January 27, 2015

The 20 Subject Lines That Will Get Your Emails Opened


Although I'm a marketer, I fall victim to clickbait all the time. And I'm most likely to click on emails with engaging subject lines that just entice me to click.

Granted, we could get into the argument on why clickbait is terrible and can mislead readers if they content behind the link is equally as bad (I fully support that argument), but as long as the quality of your content is high then maybe you need a little extra oomph to entice even more readers to give it a look. Millions of emails are sent daily, which means your subject lines might need an extra oomph to get the subscriber open and read the inside of the email.

I did a quick search on some supporting material about the best subject lines and came across an abundance of information on the exact subject lines you should use that will get your emails opened. Ranging from eCommerce to networking examples, here's a roundup of the top ones we've found. Don't worry about using these with their specific use cases as you can use some creativity to form to need for your own subject line.

The 20 Subject Lines That Will Get Your Emails Opened

1. "You are not alone"

One of the first tips on subject lines I ever read was from CopyBlogger on this phrase. Using "You are not alone" had some of the highest open rates on average. Aweber conducted a study and found that this phrase got at least a 90% open rate every time. Being a little understanding and compassionate with your subscribers with a subject of "You are not alone" could trigger those opens you are looking for.

2. Questions: "Who was Wonderwoman's role model?"

Questions aren't frequently used in a subject line, but are effective according to MailChimp. Asking the subscriber a question in the subject lines allows an opening in the conversation and an actual open of the email to see if the answer to the questions lies inside. The example above is from Strong Women, Strong Girls via Constant Contact. Now, don't you want to know who role model was?

3. Detailed "Read your Review for John Mulaney"

In subject lines MailChimp, put it best "Don't sell what is in your email, tell what's in it." Subject lines that have the exact details of what a subscriber can find in the email have the highest open rates. This example was found via Hubspot and this subject lines outlines exactly what is in the email.

4. Transactional: "Your order xxxxx has shipped"

As much as I love scanning online shopping sites, I actually try to avoid ordering things online because I can't stop checking to see if my package has shipped, where it currently is, and when it will be delivered. I probably check at least 50 times before I actually get that package and open the email many times because I can't remember the tracking number.

A transactional email like the one described above can guarantee that your email will be opened, especially if you audience is anything like me. However, these emails can skew your metrics with open rates. One thing to try with these transactional emails is to get creative with the content on the inside of the email. Maybe lead your buyer to similar items or pieces of content. You have the opportunity to create familiarity and potential more opens in the future with other emails.

5. How To: "If We Had $500,000 to Spend on Content Marketing, Here's How We'd Spend It."

Now with the internet, Google, and mobile phones, people are more independent than ever and frequently want to know how to do stuff on their own. Above is a Google Trends graph on the interest over time on "how to."

Using a "How to" in your subject line is an easy way to get people to open your emails because they'll open the email and look at how to do it inside on how to do whatever you said in the subject line.

6. Absurdity/Nonsensical: "My robot is street legal."

This great subject line came from Digg's newsletter, The Daily Digg, which is filled with a round up of interesting articles. But I would say that their best pieces of content are in their subject lines, like the one mentioned above. If I'm doing a quick scan of my inbox, you better believe this catches my eye and makes me open.

Being humorous can give someone a chuckle and cause them to open your email to read more.

7. One Word: "Hey"

Image via NYMag


President Barack Obama's campaign emails had phenomenal subject lines, especially ones that email marketers frequently gush over. President Obama's subject line of "Hey" immediately broke the polarizing barriers that politicians typically face with a down-to-earth subject line that everyone understands.

The unexpected one word subject lines can grab your subscriber's attention and create a short connection with someone they want to get to know more. However, I would advise not doing this every time or forming some type of foundational relationship via email before trying out a simple "Hey."

8. Numbers: "7 New DC Brunches!"

Thrillist gets me every time with their numbered emails (usually it's the subject line that contains the word brunch) because I want to see the entire list of places where I need to go or I've already gone to.

Lists and calling out specifically how many things are in that list is let's the reader know what they are getting inside of the email. For which they can then skim the list or click through to get the entire list.

The other side of numbers can fall specifically with retail and showing the percentage off that a subscriber can get with the sale that the retailer is offering. I'm a sucker for discounts and I find most of my deals in my inbox by scanning subject lines.

9. Personalization: "Sabel, Friends is now on Netflix."

Dale Carnegie said it best: "A person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language." When a person hears or sees their name, there is a unique activation that goes on in that person's brain. (Or when they see in the subject line that one of their favorite shows is on Netflix).

Personalizing an email subject line is very easy to do with merge tags and can provide a positive ROI for those open rates. An email marketer can safely assume that using personalization allows for the person to feel that that email was especially for them. I would suggest using this technique sparingly because you wouldn't want this personal touch to feel automated. And make sure you get their name right...

10. FOMO

FOMO is the "Fear of Missing Out" and it is a type os social anxiety that people have when they are connected to certain things and they don't want to lose that connection. Whether it's a social gathering to a trending topic, people with FOMO don't want to miss out on all of this excitement.

Creating a sense of FOMO in your subject line can get people to click to open it because they don't want to miss out on what's inside.

11. Leave something out: "You'll never believe these email marketing mistakes!"

Curiosity didn't kill the cat, it probably just got it to open up the email.

Give your subscribers a small taste of what you are offering inside the body of the email in the subject line to spur some curiosity. Make them want to know what's inside to get them to open.

12. Straightforward: "Cities Going Car Free"

I got this email from Public Bikes (where my own beautiful bike is from) with the subject line from above. I clicked open because I wanted to know more about cities going car free. And inside the email was exactly what the subject line said.

What's inside your email? No need to dance around the subject because some of the most effective subject lines are the ones that are straightforward telling the reader what exactly they are going to get in the email.

13. Trending Topics: "The 33 Golden Globes looks that SLAYED last night"

Taking advantage of some real-time marketing can help give your email subject lines an extra boost of relevancy if, of course, the content inside is relevant to your own brand.

From the Superbowl to upcoming holidays, use this things to get people to open your emails.

14. How you met "We met at x conference"

Did you meet a new contact at a conference? Or at a networking event?

Putting in the subject line where you met can jog the reader's memory and they will be more likely to respond to you email after that subject line.

Going to a conference and not sure what to do after? Here are some tips for that.

15. Conflict: "Coffee vs. Beer: Which Drink Makes You More Creative"

So, I saw this line in a Digg email, but if it was in the subject line I would definitely open it. Even though, I'd probably be Switzerland in this case (I drink beer and coffee when I write sometimes, making me neutral), I would want to know which one would fuel my creativity better to churn out even more awesome blog posts ;).

Conveying some type of conflict or argument can cause an open because a subscriber would probably want to identify with one of the sides you lay out inside the email.

16. Emotional: "i heart you..."

Get a little emotional with your subject lines because that's how people connect and understand things on varying levels. I'm not saying you'll have a fully fleshed out emotional relationship with someone based on your subject lines, but don't be afraid to add some emotional words that can get someone to act.

17. No Subject

These get me every time. Especially when a sales rep or business development person is trying to do some type of cold outreach, they snag my attention with the subject field left out. Usually, these emails come from my mom or someone I know, so it immediately triggers me to open it to see what's inside.

I have a feeling that after I mention this tactic, it may come back to haunt me and the next several emails I get from people who want me to try out their products won't have a subject line. There should be a warning label with this "No Subject" subject line: don't use it every time, or even every other time because people will notice and assume that it's just a negligent oversight and take it as sloppiness.

18. Sneak Peek: "Sneak / Peek"

Are you introducing something new? Maybe a new feature? Coming out with a new whitepaper? Give your subscribers a sneak peek in your emails and tell them they are getting this exclusive look in your subject line.

This is another technique that you can use when you are trying to build up your email lists. On your signup page, include something on how if they subscribe to your email list they will receive sneak peeks on deals, upcoming events, and the latest on product news.

19. Localize: "New Concert for The Wombats"

It would really suck if this concert wasn't in DC...which is a reason why you should target your emails properly and you that localization targeting in your subject lines. It's another area of personalization that you can use to your advantage.

Segment your lists by location and then form emails specifically dedicated to something in those locations. Take it a step further by sending out the emails at the best time for that region.

20. Deadline: "LAST CHANCE! Get inspired with FREE SHIPPING on home makeover ideas."

Giving your subscribers a deadline with their response or notifying them that there is a time limit will get them to open the email to act on what you are serving. Unfortunately, time is limited for all of us and seeing it can give us the push we need to follow through with the next action.

To take it to the next level, we've come across a few tools to test your new subject lines and to make sure they are ready to go into your subscribers' inboxes.

Tools and Resources

Subject Line Checker from Litmus

I just found this tool after doing some research and I think it's my new favorite for email campaigns. With Litmus's Subject Line Tester, you are able to see what your subject lines look like on 34 different email clients. Wondering what that subject line actually looks like in Gmail -- you can test it out with the tester.

Email Spam Test

Different words in subject lines can trigger your emails to be sent to the spam box, where your subscriber won't see your email. Use the Email Spam Test to check your subject line and even the body of your email to ensure that your email will get to your subscribers.

MailChimp's Subject Line Researcher

If you use MailChimp you can access their Subject Line Researcher to help get the creative juices flowing in writing the most effective subject line for your subscribers. MailChimp has a free plan that you can access in order to use the Subject Line Researcher.

Many of these subject lines should be used at different points and some should be used more sparingly than others. Using a variation of techniques can optimize your emails and improve the overall open rates of them.