Improve Your Email Marketing: The Subject Line

Email Marketing Is Very Much Alive

In this digital age, emails flood in by the tens and hundreds daily. Most businesses say the biggest challenge is making sure your email is opened in the first instance. Here’s a few tips we’ve found along the way to ensure not only your email is opened, but all future emails are opened and your required results are achieved from them.

We’ve split this into a few easy bite-sized articles. Look out for Part 2.

You may have the best content in the world but if people are deleting your emails without opening it, it’s worthless. Coming up with great subject lines is not only fun for you but also massively increases your open rate. Take a look at your inbox right now – which email are you going to open? Why? Why won’t you open the one above or below it? What makes it different?



One psychological principle that is practically impossible to resist is the Fear Of Missing Out. You can use this to add scarcity or urgency.

“Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring”
“You’re missing out on points.”
“[URGENT] You’ve got ONE DAY to watch this…”
“Your 7-figure plan goes bye-bye at midnight…”
“Mary, Earn double points today only”
“Tonight only: A dog lover’s dream”



While you and I may love to work until the sun sets and then some, even we have the tendency to want a shortcut from time to time. So, if someone else has done the work for you, why not take advantage.

10 ways to increase your profit in 10 days”
“Landing Page creation made easy”
“Grow your email list 10X faster with these 30 content upgrade ideas”

Funny dog face


Laughter is the best form of medicine so they say. If your subject line makes your reader laugh, the chances are they’ll simply have to open it to find out more. After all, have you ever read a subject line that tickled your funny bone and you didn’t read it?

Eater Boston: “Where to Drink Beer Right Now” (Sent at 6:45am on a Wednesday.)
OpenTable: “Licking your phone never tasted so good”
Groupon: “Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)”
Travelocity: “Need a day at the beach? Just scratch n’ sniff your way to paradise…”
Baby Bump: “Yes, I’m Pregnant. You Can Stop Staring At My Belly Now.”

Peeking through split paper


Giving people only half of the information in a subject line leverages the desire to know the full facts. Provoke people’s intrigue by using a clever cliff-hanger or unusual statement as the subject line, leaving them with a curiosity that can only be satisfied by opening the email.

Superdrug “This isn’t your average treat Thursday”
Digital Marketer: “Check out my new “man cave” [PICS]”
Digital Marketer: “Is this the hottest career in marketing?”
Eat This Not That: “9 Disgusting Facts about Thanksgiving”
Chubbies: “Hologram Shorts?!”
The Hustle: “A faster donkey”
Headspace: “There’s no time like the present”


Pain Point

This can be the most rewarding concept but you do need to put the work in to start with. You really need to know your audience and what their pain points are – what struggles are they facing. See our blog mentioned above on how to formulate your audience Personas.

Use your audience’s pain point to make subscribers open your emails by solving that problem for them.

Pizza Hut: “Feed your guests without breaking the bank”
IKEA: “Get more kitchen space with these easy fixes”
HP: “Stop wasting money on ink”
Sephora: “Your beauty issues, solved”

Vanity peacock


We all want to look good, be liked and accepted by others. It’s inbuilt. That’s why some of the best marketers use vanity in subject lines that promise to make them look/feel better or make them feel ashamed (we didn’t say it was a nice way about it but it works!).

Guess: “Don’t wear last year’s styles.”
Fabletics: “Your Butt Will Look Great in These Workout Pants”
La Mer: “Age-defying beauty tricks”
Pop Physique: “Get Ready. Keep the Pie Off Your Thighs Returns.”
Sephora: “Products the celebs are wearing”

People on phones


There have been numerous studies over the years, all of which show that including the email receivers name in the subject line, increases the open rate – sometimes by as much as 30%.

A familiar/casual style or writing implies friendship and a more personal approach. Combine the two and people feel more open to respond as it is directly aimed at them.

Guess: “Mary, check out these hand-picked looks”
Rent the Runway: “Happy Birthday Mary – Surprise Inside!”
Bonnie Fahy: “Mary, do you remember me?”
John Lee Dumas: “Are you coming?”
James Malinchak: “Crazy Invitation, I am Going to Buy You Lunch…”
Mary Fernandez: “you free this Thurs at 12PM PST? [guest blogging class]”
Mary Fernandez: “your detailed results…”
Revolution Tea: “Thanks for helping us”

Chasing a carrot


We’re not talking about who ate all the pies here, we’re talking about the resistance for a bargain. You may not need that new pair of shoes or a last minute weekend away but if the offer is too good to pass by…..

That’s why sales, discounts and promotions work so well. We simply can’t resist a “bargain”.

Topshop: “Meet your new jeans”
Topshop: “Get a head start on summer”
HP: “New must-haves for your office”
Rip Curl: “Two for two”
La Mer: “A little luxury at a great price”

3 Trees in head shapes


Retargeting emails are sent to subscribers who have failed to take action from previous emails or failed to complete a process on your website. They include abandon cart emails, reminding people they’ve added items to their cart but not competed their purchase.

The purpose of these emails is to re-engage them and persuade them to follow through with the desired action

Bonobos: “Hey, forget something? Here’s 20% off.”
Target: “The price dropped for something in your cart”
Animoto: “Did you miss out on some of these new features?”
Vivino: “We are not gonna Give Up on You!”

Choose The Best Keywords


There have been numerous studies analyzing the effectiveness of keywords in subject lines. Using these keywords in the subject line when compiling your emails can increase the open rates even further. Try them out!

According to Alchemy Worx, which analyzed 45.6 billion emails sent by 2,500 brands, the top five most effective open rate keywords used were:




Adestra analyzed over 2.2 billion emails in one study and over 125k campaigns in another. The top subject line keywords for open rates were:

“free delivery”
“thank you”

“*|*|*|*|” (i.e. break up the subject line with multiple stories/topics defined with a split between them e.g. “Headline 1 | Headline 2 | Headline 3 | Headline 4”)
“order today”

These top performing keywords discovered in a 700 billion email study by Smart Insights are some of our clients top performers too:

“get your”

“on orders over”
“orders over”
“off selected”
“your next order”

“brand new”
“great deals”
“sale starts”
“back in stock”
“sale now”
“now in”

Why not try out an emoji in the subject line?


Experian found that the use of an emoji in the subject line can increase your open rate by 45%. Some of the most popular ones are shown in the table below (supplied by Mailchimp). These aren’t necessarily the best ones to use but they are popular. Try them out and measure the results for yourself.

Subject line trends
  • Final Word

    Keep it Original & Optimize for Mobile Opens – nearly 81% of emails are opened on a mobile device so keep it short and snappy!

    We hope you have found this useful and look forward to hearing the stories of how your open rates have rocketed as well as some of your unique subject line choices!