You’ve crafted the perfect employee newsletter.

It’s engaging, thoughtful, and—wow—it looks good.

You’re practically foaming at the mouth, waiting for that sweet, sweet data to come rolling in.

An hour goes by.

And another.

You know most emails get opened within the first hour, right?

It’s been two hours and your open-rate is still abysmal.


What did you do wrong?

You double-check that you sent it to your whole list. Yup, that’s fine. Everyone should have got it. . . .

And then you see it.

You can’t believe you missed it.

Your subject line is blank!

No one knows what you were sending or why you were sending it. That must be the reason behind the low open rate.

But how much does the subject line really matter for opens?

If you believe mainstream marketing wisdom, subject lines will make or break your open rate. In one study, 47% of people said the subject line is the main reason they open an email.

That being said, internal communications is obviously different from B2B or even B2C communications, because employees are generally encouraged to open pertinent internal emails.

But in order to know if the company email is important, they need to know what the email is about — that’s where great subject lines come in.

Why you need a great subject line for your internal emails

Your newsletter or company-wide email is competing with, on average, 147 other emails that your employees receive in their inbox every single day.

Now the stats vary on this, but most research we looked at showed that the average office employee is receiving between 88–147 emails per day. And almost 50% of those emails are spam.

That sure is a lot of competition.

The Good News: For internal employee emails, open rates are usually much higher than for marketing emails. Our research shows that the number is close to 90% compared to marketing emails, which score open rates of about 30% — whether or not they have an epic subject line.

The Bad News: If you’re sending an important employee email, missing out on 10% of your employees is kind of a big deal. On an email list of 1000 people, that’s 100 people who won’t read your email! Maximizing your opens is, therefore, essential.

That’s where an enticing subject line can really save the day.

But how do you create the perfect, oh-so-clickable internal email subject line?

1. Keep it short and sweet

It’s well-documented that more and more people are checking emails on their phones. For that reason, your subject line needs to be short enough to fit on a five-inch screen.

On the other hand, when it comes to internal employee emails, overall, fewer employees open internal emails on their phones.

So does this mean that you can be as long-winded as you’d like?

No, you can’t.  

Simple is always better; if people can’t understand what your email subject line is saying, or if it’s too complicated, you will lose them. We recommend making your subject line glanceable — that means that it’s so easy to read you can get the gist in a short scan of your inbox.

In a study of 200 million emails, Mailchimp found that email subject lines with 28–39 characters have the highest click rates. But as long as you keep your character count under 50, (which is about 5–7 words) your entire subject line should appear in full on most email clients.

Here are some examples of well-performing, simple and straightforward email subject lines:


2. Make it worth their while

You have probably noticed that marketing emails are almost always focused on incentivizing a behavior or describing benefits to their prospective customers. Using catchy phrases like “Buy Now and Save” or “24-Hours Only” is a benefits-focused, urgency tactic that incentivizes taking action right away by tapping into our inner FOMO (fear of missing out).

And you, internal communicator, are trying to sell employees on opening your email right away — so tell them what’s in it for them, and make them want it.

Example: Your company’s benefits provider is changing. The change means a heap of paperwork to get every employee re-enrolled. But it also means that staff will have $500 more in their health spending account, or 100% of their prescriptions will now be covered.

Lame Email Subject Line: “Benefit provider transition: action required”

Why it won’t work: This email subject line is one that all employees will want to avoid — even if it means better benefits. It doesn’t illustrate the immediate benefit to the employee, and it insinuates that they will have to do more work.

Better Email Subject Line: “Better Benefits, Lower Monthly Fees — Find Out More”

Why it works: The subject leads with something the employees want (better benefits) and continues with something that will excite them (lower monthly fees). It finishes with an invitation to learn more by opening up the email. Who could resist?

Here are some other examples of incentivized urgent subject lines:


3. Get personal

Have you ever noticed how good it feels when someone you only met once remembers your name? It’s a little ego bump that we all love.

Being seen and heard feels good, and you can use your email subject lines to make people feel good.

One study showed that personalized email subject lines that included a name catapulted open rates by 29.3% across industries.

Personalization also creates a sense of accountability if the email goes unopened. You can easily personalize subject lines by using “you”, “me”, or the department name for the list. By using the psychology of exclusivity, you can make recipients feel special, which will drive them to open.  

Here are some examples of great personal subject lines:


4. Make it easy

Email shouldn’t make employees’ lives harder.

If your email subject lines are too obscure, it will make them hard to find and index if they’re needed in the future. That is why you should be using logical keywords that are easy to search in an email client, and easy to filter.

It may not be much fun, but if an email subject line doesn’t give any indication of what’s in the email, it is much easier for busy employees to dismiss.

If you send out monthly, quarterly, or other timely campaigns to employees, make the subject recognizable so employees know what to expect and won’t dismiss them.

And if you need employees to take action on the email, tell them!

If you need something from them immediately, it’s logical to ask them for it in the subject line so they know that their attention is needed right away. Otherwise, you run the risk of people putting off emails they had no idea they had to deal with.

Here are some subject lines that rely on keywords and are easily searchable:


5. Get excited

Inspiring people to action isn’t so hard when they’re emotionally invested. Using words that spark the imagination, tickle the senses, encourage a laugh, or get people jazzed is a great way to get more opens.

Try out different action verbs, sensory descriptions, intriguing questions, or emotional one-liners.

Just make sure that your email subject line still has something to do with your content. If it doesn’t, people could become accustomed to your click-bait emails and less interested in opening them if they assume the subject line has nothing to do with what the email is probably about.

Here are some examples of exciting subject lines, courtesy of some generous internal communicators in Comms-unity — the global Slack group for IC pros:




Beware: Marketing emails ≠ Employee emails

As you have seen, most of our tips and examples have come from marketing emails. This is mostly because there are a lot more examples of great marketing email subject lines than internal email subject lines, and internal communicators (understandably) don’t often share their work outside their own organizations. (Thanks again to our contributors from Comms-unity! You’re the best.) 

And as much as we love it when internal communicators look to marketers for inspiration and get creative with their comms, we have to admit that some marketing communications can come off as click-baity and inauthentic.

Remember that you’re sending to a different kind of audience than the average marketer and you have different long-term goals.

Get creative with your subject lines and by all means, sell it — but don’t waste time trying to trick people into opening your emails or using click-bait to drive opens. People will catch on and stop opening if they feel duped.

In the long run, an authentic comms strategy will get you closer to your goals of developing trust with your readers than an inauthentic marketing email strategy.   

BONUS TIP: Test, test, test

Though internal employee emails are inherently different from marketing emails, when it comes to looking at your internal email data, it pays to take a page out of the marketer’s playbook.

Marketers know that maximizing opens and optimizing your strategy is all about testing and analyzing your open rates.

To start, test different subject lines to see which kind performs best with your employees. But make sure to analyze the data and take into account other factors that might be affecting your open rates like sending time, industry standards, and your own corporate email culture.

In the end, if you’re looking to make sure every single one of your important company-wide emails is opened, having a killer subject line — paired with the optimal sending time — could make a huge difference.

Staffbase makes collecting this data super easy — request a demo to get started running your own subject line tests and collecting valuable email and employee metrics.