How many unread emails do you have in your inbox?
Most people get a lot of emails everyday and most of them are left unopened. The chances of your email being ignored are pretty high, unless you have a trustworthy and appealing subject line.
Your subject line is the first (and the last) impression on users. In many cases, your email subject line is more important than the body. After all, a great newsletter is worthless if it never sees the light of day.
There are a few different views when it comes to creating terrific subject lines. Here are nine different types of effective email subject lines that you can adapt to your next campaign:
1. Simple Subject Lines
There’s a lot to be said for minimalism, as users need you to be clear and concise in your subject lines. Time is always a good asset.
Recently, MailChimp conducted an email subject line study and found that short, descriptive subject lines fare better than cheesy ones. Some might argue that humor and creativity should be avoided when creating good subject lines for emails, especially since many marketing experts say otherwise. The succinct, to-the-point approach is most applicable with notification emails, in which a user already has a connection with the content you’re delivering.
Most of these subject line examples involve updates or notifications connected with a user’s social media activity, order status, etc. These emails have a specific purpose, and so the subject lines should be specific as well.
2. Funny Subject Lines
A humorous subject line can really stick out among the dry, dull emails surrounding it. On the other hand, humor is a touchy thing. It thrives on exclusivity, which isn’t always great if you’re trying to appeal to the masses. Still, if you know your audience inside out and your emails are well-targeted, an appropriate joke can get your email opened and earn major reputation points with audiences on your wavelength.
Some funny email subject line examples:
- Please Touch Me! Enterprise Delight via Multitouch
- Defense Against the Dark Arts: ESAPI
- Do Gamers Dream of HTML5 Sheep?
- LEAN STARTUP: Baby Got (Feed)Back – Putting the Lean in Learn
Bear in mind that the cleverness of the other funny email subject lines might be lost on some users who didn’t attend Hogwarts or haven’t read Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”. Always find your niche and make the recipients laugh, not scratch their head.
3. Controversial/Shocking Email Subject Lines
Sometimes controversy sells, and it most certainly grabs attention. Using shock, controversy, or insult in your subject lines requires you to tread really carefully. You may get opens, but at the cost of customers. This strategy requires you to be confident in your understanding of your audience’s tastes and perceptions. It’s a gambling move, but the pay-off can be pretty great. Here are some examples:
- Everyone Is Gay: Social Media As Social Action
- Why Your 5-Year-Old Is More Digital Than Most CMOs
- Your Marketing Sucks: Why You Need to Think Local
4. Single-Word Subject Lines
One effective email subject line strategy involves going ultra-minimalist with one-word subject lines.
From a simple design perspective, you can see why the Amazon Local subject line catches the eye – its length and shape stand out from the other largely similar-looking structures. Here is a good example:
Click to Enlarge
Another great email subject line example comes from Mequoda with the simple subject line of:
It’s just a single word, but it’s an emotionally huge one. What should I be panicking about? Am I in danger? What’s going on? Am I having an existential crisis? Emotionally-walloping words make a big impression.
5. Email Subject Lines with Numbers & Lists
Many of the factors that make up a good blog post title also make a good email subject line. Incorporating numbers into your subject line attracts attention, as our brains are naturally drawn to digits. This tends to be why top 10 lists are so successful – lists are easier for our brains to process and they create curiosity, in addition to providing the promise of a quick and easy read.
- SocialBro – 7 most annoying Twitter moments of the #Oscars2014
- YouTube – 10 jaw-dropping drift videos on YouTube
- Pinterest Partner Team – 3 ways to improve your Pins
Numbers and list email subject lines stand out for the same reasons that one-word subject lines or unusual punctuation do – they are visually jarring.
6. Personalised Subject Lines
Incorporating personalisation techniques into email subject lines is another way to increase open rates. However, incorporating a user’s name into the subject line becomes trivial these days, as this has become the common practice that many users consider these emails as spam. Instead, try location-specific offers and language, or interest targeting. LivingSocial and Groupon are old pros at this, sending emails with subject lines promoting deals in your area.
- LivingSocial Deals – Best of Boston: Avanti Salon & More
- LivingSocial Deals – Don’t miss out – Two-Hour Private Glassblowing Class for Two People
The subject line above combines personalisation (via remarketing) with scarcity to create an effective email subject line. In a broader sense, it’s good practice to understand your audience well enough to know what language, style, and offers will be attractive to them.
7. Questions & Other Punctuation in Email Subject Lines
Question marks and unusual punctuation offer another method for standing out from the email masses. Exclamation marks can be useful, but are so over-used in subject lines that they don’t tend to be very powerful. Instead, experiment with some fun symbols or loud punctuation to attract their eyeballs.
- Coldwater Creek – Going…going…70% off Ultimate Sale is almost gone!
- VUDU-Movies & TV – *RENT “Frozen” . Watch it today in 2D or 3D. *
- HAILO Boston – We ? You
Asking your readers a question, as opposed to a standard statement, immediately engages them. Questions enter an instant dialogue with users, making them more likely to be opened.
- Sephora Beauty Insider – Rough day?
- Banana Republic – Final hours! Will you save 50%?
Above, Banana Republic combines a question with scarcity tactics. Sephora asks an emotionally-engaging question (really? you care?) with just two words, creating a truly great subject line.
8. “Missing Out” & Other Scarcity Tactics in Subject Lines
People have a deep, inherent terror of being left behind, of missing out. This flock mentality was a survival instinct once, but now it’s just another subject line strategy to goad us into a purchase. Email subject lines threatening scarcity (limited time offer!) tend to perform well, and this language is also common practice with squeeze pages. People will commit some pretty cold actions to avoid “missing out.” Yup, we’ve all got a serious case of the fear of missing outs. Throw in some scarcity words and you may be surprised how your click rates will change.
- Bundle Stars – Pay $1.99 for a new bundle of 6 STEAM games (48 HOURS ONLY!)
- Coldwater Creek – Ends Today! 36 Hour Outlet Sale. Hurry, this is your last chance…
- Coldwater Creek – 5 HOURS ONLY! 50% off ALL Jeans in Stores. GO!
Examples above incorporate numbers, scarcity, punctuation, and partial capitalisation (emphasis on the partial) for some serious subject line success.
9. Mysterious Email Subject Lines
People dig a little mystery in their lives. Giving readers a little taste of something intriguing might cause them to bite…
- ePrize – It’s all over December 25…
Email Subject Line Best Practices
Here are some tips for creating good email subject line for you to keep in mind:
- Write multiple subject lines. You should write 10 subject lines for every email, just as you should write 10 titles for every blog post. Then choose the best one.
- Keep it under 50 characters. It’s general best practice to keeps subject lines to fewer than 50 characters. Subject lines with less than 50 characters have higher open rates and click-through-rates than those with 50+. Go over 50 characters and you risk being cut o-.
- Alliteration. An ample amount of alliteration attracts! Give it a try for some catchy email subject lines.
- More caps is not equal to more opens. Covering your subject line in caps WILL NOT HELP YOU. Caps are powerful, but not to be trifled with. Use them sparingly and responsibly, like grenades.
- Knowing your audience. Your best bet for creating good email subject lines will be understanding your audience intimately and catering to them. This is a major rule for pretty much all aspects of online marketing, and while it can be a bit tougher in a limited character field like a subject line, matching your audience’s interests and mannerisms is essential if you really want solid open rates.
- Knowing your tone. Most good email subject lines rely on a conversationalist tone to attract readers. Sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, known for their super-successful clickbait headlines, take advantage of a casual, conversational tone.
- Call to action. It’s never a bad idea to try a call to action in your email subject line. While many opt-out due to limited character space, call to actions may improve open rates. Even a simple “Go!” can serve as a motivating call to action. If you’re not sure what makes a great call to action, check out this post on call to action examples by Dan for some help.
- Using You/Your. While name-calling is on the out, it’s still considered a best practice to use “you” and “your” wording to speak directly and comfortably with readers.
- Put Yourself in the “From” field. Keep your “from” section professional and consistent for business subject lines. This isn’t this place to be a goof ball – with so much spam floods, users want to see that you are a legitimate and trusted source. Most business emails put their brand name in the “from” field, or go with something along the lines of “John Smith from InvitaCorp”.
- Always A/B test subject lines. You should A/B test everything you can get your fingers on, email subject lines included.
- Pay attention to the preview. The email preview that follows the subject line is a valuable piece of property, and yet so many businesses ignore it or let it get filled with garbage text.
- See something you like? Steal it! All the world’s greatest artists are thieves – they “borrow” from others, building on existing works to create their own. Don’t be afraid to break bad. If you see great subject lines that you think will work for your business, nab them! Tweak them a bit and try them on for size. Remember, imitation is flattery, so flatter the hell out of the best email subject lines.
Low Open Rates?
Having trouble with your email open rates? Working on your subject lines will help, but there may be other factors at play, such as:
- Is the email viewable? If your email doesn’t read well on a user’s device, they won’t bother trying to decipher it.
- Are you being a pest? If you’ve been emailing folks every day, they may be fed up with you and won’t be as likely to open your emails if you’ve been making yourself an annoyance.
- When did you send it? Many people don’t check their emails as often on the weekend.
- Quality of your email list. Is this a solid, targeted email list? If your list isn’t high-quality, it may reflect in your open rates.