Email subject lines can make the difference on whether or not your email gets opened, or even noticed, in a crowded inbox. See what it takes to craft great ones time and time again in this post.
In any relationship, your opening line sets the tone for what’s to follow and emails are no different. Your subject line communicates your email’s value to the recipient and encourages them to read further and, potentially, to engage with your brand on a deeper level by responding to your call to action (CTA).
A poor subject line is more than just bad: It can contribute to your email being marked as spam, dinging your reputation with your customer and search engines. In fact, 69% of email recipients report email as spam based solely on the subject line.
Even if your subscribers don’t report an email as spam, people typically look to the subject line to determine whether or not to open the email at all. And even in a post-MPP world where open rate tracking is less reliable, you should still be following subject line best practices.
Clever, attention-getting email subject lines can increase engagement and keep your emails where they belong — in the inboxes of your prospects and customers. That’s why it’s important to focus on your subject lines as an important part of your email marketing campaigns, instead of leaving them as a last-minute item to be completed right before you hit send.
In this post, we’re going to give you some email subject line best practices, and show you some examples of subject lines that really work.
How to write your best email subject lines
Before we look at some specific examples of great email subject lines, let’s review what goes into making a subject line that resonates with the recipient.
To stay on target, you must:
1. Get the length right
You’ll need to do some testing to determine the optimal length for your customer base, but guidelines show that the sweet spot is a subject line that’s between 6 and 10 words in length.
A few more words or a few less doesn’t won’t adversely affect your results too much, but too many words (over 20) or no words at all will cause a problem.
2. Exclude the word “newsletter”
That’s typically because people think of traditional newsletters as boring rather than full of valuable content, as yours will be. So, even if you are, indeed, sending a newsletter, don’t mention that. Mention the value content packed inside the email itself.
3. Use A/B testing
One great way to make sure the subject line you craft is a winner is to conduct A/B testing over a few variations of subject lines. You can test word length, humorous tone versus something more to the point, word choice, or any other number of factors.
Once you’ve seen what type of subject line your audience likes and responds to most, you’ll be on your way to the best opens and engagement you’ve seen from an email marketing campaign yet.
4. Avoid spammy words, special characters, and SHOUTING
You want to keep your sender reputation pristine, and that means staying out of the spam folder. Nothing says “spam” to email recipients and internet service providers more than special characters (#%*@) and messages in ALL CAPS. At best, these will earn you an unsubscribe. More commonly, they’ll end up right in the spam folder.
Some commonly used spam words include:
- Apply now
- Auto email removal
- Cash bonus
- Compare rates
- Double your income
- Earn $
- Earn extra cash
- Eliminate debt
- Explode your business
- Extra income
- F r e e
- Fast cash
Avoid the most common spam words and you’ll keep your subject lines out of trouble and your email out of the spam folder.
Oh, and don’t use too many exclamation points, either.
5. Consider all the options
There are many ways to approach email subject lines, from short and sweet, to personal, to keyword-specific, and more. Determine which of the many choices most closely fits your brand’s personality and your audience’s preferences and then craft away.
Some typical types of subject lines include:
- Trending topic
- Short and sweet
- Sneak peek
Explanations on how to craft each and every one of these can be found here.
6. Don’t shy away from emojis
When emojis were first introduced, it may have been pretty controversial to include them in an email subject line, but those days are long gone.
Time and time again, studies find that using emojis in subject lines is likely to higher open rates, and savvy email marketers are taking advantage of this.
You’ll want to be careful with how you use them, though. Too many emojis can come across as spammy, and depending on the tone of the email itself (like a transactional email, for example), they might be inappropriate.
You’ll also want to test your emojis across email clients and mobile devices as well, as they may render differently across each.
But, as long as you use them with caution and make sure they fit with the overall tone of your email and brand, emojis can be a great addition. And for a deep dive into emoji best practices, be sure to head here!
7. Remember to add preview text
If your email’s subject line acts as the title of your email, then the preview text is like the subtitle. It’s that small bit of text after the subject line that displays in your email subscriber’s inbox before they click into the email.
If you don’t customize your preview text, it’ll just pull from the beginning of your email. This is fine, but if you really want to make your email the best it can be, try to add some preview text that gives your email extra value.
Preview text gives you extra space to play off of your subject line, tease the email content, and capture your subscriber’s attention — make sure you make the most of it!
Good email subject lines are good on their own, but great email subject lines have preview text that plays along with them.
7 great email subject line examples and best practices
Now that we’ve walked through the basics and given you plenty of references to whip up subject lines of your own, let’s take a closer look at some examples, and the subject line best practices that make them work.
1. Make them timely
Giving subscribers information they need when they need it helps boost open rates and email marketing success, as these subject lines show.
These four newsletter subject lines prove that timeliness is important when bringing information to subscribers. None of these subject lines are over-the-top clever, but they all performed well because the recipients wanted to receive the information offered.
Automation is key to delivering the right messages at the right time. Simple automation sequences like a welcome email series or an abandoned cart email are some of the most high-performing emails you can send because they happen when you have the reader’s attention.
2. Make them specific
Sharing location-specific information tells your subscribers you’re paying attention to them.
Most people have an innate curiosity about events in their local area, so using email subject lines like these can garner more clicks.
3. Use your numbers
Sometimes numbers speak louder than words because they make information quick and easy to digest.
Take a look at this example:
Not only does that subject line offer a clear benefit to the recipient, but it also has an actual person sending it. Having a person’s name in the sender field rather than the email looking like it came from an impersonal company or batch name increases the chances your newsletter will be opened and read.
4. Use targeted subject lines for segmented audiences
Segmented email campaigns achieve 760% more revenue than those that are just blasted out to your entire email list.
You can break your audience into groups based on any number of factors, including:
- Geographical location
- Buying habits
Of course, you can use your email marketing to accomplish this task and then craft laser-focused email subject lines to wow your segmented groups and make it more likely that they open emails.
Some great examples of subject lines that appeal to highly targeted audience segments include:
Delving deep into the interests and pain points of your audience will help your marketing team develop subject lines that pique curiosity and boost open rates.
If you’re doing a really good job of segmentation, you may be able to send email subject lines like the following:
Being able to let customers know you appreciate their patronage is invaluable. And if you’re able to send them a personalized subject line, it’ll catch their attention immediately.
5. ‘Tis the season
The holidays are a great time to send an email newsletter because people are looking for holiday savings as well as gift ideas.
Here’s a list of fantastic holiday-themed ideas for your subject line this season:
To show how easy it is to incorporate these buzzwords in your next campaign, check out this next example:
If you combine these subject lines with personalization and segmentation within your content, your results will be even better.
6. Surprise them
Who doesn’t love a surprise? One great way to increase your newsletter open rate is to hint at a surprise inside.
You can use your subject line as a teaser:
Or, you can give a bigger hint, like letting subscribers know what kind of content they’re going to receive in your newsletter:
Giving your audience little treats like 3D content, infographics, guides, and floor plans make opening up your newsletter like opening a gift, a great way to increase your value in their eyes.
7. And finally, FOMO
FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, is a great way to get subscribers invested in opening your email newsletter.
The greater sense of urgency you can deliver with your subject line, the more likely subscribers will be to want to see what your brand has in store for them. Terms like “last chance”, “expiring”, or “limited time” are great for inspiring urgency, particularly among eCommerce businesses who are sending an offer along.
Just be sure to deliver what your tagline promises. Opening an “urgent” email to discover there’s no real urgency in the email body will backfire on your marketing campaign and leave your audience annoyed. You might see a solid open rate, but your click-through rates and customer experience will suffer.
Few mediums in the digital marketing landscape are as personal as email. It’s a perfect channel for building trust and confidence between your subscribers and your brand. Giving your subscribers information they need and want will help position your business as the go-to for value, whether that value is in the form of content, products, or services.
To get to that point in your relationship with subscribers, however, you need to get your content in front of your subscribers. That means getting it past the quick inbox skim that most people do when managing their daily overload of emails.
While writing a basic subject line can be relatively easy, crafting one that amps up the opens and gets your material read again and again is a bit trickier.
We’ve given you a whole batch of high-performing, high-quality email subject lines that can serve as inspiration for your next email marketing campaign to help your email newsletter find pride of place as an inbox regular.
Editor’s note: this post was updated for accuracy and freshness in November 2021.