How to Write Email Marketing Subject Lines (with Examples!)

Published by
Vlad Falin

Good email subject lines can make all the difference between a failed and successful campaign.

Writing good subject lines, which will make an actual person open the email, takes a lot of testing. But, arguably, it is one of the most important elements of an email marketing campaign!

Here are some statistics for you:

  • Businesses have only seven seconds to make a good first impression on customers;
  • A vast percentage of the 376 billion emails sent daily go unopened, let alone unread.

If you’re an email marketer, these facts are tied together by a single thread: email subject lines. In this post, we will focus on writing good subject lines to boost your open rates and, as a result, the overall bottom line of your email marketing campaigns!

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Why are Email Subject Lines So Important?

Email subject lines are the first contact email subscribers have with your email marketing campaigns.

The right email subject line entices readers to open, click, and buy. Some half of recipients open emails due to catchy email subject lines alone. Nearly 70% report emails as spam on the same basis.

On the other hand, the wrong email subject line can drive customers away and even see your brand relegated to the spam folder. 

No matter how well-crafted your campaigns, your efforts are worthless if your audience never sees your content.

That’s why email marketers have to write catchy email subject lines every time – no exceptions.

While the process requires extra work, you can improve your open and click-through rates, spread brand awareness, and avoid the trash folder (or the spam folder!).

7 Ingredients of a Converting Subject Line

Most industries that use email marketing see a 21% open rate, with 30-40% being above-average. But with the right email subject line, you can drive these statistics up.

It all starts with a few ingredients. Think of them like your spice rack: while you don’t have to include all of them every time, mixing and matching can deliver fantastic results.

1. Personalization

Now more than ever, marketers can use data about their target audience to provide the ultimate customer experience. Email subject lines are no exception; a little personalization here offers the sense of importance and connection readers crave.

2. Benefit

When opening marketing emails, most people ask: “What’s in it for me?” 

Your email subject line provides the perfect location to answer that question upfront. Including or hinting at freebies, discounts, or new information can inspire higher open rates among your audience.

3. Relevance

Generally, subscribers read emails to stay informed or learn more about a brand or topic (or receive a sweet discount). 

Crafting email subject lines relevant to their lives, trending topics, and your brand is a great way to compel clicks.

4. Urgency

Most people live in chronic FOMO, or fear of missing out.

By communicating urgency in your subject line and offering a solution, you can help readers scratch that itch. (For instance, you may put a deadline on a sale or countdown to the start of an upcoming event.)

Still, you’ll want to use this tactic sparingly. Otherwise, your urgent emails become “just another Tuesday”.

5. Intrigue

Sometimes, email subject lines work because they establish benefits upfront. Other times, it’s because they confer a mystery or question that readers just have to solve

Tantalizing email subject lines often increase open rates because readers have to click to satisfy their curiosity.

6. Celebrity Branding

Adding a relevant celebrity’s name to your subject line can boost clicks based purely on name recognition. (And a desire to learn what Kim K. is up to these days.) But only use this strategy if it aligns with your brand; don’t throw out famous names just for the recognition.

7. Engaging Previews

Previews aren’t exactly part of your subject line, but they’re almost as important. Preview text provides a sneak peek at your email’s contents beside the subject line.

Take this opportunity to complement your subject line and further engage with your audience. 

Email Subject Line Best Practices

Every email campaign has its own purpose, which means your email subject lines should match it. 

While the style, tone, and direction of your subject lines will change, adhering to these best practices can help you make the most of your online marketing efforts.

Determine the CTA – if Any

Not every email subject line needs a call-to-action – but every email does. 

If you incorporate your CTA into your subject line, use it to inform recipients why they should open it, be it to receive free stuff or receive important information.

Segment Your Lists

Many marketers blast emails to everyone on their lists. But sometimes, that causes more confusion than clicks.

For instance, if you send a list of the best “local” bars to someone 3,000 miles away, you’re not just not providing relevance; you’re showing you don’t know your readers at all.

Keep this in mind when you are crafting that ultra-personalized subject line. 

Use Tokens of Personalization

You’ve heard of tokens of appreciation – now, we’re talking tokens of personalization.

Research shows that including a recipient’s first name in email subject lines can inspire a higher click-through rate. But it doesn’t have to be just names! Locations, companies, and hobbies can build a sense of familiarity, too.

That said, you don’t want to get too personal too often, lest you sound creepy. Small, sporadic touches once in a while should do the trick.

Avoid Spam Traps

Several subject line factors can lead readers to send you straight to the spam folder. Or even worse, the email spam filter will do it automatically. 

Some of them are:

  • Loud punctuation (LIKE ALL CAPS and lots of exclamation marks!!!!!!!)
  • Including multiple types of punctuation in the same subject line !?*–/!}{
  • Aggressively salesy or clickbait-y language (“FREE!” “Buy Now!” “Make $$$ Today!”)
  • Weird   spacing  issues
  • Special or unreadable fonts
  • False or misleading statements that go unfulfilled in your email’s copy

Instead of focusing on this “unique” style of promotion, try offering expertise, information, or even a little wit to build real connections.

Time Your Emails Wisely

Broadly speaking, you should research when your audience is most likely to act on your emails. The time when you send emails is important, but with “timed email subject lines” you can take it even one step further!

For instance, a food magazine may send an email with the subject line “The Best Drinks in [City] Tonight” just before happy hour. That would likely see more clicks than waiting until midnight. 

Be Unique, But Brand-Aware

Crafting actionable subject lines requires understanding your audience and brand. Use your email subject lines to highlight what your brand does well. 

Don’t be afraid to throw your company name out there to build familiarity and engagement. At the same time, have the courage to take a little risk.

For many readers, there’s a fine line between memorable and repulsive. Finding your happy place means you can carve a unique niche while having some fun.  

11 Tips to Write Great Subject Lines

Writing converting subject lines is an art, and like any art, it requires practice and testing. These tips can help you find your voice. 

1. Be Human

Even more serious brands can benefit from a conversational tone

Remember, your readers are people, not robots – meaning readability, connection, and friendliness often trump a cold tone. 

Even small, simple switches like using contractions can have a big impact!

2. Stay Short, Simple, and Sweet

Today, half of the emails are read on mobile, which cuts down the visible character count. 

At the same time, readers scan inboxes quickly, giving you just milliseconds to grab their attention.

Research shows that short subject lines – around 40 characters or 7 words – perform best. Precise, concise subject lines offer clear benefits, intrigue, or relevance without getting wordy.

“Increase your conversions by 50%!” offers fewer words and more benefits than “Here’s how to increase your marketing power while driving better conversions.”

3. Begin with Action-Oriented Verbs

A great email subject line is designed to inspire clicks, and nothing drives clicks like action verbs. Vibrant verbs give readers a sense of urgency or excitement that dull descriptions simply don’t.

Who wants to attend a “Local dinner with a singer” when you can “Dine with Lady Gaga” instead?

4. Make People Feel Special

Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries…people love to feel special and included. Provoke a sense of belonging that boosts loyalty and conversions by making people feel like “insiders” with powerful phrases like:

  • Exclusive offer
  • Private invite
  • VIPs only!
  • Just for you
  • A gift from us to our beloved customers

5. Include Deadlines

You can capitalize on the power of FOMO – and remove distractions – by including deadlines that encourage readers to prioritize your offers.

From leveraging multi-email promotions to creating urgency around expiring events, the “now or never” language often produces greater results.

6. Pose Compelling Questions

Asking questions expands the idea of intrigue mentioned earlier. With the right question and a good subject line, you can show off your knowledge, pique curiosity, and engage minds.

Because questions feel incomplete without an answer, you can also inspire readers to open emails to learn more within. 

These can be anything from “Are you making these 10 critical business mistakes?” to “Do you know how long a giraffe’s tongue is?”

You can also get a little personal with a simple “Rough day?” or “Need a break?”

7. Use Numbers

Millions of businesses rely on vague subject lines that convey no real data to drive paltry conversions. But tossing numbers into your email subject lines can improve notice and open rates. 

Whether you’re offering “50% off – today only!” or a list of “Top 10 things we love about our customers!” numbers provide unavoidable benefits to readers.

8. Get Witty with It

A good email subject line should be relatively short – but that doesn’t mean it should be boring. Introducing a little humor with your self-indulgent wittiness can make your audience crack a smile and click on for more.

For instance, puns give you the opportunity to make yourself sound fun and relatable. (Take Quirky’s (a cable management product) “Abra-cord-abra! Yeah, we said it.” which offers both wit and a self-reverential poke.) 

You can look into other kinds of wordplay, too, like:

  • Alliterations
  • Rhymes
  • Word imitations
  • References and allusions

Any of these can help your email subject lines stick out in users’ minds and grab attention while offering great value. 

9. Draft Multiple Subject Lines

One crucial part of writing email subject lines is not limiting yourself to just one option

Take some time to write down your best 4-7 subject lines, each with a different style, tone, or angle. 

Even if you discard 99% of them now, you can save the good ones for later.

10.  Get Feedback

Sometimes, you need to get out of your own head and see problems from someone else’s perspective. 

Ask your colleagues, spouse, or even your kids to look over your ideas. And if they have suggestions of their own, don’t be afraid to listen up! 

You do not have to look for exact subject line copy, but rather suggestions and alternative points of view. 

11.  A/B Test Your Email Subject Lines

These tips and best practices can get you started on your subject line journey. But you shouldn’t just take our word for it – ultimately, your brand and customers are unique and need a personalized touch. 

By A/B testing your subject lines, you can experiment to see what works with the most biased (and relevant) crowd of all: your own readers.

11 Examples of Catchy Email Subject Lines

Now, you have all the tools to start writing email subject lines that convert. For added inspiration, consider these catchy subject lines that have appeared in inboxes 🙂 

1. Best of Groupon: The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)

Some rules are made to be broken – for experts, anyway.

From mentioning the brand name to offering benefits to throwing in a jab at Steven, Groupon schools marketers in top-notch subject lines – all while breaking the most basic rule: keep it short and sweet.

2. Essential Oils…Learn what they do!

Mother Earth Pillows sells, you guessed it, pillows! (Specifically therapeutic pillows.)

But this subject line broadens their scope by offering knowledge on a related topic: essential oils – something many therapeutic pillow users may be interested in.

Now that’s knowing your audience. 

3. real baseball fans eat burritos

The lower-caps. The pointed jab at burgers and beer. The knowledge that “real” fans eat burritos – as if everyone already knew that, right?

With this subject line, Boloco markets its product while convincing readers that Red Sox fans crave burritos, not burgers.  

4. 👻Trip or Treat! Up to $300 off ends tomorrow

EF’s spooky subject line couples a quirky emoji with a sense of time-bound urgency. Absolutely boo-tiful.

5. Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring.

Here, Warby Parker combines a conversational tone with a personalized, relevant touch. Helpful, friendly, and approachable? Time to get those new glasses!

5. Don’t Open This Email

What’s better than answering questions? Getting away with something forbidden.

This subject line from Manicube gives readers the feeling they’re doing just that by telling them not to do the thing – thereby ensuring their readers will do the opposite of what they tell them.

Pretty clever if you ask us. (Not that you did.)

6. 10 bizarre money habits making Millennials richer

What brings together numbers, money, and Millennials? This subject line from Refinery29 that just screams “Open me!” (And we’re sure readers did, too.)

7. Not Cool, Guys

If there’s one thing BuzzFeed knows, it’s how to deliver on its clickbait. Just look at the preview text that followed this enigma of a subject line: “Okay, WHO left the passive-aggressive sticky note on my fridge?”

8. We Need To Talk…

PPC Protect boosted its open rate to 63% with this simple subject line. Not only does it sound important, but it triggers your curiosity (and perhaps a little anxiety, too).

9. TGIF!

Acronym-only subject lines mark the epitome of short, sweet, and relatable. 

10.  Join us for a Bling-ing good time

This email subject line from The Basketry builds on the power of risqué (alluding curse words) while marketing their product and upcoming event. (The rest of the email offered their contact information and an invitation to an upcoming “Breakfast & Bling” event.)

11.   “Yes, this is a fundraising email” and “Hey”

Simple, straightforward…and garnering open rates of nearly 80%. These two boring email subject lines, sent by Al Franken and Barack Obama, illustrate the power of celebrity names – and a bit of honest intrigue.

Key Takeaways

  • Good email subject lines can make all the difference between a failed and successful email marketing campaign.
  • A/B test subject lines often. Keep testing the winner against a new contender. Improvement never stops.
  • Personalization is a good foundation of a high open rate subject line.
  • Questions work exceptionally well, don’t overuse them.
  • Shocking subject lines may have a negative effect, be careful!

FAQ

What is a good example of a subject line for an email?

“Quick question?” – one of the most converting email subject lines is a question. This lets the person know that you’re not going to take up too much of their time (think: brevity), but you do need their help with something.

What makes a catchy subject line?

Keep it brief and personal. Questions work great as well. Just make sure that it is not clickbait!

How do you create urgency with subject lines?

“Ends today” – time constraints are a great way to create urgency. It lets the person know they need to act now if they’re interested.

“Only 2 left!” – scarcity is another great way to create urgency. If there’s only a limited number of something available, people are more likely to act quickly to get it.

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Vlad Falin

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Published by
Vlad Falin

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