High school students are bombarded with messages coming from all around them, and this is especially true for their email inbox. That means crafting an intriguing subject line to grab their attention is more important than ever, which got us wondering, “what words in a subject line are best at breaking through the clutter?”
We researched which words have been effective in driving students to open an email. We ran a regression for each of the hundreds of words we’ve used to see how strongly they drive opens. We then ranked them by their t-value to capture the effect as well as the variance. This means, basically, we created a huge list that ranked every word in a subject line from best performing to worst performing. If a word appeared in one or more emails that had high open rates, that word was ranked higher. The more times the word appeared and performed well, the higher it was ranked. Below are our results with examples of especially effective subject lines.
10 Most Positive Subject Line Words
- Open — Register for our Open House events on March 19 and April 2.
- Doors — Let us open doors for you
- Internships — Our Internships Lead to Your Career
- Fall — Come visit us at a Fall Visit Day
- Come — Here are Ten Reasons You Should Come to [partner school]
- Future — Get ready for your future
- Invited — You Are Invited to Preview Weekend
- Nursing — Our Nursing Program: Helping Hands, Helping Hearts
- Admission — Your Application for Admission
- Join — Which Campus Clubs Will You Join?
One thing most of these words have in common is they’re warm and welcoming. They are inviting students to join in, to visit campus, to be part of the community. Everyone loves to be included. High school students are no exception.
Here are the words that were least effective in getting a student to open an email and some examples of emails that largely went ignored.
10 Most Negative Words
- College — One College, Five Schools
- University — Your University Experience Should Change Your Life.
- Scholarship — Your scholarship is waiting
- Get — Get out of the lecture hall and into the real world
- Education — You Can Afford a Quality Education
- Award — We Still Have Financial Aid Awards Available
- One — You Have One Week to Complete Our Application
- Career — Launch your career in business at [partner school]
- Find — Grow Academically and Find Your Purpose
- Apply —Two Days are Left to Apply
There’s nothing noticeably bad about these words, but they wouldn’t be described as warm and welcoming.
It’s also interesting to compare which words specifically ended up positive and negative. Students are interested in internships but not thinking ahead to careers. They are interested in words that describe community, but not subject lines with the word “community.” They’re not afraid to register, but they’re hesitant to apply. They don’t want to be told about how great an education they’re gonna get, but they do want to know it will prepare them for the future.
By John Foster, Data Analyst, Capture Higher Ed