The 14 Best Words That Get People to Open Email

Should you maneuver certain "secret" words into your subject lines to get people to open email?

six sigma email strategy email revenue email copywriting Get People to Open Email

Do you know how to get people to open email? In a presentation called The Science of Email Marketing that we attended a while back, analytics nerd Dan Zarella said bluntly, “I would rather have an email subscriber than a Twitter follower.” We’d like to think it’s because email subscribers respond better to promotions, but according to Dan’s presentation, email and Twitter are almost equal in terms of lead generation. Still, our Twitter followers are often fair weather friends, aren’t they?

Dan reminded businesses that 88% of people use their work email as their main email address, so your email subject lines can’t be boring. “You’re competing with baby pictures and invitations to dinner,” he said.


Boring, jargon-y words like evaluation, soon, administration, liked, please, minutes and enjoyed were the most common in top unopened emails.

Dan pulled Hubspot’s data from over 500,000 emails sent, and the top seven words with the best open rates tended to indicate a benefit to the user:

  • secret

  • e-sales

  • awesome

  • skills

  • ebook

  • helpful

  • shipping

Dan commented on these results, saying to “phrase it in a way for what I as the reader want”.

Still, you can’t listen to what just one test says, in fact, you should really be looking at your own data for this information. Mailchimp, however, also has its own set of popular words coming from an even bigger dataset of over 9.5 billion emails. Here were the top seven:

  • posts

  • jobs

  • survey

  • week’s

  • e-newsletter

  • issue

  • digest

Like Hubspot’s data, these words show that telling users what’s in the email is a good thing. It also tells you that digests, or week-in-review type emails seem to be working really well too.

But what about words to avoid using in subject lines? Vertical Response has some tips that may or may not set off official spam filters, but they tend to set off human filters:

  • Don’t write subject lines ALL IN CAPS.
  • Don’t make spelling mistakes.
  • Don’t plea with people to “Open Me!”
  • Don’t deceive readers with a false promise.
  • Don’t give away everything in your subject line.
  • Don’t use one word – like “Hi!” – as your subject line.
  • Nix the punctuation!!!
  • Don’t add Re: to your subject line to deceive readers.

MailChimp also identified three words that won’t trip the spam filter, but still get low open rates due to being deemed spammy by readers: Help, Percent Off, and Reminder. Interestingly, they also found personalization doesn’t increase open rates, but locality does.

One of the easiest ways to get people to open email and get double duty from your email subject lines is to start with a great idea based on one of our proven Email Subject Line Archetypes and combine it with the List subject line. List subject lines that work are often something along the lines of “8 rabbit breeds to love” or “10 things you need to know about raisins.”

In fact, our friend Stuart Hochwert at Prime Publishing, who has multiple cooking and crafting websites, uses List subject lines almost exclusively. He tells us he’s tried others, but the numbers almost always win.

Here’s a typical subject line that garners high open rates:

20 Country Slow Cooker Recipes

How can you top that? Well, whether the writer knew it or not, here’s an even better email subject line that combines the number with an implied benefit – and, if you’ve been following copywriting best practices, you know that benefits are the single most powerful tool a copywriter can deploy.

Top 10 Lazy Skillet Meals

Shazam! A list and the benefit of easy meal preparation! That one zoomed to an even higher open rate, and that’s what we call a subject line that works and will get people to open.

If you have some data to share on how to get people to open email, please share in the comments below!

This article was first published in 2017 and has been updated.

    Alex N.

    Very surprising results – I guess it just shows the value of testing and using large samples.

    As Jennifer, above, says – I think that several of the “buzz” words are boring.

    I think I’d like to read more of this study!

    Another surprise – subscribers using their work email as their main email.

    I wonder how reliable this data is when you consider that the “From” field is so crucial?

    When I see an email from someone I trust or like then I just open it without a glance at the subject line.

    Lots of food for thought here!


    Some good insight and words that you would not think are in the top 14, were these tests carried out Globally or to a US database?

    Amanda M.

    Glad you found it useful Kirill. Jennifer, when we tested at Mequoda a while back we also found that identifying ourselves at the beginning of every subject line (Mequoda Daily: ….. ) increased open rates too. We thought it’d be redundant, but as it turns out people respond to consistency!

    Kirill V.

    Very useful information Thank you.This can help me improve my email marketing results
    Thanks again


    Very interesting. Thanks very much – I’m always trying to work out which words to use in subject lines. Interesting that “e-newsletter” was popular, I would have thought that was boring. I guess it’s to the point and tells people what they’re in for in the email. Thanks again


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