It’s all about the email subject line – right? If you create it correctly then riches, fame, and glory will follow.
I wish it were that easy.
There are many moving pieces when it comes to an email campaign and the subject line is just one of them. It just so happens that it’s the first one subscribers see so it gets a lot of attention.
Craft it properly and you set yourself up for victory. If you do it wrong then you’re asking to fail.
So how do you craft a subject line? I’ve already written an in-depth article about headlines so I won’t go into it here. Instead, I’ll give you a bunch of practical examples to get your creative juices flowing.
What’s the big deal with subject lines?
Before we dive into the meat of the post I think it’s important to shed a bit of light on why subject lines matter.
Imagine you’re walking down Main Street looking for a store that sells shoes. You see a few that sell clothes, some that sell food, an interesting looking coffee shop, and even one that sells cats. The temptation – I know.
Image of Cat gif
You keep going and run into the part of town that sells shoes. There are three shops, side by side. One looks run-down so you cross that off your list immediately. One looks decent and one looks amazing.
Which one do you walk into?
The one that looks amazing of course.
What you don’t know is that the one with a rundown appearance is the town’s best-kept secret. They have unique shoes you can’t get anywhere else which are handcrafted from the finest materials.
You’ll never find out because you went into the shoe store that looked amazing and already bought a pair. No trace of buyer’s remorse here so no reason to even think about the other stores.
What if I told you Main Street is your subscriber’s inbox and the appearance of those stores are the subject lines of the emails they get. Even if you have the best email content and unbeatable offers, the number of people who see it is directly proportional to how well you craft your subject line.
Can you see why it matters now?
Before testing subject lines, segment your list
A word for the wise. These subject lines, while effective in specific situations, won’t work for every type of audience at every moment. Segmenting your list based on criteria that matter to you will help you send the right email to the right person.
Let’s look at the different types of email subject lines.
Question-based email subject lines
Our brains have a unique relationship with questions. When we’re asked something, we automatically try to find out the answer. It doesn’t matter if we’re interested in the question or the person asking. It’s a response that happens at an almost subconscious level.
Email subject lines that lead with a question tap into this tendency and get the wheels of our minds turning. If the possible answer is interesting enough, it’ll make your subscriber stop and click on the email.
Questions can range from whimsical to shocking or unexpected to hyper-relevant (which is a function of segmentation). The key is to give them a hint of what you want while keeping it vague enough to get them to click.
Take the first example below. It’s clear that you want their mailing address but it’s not clear why you want it. The reader will need to click to find out.
- Can you send me your address, please?
- Have you ever done this?
- What will you watch tonight?
- Where do you dream of going?
- Would you like an extra $8,127.52 this month?
- Going somewhere?
- What’s your sign?
- Trouble getting started?
- Where will meditation take you?
- Ready to shed weight like bacon grease on a hot skillet?
- Is it something I said?
Scarcity/FOMO/urgency subject lines
Scarcity, FOMO, and urgency are all powerful tools when used properly and sparingly. If you use it to mislead people then they’ll opt-out or ignore your future emails. If you don’t use it at all then you’re leaving money on the table which no one wants.
These principles work best when there’s a clear limitation or deadline. It’s not enough to say act fast or you’ll miss out. What are they missing out on and when will it happen? Get as specific as you can so people know what they stand to lose (or gain).
- 24 hours only: Cyber Monday sale
- Cart closes in 8 hours, act now
- Nomad gear is selling out quick
- [Order update] shipping info needed – your PopLamp is may disappear
- Only 200 accounts left. Save up to 40% with GetResponse
- Buy one get one free before midnight EST
- Clearance sale ends in 5…4….3…2….
- This is goodbye…
- You’re late but we saved one for you
- URGENT: please open ASAP
Curiosity email subject lines
Humans, by nature, are curious. It’s that quality that allowed us to conquer the earth and build sprawling civilizations. It’s why we have electricity, computers, and the internet. It’s part of who and what we are.
It’s no wonder curiosity has been the source of great joy and great pain. It’s also no wonder that curiosity makes for a powerful email subject line. What is something your subscribers can’t help but learn more about or see the result of?
The following subject lines will help you get started.
- Something new is coming on black Friday
- A Howler twist on a classic
- Break through the noise with this email strategy
- Only click if you have an open mind
- It’s finally here. Open to get access.
- It all started when I opened the email…
- See why someone makes a Wix site every few seconds
- I want it – said everyone
- Guess what just arrived
- See how James built an email list of 10k in 90 days
Funny subject lines
It doesn’t matter if you have an irreverent brand, a serious one, or fall somewhere in the middle. A bit of humor is welcome as long as it fits the situation. Even the president cracks jokes sometimes.
If you don’t have a brand that cracks jokes, email, which is a more personal medium, could be the perfect time to start testing your voice. Your brand of humor could be a welcome break from the seriousness in the inbox or contrast to other brands in your space.
- Oops, we got a bit excited
- Ah hell, let’s just give away free stuff
- Razors for a dollar? Genius.
- How about we Netflix without the chill?
- Just press the buy button already
- Warning: we cannot guarantee the safety of items in your cart
- You were waiting for the abandonment discount – weren’t you?
- I like you better than my niece right now
- Even Amazon doesn’t have this (forget about eBay)
- This + spreadsheets is better than Wine + cheese
Personal subject lines
Personalization is touted from the rooftops as being the final frontier within email marketing. While I tend to agree that it’s important, it’s not a silver bullet. Instead, look at it as part of the subject line that’ll grab attention.
Another thing to keep in mind is that personalization is more than putting someone’s name in the subject line. It also encompasses events, geographic information, and preferences. That’s another reason why demographic, geographic, behavioral, and psychographic segmentation is so important.
- Exclusive gift for your 1st anniversary
- Open to see the styles curated for you
- The entrepreneur’s guide to networking
- James, need help deciding?
- Dante, you’re going to love this. Really.
- Events in Austin to die for
- Dante, don’t share this 40% off coupon. It’s our secret
- Did you forget something James?
- Something special for your birthday
- For Brandon’s eyes only.
It’s been said that you can never be too rich, beautiful, or healthy. Avarice is considered a sin but most of us aren’t 100% altruistic. We do things so we or those we care about can come out on top. That’s not to say you push everyone else down along the way.
When you appeal to this natural tendency for people to do things that’ll help themselves, your open rates can explode. Excuse me for the showy adjective, that’s just how powerful this technique can be.
The key here is to appeal to personal gain or greed in a way that’s believable. For example, if you have an audience that started a website yesterday, telling them they can build a million-dollar business in a month is not believable.
If you have an audience of veteran business owners, telling them they can make an extra $500,000/year is plausible.
- $10,000 course launch? Sign me up
- $450000,extra revenue this year
- Want to be an online course launch guru?
- Luxury without the price tag
- Exclusive access
- Free shipping. Act fast.
- $3,000 in training for free?
- Subscribe now and get 6 months free
- Double your business in 2020?
- Save 98% on the top courses
- Thousands of courses, one monthly membership.
People behave differently online and part of that behavior we’ve come to accept is cart abandonment. Stats vary but it’s over 50% in all cases which means it’s a big problem.
At times, people abandon carts just to get the discounts in the follow-up email. Whatever the case, it’s necessary to try your hand at bringing some of those people back to your website to complete their purchase.
The following subject lines will help you capture otherwise lost revenue while sharing your brand personality.
- The timer on your cart is ticking
- Really? You know you want these
- Not cool…
- Did you forget something
- Warning: gremlins will eat your bag
- John, we’re still holding your bag
- Should we throw the cart out?
- First rule: Never leave your items behind
- Your bag is going, going….
Clear subject lines
There are times when it’s more important to be clear than clever or show off your brand personality. When COVID-19 was being recognized as a true pandemic, brands sent out clear messages that let people know exactly what the email was about.
Clear subject lines are useful when you have a captive audience or when being clear is the best way to capture attention.
- Todays the day. Get $60 off.
- Our efforts to keep local businesses afloat
- A great playlist at the touch of a button
- How to build a mailing list fast
- 3-steps to better running form
- Releasing our summer collection today!
- New Jobs for you
- These are our most popular jeans
- Email automation tricks to try
- This is what Juneteenth stands for
Announcement subject lines
Similar to being clear, announcements in and of themselves can be a powerful tool for generating a higher open rate. It works well when people have been anticipating the thing you’re announcing.
For example, if you’ve been teasing the launch of a new collection then announcements can work well. If you’re announcing something people have never heard of then it’ll likely be ignored.
- reMarkable 2 delayed
- Snow Peak’s mysterious micro cabin comes to America
- Restock alert. Your favorites are back
- inVision just got a facelift. See what’s changed
- The new remote work guide that’s actually useful
- New Backpack alert // The squad 4 backpack
- New arrivals just in time for father’s day
- Introducing new French press colors
- Figma update: 7 new features to try
- 25 new short films for you to watch
I can write email subject lines all day. So can you.
That’s the easy part. The hard part is knowing when and how to use each of them for maximum impact. This guide has given you an idea of how to use the different types of subject lines, when to use them, and dropped a few solid examples you can swipe.
It’s your turn to tweak what you’ve learned to fit your specific situation. Let me know how you craft subject lines in the comments or your favorite from the list and don’t forget to share.