14 Tips On Writing Killer Email Subject Lines

When it comes to email marketing, subject lines are crucial. A subject line that’s too cheesy or robotic-sounding will get your email chucked straight in the Spam bin; while a line that’s too friendly runs the risk of deceiving your readers, causing frustration when they ultimately click through.

Like many other digital marketing strategies, writing compelling email subject lines is an art that takes patience, practice, and industry know-how. You’ll have to achieve the first two on your own, but in order to help out, we’ve compiled this handy guide of tips and best practices. Here are some of the best tricks we’ve found to crafting great email subject lines that actually get clicked.

1. Add Value

Many companies make the fatal mistake of sending out emails that announce company changes, like a new company logo, expansion, or hiring decision. These sorts of things are extremely relevant to you and your employees, but not very interesting to the average Jane or Joe scrolling through a stack of emails.

Instead, try to orient each email around what you can give to the reader, beyond the goods and services you’re actually selling. Each email you send is a chance to add value to readers’ lives, whether through a useful set of tips, a helpful warning, a how-to guide (like this one!) or an exciting announcement. Even something as simple as a fun article about a dog gives your readers something—a brief diversion and a laugh.

Before you send an email, ask yourself what the user is receiving—not what you’re trying to sell or gain. Once you do that, the rest will be a piece of cake.

2. Personalize It

People like receiving mail from other humans. Therefore, make sure that your mailing email has a human name, like Joe@mycompanyrules.com. Never send an email from something like donotreply@mycompany.com, as these tend to have very low open rates.

In addition, try to address your reader by name whenever possible. We’re hard-wired to experience a little burst of familiarity when reading our own names, and using your reader’s name in the subject line will help brand your company as a friend.

You can also add even more personalization by mentioning the reader’s location, upcoming birthday, or previous purchases. Great examples include:

  • Hey, Tom! Have you tried these 5 Wilmington bars yet?   
  • Hi, Lindsay! Are you loving your mint green dress?
  • Happy birthday, Taylor! Here’s your surprise!

All of these examples hit three checks: they’re personal, they address the reader by name, and they tease to something valuable within. They also use low-key language that a friend might use, i.e. “hey” and “hi” instead of “hello”.

3. Ask a question

Two of the above examples also hit a fourth check mark—they asked a question of the reader. Questions invite us to engage with the email on a deeper level, connecting the content with our personal lives. Asking readers to share feedback on a recent purchase can be enticing, as everyone loves to give their opinion; you can also ask readers questions about their cars, lawns, or websites—whatever it is your company services. Examples include:

  • Wondering why your website gets traffic, but no leads?
  • Are you making these 6 SEO mistakes?
  • Hey, Emily! How was your stay with us?

Asking open-ended questions is a great way to encourage readers to ask the same questions of themselves—and then click through to find the answers.

4. Send out a helpful warning

There’s no need to be the Harbinger of Doom in your emails, of course, but reminding your readers of something they may have forgotten is valuable, not spammy. Let your customers know that they’re due for a check-up; that it’s been X days since their last oil change; or that Mother’s Day is this Sunday—any friendly heads-up that will remind them to add your services to their to-do list. Good examples include:

  • Uh-oh: your prescription is expiring!
  • Forgot Mother’s Day? We have you covered!
  • Jack, our records show it’s been a while!

Notice what all these examples have in common: they’re withholding key information. Which brings us to…

5. Withhold some information, or all of it

This is another big mistake companies tend to make when crafting their emails. If your email has everything the reader needs to know right in the subject line, there’s no reason for them to click. Instead, try to identify the “meat” of the subject, and take it out. Good examples include:

  • Get ready–something big is coming in 2017!
  • Amy—we’ve identified an issue
  • This one move will increase your leads by 300%

All of these examples imply, but don’t state, positive and negative things that the reader must click through to discover. While this is a very successful tactic, there are instances in which it’s better to be up-front.

6. Create a sense of urgency

This is an old, but good, marketing technique, and it’s still used because it works. People are much more likely to open emails which warn of a quick expiration date, like sales and offers which expire in a 24-hour period. Examples include:

  • Today only: half-off one item!
  • Hurry! 50% off sale ends tonight!
  • Hurry to receive your discount!

Try not to use the word “tomorrow” in your subject line. As we all know, “tomorrow” can be put off indefinitely. If a sale or promotion really does end tomorrow, try using “24 hours” instead to create the sensation of a ticking clock.

7. Be Funny!

Humor, like cinnamon, is a powerful ingredient. Just a little hint can bring everything life, but too much can be dangerous in the wrong hands. If you’re willing to take on the challenge of crafting a funny, yet non-cheesy subject line, consider the following examples that nailed it:

  •    Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve) – Groupon
  •    Where to Drink Beer Right Now (Sent at 6:45am on a Wednesday) – Eater Boston
  •    Get In Our Pants – Edgevale
  •    We Like Being Used – The Muse
  •    Seriously. We’d like to thank you. – Overstock
  •    20% off. Because we miss you <3 – West Elm

You can also try your hand at puns, although if jokes are cinnamon, puns are jalepenos. Tread carefully.

8. Give your readers a present

We already discussed ways to give readers things that don’t have any financial value. However, traditionally speaking, offers and sales are open-rate gold. People love to get stuff. In fact, most people will only open emails that contain deals and discounts, and delete everything else.

Even if your company doesn’t have the means to constantly send out discounts, it’s a good idea to send one out every once in a while. Most of your readers probably only signed up for your emails because they believed they would receive a deal—so make sure to give them what they came for, if only on occasion.

9. Be negative

That’s right. Be negative. Imply that something Very Bad might be happening, which can only be averted by clicking the email and taking action. Obviously, no one likes to be tricked into being afraid, so we recommend only using this method if the Very Bad thing is actually happening. Good examples include:

  • Are you sure your website is safe?
  • 60% of U.S. adults have a cavity–right now
  • April is termite season—are you safe?
  • Don’t buy X until you read this
  • Don’t make these top 5 SEO mistakes

All of these prompts feed into peoples’ fears and encourage them to investigate further. (We made up that statistic about the cavities, by the way. Also, there’s no such thing as termite season). (Or is there…?)

10. Identify seasonal issues and offer help

Every month of the year comes with its own particular stressors. The most obvious is the holiday season, but non-holiday months present their own challenges, too. Students (and teachers) struggle with exams in November and April. Summer heat is tough on cars, HVACs, and annoyed parents; and December means insurance is expiring soon—so maybe it’s a good time to schedule that appointment. Spouses-to-be struggle with wedding and housing finances in June; parents hit the stores in August; and allergy sufferers struggle in fall and spring.

As annoying as all these things can be to you as a person, you can use them to your advantage as a marketer. Sending out short emails full of tips and advice can help cast your brand in a positive light and make readers feel that your company has their back throughout rain or shine.

11. Use numbered lists

When you’re crafting your content, try breaking everything up into numbered lists. People like knowing when the thing they’re reading is going to end, and the format of big headline/small paragraph is easy on the eyes, especially on mobile. People sort through their emails quickly, so  we recommend no more than 7 items per list. If you have more, you could list the first five, then insert a hyperlink to the full post on your website’s blog.


You’ve probably never heard of these guys, but they do the listcicle thing pretty well.

Someone stop them.

12. Update readers on their posts

People love to reread content they’ve created. For that reason, emails which inform readers about the status of their posts and comments tend to have high open rates. Let people know when a comment they posted has received a certain number of views, replies, or rankings. This encourages your reader to return to your website and reread what they posted, boosting your SEO scores and possibly even leading to another conversion. Examples include:

  • Hey Brian! Your comment is #1 on our website!
  • Amy, your comment on “mint dress” has received a reply!
  • Chris, your comment has received 100 likes!

Logojoy, an online logo creation tool, has an especially clever strategy. Every day, the company “selects” some logos for its “best logo of the day” gallery. It then sends out an email informing each user that their logo has been chosen, and that the logo with the most votes will receive a discount. The reader, naturally, returns to the website to view his work in all its glory, and then shares it with his friends on social media to encourage them to vote—therefore boosting the company’s social outreach, SEO ranking, AND sales in one stroke.

13. Use buzzwords

Certain words and phrases are likely to encourage open rates, as they suggest controversy or great emotional appeal. In the examples below, we’ve bolded relevant buzzwords which you may consider using in your own posts.

  •   Little known ways to build your audience
  •   Optimization Hack: Double your rankings
  •   The real reason men love cars
  •   The truth about web design
  •   The problem with big agencies
  •   5,000 people can’t be wrong
  •   The war against communication
  •   Why purchased email lists are a scam/hoax/lie
  •   The Death of Retail: What it means for you
  •   How we achieved a 75% open rate
  •   Last call: Discount expires in 3 hours
  •   Take action: Call your reps today
  •   Top 7 SEO mistakes you’re making
  •   [Celebrity]’s secret to happiness/success/etc.
  •   Avoid these top 3 SEO mistakes
  •   Imagine being able to travel the world

For more ideas, we recommend browsing popular sites like Forbes, Huffington Post, The Guardian, and any other news-y website and jotting down whatever catches your eye.

14. Less is more

Last but not least, remember: When it comes to email marketing, less is more. Throughout our years in the business, we’ve seen time and time again that companies which send out a few strong, valuable emails receive more opens, more traffic, and more conversions than companies which send out constant emails that only plug their services.

As we all know from being on the receiving end of an aggressive email campaign, there’s nothing more irritating than receiving an email notification that might be from a prospect or friend, only to discover that it’s yet another ad. The key to a successful email marketing campaign is moderation—crafting a few powerful messages which give your readers something of value every time they click.

As an added bonus, when you spend less time pumping out emails, you can focus more of your marketing budget on techniques like landing page optimization, A/B testing, mobile user acquisition, and Ecommerce conversion.

Launch your email marketing campaign today with Etailpro

Ready to launch your next great email marketing campaign? Etailpro is ready to help with professional on-site A/B testing, content creation, exit popup development, and over 15 years of industry experience. We’ve launched thousands of on-site marketing campaigns, and know what it takes to transform your website into a conversion powerhouse. If you’re ready to get started, schedule a free demo today.