Urgency boosts email engagement

It may be the most effective approach

Nobody wants to miss out: Adding a sense of urgency to your subject lines is one of the best ways to get recipients to read your email.

Urgency boosts email engagement

Tick tock A sense of urgency in subject lines increases opens, click-throughs and readership. Image by Lukas Blazek

Or so conclude four organizations that study the science of getting your emails opened, clicked and read.

1. Urgency No. 1.

Urgency headed the list of the most effective subject lines approaches in a study by Return Path, a global data and marketing firm. Return Path analyzed 9 million subject lines sent to 2 million subscribers during two months of 2015.

Still time was the best performing phrase in the Return Path study. It got the email read an average of 34% of the time and scored a keyword influence on read rate of 15.54.

But not all “urgent” words and phrases fared so well:

Some kinds of urgency are better than others   
Top keywords in urgent subject linesAverage read rate for subject lines containing this keyword Keyword influence on read rate
Still time33.73%+15.54%
Limited time14.93%+3.05%
Last chance16.71%+1.05%
Running out9.92%-3.30%

2. Avoid daily urgent emergencies.

Highlighting a sense of urgency can drive people to act, says Phrasee, a London firm that uses artificial intelligence to optimize subject lines.

Phrases like sale starts, back in stock and sale now can increase opens, click-throughs and click to open rates.

But pushing deadlines and time limits can also get old fast. Some products seem to be perpetually on a limited-time sale. Readers become numb to those repeated urgent offers.

Bottom line: Find words that create a sense of urgency, but that aren’t boring.

3. I love you, Tomorrow.

Tomorrow — as in “Look forward to reviewing the proposal tomorrow” — increased open rates by 10%, found HubSpot in a 2014 survey of 6 million emails. But quick — as in “Let’s connect for a quick call on this” — did not affect opens.

4. Urgent sells.

The words urgent, breaking, important and alert increase open rates, according to an analysis by MailChimp. The king of mass emailers studied 24 billion emails with subject lines composed of 22,000 distinct words.

Time flies Words stressing time prod people to open emails. Image by MailChimp

Create a sense of urgency.

Bottom line: Words stressing time prod people to open emails.


  1. Use words that imply urgency: urgent, breaking, important, alert, tomorrow, now.
  2. Add deadlines, cutoff dates and other timely details that move people to act now. These techniques can nudge your readers to open your email message today instead of leaving it languishing in the inbox.
  3. Choose concrete numbers and times: Pay last year’s fees for next year’s workshops: Book by 12/31.

Remember, though, your email really needs to be urgent. Don’t oversell. If you say this is the last time, it had better really be the last time.

Please share your favorite subject line — whether you wrote it or received it — in the comments section.

“There’s a mad dash for attention in the email box.”
— Mike Sigal, CEO of Guidewire

Inside the Inbox - Ann Wylie's email-writing workshop on Nov. 7-8 in D.C.

Learn how to grab attention in the inbox to get your email opened at our Inside the Inbox Master Class on Nov. 7-8 in D.C.

Save $100 when you book by Aug. 1

“Great step-by-step instructions on how to do it right.”
— Stacy Mayo, assistant account executive, Rhea + Kaiser