How to Test Your Email Subject Lines

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 By Nick Usborne 

Over the years I have worked on email and newsletters with a number of large companies. When the lists have been big enough I have always recommended that we test subject lines before sending to the complete list. 

Why? Because identifying the best subject line out of a group is perhaps the hardest of all calls. In fact, over the years, I have never been able to consistently guess which subject line will get the best open rate.

There are a couple of principles to follow with every email subject line:

1. Don't get on the bad side of the spam filters. So watch for "bad" words, too much capitalization, exclamation marks etc.

2. Identify yourself. Get your company, product or newsletter name in the subject line. So when people scan their new emails, they will recognize you as being welcome. Beyond that, you just have to test.

Here's how I have done it...

A couple of days before the main send, I test four or five different subject lines against 500-1,000 names each, depending on the size of the list. Twenty-four hours later I check to see which line achieved the highest open rate. If you can, also check the click-through rates. Sometimes the line with the highest open rate won't be the one that ultimately brings you the highest revenues.

Once you have picked your winner, use that line with the main send of your email or newsletter.

Is it worth the trouble?

Absolutely. I have tested newsletter subject lines where two of them appear to be very similar, but one has achieved an open rate almost twice that of the other. If you don't test, you're just guessing.

Nick Usborne is a copywriter and consultant with more than 20 years experience in the advertising and marketing industry. His website is

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