It’s really easy to screw up email subject lines. Too often, entrepreneurs and marketers go with something obscure and friendly — only to find themselves blacklisted.
That’s not what you want. You think you’re saying, “Hi!” but what you’re really saying is, “I didn’t put any thought into this.
With that said, email subject lines aren’t terribly difficult to nail. It’s all part of the conversion process, and if you have a solid strategy in place, you’ll get it done.
Let’s look at the nuts and bolts of email subject lines and how you can optimize them for conversions in your own marketing strategy.
Email marketing statistics and curious facts
Did you know that the first email was sent by a computer engineer in 1971? In other words, email has a history dating back nearly 50 years.
Of course, most people didn’t have email in 1971. Today, more than 4 billion email accounts exist.
Email’s an easy way to keep in touch with your customers, but it’s also fraught with perils. Only about one-quarter of marketing emails get opened at all, on average, and people only click through about 5 percent of the time.
Those aren’t great odds. That’s why we need to make our email subject lines sing.
What is the subject line of an email?
An email subject line is the first thing people see when they open their email accounts, other than the sender’s name or email address. In other words, it’s what convinces a consumer to read the email — or click the delete button.
Why is it important to have a good subject line in an email?
That little trash-can icon found in most email clients is everyone’s friend. It’s the way you clear out hundreds of emails in one fell swoop.
How many people have time to read 100 emails in a day? Not me. So I delete.
The exception? When a great email subject line catches my eye.
There! What if I’m currently shopping for exercise gear, clothing, electronics, or whatever the sender of this email is trying to sell? I’ll open this email because the subject line promises me a 20 percent discount.
That’s why email subject lines matter. They’re what convince your prospects to open and engage with your emails.
What makes a good email subject line?
Great email subject lines have one thing in common: They make the email irresistible to the target consumer. In other words, every email won’t work on every consumer.
You’re familiar with the conversion funnel, right?
At each point in the funnel, consumers are looking for different types of content.
The top of the funnel, for instance, is wide open. It’s where prospects first become aware of their needs and — if you’re lucky — your brand. They’re looking for instructional information to help them better acquaint themselves with what you offer.
If you send those folks a 20-percent discount, they probably won’t convert. They’re not ready.
You’re better off with a subject line that offers value through education.
That’s why the best email subject lines are tailored for a very specific audience.
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How can I get more emails?
Many entrepreneurs count their email lists among their most prized assets. The more emails you collect, the more opportunities you get to convert consumers.
But how do you collect more emails?
Hello Bar offers an elegant solution.
When you sign into your account, select the goal to “Grow Your Mailing List.”
You can then decide exactly what you want your Hello Bar to say and how you want it to look.
When someone new visits your site, they’ll see the Hello Bar. If your offer is appealing enough, they’ll sign up.
Just make sure your offer is sufficiently appealing to encourage signups. You want visitors to see considerable value in the offer.
Tips to have in mind when creating a great professional email subject line
The best email subject lines communicate something specific and value-driven to your recipients. In other words, they promise something wonderful if the prospect opens the email.
Follow these tips to keep your email subject lines professional, persuasive, and effective.
Engage with self-interest
Your prospects are looking out for number one. It’s trite but true.
You’re looking out for number one, too, but you don’t want to appear that way. In a world full of “meformers” — people who produce content to promote themselves — you want to be an informer. That’s someone who produces content in service of others.
Your emails should provide something of value no matter what.
In marketing, curiosity is a good thing. It means people are interested and want to learn more.
Think about parenting for a second. If you tell your son or daughter that they can’t go into a room in your house because there’s something you don’t want them to see, what happens?
Your kid’s going to spend the next 1,960 hours trying every spy trick in the book to sneak undetected into that room. You’ll have a kid who could join the CIA tomorrow without any training.
We’re hardwired to satisfy curiosity. In your subject lines, tease some piece of valuable information recipients can only get from reading on.
Make an irresistible offer
We talk about offers a lot here on the Hello Bar blog. Offers are what make the marketing wheel turn.
Without an offer, you don’t have any takers. That’s just common sense, right?
But you have to deliver the best offer at the best time. What will convince your readers to click on your email? A subject line that’s impossible to resist.
- Offer a discount code or coupon
- Provide free shipping on any order for a limited time
- Release a new product at half its going rate
- Drastically discount a bundle of products or services
These types of offers compel users to click, if only to explore it further and decide whether or not it’s worth their time — or their cash.
Offer a quick and easy fix
We love things that are simple and easy. What can I say? We, as humans, are pretty lazy.
If you can offer a quick and easy fix for a legitimate problem, your email subscribers will click. They won’t have a choice.
- Want to know how to unclog a sink in 60 seconds?
- Learn how to improve your email subject lines with 2 simple tricks.
- Banish athlete’s foot for good with this one easy hack.
See where I’m going? Tease a simple fix for a legitimate problem.
Create urgency and scarcity
There are two types of urgency and scarcity:
You don’t want to manufacture scarcity or urgency. It might have worked 10 years ago, but consumers have wised up.
Confused? Let me explain.
You’ve probably heard about the department store pricing scandal. Consumers took screenshots of product pages on stores’ websites when the products were on sale and off. The prices were the same.
That’s manufactured urgency. People think they’re getting a hot deal, but they’re not.
Legitimate urgency and scarcity look like this:
- 2 Days Only: 20 percent off your next purchase
- Only 5 Left: Get Them Before They’re Gone
- Memorial Day Sale: Hundreds of Products at 10-50 percent off!
The catch? Each of these promises has to be true.
If you tell your email subscribers that you’re only discounting your product for two days, that sale better end in 48 hours. Similarly, if you say you only have five products left, there better not be 100 stored in boxes in your bedroom closet.
Inform your audience
Education is marketing that flies under the radar.
Gary Vaynerchuk proved this with his Wine Library TV show, which lasted for years on YouTube. Instead of pimping wines from his online store, he tasted wines and gave his honest opinion.
He used honesty and information to get people to buy. They’d listen to his vlog, then visit his website and buy wines based on his recommendations.
In your email subject lines, tell subscribers what you’re going to teach them. Let them know that there’s no sales pitch — just information.
Show social proof
Peer pressure doesn’t end at high school graduation. Today’s influencer marketing boom proves that.
People like to buy things others like. They either want to emulate the person who recommends the product or they trust the person who’s made the suggestion.
Use testimonials, case studies, and lists of clients to further engage your email readers. You can even incorporate these things into your subject lines:
- [Expert’s Name] Agrees We Offer the Best At-Home Plumbing Tools
- [Number of Customers] Can’t Be Wrong!
- We Sold [Number of Products] of [Product] in X Days. See why!
Tease the beginning of a great story
You’ve probably seen the clickbait headlines that often lead to trashy or largely irrelevant stories:
“One Man Age 500 Hot Dogs. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!”
That’s a made-up example (I’m assuming he threw up), but you get the point.
In your email subject lines, tease the start of a compelling story. Readers only get to learn the ending by opening the email.
Most common and successful types of email subject lines
Let’s look at some examples of email subject line types that often prove successful among many types of audiences. You don’t have to use every one, but test several variations to figure out what your target customers respond to.
Fear of missing out subject line
This email subject line generates urgency. It suggests that, if the consumer doesn’t act fast, he or she might not get the benefit of whatever you’re offering.
Also called FOMO, the fear of missing out plays on the very human desire to have and belong. People would rather spend money or time on something that they might not enjoy than lose the opportunity to do something they might love.
Curiosity subject line
A simple question can prove compelling enough to inspire curiosity. The best subject lines establish a premise or ask a question. The email body content reveals the answer.
For instance, you might use a subject line like, “What’s the best email subject line for marketing emails?” It’s implied that you’ll supply the correct answer.
Pain point subject line
Hitting a pain point can also be useful in email subject lines:
- Are you tired of an aching lower back?
- Do you want to get more done every day?
- Stop unwanted text messages for good with this tip
You get the point.
Funny subject line
Remember that humor is subjective. What one person finds hilarious, another might find dull — or worse, offensive. That’s why it’s important to keep humor subtle in your email subject lines.
However, this type of subject line can establish rapport with your audience. It also shows off your personality.
Uber once used the subject line, “Since we can’t all win the lottery …” It was designed to entice potential Uber drivers to sign up and make money starting immediately. The email body tied into the subject line by mentioning a “$5 scratcher.”
Retargeting subject line
A retargeting email allows you to get in touch with someone you’ve contacted previously. For instance, maybe a consumer has just bought one of your products.
You can send an email a few days later to ask if the customer has any questions. Reference the purchase in the subject line: “How are you liking your new water purifier?”
Greed subject line
Greed is simple. You want to appeal to your audience’s desire to save money, such as by hinting at a discount or other financial incentive.
Vanity subject line
Alternatively, appeal to vanity. Tell your prospect how he or she will look better, more athletic, more appealing, or more attractive by opening the email and following your advice.
Start-of-story subject line
As mentioned above, storytelling can be captivating in marketing copywriting. Use the subject line as the hook for your story, then follow up in the body copy.
15 effective email subject line examples
Let’s look at some real-world examples of great email subject lines. You can adjust each of these to fit your industry and target audience, but they should help inspire your next email marketing campaign.
1. X critical questions every [customer type] must know the answer to…
This is a great educational email subject. For instance, it could be, “5 critical questions every runner must know the answer to.” You’re letting your prospect know that you’re delivering high-quality information.
2. Let’s fix your ___ together
Here, we have an inclusive subject line where you fill in the blank. What do you want to help your target audience fix? Their hair? Their computer speed? It all depends on your industry, but this is another educational subject line that works well for top-of-the-funnel prospects.
3. Great news: [Product’s] price just dropped!
Here’s an excellent email subject line for a retargeting email. You know what products your customers have viewed, so send them an email if the price drops so they can reconsider the purchase.
4. Stop wasting money on [blank]
This email subject line can fall into the FOMO, greed, vanity, or pain point categories. You’re telling your prospect that he or she has been spending too much money. The unwritten part of the email is the promise that you’re going to help him or her rectify the situation.
5. Copy our 10 most successful ___ for free
If you’re in the B2B industry, this subject line can work well. You could give away templates, forms, or anything else that will help your target audience. For instance, if you sell marketing services, you could give away your 10 best pieces of ad copy for free.
6. LAST CHANCE! Super sale ends tonight
Remember what I said about urgency, scarcity, and FOMO? This is how you hit on those categories. Let your prospects know that you’re running a sale, but they’d better act fast because it ends very soon.
7. Get these 5 killer ___ tips
When you’re generous with information, your prospects appreciate it. They might even return the favor by buying from you. Don’t be afraid to give away your best content for free, especially if it might mean sales down the road.
8. We are starting in X HOURS
Thinking about hosting a webinar? Going live on Facebook? Creating an Instagram Story? Announce the event via email, but make sure people know they need to act fast. Tell your prospects how they’ll benefit from the event and when to tune in (and how).
9. Finally [get something done]
Here’s one of the best pain point email subject lines. We all have tasks that we’ve procrastinated on for days, weeks, months, or years. Promise to help your prospect finally get it done — preferably faster, cheaper, or more easily than he or she thought possible.
10. [Necessary Task]: Why you are stuck
This is another good example. State a task your audience might struggle with. It could be organizing their offices, cleaning out their closets, buying a new car, or taking their businesses to the next level. Explain why they might feel stuck and how to get — well, unstuck.
11. Steal these [assets] from us
People love email subject lines like this one because they’re a little bit irreverent and completely contradictory to what they think a business might want to do. Do most businesses want you to steal from them? Of course not.
But if you make “stealing” okay, you create a great relationship with your prospect. Offer free assets related to your industry for free.
12. These 6 skills will pay the bills!
I love this subject line because it works on three separate levels.
First, it uses a number. You might already know from research on writing headlines that numbers work extremely well when it comes to getting consumers to click.
I also like it because it suggests education. You’re going to teach your prospect something valuable — for free — which paints you in a generous light.
Lastly, it rhymes. You might think I’m joking, but I’m not. People respond to word play even if they don’t consciously realize it. They’ll take a second look at the subject line just because of the rhyming words “skills” and “bills.”
13. [Strategy] not working? Download this ebook
This subject line is just six (or maybe seven) words long. However, it packs in a ton of information.
From these few words, your prospect gleans several things:
- You understand what they’re trying to do.
- You know that their current strategy isn’t working.
- You have a solution to that problem.
Examples of this headline could be:
- Marketing not working? Download this ebook
- Resistance training not working? Download this ebook
- Recipes not working? Download this ebook
Just make sure you have the mentioned ebook for your prospects to download.
Additionally, you could replace the word “ebook” with any asset. It might be a template, white paper, audio file, video, or something else entirely.
14. Less ___ = More ___!
The less equals more equation is used in a variety of marketing materials, but it also works in email subject lines. You’re communicating value in just a few words.
Fill in the blanks with information related to your industry. It could have to do with the products or services you sell, or it could relate to information you’re willing to impart.
The important thing is that an equation exists. People like to see things balance out, even if they hated math in high school.
15. Reduce [undesired outcome] now
Fear is a powerful motivator. Why do you lock your car doors? You fear getting your car stolen. Why do you pay your bills? You fear going into debt.
You can use fear avoidance in your email subject lines. Instead of telling people how to achieve a goal or solve a problem, tell them how you can eliminate a pain point.
Email subject lines can help or hurt your marketing campaign. I want yours to help.
An email subject line sets the stage for what follows in the email body. It can also convince a skeptical consumer to open the email instead of deleting it.
Great subject lines boost open rates. They also increase the chances of a click-through, which is ultimately what you want.
What makes a great email subject line? It needs to be persuasive, attractive, or entertaining enough to capture your audience’s interest.
Use Hello Bar to increase email signups, then follow my tips for creating compelling email subject lines. You might even want to use some of my 15 examples to get you started.
What’s your favorite email subject line of all time?