Article originally published February 2018, updated June 2019
When it comes to a successful email marketing campaign, good subject lines can make all the difference. Subscribers will scan the subject lines of virtually every message you successfully get into their inbox, and many will make the decision to open those emails based on the subject line alone.
Think for a moment about how hard it is to stop reading a single line of text in the middle. Once you start, you just can’t stop.
That’s the power your subject line has over potential readers. Subscribers are more likely to see and absorb that one line more than any other part of your message.
That gives it the chance to entice users to read the first line of inside copy.
How do you write a catchy email subject line?
The best email subject lines have a lot in common. By knowing and implementing these common factors, you’ll be able to easily craft creative email subject lines to entice your subscribers to read more.
Let’s look at the top 3:
Understand your audience
Your audience determines the content you create. This goes for your headlines as well. By understanding your audience, you’ll know the kinds of words to use to draw them into your email.
You can use tools to help you craft the best email subject lines for your audience. A number of them are free and easy to use, like CoSchedule’s Subject Line Tester.
These tools will help you create email subject lines that improve open rates and reduce the chances of your email ending up in the spam box.
For every email you compose, create different variations of the subject line and test which one works best. Split testing, also called A/B testing, helps you increase the chances of using a subject line that moves your audience to action.
20 hacks for improving your email subject lines
So how do you make the most of subject lines and position your email to reach your goals? Here are 20 email subject line hacks you can put into action right away.
1. Lose title case.
Title case is great for books, but it looks out of place for most subject lines. Most emails should be written to connect with people—and, for everyone but the Queen of England, that means a more conversational tone. Losing title case makes your email seem as though it’s coming from a friend.
Here are a couple of examples:
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2. Keep it short—five words or less.
How long should you make your email subject lines? Almost half of emails are opened on mobile, which means there’s limited space for characters. Try to pick short, punchy words and keep it down to about 50 characters and no more than five words. This way, users can see the whole message and act on it faster.
Need some examples?
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3. Make subject and copy work together.
Most email clients show a preview of the message text immediately under the subject line. This has the potential to be longer (about eight to 12 words).
Your subject line is the “implied promise” of your email, so make sure inside copy picks up from there and clearly keeps that promise. Many make the mistake of having the preview text match the subject line, but we recommend differentiating the two.
4. Personalize your subject lines.
Personalizing subject lines makes subscribers feel as though the email you’re sending was created with them, in particular, in mind. Campaign Monitor has found that emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened, so consider adding a first name or other personalized detail.
Check out these awesome examples:
- Get a behind-the-scenes look! Josh is going live!
- Josh Turner asked me to reach out, Kato
While the first subject line doesn’t address the recipient by name, the friendly tone and the mention of the sender makes it feel tailored to the recipient. That’s another great way of using personalization in your subject lines.
5. Convey a sense of urgency.
You don’t want people to read your subject line and then skip over it. To encourage subscribers to open your emails right away, consider using words like “urgent” and “breaking,” which are considered the most potent words that imply time sensitivity, followed by “important” and “alert.”
Here are a couple of examples:
- Only 2 slots left!
- Our offer expires tonight
6. Use announcements and invitations.
The words “announcement” and “you’re invited” both have a powerful impact on open rates. You don’t need to bend the truth to send an “invitation” either. Anything from a webinar to a subscriber list-only white paper could merit an “invitation.”
Need examples of this technique?
- You’re invited to our “Scale Your Business” webinar
- Huge announcement tomorrow
7. Get attention with “thank you.”
“Thank you” is one of the most striking two-word combinations you can use in any email subject line. It not only resonates deeply with others in a world where connections count, but also implies a meaningful, even reciprocal relationship between your brand and email readers.
Check out these examples:
- Thank you for being a superstar!
- Just thought I’d say thanks.
8. Test multiple topics.
Most subject lines focus on a single topic, so users who aren’t interested will instantly move on. Using multiple ideas in a subject line can increase open rates. For example, a retailer who lists two or three of the user’s top purchase categories only needs to hit on one “winner” per message.
9. Convey a sense of action.
Verbs are action words: The things a person, place, or thing can do. Not only do they make your subject lines sound more active, but they also imply a call to action. Without that, most web users simply won’t convert, even if the step you want them to take seems obvious.
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10. Use your “From” name to your advantage.
Emails that come from a person’s name are more likely to be opened than those sent by the name of a company. This will make your email subject line much more likely to be read. Be sure your subscribers know your name, though, or it could backfire.
- Josh here, just thought I’d check in with you
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11. Focus on the pain point.
We’ve all heard that email subject lines should focus on a benefit, something your prospect wants. However, many marketers have had great success with the opposite: focusing on the pain point in the email subject. If it’s a good match with your prospects’ needs, they may jump.
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12. Open with a number.
You probably noticed that the example above doesn’t use a verb. It starts with a number and gets straight to the point. Numbers have a hypnotic power to them.
Here are a couple more examples:
- 21 days to a better you
- 5 Facebook ad copy mistakes you’re making
13. 👩💻 Surrender to emojis. 💌
B2B enterprises in conservative industries may still want to avoid emojis, but it’s time for B2C companies to embrace the wave. 🌊 Used strategically to reinforce the message, emojis raised open rates in B2C promotional emails by as much as 15%. 👩💻
14. Address your audience directly.
If your email subscriber list is segmented properly, this is an easy way to score some big wins. Signaling a specific audience directly is a perfect way to engage attention and spark the curiosity needed to open your email.
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15. Use alliteration.
Literary devices like alliteration have been used for centuries because they can make a message more memorable. A little alliteration can go a long way to break the monotony of a full email box. Still, it’s not necessary to use it on every word in a subject line.
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16. Try rhyming.
A rhyming subject line may be the most difficult to pull off. You have to make your meaning clear, keep the message short, and still achieve your desired rhyme scheme. Subject lines tend to sound catchiest when they end with a rhyme.
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17. Skip the “free” lunch.
It’s easy to assume “free” is a word that’ll grab readers, but it underperforms when compared to its little brother “freebie” in many campaigns, and it can also trigger spam filters. Skip using the word “free” in favor of more descriptive language.
Here’s how you can make this tip work:
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18. Get to the point.
The main purpose of a subject line is to give your reader a reason to open your email. Getting to the point is a great way of getting readers to know what the email is all about and to get them to click.
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19. Go with the season.
Take advantage of seasons and special holidays to craft timely and relevant subject lines. People are usually excited at such times, and using the vibes that are in the air will help you grab attention. Using words like spring, Valentine’s, or Christmas, for example, will definitely help you generate higher open rates.
- Valentine’s special! 40% off to prove our love for you
- Hey John, we’ve got your spring essentials
20. Answer a question.
Addressing a question that most of your readers have is another great way to create a catchy subject line. In fact, some of the best email subject lines are answers to questions.
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Done right, your email campaigns will provide a compelling, personalized experience that can move prospects down the road to becoming valued customers. Test out these hacks with email analytics to monitor your results — you may be surprised to see what will work for you.
For more tips on how to craft subject lines that improve open rates, check out our article “How to Be an Email Subject Line Superhero.”