It’s a safe bet that you probably get a whole bunch of emails each day. It’s an even safer bet that most of those emails get archived or trashed without so much as being opened. But one or two of those emails will buck that trend and you’ll take the time and effort to open them and take a closer look. What makes those emails different? Why open that one, but not others?
Research by Hubspot has suggested that that initial impulse to open (or not to open) boils down to the subject line. The best email marketing subject lines lead to emails being opened much more often than those that are not optimized. It’s the first thing you see, and the single most important factor in whether or not an email gets opened. Sure, the preview text matters too – but would you bother reading the preview text if the subject line didn’t grab your attention?
With that in mind, it’s important to nail that subject line. What makes a great subject line, and why? How can you replicate that for your own business? In this article we’ll look at the factors that go into making a memorable subject line, as well as some examples and why they worked.
Making A Great Email Marketing Subject Line
A subject line may be nothing more than a single short phrase, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. A lot of thought should (and generally does) go into email marketing subject lines. Let’s take a look at the factors that matter.
The golden rule of email marketing, personalization makes the difference between a successful conversion, and an email that languishes in the depths of the trash folder.
Personalization can be as simple as making sure your subject line is addressed personally to the recipient – and it quite often is this simple. What are you more likely to open – an email addressed to ‘customer’ or something similarly generic, or one that bears your name? It may seem a small thing, but it makes a huge difference to your open rates.
Taking advantage of commonalities means finding things that matter to both you (or your company) and the recipient. In practice, this really means finding out what your recipient is interested in and tailoring subject lines to those interests.
Perhaps they’re really into soccer? Send them an email with a soccer-themed subject line. They could be a huge Dungeons and Dragons nerd, which is something else you could capitalize upon. Note that you don’t have to be selling anything connected to these things; you just need to make use of them in subject lines that are more likely to catch the eye of your subscribers.
It’s a truism in marketing that adding a sense of urgency to promotions yields results – and email marketing is no different. By implying that the subscriber has only a limited amount of time to act upon your CTA, you can ensure that people are much more likely to respond. Where better to communicate this urgency than in the subject line?
Phrases like “there’s still time”, “time’s running out”, “limited time” and “act now” can yield an open rate of as much as 33.73%. The average open rate is around 21.5%, so the impact of urgently-worded subject lines cannot be denied.
Playing up benefits in a subject line reaps dividends. If the subscriber thinks they stand to gain something from your email – whether it’s something faster, easier, more beautiful or just plain better – then they’re more likely to open it.
Superlatives are particularly effective; these are “est” words like “cheapest” or “best”. Judicious use of superlatives can see your open rate skyrocket as much as 50%.
Use Exclamation Marks
For those involved in writing, being told to use exclamation marks can be counter-intuitive. They’re often perceived as sensationalistic, overly enthusiastic, or just plain fake. For that reason, you’re more likely to find them used in tabloid publications than those considered more ‘respectable’.
Not so in the subject line. Research has suggested that when used in moderation, exclamation marks can result in as much as a 20% higher read rate. Again, though, note that that’s in moderation – if you start putting exclamation marks everywhere, you’re going to rapidly turn subscribers off.
As an interesting aside, the same is not true of question marks. According to the same research, subject lines with question marks don’t affect open rates either way – but they result in 8.1% fewer click-throughs. Given this information, isn’t it a good idea to leave question marks out?
Keep It Short
When it comes to the length of subject lines, it’s generally better to keep it short. The number of opens your email can expect to garner is inversely proportional to the number of words used: simply put, the shorter the subject line, the more opens you’ll get.
That said, don’t rush to make all of your emails one word long. Research indicates that the sweet spot for email subject lines is 7 words and around 41 characters. If you stick to this, then you should see a decent open rate for your marketing emails.
Keep Things Fresh
People get bored of repetition, and marketing emails are no different in this regard. It’s therefore important that you avoid repeatedly using the same subject lines, even if you’re sending similar emails out on a regular basis.
For instance, you might send out a monthly newsletter, and it might be tempting to make the subject line “newsletter #251: [brief summary of newsletter content]”. Avoid this temptation; people who are already committed readers will read it anyway, but people who are not particularly engaged will simply learn to ignore your newsletters and leave them to gather dust at the bottom of their inbox – if you don’t earn an unsubscribe.
Be sure, then, to mirror the practices of the best email marketing subject lines for newsletters, and keep things fresh.
Things To Avoid In Email Marketing Subject Headlines
We’ve looked at a good deal of things that generally get included in the best email marketing subject lines. What about the things (like question marks) that should get left out? Let’s take a look.
Phrases Associated With Spam
Spam emails are so derided and disregarded, that we have dedicated folders for them and most of them never hit their recipient’s inbox. It’s therefore imperative that you avoid coming across as spam in your subject line – even if you evade the spam filters, subscribers will take one look and delete the email without so much as a second glance.
What words are associated with spam? Some classics include phrases like “earn $$$”, “double your [X]”, “make money”, big bucks”, “opportunity” and many more. The fine folks over at HubSpot have an exhaustive list of spam triggers to avoid.
Sometimes it’s not about the words themselves, but how they’re used. All caps and excessive punctuation (“DON’T MISS OUT ON THIS SPECIAL OFFER!!!!”) are a sure-fire way to get your emails marked as spam or ignored, for instance.
Emojis are incredibly widely used now, and there may even be instances when they’re appropriate marketing email subject line. By and large, though, they look unprofessional, and should be avoided.
That said, this has changed a little in recent years – we’ll take a closer look at this later.
Nothing tanks a company’s credibility faster than a “they’re”/”their”/”there” snafu; it looks sloppy, lazy and unprofessional if you don’t even proofread the subject lines of your emails, so make sure you do. If your subscribers spot a typo in the subject line, they’re not going to bother to read any further – much less click on your CTA.
Clickbait had its time in the sun, but consumers are wise to it now – which is why anything that resembles clickbait or comes off as ‘clickbaity’ is easily disregarded. This means anything using the words or phrases “you won’t believe”, “secret”, “shocking” etc. is not going to fly. Trying to manipulate your subscribers into opening your emails just means that they won’t open your emails.
Best Email Marketing Subject Lines
All of this is, of course, very instructive, but what are some examples of email marketing lines that hit the mark? Let’s break down different examples of successful subject lines, and what makes them tick.
Employ FOMO Subject Lines
- “You’re missing out on points.”
- “Mike, earn double points today only”
- “[WEEKEND ONLY] Get this NOW before it’s gone…”
FOMO is an acronym meaning “fear of missing out”, and it’s an all-too human feeling that’s ripe for exploitation. Nobody wants to miss out on something special, after all, and by evoking a sense of urgency – usually with the use of a time limit or implied scarcity – it’s possible to get subscribers acting on marketing emails where they might not usually bother.
Use Funny Subject Lines
- “Licking your phone never tasted so good.”
- “Bargains that make us proud (unlike my son, Dave)”
- “Swipe right on us.”
- “Coffee’s for closers.”
These can be trickier to pull off – if being funny was easy, after all, we’d see a lot more successful comedians – but they can be gold if you can pull them off. If people read a subject line that makes them laugh, then they’re likely to open the associated email.
Write Curiosity-Piquing Subject Lines
- “10 weird habits making Millennials richer”
- “Don’t open this email!”
- “8 chilling facts about Christmas”
Straddling the fine line between clickbait and respectable marketing email, those subject lines that successfully pique the reader’s curiosity are likely to get opened.
It’s important to strike that balance we just mentioned, though; if subscribers pick up on a hint of clickbait, they won’t open the email. Make sure that it hints at information that the subscriber will be genuinely interested in learning.
These types of subject lines can be effective for any mass mail, but they are, in particular, some of the best marketing email subject lines for newsletters.
Play To Vanity
- “Makeup that celebs are using”
- “Don’t be caught in last year’s pants”
- “Your butt will look great in these shorts”
- “As used by Olympic athletes”
Playing to people’s vanity can be a powerful tool. It can take the form of implying they can be more like the rich and famous (as in the makeup line above) or that they’re in danger of getting left behind (as in the second example). Either way, your subject line can evoke this particular variant of FOMO.
- “212 quick subject line ideas”
- “12 life hacks for the kitchen”
- “Steal these email templates”
Everybody likes to save time wherever possible, and “life hacks” are very much in vogue right now. Any email that offers to make things quicker and easier for people is likely to elicit an open, so try to work such offers into your marketing emails wherever possible.
- “Flash sale alert!”
- “Check out these clearance items!”
- “20% off your favorite products”
Who doesn’t love a bargain? By highlighting sales and discounts that you’re currently offering, it’s easy to lure subscribers in – particularly since that, by the nature of email marketing, they’re likely already interested in your products. Juicy deals are therefore a particularly effective way of getting people onboard.
Provide Solutions To Problems
- “Get more kitchen space with these quick fixes”
- “Your makeup issues solved”
- “Learn a new language with only 5 minutes a day”
These kinds of subject lines require a little insight into your subscribers – chiefly, the problems and daily headaches that they’re likely to have – and so benefits from smart list segmentation. But if you get it right, the rewards are obvious. People love quick and easy solutions to the things that plague them, so offer that solution!
Use Retargeting Subject Lines
- “Don’t miss out on these items”
- “Here’s a copy of your cart”
- “Forget something? Here’s 15% off”
Retargeting emails are those sent out in response to aborted actions, like abandoned shopping carts or not purchasing a product after a trial period. The best examples of these anticipate objections to completing the sales action, offer discounts, or simply provide a gentle reminder.
Get To The Point
- “Best top ever”
- “Yes, this is a charity email”
- “Hello there”
Some of the best email marketing subject lines don’t beat around the bush, but go straight in on getting to the point. While these might seem boring and unlikely to engage the reader, the fact is that they can boast very high open rates.
It’s not quite as simple as sending an email with a blunt, declarative subject line. This approach tends only to work as part of a larger email campaign in which the subscriber is only emailed with useful information. If the reader trusts the sender, then they’ll trust them to send interesting and relevant information. It’s therefore necessary to provide high-quality content with this approach.
Personalize The Subject Line
- “Mike, take a look at these hand-picked looks”
- “Jon, do you remember me?”
- “I’ll pick you up at 7?”
- “Two toothbrushes for your friends (on us)”
We’ve mentioned this once, and it’s so important that it’s worth mentioning again. If your emails are personalized, you could see as much as a 14% increase in open rates.
Personalization is, it must be stressed once more, not simply about using the recipient’s name (although that is effective). As well as remembering birthdays and other dates important to the recipient, you can make personalized offers (as in the toothbrush one) and you can even break the question-mark rule in the quest for better personalization.
Consider Using Emojis
Example: We Saw You Checking Us Out 😏
This completely flies in the face of what we said earlier about not using emojis, but the above pick by Hubspot that came in at #1 on their list of best marketing email subject lines bucks the trend.
Why was it successful? Among other reasons (its playful and flirtatious tone perfectly matches the brand of the sender, for one), it could be that emoji emails are seeing success for the same reason that jokey company Twitter accounts do well: because they are traditionally perceived as unprofessional. Unprofessional equals casual, which equals approachable and relatable.
MailChimp introduced emoji support in 2015, and noted a few things about successful emoji use within emails: they need to be relevant to the topic (so no emoji spamming) and they should be used sparingly (if, indeed, you decide to use them at all).
Coming up with the best email subject lines for sales (or for any other purpose) can be a tricky and, often, self-contradicting practice. Should you use punctuation, or do with it altogether? Should you ask questions or avoid doing so? Is it conceivable that successful email subject lines contain emojis these days? The answer is that it very much depends – on you, on your business, and on the needs and wants of your subscribers. There’s no magic bullet when it comes to the best email marketing subject lines, but there are plenty of pointers out there. Take a look and decide what might work for you.