From Emojis To Pre-Headers: Today's Email Norms

Don’t believe pundits who urge you to avoid the word “free.” It is the top-performing email subject line, said Jay Schwedelson, the CEO of Worldata, during a Data & Marketing Association Webinar on Friday.  

“It became the most-used word from 2002 to 2006, then from 2007 to 2011, it became the most filtered,” Schwedelson said.

How did it make its way back? “Email filtering used to be based 99% on the content, meaning the words you wrote,” he explained.  Since 2012, filtering has been “reputation-based — the networks are looking not at content but at the reputation of the IP address and the domain they’re sending from.”

Schwedelson should know — his firm tracks billions of emails a year. Also widely used are words that stand for urgency and exclusivity — “the essence of email marketing,” he said during his breathless hour session.  

Start with urgency. “Less time — equals more opens,” Schwedelson continued. You get a “17% higher open rate when minutes are in the subject line, like Geico’s line: “15 minutes will save you 15%.” Schwedelson noted, “it works in email, too.” Another variation: “Transform your skin in 10 minutes.”

A sense of urgency can lift response by for consumer email, and 39% for B2B. Examples:

  • Two days until offer expires 
  • Registration ends today
  • Last chance to save
  • Free Webinar on April 11

Then there is exclusivity. Email recipients respond to subject lines like, “Shh! It’s exclusive,” or “Our exclusive live stream access to a private event,” and lines that convey surprise or ask questions.


Subject lines have become the “from” lines and pre-headers are the subject line. But they often contain accidental html code, which Schwedelson calls this “the silent killer” of response, leading to a 38% lower open rate.

It’s caused by invisibility — designers can see it on a mobile device, but not on desktop, which is where they usually work.

Emails that utilize the first line of a pre-header for the "offer" generate a 23% higher open rate than those that don’t. 

The Landing Page

This seems to affect response as much as the email itself. On average, companies are getting a 2% conversion — and a 98% abandonment rate. “Think how horrible that is,” Schwedelson said.

Some of it has to do with timing. Landing-page forms that take longer than 45 seconds to fill out have a 42% lower completion rate.

“Don’t sit there with a stop watch,” Schwedelson said. “You need to be aware of how many questions you’re asking, and how annoying it feels and looks. Be aware that the more you ask, the more likelihood you’re going to lose people — 7% for every must-fill question field.”

The Nav Bar

Get rid of it. “Removing the navigation bar from your landing page can result in 52% higher conversion rates.” Schwedelson said.

Non-offer links get 52% of clicks when over three destinations exist. When there is lots of other content, the non-offer things gets over half of the clicks.

Triggered Email

Triggered email in Q4 2016 sent as a result of an action taken, had an average open rate of 54%. “This is your one shot for laying the groundwork, establishing the look and feel of what you send, and the dynamics,’ Schwedelson said.

But timing is critical. “First communication triggered mails, received more than three hours after initial sign up led to a 20% lower lifetime value of customer via online tools,” he added.


The logo in an email should never go to your home page. “You’ve just lost 17% of your clicks, and 22% in B2B — the logo should go to the offer,” Schwedelson said. 


With usage increasing 480% in the last year, “emojis are everywhere,” Schwedelson said.  “Everyone has an emoji of a different kind — faces, clocks. And they work. We’re almost at 100% where every email client can show an emoji in a subject line.”


People who opened up in last 30 days are 425% are more likely to respond to an email. So send them more. “Would you rather have a 22% open rate on five emails, or 25% on two emails?” Schwedelson asked.

Here’s one more tip:Don’t creep people out. Say Schwedelson gets an email from a retailer, saying, “Something you had your eye on has a new low price.” His comment: “Just because you can, does that mean you should?”

1 comment about "From Emojis To Pre-Headers: Today's Email Norms ".
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  1. Luke Erickson from American Public University System, February 28, 2017 at 10:01 a.m.

    "We’re almost at 100% where every email client can show an emoji in a subject line."

    This is missing a HUGE caveat -- yes, nearly all email clients can show AN emoji, but not ALL emojis. In fact, it's a frustratingly small subset of the larger universe. And invariably, the clients it works the least are Outlook and whatever your boss uses besides Outlook ;-)

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