Subject lines drive opens. Without opens, your customer communications and program promotions simply won’t make an impression or accomplish your goals. To ensure success and boost open rates, follow these email subject line best practices.

Tips For Building Successful Email Subject Lines

An effective email subject line will catch the attention of the recipient and inspire them to open the message to learn more. The most reliable ways to do this are to…

  1. Keep it short
  2. Don’t forget the preview text
  3. Don’t bury the lead
  4. Use actionable language and active verbs
  5. Incorporate recipient benefits and offers
  6. Try including numbers
  7. Match the message
  8. Use emojis sparingly
  9. Avoid all caps or special characters
  10. Test, test, test

1. Keep it short

How long should a subject line be in an email? Subject lines should be quick, clear and specific; the best length is 40 characters or fewer. Longer subject lines are often truncated because of mobile displays and screen settings. Your intended message could be unintelligible if you make it too long.

Try using the tool TestSubject to see how your email subject line and sender name look on the most popular mobile devices and email clients.

2. Don’t forget the preview text

While not technically a subject line, your preview text (also known as preheader text) is equally important and can help you grab attention and boost opens. Use it to convey additional information that expands on the subject line. Text length should range between 40 and 140 characters.

Screenshot example of sample subject lines

3. Don’t bury the lead

Put important words at the beginning of the subject line; catch the customer’s attention immediately. As mentioned above, subject lines are often clipped short on mobile devices. Don’t let the best part of your message go unseen.

4. Use action language

People are more likely to open emails when they see actionable, eye-catching words in the subject line. Check out this exhaustive list of action verbs for inspiration.

You can also leverage free online tools to test your subject lines. These tools analyze and offer suggestions for improvement, including possible action verbs.

5. Promote benefits

Speak directly to the customer’s interests or concerns: How would opening the email benefit them?Customers respond well to specific references to their situation; email subject lines with the words “you,” “your” and “about your” tend to perform well.

Screenshot example of sample subject lines

6. Include numbers

Include a promo code or dollar amount to catch attention. Subject lines such as “Save XX when you use promo code XXXXX” tend to improve open rates as well as CTOR.

Screenshot example of sample subject lines

7. Don’t use clickbait

Your subject line should match the contents of your email. Don’t try to trick recipients and boost opens only to disappoint them with your email message. This is a surefire way to be flagged for spam or lose subscribers.

8. Be careful with emojis

When should you use emojis in subject lines? Questline Digital’s data shows that most subject lines with emojis perform below the industry benchmark. While not always true, they should be used sparingly and with purpose.

9. Make it readable

Using unique text characters or different fonts may seem like it would help your message stand out. But using special Unicode characters makes subject lines unintelligible to users who rely on screen readers. This means your email is not accessible to all audiences.

Screenshot example of sample subject lines

10. Test, test, test

Email subject line best practices include A/B testing. This is when you send two versions of a subject line to a small sample group, measure open rate or CTOR performance, then deliver the “winning” subject line to the remaining mailing list. Through the consistent use of A/B testing over time, an energy utility can narrow down very specific best practices for customer segments. Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Is my sample size big enough? Typically, 500 to 1,000 recipients is an effective sample size and will deliver statistically meaningful results.
  • How long should the test run? More than50% of opens and clicks happen within the first 6 hours after email delivery. However, to eliminate seasonal and day-of-week variables, it’s best to test for one full week before determining a winner.
  • Is there a clear winner? Depending on the sample size, a good rule of thumb is to look for a 25% to 35% performance variance in order to declare a clear winner.

Sample Subject Lines for Energy Utilities

Let’s look at high-performing subject lines in action. We evaluated the top email sends for our energy utility clients and have compiled the best sample subject lines for your reference and inspiration.

Best subject line for promotion emails

Promotional emails, or those that sell products or promote programs, are often the hardest to get customers engaged with. People don’t typically enjoy being sold to. Your subject lines for promotion emails need to work hard to showcase benefits, inspire action and catch attention.

Chart listing best sample subject lines for email subject line best practices

Employing Email Subject Line Best Practices

Bookmark this blog and refer to our list of testing tools and sample subject lines the next time you’re building an email campaign. And remember to test, test, test!

Learn how Questline Digital’s engagement experts can boost the performance of your email marketing campaigns.

Effective email list management is critical to digital marketing success for energy utilities. By building digital relationships with residential and business customers, and growing lists to reach more customers, utilities can achieve marketing goals, increase program participation and boost customer satisfaction.

At the same time, there are negative consequences to poor list management, from complaints and reduced satisfaction to potential legal implications of “spamming” customers who don’t want to be emailed. An effective email strategy should focus not just on list growth but on maintaining effective engagement with your energy utility’s customers.

By following these best practices, utilities can boost open rates, reduce opt-out and complaint rates, and improve digital marketing performance by connecting with the right customers.

Establish clear goals for email list growth

Don’t add customers to your list just for the sake of growing it. Set clear goals for your expanded outreach so you can develop effective growth tactics and measure the results in increased engagement — not list size.

Identify programs that would benefit from list growth and focus on getting opt-ins from members of those specific segments. This also allows you to tailor signup messages to their interests. For example, if electric vehicle owners are seeking EV information on your website or via your call center, you can ask them to opt-in to your email to receive program updates.

A bigger email list is not better

Marketers often wrongly assume that bigger is always better when it comes to customer email lists. While it is true that you generally want to reach as many customers as you can to maximize the impact of your message, that effort is only effective if you email engaged customers who want to hear from their energy utility. Adding unengaged customers to your list, on the other hand, could have a serious negative impact on email performance.

  • Open rates and click-through rates will decline when unengaged customers ignore or delete your messages. That makes it harder to analyze metrics and optimize the campaign for customers who do want to receive it.
  • Unengaged customers may unsubscribe from your list, allow your message to languish in junk folders, or mark it as “spam.” This will not only impact your deliverability metrics, it could affect your reputation with email service providers — threatening your ability to deliver future email to engaged customers.

Follow opt-out rules and opt-in best practices

The way you manage customer info on your email list is not just governed by common sense and courtesy, it’s regulated by federal law. The CAN-SPAM act, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, gives consumers the right to have you stop emailing them — with potential penalties of more than $40,000 for each email in violation. While that could be expensive, the longer-term cost would be the loss of customer satisfaction from repeatedly emailing people who don’t want to hear from you — and ignoring them when they ask you to stop.

Follow these best practices to properly add and remove customers from your email list:

  • Ask customers to opt-in to your lists and use active opt-in methods (avoid passive or automatic opt-in tactics such as a pre-checked opt-in box). You want customers to choose to receive messages from you.
  • Make it clear to customers what they are signing up for. Allow separate opt-ins and opt-outs for different lists and explain the purpose and cadence of each one.
  • While customers may opt-out of receiving certain types of messages, you must also include an option that allows them to stop all messages from you.
  • Make signup easy and unsubscribing easier. Every email message must include a conspicuous explanation of how to opt out that is easy for an ordinary person to recognize and understand.

Add new customers who want to hear from you

The reality is that many customers want to hear from their energy utility. There are several ways you can grow your list by encouraging this engaged audience to opt-in to your emails.

Add intuitive questions to call center scripts that demonstrate the benefits of receiving emails from your energy utility. For example, customer service reps can ask, “What is the best email to share cost-saving energy tips for your home?” This is especially effective when new or moving customers call to add or change their service and they are open to starting an engaged relationship with their utility.

Add simple email signup forms to your website that correspond to the content on each page. For instance, on an energy efficiency program page you could suggest, “Enter your email address to receive energy-saving tips and rebates.”

Your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram followers might be interested in relevant updates delivered via email. When you post on social media sites asking customers if they are interested in receiving updates, make sure you emphasize convenience and interests that appeal to social users.

Build connections with the right customers

Your email marketing strategy will not be successful by reaching the most customers, it will succeed by reaching the right customers. With these list management best practices to acquire new contacts, grow and maintain email lists, you can reduce complaints from unengaged customers while nurturing long-term relationships with engaged customers.

Download Questline Digital’s marketing tip sheet, “Best Practices: Email List Management for Energy Utilities.”

A social media strategy is an essential component of an energy utility’s digital marketing plan. You can provide real-time updates, share helpful information, receive feedback and connect directly with your customers. Most importantly, popular social media sites are where many customers spend their time online. In order to reach them, you need to spend time there, too.

To engage your audience and build a trusting relationship between your energy utility and social media followers, you’ll need to optimize what you post, when you post and where you post. Follow these best practices to make sure your social strategy earns shares and likes — and avoids getting unfriended.

Reach the right audience on the right platform

There are a lot of social media platforms out there, and it seems like a new one is generating buzz almost every week. Learning new platforms, creating accounts and managing all these profiles can be overwhelming, especially for time-strapped energy utility marketers.

The good news is, you don’t need to use every social media platform — just the ones that your customers use the most.

Facebook should be the primary focus for most energy utilities. It reaches the most residential customers and the widest audience overall. LinkedIn, meanwhile, is an ideal way to reach business customers. Posting on Twitter and Instagram can be effective, but these platforms aren’t essential to reach your audience.

  • With 2 billion users, Facebook is an ideal platform for reaching a residential audience.
  • LinkedIn has more than 575 million users, and 40% of users access it on a daily basis.
  • More than 80% of Instagram’s 1 billion users follow a business account.
  • There are more than 500 million tweets sent every day from Twitter’s 330 million users.

Use an appropriate voice on social

Social media platforms are more casual and conversational than other customer communication channels. You don’t want to come across as too stodgy, but you should also be true to your energy utility’s brand. Even when you’re being friendly and personable, you want to sound like a trusted community organization, not a sarcastic teenager.

Your energy utility should maintain the same voice, or personality, across all of your social media accounts. Aim to be authentic, helpful, knowledgeable and friendly each time you craft a social media post, regardless of the platform. But change your tone based on who you’re targeting and the situation at hand.

  • Residential customers want to be entertained, while business customers want to stay up to date on industry trends and news.
  • Be personable to delight and amuse your audience on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Be direct with clear and concise language when posting to LinkedIn.
  • Be sympathetic and understanding in your posts when addressing an outage, natural disaster or other crisis.

Pick the best times to post

Social media tends to be ephemeral. Messages are consumed within a fairly short window after being published, without a lot of staying power. In fact, studies have shown that most retweets on Twitter happen with the first hour after tweeting. As a result, you want to post when your customers are online to see it.

You can find loads of conventional wisdom about the best days and times to share posts, but each audience is different. To find out what works best for your customers, try posting at different times on multiple days throughout the week to see which posts get the most engagement. Those results can help inform your social media strategy moving forward.

These recommendations, based on Questline Digital performance metrics, can help you get started:

  • Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram posts shared on Sunday often see the worst engagement; the worst day for Twitter is Saturday.
  • Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are the best performing days overall.
  • Facebook posts perform well when posted from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
  • LinkedIn posts see the most engagement when shared from 8 to 10 a.m. and at noon Wednesday; at 9 a.m. and from 1 to 2 p.m. Thursday; and at 9 a.m. Friday.
  • Instagram posts perform well when shared at 11 a.m. Wednesday and from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday.
  • Twitter posts perform best at 9 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday; posts shared weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. see high engagement as well.

Keep it short, sweet and visually engaging

Social media users enjoy posts that get to the point quickly and concisely. They want to easily understand what program you’re promoting or why they should click the link you shared. The shorter your message, the better chance you have of capturing their attention.

Even better than sharing a text-based post, try to draw your audience in with an eye-catching video, infographic, animated GIF or photo. Adding visual components to your social media posts makes them more engaging. When posts grab their attention, audiences interact more in the form of likes, comments and shares.

  • According to Questline Digital performance metrics, energy utility social media posts with videos, GIFs and images see the most engagement.
  • Posts with videos get 200% more likes, comments and shares than those with just links or no media at all.
  • Add a GIF or short infographic to your social media post to demonstrate a complex topic quickly and clearly with engaging visuals.

The right social media content can help you build a strong digital relationship with your audience — and ultimately increase customer satisfaction by making your energy utility relatable and accessible. By following these best practices, you can connect with customers on the platforms they use most, at the times they’re online and with the right information.

Download Questline Digital’s marketing tip sheet, “Best Practices: Social Media Marketing.”

Email marketing is an extremely effective channel, giving energy utilities the ability to reach a large number of customers with highly targeted, personal messages. But even the best email campaigns must compete for clicks in crowded customer inboxes.

In order to succeed, an email must be clear, consistent and easy to read. With well-designed messages that attract attention and drive conversions, energy utilities can cut through the clutter to deliver successful results. Follow these best practices to optimize the design of your emails.  

Anatomy of an email message

Every email message should follow standard formatting conventions, both to meet customers’ expectations and to comply with technical and legal regulations (such as CAN-SPAM). When a customer opens your message, they should instantly grasp who it is from and why you are contacting them. Follow this advice to make it clear.

  • Sender Name and Address: Clearly identify the energy utility or affiliated program that is sending the email.
  • Subject Line: Relevant, compelling and actionable; 50 to 70 characters that prompt the customer to open to learn more.
  • Preheader: Summary of contents, 35 to 100 characters, that’s consistent with the subject line and inspires action.
  • Footer: Must include a physical mailing address and a prominent unsubscribe link to comply with CAN-SPAM regulations.
Diagram of different sections of an email message

Make it easy to read

Customers open messages using multiple email programs, web browsers and mobile apps, on a variety of devices, in a variety of situations — from Microsoft Outlook and Gmail on their computers to the Mail app on their phones. In every case, your design needs to be clear and legible.

Often this is easier said than done; a font or color choice may look great on the big computer screen you’re using to design it, but the message may be completely unreadable on a customer’s small smartphone screen. Consider these email best practices to make an impact no matter what devices customers use to read them.

  • Always utilize mobile-optimized design. More than 63% of residential customers read emails from their energy utility on smartphones.
  • Email attention spans are short. Most customers spend less than 8 seconds reading an email from their energy utility. Make your point instantly.
  • Use web-safe fonts to ensure compatibility; body text should be 14 to 16 points.
  • Add alt tags to all images to improve clarity for customers who have images turned off and to ensure compliance for vision-impaired customers.

Eye-catching simplicity

Messages need to be attractive, but designs should also be simple and restrained. Complicated color schemes or intricate images won’t display well on all email programs, web browsers or smartphone apps. A design can be bright, bold or eye-catching while still being clear and easy to read. These tips will help you find the right balance.

  • When using overlapping or adjacent colors allow for enough contrast to be differentiated by the vision-impaired.
  • Don’t be afraid of white space. An airy design prevents your email from looking crowded and allows customers to distinguish the important elements (such as the CTA).
  • Place your utility’s logo in the top-left corner, where customers expect to see it. This quickly reassures them that the message is from a company they trust.
  • Always use a compelling hero image to attract attention, pique customer interest and help tell your story. All-text messages are easy to dismiss as gray and uninspired.
  • Do not embed important text within an image; keep text and visual elements separate. Some websites and email apps do not automatically render images, and the text may be hard to read on smaller screens.
  • An animated GIF can be more effective than a still image. Keep GIF image sizes small, limiting the number of frames and compressing the file, to reduce email load times.

CTAs that convert

The goal of your email isn’t to be read and enjoyed — it’s to drive conversions. Optimize calls-to-action within messages and ensure they lead to specific landing pages where customers can quickly and easily sign up for your program. Use A/B testing to find the best CTA, comparing elements such as the message, color, button size and placement until you find the best-performing combination.

  • Make sure the intention of the CTA is clear and recognizable, such as “Sign up now” or “Get started.” Customers should know exactly why they are clicking and where to click.
  • The CTA button should stand out from the rest of the email, preferably using a dark color on a light background, and it should be large enough that customers won’t miss it.

If your program promotions or communications goals are falling short, the problem might not be the substance of your message — it might be a poorly designed email that customers are quick to delete. By following these best practices, you can optimize the design of your email messages to boost engagement and maximize conversions.

Download Questline Digital’s marketing tip sheet, “Best Practices: Email Design for Energy Utilities.”