The 30-character Sales Pitch

5 minute read

Upland Admin

How to write effective email subject lines for mobile devices.

Are longer or shorter subject lines best?

Optimum character length for email marketing subject lines is a thing of some contention. Recent studies by MailerMailer and Informz found that shorter subject lines clearly had the best open rates. However, MailChimp’s 2012 study of more than 12 billion emails suggested that there was no strong correlation between subject line length and open rates, and that quality and not quantity was the key.


What is clear is that optimum subject line lengths vary depending on a host of factors including your industry, your target audience and, not surprisingly, the type of information you are trying to convey.

What about mobile devices?

Here’s where things get a little simpler…

Most mobile devices are only able to display between 20 and 30 characters in their subject line. If mCommerce is your target, or if you know that the majority of your clients are likely to read your email on the move, then these are the limits you should try to work to.

Why optimise your subject lines for mobile email?

How to make the most of your 30 characters

1.Understand the purpose of a subject line

A subject line is a sales pitch, but what is it selling? Your company? Your exclusive offer? The email itself? The truth is, this depends on how your recipient reacts to your message. For those who don’t open your email (and there will often be more people who don’t than who do), they will still have glanced at your subject line, albeit momentarily, before deciding to ignore it.

Think of it as an exercise in brand awareness; they might not want to hear from you today, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them of who you are and what you stand for. Meanwhile, for those who are hesitating, the purpose of your subject line is to persuade them to read on.

Example: You are sending out your company’s newsletter. You put in your subject line: ‘[Company name’s] newsletter for May.’ Or ‘Latest news from [Company name]’. WRONG. Your recipients probably receive hundreds of newsletters each year; why would they want to open yours? Think about the elements of your newsletter that your customers are most likely to want to read, and sell your email accordingly. For instance: ‘Our top five design tips for 2014’.

Three seconds: The length of time it takes for a recipient to decide whether or not to open your email.

2. Clear communication

When it comes to writing a killer subject line with such a restricted character count, it is often best to brainstorm the important elements of what you are trying to convey. Then, you can decide what to run with and what to ditch. In other words, decide what you want to say, break it down in order of significance, tailor your choices to your recipient’s preferences and be sure only to convey the most important elements of your message.

3. Think mobile

Don’t be afraid to use punctuation, acronyms, and symbols where appropriate in order to write succinctly and get your message across in as few characters as possible.

Example: “RSVP: Executive lunch conference” conveys in 32 characters what “Invitation to attend our top-level roundtable discussions and executive lunch” does in 77.

4. Segmented lists and targeted subject lines

Don’t adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, especially when tailoring your email marketing for mobile devices, where every character counts. By analysing your customers’ preferences and characteristics, you will be able to take a much more personalised approach and send the most effective subject lines to different segments of your audience.

5. Testing

Learn from your own mistakes. Subject line testing delivers the highest ROI of any form of email testing. So why aren’t more people doing it? By tracking your results over a period of time, you can learn what resonates for your database and what falls flat.

6. Word choice

A great deal of research has been undertaken in recent years to analyse key words and phrases which do and don’t work well in email subject lines. This research has proven that, above all, subject line success is highly specific to industry and audience. It pays to truly understand what your target market wants, especially when every word counts.

Further reading:

Adestra’s 2013 Subject Line Analysis Report analysed 2.2 billion emails to see which keywords and phrases resonate best with specific audiences, overall, and by industry. The key findings are summarised in the Subject Line Report infographic.


When writing subject lines for mobile devices, remember that your character count is vital. In order to make these 30 characters speak volumes you must:

  • Prioritise your messaging.
  • Personalise your content and communication.
  • Write clearly and succinctly.
  • Segment your lists.
  • Test. And then test again. And again.
  • Understand your target audience.

Do you know which words and phrases in email subject lines resonate with your particular industry and audience? Take a look at Adestra’s Subject Line Report.

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