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The Most Effective Subject Lines – Short or Long?

Subject lines for emails have evolved and so much research has been done on this subject, just to guide writers and businesses about what makes the most effective subject lines, and how to get them right in terms of size. Most research has pointed to the higher success rates of short subject lines – these are crisp, relevant and with no frills.

Experts in the field have advised that subject lines less than 50 characters long will bring better open, or click rates. However, an extensive study stretching over a 5-year time span, analyzing almost 650 subject lines and covering over 200 million emails sent Business-to-business and business-to-customer, proves this wrong, and shows how it has misled people to write the shortest subject lines and lose out.

Open rates versus click-through rates

The emails and subject lines were analyzed for open rates and click-through rates. Past experiences reveal that the real benefit comes to businesses from click- through rates, and not open rates, as previously believed.

The reason behind this appears to be that a short subject line reveals very little, is more general and can also be ambiguous, misleading and vague. The web surfer may open but click away almost instantly, because they do not find what they are looking for. If the email does contain something relevant for them, they have not stayed for long enough to catch it.

A longer subject line tends to be detailed, more specific and clear enough to catch attention. This helps to reach the targeted clientele who have a higher chance of getting converted and becoming customers. Specific relevance is crucial for businesses and long subject lines serve as filters that separate the genuine customer from the casual consumer.

Besides being longer, subject lines that are more specific like “25% discount offer on Adidas footwear”, is bound to catch the attention of all those wanting to buy a new pair of shoes. In contrast, a subject line like, “fabulous discounts”, may not evince interest of all those wanting to buy shoes.

The golden mean is not golden at all

Some businesses may choose to play it safe and opt for a subject line that is midway between the two extremes-neither short nor long. This may be the golden mean, but it is bound to be ineffective since it falls in the dead middle zone. A subject line of 65-75 characters can say only a little bit more, so it simplifies and partially explains but does not add value, since it lengthens a single proposition, and cuts short a more complex one. The dead zone will bring zero results.

The final word on subject line length

If subject lines are a big factor in achieving high open rates and click-throughs, then they need to be able to deliver a clear message. A short subject line is up to 50 characters and a long one is over 80 characters. The best option is to deliver a clear message that is relevant for the reader and evinces interest.

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