How to Write Effective Subject Lines

How to Write Effective Subject Lines

According to Statista, there were 3.9 billion email users worldwide in 2019 and the figure is projected to reach 4.48 billion users in 2024. This indicates that e-mail remains to be an indispensable tool for daily online communication.

While promoting a product may be part of a brand’s email marketing strategy, the strategy may fail if the subject lines stink. Most marketers view subject lines as an afterthought added to an email before hitting send.

The subject line gives life to the entire email. It determines whether a reader will open the email and that’s the most important first step.

It’s every digital marketer’s wish to have their emails generate potential leads time and again. Discussed below are some of the proven steps that can help spice up subject lines and improve the engagement of an email.

1. Always Start With the Subject Line When Composing the Email

Regardless of what marketers say, people will always judge their emails by the subject lines. The amount of attention paid to the subject line will determine whether an email serves its right purpose. Many marketers test different email subject lines as a way of optimizing the performance of their emails. It’s increasingly important to make the subject line as compelling as possible for people to open the email.

The very first impression a recipient gets of an email is the subject line. Marketers can use them to make their emails stand out from others in the recipients’ inbox.

One of the most common mistakes made by people when composing an email is to omit the subject line. It’s easy for an email to get lost or go unread in a recipient’s inbox if it comes with a blank subject line.

It’s best to first write the subject line and then proceed with the body of the email. A subject line not only determines the likelihood of an email being opened but also how the recipient will act after reading the email. Most people may delete an email with a crappy subject line. Or they’ll get irritated by it since they don’t know what it’s meant to convey. Think about your own usage of email. Are you opening up emails from Nigerian Princes?

Beginning a draft with the subject line helps set the tone of the email and ensures the reader doesn’t ignore it. Below are some examples of a compelling email subject line:

Udemy: “New Year, New You! Make Your First Website”

Beardbrand: “[New Video!] Dealing with Beard Patches”

2. Begin the Subject Line With the Most Important Words

According to PEW Research Center, 81 percent of Americans own smartphones. This means that a huge chunk of the population reads emails on their smartphones. Since less text is visible on smaller screens, it’s best to start the subject line with the most important information.

Compelling details of the subject line may be cut off due to the screen size of the phone a recipient is using.

Filler words make the subject line look bad and unprofessional. Avoid using filler words such as “thanks”, nice to meet you, or “hello”, which are best suited for the email’s body.

Do inform the readers what’s inside the email. For instance, if a visitor downloaded an offer that made available on a website, a compelling subject line may sound like this:

Digital marketer: “Your cookbook awaits inside!”

Wish: “Everyone is obsessed with this $1 button controlled wireless selfie stick.”

Using this type of wording makes it clear that the recipient should anticipate something in the email.

3. Avoid Using All Caps or Overusing Exclamation Points

Exclamation points are a great way to capture a reader’s attention. However, using them in excess may make a subject line appear as if it’s trying too hard to capture the recipient’s attention.

Avoid, at all costs, using all caps in the subject line. All caps may make the email appear as if the sender is telling the reader.

A subject line with the words, “Clearance sale is on now!!!!!” or “YOUR SHOPPING VOUCHER AWAITS YOU” won’t get an email opened. In fact, the recipient may treat it as spam and get annoyed at the sender.

A report by Radicati suggests that 85 percent of respondents prefer receiving an email with the subject line written in all-lowercase versus all capitals. All caps looks spammy and might land you in the Spam folder, anyways.

Instead of using disruptive techniques to grab the reader’s attention, it’s best to use delightful language, establish relevancy and, personalize the email.

Great examples of email subject lines without caps or overused exclamation marks:

Jo-Ann Stores: “Today only! Big Savings on 2 Singer Sewing Machines.”

Violet Grey: “Get Them Before They’re Gone”

4. Use Simple, Focused, and Concise Language

It’s best to focus a marketing email on one action, which the subject line should highlight. Offer one takeaway. Specify how to deliver it. And indicate how readers can make great use of it will help keep the email focused and concise.

An email stands a chance of enticing its recipients if the subject line has clear and concise language instead of flowery and complex language. It’s advisable to think about the benefits the recipients will derive from the email. Making these benefits clear may help persuade the reader into clicking through the email.

For instance, a subject line that sounds like:

“Increase sports betting profits in your SportsBet dashboard. Here is how to do that.”

won’t be as appealing as one that sounds like:

“Double your sports betting profits by 50% today.”

Some great examples of short, sweet, and focused email subject lines are:

Zillow: “What Can You Afford?”

Uber: “Ride into 2020 with Uber.”

5. Create Actionable Subject Lines

Just like calls-to-action, subject lines build anticipation for people to click on a specific item. Beginning them with action verbs will help increase their likelihood of being more enticing to the readers. The more enticed the recipients are, the more clickable the emails become.

Action verbs add a vibrant touch to the subject line. They instill a sense of excitement and urgency, which is crucial to a marketer looking to inspire more readers to click on an email.

For instance, an email welcoming new subscribers to a mailing list should read:

“Enjoy fitness and nutrition tips from our team of experts.”

It would sound less actionable and more generic if it was written:

“Fitness and nutrition tips from our team of experts” .

The first email uses the verb “enjoy” to sensualize what the readers will experience after subscribing to the sender’s mailing list.

Another example of an actionable subject line that pushes people to take action is:

Amazon: “You’re invited: Getting Started with Containers on AWS Webinars (25-28 May).”

6. Caption the Subject Line With Words That Make the Reader Feel Important

While the attention span of readers tends to vary, emails with long subject lines don’t get opened. It’s advisable to use at most 50 characters to ensure that the reader goes through the whole subject line.

Don’t include frivolous details and words in the subject line. For instance, a subject line like “Your Order” is better than “Order #737737483768 has been received and is currently being processed”.

The same applies to the body of the email. Avoid including the words “newsletter” or “broadcast” when writing the subject line. Such words have a higher likelihood of reducing the open rate of the message. These words suggest to the readers that an email is generic. Nobody cares about your newsletter. They care about reading a relevant and valuable email sent to them at the right time.

A short subject line should infuse the psychology of exclusivity.

Make the recipients feel like the email was written for them and nobody else. The subject line should make them feel chosen to increase their chances of clicking through the email. With the right wording, readers can feel special and, in turn, be motivated to take a specific action.

Examples of heart-touching subject lines include:

American Eagle: “1 DAY just for you, Tim!”

Amazon: “M3 – Get deals tailored for you.”

7. Add a Familiar Sender Name

Readers are more drawn to an email with a familiar sender name than one with an anonymous or unfamiliar name. A realistic sender name (like [email protected], for example) is less intimidating and more inviting to the recipients once the email reaches their inboxes.

It’s advisable that marketers use their own name in the sender’s address if they’ve already familiarized themselves with the recipients in a previous message. If it’s a business, the customers will believe that they’re working with an individual rather than an entire organization.

Most people are likely to ignore an email with a sender’s name they’re unfamiliar with even if the subject line is compelling. Readers may ignore such an email if they don’t know who it’s from. The lack of familiarity makes it difficult for them to believe that the email will encourage a friendly conversation.

Marketers should avoid using the automated “no-reply sender name since it portrays them as unfamiliar senders to the recipients of their emails. No one wants to open an email with such an address since there’s a likelihood it may be spam. Some may think that it’s a robot that sent them the email.

An example of such an address is “[email protected].” A realistic sender name like “[email protected]” is less intimidating and more inviting to the recipients once the email reaches their inboxes.

8. Time the Subject Line in the Right Way

Timing is everything when it comes to email marketing. An email’s subject line can help add the aspect of time and create a sense of urgency and importance.

Consider this example:

A fashion retailer that sends an email with this subject line, “Final Hours! 40% off Soaps and Lotions”, is likely to engage with the readers looking for lotions if they feel a sense of urgency.

Great examples of time-bound subject lines:

Warby Parker: “Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring”

King Arthur Flour: “The timer’s going off on your cart!”

Timing is everything. A subject line that’s written in the right way can motivate the reader to open an email since it creates a sense of urgency. Including a call-to-action in the email’s body will help tell the reader to attend to the urgency by performing a particular task.

9. Include Personalization Tokens in the Wording

Creating rapport with the reader should be among the things a marketer should aim for when sending out emails. Personalization tokens, which make the most out of locations and names, help add a sense of rapport in an email.

Mention the recipients’ name so the email will feel like it’s written to them. People like it when you mention their names. It feels more personal, as if the email is for them.

Besides building rapport, personalization tokens are a great way to drive more click-through rates. Recipients are more receptive and willing to take action on emails with subject lines that mention their first names.

For instance, streaming service Netflix uses personalization tokens (names) to remind their customers with subscriptions that are nearing the expiration date.

Netflix: “Brenda, your Netflix free trial is almost coming to an end.”

With this example, it’s clear that the sender timed the message and personalized it right.

Overusing the personalization tokens may make the subject line sound creepy.

Add little bits of them, here and there, to indicate to the recipients that you know more about them than just their addresses. Second-person pronouns such as “your” and “you” can also work in the place of personalization tokens. They’ll sound like the sender is addressing a recipient directly.

For example:

SumoMe: “If you have a website, you need this tool.”


10. Not Making Fake Promises

Email subject lines are supposed to help senders promise the reader something in the message. Marketers should always ensure they stick to the end of the bargain. Making false promises isn’t a good way to go.

The audience may get annoyed by such behavior and lose trust in the brand the sender is trying to market.

If a brand’s emails fail to fulfill the promise made to their readers, guess what will happen? Yep, the emails will have significantly higher unsubscribe rates and a lower click-through rates.

Examples of subject lines that make fake promises include:

Shady marketer: Get rid of acne in two days with this one weird trick!

The Bottom Line: Writing Effective Subject Line Is Essential for Email Marketing Success

Ultimately, emails that aren’t opened by the recipients aren’t seen. The goal here is to get more recipients to open the email based on what’s written on the subject line and take action. Each character in the subject line matters so make it count.

Subject lines are an ideal place to start improving a company’s email marketing performance. They should always be optimized to the particular audience to whom they’re addressed.

With these tips in mind, it’s now a lot easier to compose compelling email subject lines. Email marketers should start learning how to improve their subject lines by looking at how top brands communicate with them via email. Study your own inbox and emulate best practices for their own benefit.