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John Graham John Graham , 1/15/2014
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To determine how much of a difference a single word can make in e-mail open rates, MailChimp conducted a study of 24 billion subject lines with 22,000 distinct words.


Here's a summary of the findings:

  1.   Name personalization: Personalization in subject lines increases open rates. One of the most interesting findings is that, although using both first and last names in a subject line is less common, it has the largest positive impact on open rates. However, other online marketing companies disagree, arguing that the use of names can trigger spam.   
  2. Free vs. Freebie: Including "free" entices readers to open the message – but not always. It's positive for recruitment/staffing, restaurants, beauty and personal care, the arts, and music and entertainment; but less so for business and finance, medical, dental and healthcare, real estate and travel. At the same time, the use of "freebie" results in a much larger increase in open rates
  3. Words that imply time sensitivity: Attention-grabbing words such as "urgent" and "important" resulted in higher than normal open rates.
  4. Announcements, invitations and cancellations: Recipients are far more intrigued by announcements and event invitations than cancellations and reminders. If the subject line containing a cancellation is self-explanatory, recipients don’t feel the need to open the e-mail. The one exception is restaurants.
  5. Words associated with charity. Such words as “fundraising,” “raffle,” “charity,” and “donate” have a negative impact on open rates negatively, while "helping" has the best impact.
  6. 6. Frequently used word pairs. The top pair for making a positive impact on the open rate is “thank you.”  Those with a negative impact include “sign up”,” breast cancer” and “last chance.”

The bottom line:  when it comes to e-mail subject lines, a single word can make a significant difference in open rates.