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Email Header Tips to Get Your Message Opened

Tweets. Pokes. Tags. It's as if anything that reads more than 140 characters in length (spaces included) these days is deemed Tolstoyesque. (This opening line comes in at 139, btw.)

We're living in a time when microscopic attention spans are the norm. And the need for bold, meaningful email headers has never been more important for engaging your recipient base. So don't let your header be a last-minute design consideration.

In email terms, the header is your subject line and "From" name. These are the first things recipients see, and they set you on a level playing field with the other noise in the recipient's inbox--no fancy colors or logos to play with, just good old-fashioned plain text. So you have to really use what you've got here, and your brand identity is a good starting point. Chances are you already include it in your "From" name--why not include it in your subject line, too?

Many Silverpop clients start with brand name as the subject line prefix and have seen drops in open rates when they eliminate this branding. This may not be the case for everyone, but it's likely you'll see similar patterns, and it's worth testing. Here are seven factors to consider when crafting your email headers:

1)  Capitalization. Consider how easily your subject lines read. Are you using sentence case instead of Title Case? Does UPPERCASE work for emphasis on key words? Do you want to SHOUT or converse? Experiment ...

2)  Personalization. It sounds simplistic, but the inclusion of personalization in the header will likely improve your open rates. Take a look at your own inbox--the messages you open the most probably have a personalized element of some kind. Test and see how your company's open rates are affected by the inclusion of the recipient's name.

3)  Lifestyle or practical? What's the key reason for sending the message? Do you want to evoke feelings about your brand values or do you want to be product-centric, focusing on price or features?

4)  Interest triggers. Since this is the primary bait with which you'll tease recipients into opening messages, use these triggers effectively. Is less more, or is more merrier? Do you want to dilute the interest triggers or saturate the subject line? For example:

  • 3 For 2 deals available in our Sale
  • SALE: DVDs, CDs & Books in 3 For 2

These essentially tell the same story, but in different ways. So how do you decide what to use? Start by looking at magazines and newspapers and scanning headlines. Which ones grab your attention, and how are they structured? Try using similar formats in your subject lines, and test, test, test.

5)  Questions or statements. An engaging email campaign should be a two-way conversation, so consider starting with a question in your subject line. Questions can be strong calls to action; after all, a question is an explicit invitation to a response.

6)  Long or short subject lines. Broadly speaking, around 35 characters is deemed a good length of subject line (in Twitter terms that's only ¼ of a tweet). The main reason is to avoid truncation, considering the scope of a typical inbox. That's not to say you shouldn't experiment with longer subject lines. If you limit yourself to only 35 characters including your brand, that may not give you a lot of breathing space for the rest of your subject line.

7)  From name. Once a From name has been set up for you, it should be relatively easy to adjust with no impact on deliverability--so why not adjust it from time to time? Differentiate between newsletters, your sales alerts and your event invites. If you have representatives with a one-to-one relationship with your audience, why not use this in the From name? As long as the From name is relevant to the recipient, you're likely to get your message opened.

The key is to test, dipping your toe in the water before applying any tactics. Compare open rates to see how your header is connecting with recipients. By experimenting with the elements listed above and testing to find the optimal combination, you'll create engaging headers that improve the chance your message will be opened by customers.

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