The great debate: email subject line vs email content

Posted by Sabeeha Ebrahim

What matters more - the clickable email subject line or the content in that email once it’s opened? 

Who could forget INBOUND21 where some lifelong marketing and sales lessons were learnt? Spitfire Inbound reminisces about INBOUND21 in our weekly On Demand sessions where the team watches and discusses INBOUND21 sessions. This week's topic sparked a hot debate among the team: What’s more important and why–email subject lines or email content? Let’s dive deeper into this.

This particular session was quite intense as the debate contained very strong viewpoints from both sides. Jay Schwedelson argued that the email subject line is more important while content queen Nancy Harhut made the point that the email content holds more weight. 

It’s no secret that email marketing is a vibrant and powerful way to connect with an audience, but how can this connection happen if the email isn’t opened in the first place? This is why the email subject line is arguably the most important aspect of the email. Here is what some of our team members had to say on each side of the argument: 

Subject Line is most important:

  • “The most important element of an email based on this debate, has to be the ‘Subject Line’ as the subject line is what will be the first element of the email that catches the reader's attention. This does not negate the content of the email but without a good first impression (Subject Line) the rest of the email may not even get another glance. ‘SUBJECT LINE’ = Your Email’s Seduction Point,” says Dominic Tracey, Spitfire Inbound Success Associate. 
  • “Subject line beats email content - judging a book by its cover is totally apt in this case due to consumers being inundated with content everywhere they look so if the subject line doesn’t win first, the email content won’t even get the time of day. That being said, it doesn’t help if you drop the ball in the email content because the whole point of sending the email out is to get a response/action in return so you need to dedicate the same effort and attention to mastering both for your email to serve its purpose,” argues Jayde Troskie, Spitfire Strategic Inbound Advisor.
  • “Both the subject line and content of the email are equally important, but if I had to choose one over the other I would go with the subject line. In my opinion the content won’t be seen if the subject line doesn’t catch one’s interest in the first place. People are busy now and tend to scan through marketing emails to see which is worth their time. In addition, people receive plenty of marketing emails on a daily basis. The best way to choose which one to open? The subject line. Of course then the content would have to be worth it otherwise you would’ve lost them immediately,” says Kefilwe Lesejane, Spitfire Inbound Implementor.

Email Content is most important:

I voted that content is more important than subject line, even though both are equally important. I agree with Nancy Harhut because of the “From line”. If you receive an email from someone or a brand you don’t trust, then chances are you aren’t going to open it. Trust and reputation are important. 

But at the same time, the subject line is important because it tells you what the email is about.

Here are some of our Social Media and Digital Content Manager, Lauren Espach’s points on each side of the debate:

Nancy Harhut - email content is more important than subject line:

  • From line is important because of reputation.
  • If the reputation of the from address is bad, the email will get flagged to spam.
  • Recipient engagement is important.
  • You can use pictures and stories in your content, which you can’t use in the email subject line. This helps with conversion opportunities.
  • Emails with a strong CTA and links get 53% more response–again, you can’t use CTAs or links in your subject line

Jay Schwedelson - subject line is more important than email body content 

  • The subject line is the “face” of your content. If your face is bad, no one will want to look at it, meaning if your email subject line is bad, chances are people won’t open your email. 
  • You have the opportunity to use exclusivity in your email subject line, e.g. VIP members only, etc. This gives the impression that your email is only being sent to a select group of recipients.
  • Email subject lines are cheap to produce versus email body copy which can be expensive (content writers, designers, production team etc.).
  • Personalisation - you have the opportunity to personalise email subject lines more than body content. 

Both email and subject line are equally important:

  • “The body and subject line is both Yin & Yang. Complementing each other, both elements are equally important. 

Without a subject line, your email body may be overlooked if bland and generic, however it is the actual copy within the body that drives a user back to a website page, landing page or relevant direction. In the past, we could get away with no subject line but today it is definitely an art to write up a compelling email line that stands out. Best practice here is key.” argues Marlene Oosthuizen, Spitfire Strategic Inbound Advisor.

  • “I feel both the subject line and body of the email work hand in hand, however personally, if the subject line does not catch my attention, I will not open the email,” says Sasha-Lia Coimbra, Spitfire Inbound Implementor.

Everybody had their own opinions and reasons behind them, but the common theme in each of the above votes is that the email subject matters most. 

Although the email content is also extremely important, your subject line communicates your email’s value to the recipient and encourages them to read further, which could lead them to engage with your brand on a deeper level and ultimately, respond to your call to action (CTA).

A poor subject line goes beyond simply being bad; it can contribute to your email being marked as spam, which will damage your reputation with your audience and search engines. Check out these interesting statics from different sources, on why email subject lines are so essential:

Email Subject line or email content

Image Source: Canva

Data derived from Campaign Monitor

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