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Top 4 tips to writing email subject lines they will want to click

Sit back for a second and think about one of the tasks you do the most in a given work day. Check your emails, right? And what is the feeling you get when you see a long, long, long list of unopened emails? Resignation? Despair? Rage? Regardless, you have honed down to a T how to scan that overflowing Inbox and POOF! Delete those emails that come from senders you don’t care about or have email subject lines that make you go “huh?” Ahh, the satisfaction.

But consider this: if you are a digital marketer, your recipients may be considering torpedoing the emails you send out or banish you to land of Unsubscribe, Game of Thrones style, based solely on your subject lines. One study suggests that 47% of people open emails from the subject line alone[i].

As digital marketers, we invest a lot of money in the design and contents of our email marketing campaigns. However, we can never underestimate the power of a well-crafted, compelling email subject line.

So how can you cut through the email clutter and boost your open rates? Check out our top 4 tips for writing great email subject lines:


1. Think about your email’s ultimate goal

Are you looking to sell a product or service? Announcing something major? Hoping they will download an ebook? Your goal will dictate what information should be included in your subject line.

Then, put yourself in the recipients’ shoes. Why should they open your email? Why should they care? Be clear on what’s in it for them.

Without perceived value right from the start, recipients are likely to graze your email at best. There are many ways you can go about this. You can underscore a problem and provide a solution. Offer an irresistible, time-sensitive deal that will jolt customers into action. Give them a sneak peek of some compelling information found in your downloadable collateral that will make them crave more.

Subject line examples


2. Customize and personalize

Nothing is worse than receiving an email for baby products when you’ve got angst-filled teens at home. The example is somewhat tongue-in-cheek; however, relevancy—in the subject line as well as email body—is critical.

Separate your email lists based on the personas you’ve created, market segments, personal preferences or however you deem best to group your email recipients. You’ll most probably adapt the content of your email accordingly. But don’t forget the subject line!  Let’s say you have divided your list into 4 groups, each with different interests and needs. Write a subject that is tailored to each group so that they know exactly why they’re getting your email and how it benefits them.


3. Add some pizazz and skip the verbiage

Now, more than ever before, people are strapped for time and numb from the sheer volume of emails they get on any given day.

That is why you need get your writers to work their wordsmith magic so that your email subject lines don’t prompt ‘inbox blindness’ (aka: the scroll and the dump move). Be concise and grab recipients’ attention with an unanswered question, shocking stats, a sense of urgency and scarcity or a funny statement.


Use action-oriented words rather than the passive voice. And while you want to ensure that your messaging is on par with your brand and personas, sometimes using buzzwords or terms with high emotional impact can do the trick.

One caveat: skip the overly poetic, overly vague subject lines. It’s fine to pique recipients’ curiosity, but not to the detriment of clarity.


4. Always be A/B testing

Just because you’re patting yourself on the back for having found a clever subject line doesn’t mean it’s actually going to work. A/B testing should not be relegated to your email content alone. You could actually use the same email with two different subject lines and generate vastly different open rates.

With A/B testing, you can determine which variables ring most true with your recipients. Do they prefer longer or shorter subject lines? Do they respond more favourably to having their names or the word “you”? Is a humorous or more straightforward tone clinching it? Play with different subject line variables to find out what generates the best results.

One final tip regarding email subject line A/B testing: make sure the testing conditions don’t skew your perception of the results. Test groups should be equal in number, go out at the same time of day and run for an equal period of time. This is a more effectively strategy to hone in on what works and what doesn’t.


Cracking the code of whipping up killer email subject lines is not rocket science; however, there is an art and science to it. If you got value, prove it with those few crucial words and incite people into action. The last thing you want to is to end up with a subject line that reads “March Newsletter.”




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