three additional elements, and so on.

If you took your initial interest selection one step further, adding the option of selecting types of products a subscriber was interested in, you could further personalize the email based on more finite combinations of interests.


Is it easy? No. It’s going to add a lot of work to each campaign. It requires multiple offers, across multiple product ranges or other interest segments, and the data to back it up.

Is it legal? Yes, using customer-selected interests to personalize messages is upholding part of your promise when the subscribers signed up – you’re doing what your customers asked you to do. Caution, though, when considering use of theoretical interests. Using shopping cart and purchase history may breach regulations set for by GDPR, and many of those opportunities are dying with regulations placed on the use of cookies. It can also get a little creepy, and no one likes creepy.

Is it worth it? Yes. Beyond basic benefits including increased conversion rates and higher order values, you’ll likely also see increased engagement and customer loyalty, two benefits with long-term significance.


Have any questions about other aspects of an effective email “unblast” campaign? Leave them in the comments below – I have a few others planned, but always open to requests.

{Email} Marketing Sidebar: Automation

•   the technique, method, or system of operating or controlling a
process by highly automatic means, as by electronic devices,
reducing human intervention to a minimum.
•   a mechanical device, operated electronically, that functions
automatically, without continuous input from an operator.
•   act or process of automating.

It seems automation is the key focus of so much of marketing these days. Regardless of channel or media, “automation” is the hot ticket. So, what is marketing automation, and are you/your agency/your team actually automating your marketing program?

MailChimp introduces their Marketing Automation software with a quite clear and accurate definition:

Marketing automation helps you stay connected with your audience (and find more people just like them), so you can eliminate repetitive tasks and focus on other parts of your business. Target people based on behavior, preferences, and previous sales—and use this intel to do things like welcome new subscribers, reach out to people who abandon their online shopping carts, and win back lapsed customers—automatically.

But, that is not necessarily how many marketers are using automation. Instead, many are “scheduling” their marketing programs, rather than “automating” them.


verb (used with object), sched·uled, sched·ul·ing.
•   to make a schedule of or enter in a schedule.
•   to plan for a certain date

What’s the difference? Human action, interaction, and intervention. Automation means removing a significant part of the human involvement in production or distribution process, and, while helpful and efficient, scheduling your messages is not automating them, as you are still clicking the send or post button, just with a deferred action.

Does this really effect you or I? If you are asked to reduce or minimize costs, increase or maximize production and efficiency, or help bring your firm closer to the leading edge of your industry’s leaders, you have likely considered how you can add automation to your marketing program.

So, where do you start the effort of automating your marketing program? According to Emma, roughly 48% of email marketers are running an automated welcome email or series, and, if you aren’t, you should, too. Why? It’s a great way to thank recent subscribers for their interest, introduce them to your brand, communicate what they can expect by signing up to your emails, and offer them some sort of value right off the bat. Welcome, thank, set expectations, and offer value – set a solid, good tone to engage them.


Are you using automation in your marketing program? Let me know in the comments below!

Think Unblast Perspective: “The Secret” of Effective Email Marketing Version 2

“He who chases two birds catches neither.” – Kongwe, The Lion Guard
(Image Source)


Now I’m sure you’re a bit put off by the idea of the “unblast” – most are. How could sending less drive more conversions?

According to the infinite “Wisdom of Kongwe” from Disney’s The Lion Guard cartoon, “he who chases two birds catches neither” – a perfect summation of one of the key failures of non-targeted emails noted in my original post on the topic of four other four-letter word of email marketing: “blast”.

Yes, I do expect you, and I expect the same from myself, to listen to Kongwe here – if you set out to convert everyone, you will convert (almost) no one. But, if you instead set out to convert just one segment of your total target, you have far greater chance to convert.

How so? If you chase one bird, you build a strategy focused on catching just it: you determine where it is, what it is doing, and the best time to catch it. And, your chances of success are much greater based on the strategy involved.

But, if your strategy is based on multiple targets, if you attempt to catch multiple targets, you are not able to determine exactly where they are, what they are doing, or the best time to catch them. The result is reducing your chances of catching any target.

So “The Wisdom of Kongwe” is directly related to email marketing: “He who sends a blast to multiple targets converts none.”