The Best (and Worst) Words to Use in an Email Subject Line

Can you guess which words can make or break an email campaign? A new study reveals the answers.

This was originally posted on Direct Marketing News.

Marketers need to be black and white about the value of an email message. And there’s no better place to do that than in the subject line. In fact, a new study from email marketing agency Alchemy Worx reveals which words are more likely to prompt an open—and which ones simply turn readers off.

The study shows that “a single word can make a dramatic difference,” said Dela Quist, founder and CEO of Alchemy Worx, in a written release. But Quist and his team insist that even prolific testing methods, like A/B testing, aren’t enough to determine which words work the best and which fall flat. They point out that these popular methods, including A/B and multivariate testing, allow marketers to experiment with only a few subject lines at a time.

In this study, however, strategists at Alchemy Worx used their tool, Touchstone, to search a database of more than 21 billion emails to compare and cull the best and worst performing words in the subject line. The agency looked at the top and bottom words overall, and then sorted for varying industries. They determined exactly how much better, or worse, these words performed compared to average email open rates. The study even examined the best- and worst-performing symbols in the email subject line.

The findings are interesting.

The top five words that brands can use to prompt more opens are: “upgrade” (65% higher open rate), “just” (64%), “content” (59%), “go” (55%), and “wonderful” (55%). Those are the top five words overall.

Best Performing Words


Word Open Rate (vs Average) Rank
Upgrade 65.68% 1
Just 64.76% 2
Content 59.05% 3
Go 55.84% 4
Wonderful 55.10% 5


Things shift dramatically, however, when you zero in on separate industries. The top word for the entertainment industry, for example, is “content”—perhaps not a surprise. Readers expect a plethora of content from publishers and media companies.

For retailers, however, the top words are “painting” (18%), “ships” (13%), “please” (7%), “notice” (6%), and “recipe” (5%). The top word in the travel industry is “about” (26%), consumer services is “wonderful” (55%), and for the technology industry, “upgrade” (66%).

Equally as interesting are the overall worst-performing words: “miss” (-4.6%), “deals!” (-4.38%), “groovy” (-4.26%), “conditions” (-4.04%), and “Friday!” (-4%). “Monday,” ironically, is the worst performing word for the media industry; “groovy” (-4.3%) is the worst for retailers.

Worst Performing Words

Word Open Rate (vs Average)
Miss -4.60%
Deals! -4.38%
Groovy -4.26%
Conditions -4.04%
Friday! -4.00%


Symbols and emojis are becoming more common in email subject lines. The best-performing symbol is a snowman (65%), followed by an emoji of the sun (21%), and a star (11%). The worst symbol is a human figure pointing to the right (-9.52%).

Obviously, each business has to determine what’s best for itself and its customers. But whether email marketers follow these findings or not, they need to “look at the finer details,” said Alchemy Worx’s Quist in the release. He suggests that as marketers craft their email campaigns  they remember this: “The subject line is the most important part of an email…By looking at the finer details, such as the best and worst words to use within the subject lines, [we] can manage campaigns to ensure they achieve the best click-through rates and conversions.”

Why Brainstorming Works Better Online

There’s some truth to having a remote brainstorming session. I’ve been having a weekly conference call with a brilliant colleague where we brainstorm on each others projects and progress. It has been indispensable to my business development.

By Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Crumpled Yellow Paper Light BulbIn the late 80’s, Peter Drucker predictedthat in the near future technology would play a central role in increasing the effectiveness of teams. Although he was right, teams have yet to experience the full benefits of technology. Yes, there is a great deal of talk about virtual teams and collaborative tools, but our ability to leverage technology in a way that consistently and systematically boosts team performance is based mostly on intuition rather than science.

One exception is group brainstorming, a technique that is still widely used in organizations despite the lack of evidence that it works and compelling evidence that it actually leads to a productivity loss. The good news is that technology can make brainstorming more effective, by replacing physical and oral sessions with virtual and written ones – a technique also known as brainwriting or electronic brainstorming.

Indeed, studies comparing the performance of matched groups on physical and virtual sessions indicate that the latter generate more high quality ideas and have a higher average of creative ideas per person, as well as resulting in higher levels of satisfaction with the ideas. As shown in meta-analyses, virtual brainstorming enhances creative performance – versus in-person brainstorming sessions – by almost 50% of a standard deviation. This means that almost 70% of participants can be expected to perform worse in traditional than virtual brainstorming sessions.

The advantages of virtual brainstorming have been attributed to three main reasons.

First, the fact that virtual brainstorming eliminates production blocking, the process where dominant participants talk too much, taking over the session and eclipsing their colleagues. This leads to cognitive overload and hinders creative idea generation in more introverted participants. In virtual brainstorming there is a clear positive relationship between group size and performance, whereas in traditional, in-person brainstorming sessions, things tend to get messy with more than six participants. Online, there are no real limits to group size: the cost of having 5 or 50 participants is nearly the same, and you actually save costs by allowing to people to work remotely and in dispersed locations. Thus virtual brainstorming is much more scalable, and each person you add has the potential to contributing a new idea to the mix.

Second, virtual brainstorming enables feelings of anonymity, since ideas cannot be attributed to a specific person. This reduces evaluation apprehension, particularly in less confident individuals who would underperform in traditional brainstorming sessions. Anonymity also means that ideas are judged more objectively. In traditional sessions, the process is as biased and political as in any other physical group interaction – the powerful people take over, and though democratic in theory, in fact decisions are driven by one or two powerful individuals. Conversely, when team members rate ideas anonymously and without knowledge of the author, politics are out of the way. An example of this is textsfromlastnight, a site that allows users to anonymously submit quirky text messages, which are then rated – good or bad – by other anonymous users. Organizations would do well to copy this process: have a live, real-time, virtual depository of ideas for new products, services, or processes, which can then be rated or evaluated by other employees, and perhaps even clients.

Third, if designed intelligently, virtual sessions can increase the diversity of ideas. In traditional brainstorming, being exposed to others’ ideas causes uniformity and regression to the mean: the most creative people will descend to the level of the group average. But by preventing participants from being exposed to each other’s ideas during the idea-generation phase, virtual brainstorming encourages participants to offer a wider variety of ideas. In line with this, studies have shown that individual brainstorming, where people write down a number of ideas on a piece of paper, often produces more and better ideas than group brainstorming. Virtual brainstorming preserves this mechanism while providing a searchable archive of ideas for the team to weigh in on later.

Thus virtual brainstorming retains the original postulate of traditional brainstorming – that teams can crowdsource creativity by curating the ideas they collectively produce in an informal, free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness, session – but overcoming the main, originally unforeseen, barriers.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority on personality profiling, talent management, and people analytics. He is the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems and a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London (UCL) and Columbia University.


Publishing Is Dead? Long Live Publishing!

This originally appeared on Adotas

Feb 23, 2015 John Philpin CEO of Lyris

John PhilpinTo misquote Mark Twain “The reports of the death of music have been greatly exaggerated.”

For 20 years – long before the iPod came along – there has been a meme circulating on the Internet that ‘music is dead’. Yet music is not just surviving – it is thriving.

•   True – HOW we listen to and absorb music has radically changed.

•   True – HOW artists make money out of their music has radically changed.

•   True – the music INDUSTRY is dead – but that’s not a bad thing … they got in the way.

•   True – if you don’t pay attention, you will assume that music has hit a low because your music sources will be defined by the ‘bubble’ of ‘what you like’ or ‘what you hear through radio and TV stations owned by corporations’. Oh, and what you hear through websites – increasingly owned by those same corporations.

But … the fact is that we are living in a golden age of massive creativity with people creating and publishing their work directly to their audience. Music of all genres is cutting through the clutter to be listened and claimed. But we – the audience – have to work harder to find it. And we, the audience, have to recognize that to create something like music takes someone’s time, creativity and skill, and it cannot be free.

Now here’s an exercise: Let’s replace ‘music’ in those statements above with publishing equivalents. True – HOW we listen to and absorb news has radically changed. True – HOW writers make money out of their writings and opinion has radically changed. True– … well, you get the idea. And – just like music – if you are paying attention, there is a plethora of solid news, opinions, and columns on all kinds of topics imaginable to be found by the discerning reader.

Publishing is not dead – it is just redefining itself. But ‘Big Publishing’ for the most part is behaving like ‘Big Music.’ Both are attempting to hang on to the model that they know and love because it created so much money for them – not necessarily the creators. ‘Big Music’ continues to drive shows such as ‘The X Factor’, ‘American Idol’ and ‘The Voice’ – all essentially seeking to keep ‘Big Music’ in control. And the audience laps it up.

Big Publishing, Big Mistakes? Looking into the publishing camp, the story is not that different. Publishers are experimenting with pay-walls to ensure their content is not ‘given away’, cluttering their websites with adverts to help pay for their empires and a host of other tricks that simply make readers go away. This because they seem to confuse what they think they are about with what we think they are about. But that’s another subject.

I am a keen follower of Ben Thompson of Stratechery fame and one of his recent blog posts, Publishers and the Smiling Curve, prompted my own thoughts relating to how publishers’ current business models are too often positioned at the bottom of the value chain. Switching the power from a broadcast/blitz/blast communication style of the traditional media industry to a more considered, engaged, conversational style that embraces dialog that consumers prefer, is where publishers can drive value at the edges. But that is hard.

Ben has since followed up with another blog post surmising that there are two prime business models on the Internet.

1.     You can try to make a little money from a lot of people.

2.     You can try to make a lot of money from a few people.

For publishers that means making pennies on large numbers of subscribers only works if you have large numbers of subscribers. To quote Ben; “it’s the middle that is doomedbut things are looking up for the truly differentiated.”

Bottom line …  Publishers have to think differently about their business and their relationships with their audiences. Connected customers are powering a seismic shift in business models and as long as traditional media operates in a linear model of value creation acting like gatekeepers they will be left behind by networks that connect the right content to the right user.

Which brings me to ‘Niche Publishing’. Any business that wants to pursue ‘true differentiation’ needs to establish a product that, in the mind of the consumer, is markedly and undeniably different. Niches don’t scale; they go deep. ‘All you can eat’ strategies are ultimately suited for content that is broadly appealing. For anything with a limited but intensely interested audience, they are nothing but a bad idea. A way to limit your audience and the amount of money to be made.

Niche publishing is growing and profitable. But the question is where does niche publishing go next?

As I often say, the world of the future is not about the brand – it is about us – the customers, the people, the individuals. And as an individual, do I really want to receive lots of different emails, alerts, magazines, newspapers, zines – each one uniquely focused on an interest of mine? Of course not. I am my own system of record. I need to receive communications that are managed, controlled, and orchestrated so that I receive the right content at the right time without overloading me.

Bottom line, ‘Extreme Publishing’ is the future and allows for reliable and consistent content to be sent to me at the right time, to the right place, with the right …. based on my behavior, preferences, device, context … and anything else I (not the publisher) consider to be relevant.

That is what a connected customer communication platform is all about. It is a long journey, but just as Lao Tzu said “every journey starts with a single step”. My question for you is how many steps have you taken?