Email subject lines can make or break your email campaign. A compelling subject line means you’re already halfway to making a sale. For this article, we asked experts to weigh in on what to think about when you craft your subject line.
Here are the top 25 email subject line tips from the pros:
1. Use Emojis to Stand Out in a Customer’s Inbox
Morgan Mandriota, Creator, Hawk+Pearl
One tactic I like to incorporate in emails is the use of emojis. ? Only a few brands do it, and they’re typically lifestyle-type blogs and companies, like Atlantic Records. However, whenever I see an emoji in the subject line of a message, I’m more likely to notice it (and open it) among the flood of emails saturating my inbox. It does work, from experience, because whenever I send an email with emojis in the subject line as part of an e-commerce campaign, the open rate is higher than it would’ve been without the image.
2. Use a “Listicle” As Your Subject Line
Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com
I have found that one of the most effective techniques for creating a compelling email subject line is to use a listicle as your title. Our most recent subject header for our October newsletter was “7 ways to spread fall cheer in the workplace.” It was simple and short, but also intriguing because it didn’t give you all of the information up front. When you opened the newsletter, you found out that the title didn’t link to a traditional bullet blog post, but rather an infographic that we created in-house. The best subject lines are the ones where a story is being told — and it’s up to you to open the newsletter to read on to find out more.
3. “You Have $2.37 Left to Spend.”
Scott Marquart, Founder, Stringjoy Guitar Strings
For us, the best subject line we’ve come up with in the past two years is for an automated follow-up email that customers get when they’ve not made a new purchase in the past three months. The subject line is, “You Have $2.37 Left to Spend.” We tested a number of different variations and we found that the urgency of the offer, the curiosity from using a specific, unusual number (which outperformed a round number by almost 40%), and the brevity combined to make the perfect subject line. To date, that email has a 46% open rate. 33% of those who opened the email clicked through the link, and 26% of those who clicked have made a purchase.
4. Capitalize ONE Important Word in Your Subject Line
Bret Bonnet, Co-Owner/Founder, Quality Logo Products
It’s effective to strategically capitalize a word in your subject line so the reader understands you’re conveying the importance of the word to them. Don’t capitalize multiple words though because it then looks like you’re screaming at your reader. Decide on who you want to include in your target audience and tailor your subject lines to them and their wants/needs. If you know your audience consists of many math tutoring centers, then you’ll want your subject line to say something along the lines of, “Captivate clients NOW with low-cost, custom calculators!”
5. Use Ellipses in Your Subject Lines
Steven Aldrich, Chief Product Officer, GoDaddy
One successful tactic for increasing open rates is using an ellipsis in your subject line. Ellipses pique interest and motivate users to learn more by opening the email. GoDaddy spotted many customers using ellipses in subject lines this year, such as, “Nothing Says ‘I LOVE YOU’ Like…”
6. Avoid Pushy or Promotional Subject Lines
Tim Grinsdale, Owner, TOAD Diaries
Don’t assume pushy or promotional subject lines will help you stand out. In our experience, it’s better to craft a subject line that creates a sense of the customer being valued, rather than a generic marketing ‘shout’. We have seen this bear real fruit when trying to improve the open-rates in our email marketing campaigns. A recent A/B test of our email subject lines shows this in practice:
Version 1: ‘A special offer just for you as a valued TOAD customer.’ – Open Rate 12.02%
Version 2: ‘FLASH SALE from TOAD Diaries – High Quality, Section Sewn, Lined.’ – Open Rate 9.32%
7. Use Subject Lines That Add a Shock & Awe Factor
Angela Zade, Marketing Campaign Manager, Revenue Storm
What I found works best for our email marketing campaigns is the shock & awe factor – but not in the traditional sense. Shock can be represented by either a sharp verb or a word in all-caps. For example, the word “Steal” is a very sharp and attention grabbing verb. Or, I might write “WEBINAR” in all caps for scannability. In that sense, I’m “shocking” my reader with a pop. Awe means writing very figurative, borderline poetic subject headings. I use alliteration, simile or metaphor to create poetic lines, limiting them to three to five words max.
8. Consider How Connected You Are to the Recipient
Daniel K. Lobring, Vice President Marketing Communications, rEvolution
I think a good place to start with email subject lines is thinking about how connected you (or the brand) already are to the recipient. If you’re coming into the inbox cold, there’s value in grabbing the reader’s attention with something that will make them think. Perhaps even insert an opinion that’s a bit controversial or a line that doesn’t quite make sense, or describe a product in a humorous or unconventional way just to grab the recipient’s attention – that will leave them wanting to read/learn more.
If the recipient is already engaged and a fan, then email marketing serves as a communications extension and lends itself to more freedom in how you communicate. You can be more direct and use your brand’s authentic tone of voice since they already bought in – your reader will come to expect a variety of interesting subject lines leading to compelling content, and they’ll want to engage both with you and your email marketing.
9. Know Your Audience
Jules Dahbura, Founder, Deco Miami Cosmetics
Know what your target audience likes! My customer base is largely 20-35 year old women, so I create email tags that include pop culture references relevant to that week. As someone who receives 50 emails demanding things of me, I know call to actions can get obnoxious, so I always look for lyrics that are subtle call-to-actions instead. For example, I sent an email out last week titled “LOOK what you made me do” (referencing Taylor Swift’s new song).
To learn more about how to cater your email marketing to your audience, read our ultimate guide on email marketing.
10. “Thirty-Second Pitch—I promise not to waste your time”
Richard Laermer, CEO, RLM Public Relations
The best subject line ever is: “The Thirty-Second Pitch—I promise not to waste your time.” I’ve had more analysts, reporters, bloggers, contributors, and even my own mother open those emails because we were just dead honest with them. I tell people to remember that no one WANTS to open an email, but you can nudge them a bit.
11. Tell The Customer What Will Happen If They Don’t Respond
Scott Johnson, Owner, WholeVsTermLifeInsurance.com
The number one mistake people make when sending out emails that need eyeballs is that they fail to tell the client what their need is, why they need it, and what will happen if they ignore it. Call it honesty if you must. For example, many insurance policies lapse or go unpaid because the subject line reads: “Life Insurance Payment?” A much subject line would be: “Pay Life Insurance Bill by Nov 15th or COVERAGE WILL END.” Often times, cold reality works better than polite candor.
12. Use Natural Human Tendencies To Your Advantage
Ian McClarty, President & CEO, PhoenixNAP Global IT Services
Humans have an innate desire to be inquisitive. You can leverage this with open-ended email subject lines, so people will be curious. Provide a cliffhanger that can only be satisfied by opening the email. For example in sales, if a lead has gone cold, try “Our next steps”. Use this subject line to re-engage a prospect who has gone quiet. We also use software to track open and reply rates of emails from our sales team. Constantly tweak and analyze results to find out what works best.
13. Use Unexpected Words
Joe Montgomery, VP of Marketing, 250ok
One way to arouse readers’ curiosity is to use words that they wouldn’t expect to see in their inbox. You don’t have to be overly silly or outrageous, but do choose words and phrases that are colorful, descriptive, and a bit unusual. It adds a sense of mystery and intrigue. Some good examples of intriguing language in a subject line: “Fireworks and Darts and Models and Swim Trunks” from UrbanDaddy or “For Hustlers Only” from AppSumo.
14. “I would like to feature you on my blog.”
Stephen Gibson, Founder, Vyteo.com
In my subject line, I say “I would like to feature you on my blog.” I’ve been a startup blogger since 2009 and more recently began offering PR & Marketing services to them. So when I want to reach out to new prospects, I just offer to write about them. The only trouble with this approach is that it’s a huge investment. I write about far more companies than might hire us for our services. But I love blogging about startups anyway, so it works out.
15. Invoke Fear Sparingly
Parker Cuskey, Inbound Marketing Strategist, THAT Agency
Invoke fear sparingly. While using FOMO is a great way to increase open rates, people don’t like to be scared when they open an email. For instance, after Google AdWords took out a key feature in one of their algorithm updates, we decided to send out an email to inform our audience. We decided to go with “Sorry for your loss…” as the subject line. Even though we got a record high open rate, our audience gave us harsh feedback and many unsubscribed. Instead of using fear, try to invoke positive emotions instead.
16. Appeal to the Lizard Brain
Melissa Power, Senior Program Manager, Interprose
Looking for an open-worthy subject line? Appeal to the Lizard Brain, the oldest part of the brain responsible for primitive survival instincts–that “flight or fight” reaction. When you are compelled to open an email with the subject “Y did Z and you won’t believe what happened,” that’s your lizard brain taking over. Lizard brain works fast and appeals to emotional response – five times faster than conscious thought. Think shiny objects, loud noises, bright lights. To put Lizard Brain to work for you, appeal to the need to know: “New York Venture Capitalist Funds Silicon Valley Startup.” Readers will want to know who!
17. Make it Dramatic and Personal
Desiree Crowley, Style and Visibility Strategist, Desicrowley.com
The emails I have seen with the best open rates, are slightly dramatic, are about the customer, and create massive curiosity to the reader because it gives the impression that the e-mail could be about them personally. For example, as a visibility strategist who helps women entrepreneurs overcome their fear of videos, one of my best email subject line was “RE: Your Videos.”
Maggie Aland, Marketing Editor, Fit Small Business
Try A/B split testing 3 different email subject lines. Each of the 3 subject lines should contain different approaches to connecting with customers (e.g. one should be promotional, one should be entertaining, etc.). Once you’ve selected 3 subject lines, send out your emails (the content of the emails should be the same to serve as a control variable) through email marketing software like Constant Contact. The software tracks open rates for each email, and analyzes the performance of each. This lets you serve the best content to your customers rather than guessing which strategies to use.
19. Ask a Question
Jessica Hopson, Account Supervisor, Lovell Communications Inc.
The most successful subject lines are those that ask your reader a question. When a question is posed, people naturally seek an answer. Conveniently, that answer lives inside the email you just sent, meaning they must open it to find the answer. Address the burning questions your customers have about your product or service, and you’ll immediately relate to your customers. Just make sure to keep the question relevant to the content!
20. Use the Concept of Linear Progression
Mike Michalowicz, Founder and CEO, Profit First Professionals
The idea of linear progression is simple. Every 5 words of your subject line (or email) should make the reader want to read the next 5 words. In our case, at Profit First, when we want to get the attention of someone new to send them a copy of my book, we use the subject line “Do I Have Your Correct Address?” We use this because it immediately grabs the reader’s attention and almost assumes a sense of urgency. The reader wants to click the email and read what we have to say.
Online credibility can also determine the chances of your email getting opened by recipients. Having an email address with your own website domain is an important step to improve just that. Subject lines that are descriptive and professional sounding instead of spammy have better open rates. If your email address is Smith@YourCompany.com instead of Smith@Hotmail.com, the chances of your email being read go up significantly.
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You’ve already scrolled past it, you try to concentrate on the next emails in front of you, but for some reason your mind keeps wandering back to that email. Who? What? Why? And you know you won’t be able to sleep until you appease your curiosity and find out. What do you do?! You give in and click on the email to read ‘9 Disgusting Facts about Thanksgiving.’ Who wouldn’t want to read that?
Using a mysterious email subject line is a sure fire way of improving your open rates. Just make sure that it can be tied up to your actual email. For instance, “Don’t open this email” works as a subject line when your email is all about your new day spa that’s guaranteed to make someone forget about the work they need to do.
Studies have been done to determine the right keywords to increase open rates of emails. According to Alchemy Worx, which analyzed 21 billion emails sent by 2,500 brands, the top five most effective subject line keywords were: “upgrade”, “just”, “content”, “go”, and “wonderful”, while other studies from different organizations like Digital Marketer and Adestra show more results like “is coming”, “get this now”, “free delivery”, “summer”, and “weekend”.
One of the main reasons why marketing emails don’t get opened is because it uses trigger words that sends the emails to your recipient’s spam folder. Words like “donate” and “free” are some of mailchimp’s words to watch. Using all capital letters or wrong name (calling you Paul when your name is Christopher” on the subject line also finds its way to spam. According to Marketingsherpa, this happens to 11 percent of email. The best work around for this issue is to use the spam checker built into your email marketing program. Afterwards, send yourself a test email to see if it arrives.
Referencing a holiday or time of the year is very effective when it comes to marketing email subject lines. Even the word “holiday” has tested as a top open rate keyword, along with “a Christmas” and “this Christmas” and it’s easy to set up as well. Often, your standard emails can be adapted to use a seasonal reference, thereby increasing the response rate.
Some examples of good holiday subject lines include:
- “Your New Year’s Resolutions for Losing Weight”
- “Unique Gifts for Dads and Grads”
- “Huge Savings on Holiday Overstock”
For more tips on email marketing, visit Fit Small Business’ article on Email Marketing Best Practices here.
Over To You
Once you build your email list, great subject lines can help you create an engaged subscriber-base and then retain it. By now, you’ll agree that creativity goes a long way when it comes to developing successful email subject lines for your marketing campaign. Keep innovating if you want to get your message across to your audience.
Do you have your own attention grabbing email subject line ideas to share? Join in the conversation by leaving your message in the comments below.