A successful email campaign starts with a killer subject line.
But the art of crafting one is far from easy.
In this article, I first cover how to create a great subject line and then I show you 25 of the best email subject lines I’ve seen, why they work, and how you can craft your own.
What We’ll Cover:
You’ve just crafted your best email yet.
The copy is keyword-rich, the images are compelling, and the layout is easy on the eyes. Everything works in unison—from the typography to the color scheme, there’s not a doubt in your mind that this email is going to be worth all the trouble it took to create it. You click “SEND” and brace yourself for the impending sky-high open rates.
But the results are less than spectacular. In fact, it’s every marketer’s worst nightmare. You and your team devoted hours to launching the perfect email campaign only for a small segment of your audience to read it.
Contrary to popular belief, your subject line is your first (and in many cases, your last) impression on users.
One could even make the argument that your email subject line is more valuable than your email copy. After all, a great email is meaningless if it never sees the light of day. If nobody opens it, the email will never stand a chance at accomplishing the goals behind it.
However, coming up with the best email subject lines is a science so precise, it borders on art.
Just like with a blog post or newsletter, your subject line should never be an afterthought. It’s just as important as the rest of your content, acting as its own mini-marketing campaign.
Email Subject Lines By the Numbers
Before we get into the best subject lines for emails and email subject line best practices, let’s first take a look at the importance of subject lines to your email marketing strategy through the lens of numerical data:
- The average open rate for emails is 17.92%.
- The average click-through rate is 2.69%.
- 33% of email recipients claim that they only open emails that have catchy subject lines.
- 69% of people will report an email as spam based solely on the subject line.
- Companies that incorporate emojis into their email subject lines have a higher open rate of as much as 56% over companies who don’t.
- Brands that use interactive content in their email subject lines yield a 70% higher conversion rate versus 36% of those who use static content.
- Email subject lines using the word “alert” are opened 61.8% more often.
- Email subject lines with the word “tomorrow” are opened 10% more often.
- Your email is 10% more likely to be opened if your subject line includes the word “free.”
- Personalizing email subject lines can lead to open rates as high as 50%.
Email Subject Line Best Practices
There are seemingly infinite schools of thought when it comes to creating slam dunk subject lines.
Today, we’ll be covering eight different types of effective email subject lines that when implemented correctly, can take your email marketing strategy to the next level.
Keep your Target Audience Top of Mind
The most important thing to be aware of when you’re drafting an email subject line is knowing who your audience is and what action you want them to take next.
Is the outcome a sale? Are you offering a promotion? Or is this a re-engagement campaign where you want to reach out to your subscribers who have lost interest? Your final goal will determine the course of your subject line strategy. Be clear about what your email is trying to achieve from the get-go and why subscribers should care.
Understanding the goal of the email will make the process of writing the subject line much more straightforward.
Less is More
If you want to ensure your email doesn’t end up in the recipient’s spam folder, avoid using generic, confusing, misleading, or over-the-top email subject lines.
The highest-performing subject lines are often short, informative, and to the point. It should set the expectation for the reader and explain what’s in the email.
Subject lines will typically get cut off if they’re too long, particularly when viewing them on mobile devices. And, since the majority of email opens are taking place on mobile, we recommend using subject lines with 50 characters or less to ensure the users scanning your emails will read the entire subject thing.
This same rule applies to regular emails.
Don’t waste your time adding the word “update” or “newsletter” in the subject line. Recent studies have even suggested that these words can decrease the message’s open rate, since it informs readers the email is associated with a series, and therefore, they can keep an eye out for the next one.
Under-Promise and Over-Deliver
Think of your email subject line as a promise you’re making to your reader. You are letting them know what they can expect in your message, and it’s crucial that you deliver.
These days, people receive a staggering number of emails per day. To boost your chances of getting them opened, avoid making false promises.
Deceiving your subscribers is no way to earn goodwill. Not only will this displease your audience to no end but they’ll learn not to trust your subject lines in the future.
Tell Them What’s Inside
Your email subject line is a teaser meant to entice your audience to act.
Take the opportunity to share something of value with them. This may be your new e-book or limited-time discount promotion. Let your audience know that by taking the time to open your email, there’s something valuable waiting for them inside.
This far outperforms email subject lines that simply say “thank you,” because it makes it clear that there’s a tangible benefit that they won’t want to miss out on.
Create a Sense of Urgency
Think of a subject line that will help get your recipients to do something. They must feel the pressure to take immediate action. You can do this by depicting that the event or sale is time-sensitive.
Think of the classic 90s infomercials that urged viewers to “Act Now!” While we wouldn’t recommend you use that exact language in your content, communicating urgency and scarcity in an email subject line can help compel readers to click, especially when phrased strategically.
Subject lines like “5 Hours Left to Save Big” or “Act Fast and Save 15%” will make your audience feel like time is running out. Try to use these subject lines sparingly to avoid coming off as “the brand that cried wolf.”
Much of the time, the best email subject lines work because they make readers feel that they will benefit from the message inside.
Other times, it’s perfectly acceptable to maintain some sense of mystery, mainly if it pique’s the recipient’s natural curiosity and interest. Readers will be compelled to open the email to get more information, resulting in higher open rates.
But, always make sure the subject line remains consistent with your brand. If you go too obscure, it could end up making its way into their spam folder. Instead, you must work to strike the delicate balance between enigmatic and relevant.
Personalize, Personalize, Personalize
No two subscribers are the same, which means the emails you send them shouldn’t be either.
Marketers have never had so much subscriber information at their fingertips. They can easily learn about their preferences, jobs, or general likes and dislikes. So, when you plan on sending an email, cater it to the individual.
The good news is that personalizing your email subject line can be broken down into various categories, including first names, birthdays and anniversaries, transaction history, and location.
Be Relevant and Timely
Ultimately, no matter how intriguing or creative, a subject line cannot influence recipients if it’s not relevant or timely.
Much of the time, when we subscribe to an email list, it’s because we want information or to learn more about a given topic.
Similar to appealing to your audience’s interest, crafting email subject lines that feature trending topics or timely headlines can help you position your brand as more credible within your industry.
Be sure to pay close attention to the sending schedule. For instance, you could send something like “Top 10 Rooftop Bars to Visit Tonight.” In this case, you’d want to send this out on a Friday or Saturday morning, because that’s when most people are making weekend plans.
25 Email Subject Lines That Work
A creative and engaging email is one of the most powerful marketing tools at your disposal.
To help you get the most out of them and win your readers over with your next email marketing campaign, we’ve compiled a list of 25 of the best email subject lines and why they work:
1. “Work friends” – Inc.
Why it Works: While it hardly seems like much effort was put into this strategy, Inc. did a fantastic job keeping its subject line brief, while still making it vague enough to urge the recipient to click through to get the full message.
2. “How to choose the PERFECT book title” – Chandler Bolt
Why it Works: Not only does this email subject line provide a clear benefit right off the bat, but it takes all the guesswork out of figuring out what recipients can gain from opening it.
3. “go the $#@^ to sleep” – Margo (See?)
Why it Works: While this type of humor won’t land for every audience, if your brand is known for being a bit more casual, a little shock value may get you the open rates you’re looking for.
4. “You definitely don’t have these yet (and they’re 30% off)” – J. Crew Factory
Why it Works: This example induces the feeling of FOMO (fear or missing out) from J. Crew leaves readers asking, “What am I missing?” Here, J.Crew Factory combines both a sense of curiosity with a hefty discount incentive to fuel open rates.
5. “TIME’S ALMOST UP: Final hours for 30-50% off EVERYTHING” – EXPRESS
Why it Works: EXPRESS takes a more aggressive, yet targeted approach to create urgency by specifying just how much time remains, and uses all-caps to emphasize the message.
6. “Why guys never ask for directions..” – Chandler Bolt
Why it Works: In so few words, this example from Chandler Bolt introduces the first part of an interesting story. He indirectly informs subscribers that by clicking on the email, they’ll find out the reason behind the age-old question “why guys never ask for directions.”
7. “Now is not the time, Ramona” – Laura Belgray
Why it Works: When users casually scroll through their emails, seeing their first name makes the message feel like it was created specifically for them. It feels more thoughtful and personal.
8. “Become a content master” – ON24
Why it Works: ON24 taps into the desires of readers who want to become the best content marketers possible with this simple, yet effective subject line.
9. “STOCK UP! 20% off all your favorites” – Ulta Beauty
Why it Works: Ulta Beauty uses the first bit of real estate in the subject line to draw the eye to the words “STOCK UP!” and playfully shows just how good this deal is.
10. “Welcoming You with a Sweet Treat Inside” – LuckyBrand
Why it Works: LuckyBrand’s welcome email goes beyond the conventional greeting, encouraging recipients to open the email with a special treat, or in their case, a discount code.
11. “$15 to get over the hump” – Postmates
Why it Works: Postmates made a great choice to place the deal first in the subject line, so that recipients can immediately see that they’ll be getting a $15 voucher on their Wednesday order.
12. “Wild Places. Wilder Women.” – REI
Why it Works: REI most likely segmented their contact list to send this targeted email only to their female contacts. Even this minimal kind of personalization helps engage contacts and boost your email open rate.
13. “You left this behind…” – Rent the Runway
Why it Works: This subject line may be used often, but that doesn’t take away from its effectiveness. Engaging abandoned cart emails like Rent the Runway’s can help get a prospect’s shopping addiction back on track.
14. “Vacation Mode: On” – Efficacy Clothing Company
Why it Works: This small clothing company quickly engages recipients by launching this email campaign in the beginning of summer and hitting the vacation vibes their contacts are feeling.
15. “Your home awaits: Romantic Apartment -near Acropolis” – Airbnb
Why it Works: This is a unique take on a simple reminder email. Instead of simply saying “Don’t forget about this home you bookmarked,” Airbnb puts an idealistic, personalized twist on the update.
16. “You’ve scored 15% off (but it won’t last)” – Society6
Why it Works: This is an excellent example of creating urgency without relying on exclamation points, all-caps, or the words “today” or “now.”
17. “Your beauty issues, solved” – Sephora
Why it Works: Who doesn’t want to solve their beauty issues? Without getting into specifics, Sephora outlines an obvious benefit to opening their email.
18. “Find This Year’s Goal” – Peloton
Why it Works: Knowing that people tend to let their workout habits slip during the holidays, Peloton offers to help their subscribers get back on track in the new year.
19. “Just A Thank You Note (And A 30% Off Coupon)” – MacPaw
Why it Works: Thanking your customers is always a great way to show your appreciation. But, a thank you gift to go along with it worked wonders for MacPaw’s open rates.
20. “Goodbyes are Hard…” – Framebridge
Why it Works: This bittersweet subject line gets to the point using just three words, attempting to win back some of their subscribers and purge their email list of subscribers who are no longer interested.
21. “Why I’ll Live in These Boots Till I Die.” – Thursday Boot Company
Why it Works: This emphatic statement is made even more potent by the fact that when opened, recipients found out these words pulled directly from a customer’s review.
22. “Ready to Meditate?” – Headspace
Why it Works: This email takes a refreshing approach to the standard welcome email by diving right into the purpose of the app.
23. “A good pizza advice” – Clark from InVision
Why it Works: Who doesn’t love puns? The subject line undoubtedly makes readers curious enough to open to find out the connection between pizza and design.
24. “You’re missing out on points.” – JetBlue
Why it Works: JetBlue makes a matter-of-fact statement, while capitalizing on the psychological principle that is virtually impossible to resist is the fear of missing out.
25. “Stop wasting money on ink” – HP
Why it Works: HP understands its buyer persona and uses this subject line to address those pain points and urge its subscribers to open their emails by offering a solution.
Tying It All Together
What do all of these email subject lines have in common? In short, they capture your attention.
They leave readers pondering a question they can only answer by opening the email.
Now, it’s time to ask yourself how you can use your content capabilities to ask the questions your readers are yearning for you to answer and tease them just enough so they can’t help but click.