Your Definitive Guide to Writing Awesome Email Subject Lines

- by Alyson Shane

First impressions matter.

This is especially true when it comes to email subject lines. A well-written subject line will inspire your readers to not just open your email newsletter, but also to click through and read more. 

However, if your emails are lacklustre then all they'll convey to your readers is that your content isn't worth their time. That sucks - not just for you, but for your reader!

So today let's stop the spread of bad email subject lines, and turn those so-so subject lines into subject lines with pizzaz (aka: earn high drive Open Rates and drive those click-throughs that are an integral part of our inbound marketing strategy.)

Let's dive right in:

Why Do Subject Lines Matter?

To understand why subject lines are so important, think about how you feel when you receive an email: what's the first thing you see? 

The subject line; and whatever that subject line says determines how excited you are to open the email, right? Right - and this applies to everyone else out there, too: it's often the determining factor in whether or not a reader is excited to open your email.  

In fact, Convince & Convert concluded that 35% of marketing emails are opened based on the subject line alone. This means that your subject lines are your first (and best) tactic to get readers to engage with your content. 

What Makes a "Good" Email Subject Line Good?

When it comes to creating email subject lines that drive action it's imperative that we tap into a few areas that resonate with our readers. Those include:

Stating the Benefit

How will your reader benefit from opening your email? Are you offering them a great deal; providing them with info that will move their business forward; or teaching them something new?

By telling your readers what they can expect inside your email you can encourage them to open it right away. Some examples of headlines that state the benefit of the email include:

  • Become a better public speaker (benefit: becoming a stronger public speaker.)
  • PowerPoint hacks for your next presentation (benefit: PPT tips.)
  • Reduce meeting length with this simple trick (benefit: make meetings shorter.)

Getting Emotional

Think of your subject like an article headline: would you click on an article with your email subject line? If not, it may be because your subject line isn't emotional enough.

When we say "get emotional" we don't mean throw a tantrum like Kim K's kid at fashion week. We mean using words that appeal to a reader's emotions and which incentivize them to take action based on how they feel. These can include:

  • Happiness. Use your subject lines to make people feel happy, or joyous about something.
  • Curiosity. Pique readers' curiosity with an enticing email subject line.
  • Urgency. What can you say that will make your reader want to take action right now?
  • Excitement. How can you make your readers feel excited to read your email?

This may sound all well and good, but what are some rhetorical tactics you can use to actually convey those emotions in your subject line? Let's look at a few ways:

Subject Lines That Inspire: Excitement

Nobody wants to open a boring email, and if your subject doesn't let your readers know that something exciting is inside then your email might find it's way straight to the Trash bin. Get your readers excited to discover what's inside by using these tactics:

  • Use action verbs. Think back to your English class and tap into those action words! We love ThriveHive's list of powerful words for powerful email subject lines
  • Make your emails sound exclusive. Copy like "can you keep a secret" and "just for you" will make readers feel like they have the inside scoop by opening your email.
  • Use powerful statistics. Use accurate but interesting or surprising statistics like "marketers who use this tactic see a 72% increase in conversions" to make readers feel excited about what's inside your email.  

Subject Lines That Inspire: Curiosity

Don't over-explain in your subject line! The best subject lines are ones which leave a little to the imagination and leave readers wondering what's next. Use some of these examples to create your own:

  • Start with the end. Use subject lines that ask a question, like: "how did this marketer wow CEOs at their company?"
  • Start with an open-ended question. Subject lines like "what's new with us..." are perfect openers to inspire curiosity because they can only be answered by opening your email. 
  • Use cliffhangers. Start your subject lines with sentences that don't tell the whole story, like: "Matt used these 6 steps to increase his email open rates..."

Subject Lines That Inspire: Urgency

Urgency inspires them to take the action you want them to take right now, and is one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book. Some examples of how to use urgency in your subject lines include:

  • Giving your reader a deadline. Using countdowns ("only 3 days left!") and copy that implies a limited time offer ("before time runs out," "before it's too late." etc.)
  • Tap into your reader's FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is a big driver, so use your subject lines to imply that they'll miss out on something amazing if they don't take action. 

Subject Lines That Inspire: Happiness

Making your readers feel happy or joyful is one of the best ways to make your emails memorable and to inspire them to take the action you want. By making your readers feel good you're helping them associate those feelings with your brand, which can yield real long-term ROI. 

Some ways you can craft your subject lines to inspire happiness include:

  • Use humour. Making people laugh is one of the easiest ways to make them feel happy, so get creative with those opening lines! 
  • Don't be afraid of emojis. Many businesses avoid emojis because they worry they look "unprofessional" but they can make a big difference in earning those Email Opens. 

The key to writing successful email subject lines is to write with intentionality. Determine what your email is about before you write it, which will save you time trying to determine the kind of emotion you want to evoke in your reader.

Examples of Great Subject Lines

We've put together a collection of some of our favourite email subject line collections so you can see what a killer subject line looks like. Take a look: 

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