Realizing the Power of a Subject Line


We are all creatures of habit even when it comes to checking our email. Individual habits may vary slightly, but most of us including healthcare professionals can relate when it comes to the steps we take to tackle email and clear our inboxes.

Scroll through inbox to quickly check what’s there

Delete emails that are not relevant, useful, or of interest

Repeat, and respond to emails most important and time-sensitive

Repeat, and respond to emails that can be responded to quickly

Repeat, and scan email content to delete, file, or save to read further later that, honesty, may or may not happen at all

Make sure your emails are the relevant, useful, and interesting ones that physicians and other healthcare professionals want to open. Remember, it takes seven seconds to make a first impression and even less in the inbox. Your subject line is your first impression. Use the following insight backed by analytics to create the most effective subject lines and increase your campaign ROI.

In a recent survey, over 50% of AMA physicians said that the subject line is the email element that prompts them to open an email. Emails are structured with elements that build on one another, each providing more and more information to lead readers in and through a message to the call-to-action. The success or failure begins with the subject line. Therefore, it is important to understand the value of a subject line and be diligent in its development so that it encourages readers to open your email.

Content of Subject Line Per Healthcare Offer

If the Subject Line Could Speak, What Would It Say? “STOP! I am important. Open. Read me.” Those may be some of the things subject lines would say to get readers’ attention. However, since there is no audio in subject lines and we can’t physically grab readers and pull them into our email, we must rely on creative, clear, and concise subject lines to attract attention and incite engagement.

In addition, we should take into consideration busy healthcare professionals’ time and preferences. Using insight provided by HCPs to develop our communications helps to earn their respect and build relationships with them in and out of the inbox. Our annual physician surveys show that what HCPs view as important to them varies by offer. However, as our email analytics have shown time and time again, the general makeup of effective subject lines among offers is similar: short, to the point, with key details.

In CME marketing, topic, credits, location, and date are important to physicians; in recruitment offers, physicians look for specialty/position, location, and/or salary; in hospital marketing: key content of email, institution name, and therapeutic topic; and in pharma offers: drug/medical procedure, disease, and offer.

Bottom line, readers are busy and appreciate clear, concise subject lines that provide key information about the email offer or general message and call-to-action.

Develop a Solid Subject Line Using Proven Best Practices

To develop a solid subject line, first determine the purpose of the email and the general content of the message. Drafting an effective subject line is an exercise in and of itself that takes writing down multiple, different versions, making sure key information is included, and reviewing your list to see what pops.

A good starting point to brainstorm a subject line for your next email campaign is to customize a few of the types of subject lines below. Use key points from your email message, create a list of 3-5 contenders, and then select the one that is most on-point.

  1. Keyword – Place keywords that will have the biggest impact within the first few words.

  2. Urgency - Create a sense of urgency using deadlines, dates, or timeframes. This works well with a CME campaign that uses a series of emails leading up to a class or seminar with an initial announcement, reminder, and last chance.

  3. Benefit – Emphasize benefits of offer and call-to-action. Recipients want to know “what’s in it for them” and clearly stating that encourages them to open and read more.

  4. List - Use numbers to keep your subject line clean and simple, i.e. 3 Benefits of Drug X for your cancer patients

  5. Question - Ask a question to trigger a thought process in your readers. Questions cause people to pause, respond, and open to see how the email message relates to how they answered the question.

  6. News – Share important news and make special announcements that will help to open doors, build a forum to exchange information, and build relationships with healthcare professionals.

  7. Action - Speak directly to your audience in an active tone. Start with an action verb such as “learn,” “download,” “register,” or “sign-up.”

  8. Targeted/Personalized - Use merge tags to personalize and/or localize with recipient’s names, specialties, and location to help increase open rates.

Ensure that your subjects lines are consistent with the email message, and not deceptive or misleading. Also, choose your words carefully avoiding excessive punctuation marks, all caps, and promotional words such as “free,” “act now,” “offer,” “% off,” or “limited time.” This will help to prevent your emails from getting caught in spam filters.

Subject Line Length

Keep your subject line short and to the point. Rule of thumb is 45 – 50 characters or less because some email clients truncate subject lines beyond that range. However, there is not a hard core statistical link between subject line length and open rates because there are other factors that weigh in including the message/offer. Although, when it comes to mobile devices, shorter is better.

Test Subject Lines

There are many types of subject lines and it is important to determine which types work best for you, your offer, and your audience. A/B testing, also known as split testing, can be used to test the effectiveness of subject line wording and length. For example, you can send an email with one subject line to a sample of your target audience and the same email with a different subject line to another sample of your list. Once you run the test and determine which subject line produced the highest opens/clicks, you can send the email with the winning subject line to the balance of your audience. The more you test the better you will get to know your HCPs and their preferences.

To create the most effective subject lines that will grab your audience’s attention and encourage them to open your email and engage, follow the Subject Line Best Practices.


For more information about subject lines digital healthcare marketing, call 800-MED-LIST(633-5478) or fill out the form below.