Don’t personalize, localize

Avoid “Ann, your e-zine is here”

It just makes sense that calling out to your recipient by name in the subject line would grab attention and drive opens and click-throughs. Right?

Location location location image

Location, location, location Adding your recipient’s name to an email subject line reduces opens and click-throughs. Add her location, though, and increase engagement.

After all, 94% of businesses believe personalization is critical to their success, according to a recent Econsultancy survey. Shouldn’t it help with email, too?

Wrong, say the authors of several major studies of email subject line effectiveness.

Personalization reduces opens, clicks.

“Ann, restart your membership” (Netflix)

“Hi Ann, How can I help you with
your Go To Meeting experience?”

“Ann, see jobs for you from Dominion Enterprises,
Resource and” (LinkedIn)

“Ann, you have 2 pokes and 23 messages” (Facebook)

“Ann, come back to us!” (Portland Playhouse)

“ANN, Thanks for Stopping In …
Rate Your Recent Purchase!” (Chico’s)

What do all of these brands get wrong?

Personalizing — adding the recipient’s name to — a subject line reduces email open and clickthrough rates, according to the studies. In fact, according to the 2013 Adestra Subject Line Analysis Report, personalization:

  • Reduced email opens by nearly 21%.
  • Cut clickthroughs by 17%.
  • Lowered click-to-open rates by 32%.

For this report, Adestra studied 287 keywords in 2.2 billion emails.

MailerMailer saw significantly lower clickthrough and open rates for personalized subject lines compared to non-personalized ones in its 2012 study.

And MailChimp found that personalization doesn’t significantly improve open rates in its study of the open rates for more than 200 million emails supports this finding.

Do localize.

While adding the recipient’s name to the subject line hurts email engagement, MailChimp’s found, adding localization, such as including a city name, helps.

The best-performing emails include subject lines personalized with the recipient’s name and an added value point, such as location, according to a study of 200 million emails by Eloqua.

Customized personalization doubled open rates compared to name-only personalization, the study found. And adding a name and one other detail multiplied success by 10 times compared to no personalization.

Made to order image

Made to order Custom personalization — including the recipient’s name and another personal detail, like location, doubled open rates compared to name only. Chart by Eloqua

If you do personalize …

Still plan to personalize your subject line? These tips from the researchers will hep:

  • Use your recipient’s first name only — not the last name.
  • Avoid ALL CAPS. Capitalize the first letter of the recipient’s name only.
  • Don’t place the recipients’ name in the first word in the subject line. That buries the most meaningful or unique detail — and that’s most likely to generate opens.
  • Don’t discombobulate the recipient. If you personalize the subject line, personalize the rest of the message too.
  • Consider other personalize data points. You might try birthdays, subscribers, followers and so forth.



“What are some best practices in writing email subject lines?” MailChimp, Oct. 29, 2013

Amanda Batista, “5 Ways to Personalize Emails and Enhance Open Rates,” Modern Marketing Blog, April 17, 2013

Janelle Estes, “Email Subject Lines: 5 Tips to Attract Readers,” Nielsen Norman Group, May 4, 2014

Justine Jordan, “How to Write the Perfect Subject Line,” Litmus, Dec. 5, 2012

Parry Malm, “152 killer keywords for email subject lines (and 137 crappy ones),” eConsultancy, July 2, 2013

MarketingCharts staff, “In B2B Email Subject Lines, Some Keywords Work Better Than Others,” MarketingCharts, Nov. 14, 2012

David Moth, “10 things to avoid using in your email subject lines,” Econsultancy, Nov. 19, 2013

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