What goes into a good email subject line? Everything.
You know this isn’t something you can gloss over. Data from just last year found that a decent amount of people (35 percent) will choose to open an email based on its subject line. You’re probably the same way, whether you realize it or not.
After all, Campaign Monitor says that, as of 2017, 269 billion emails went out into the world and arrived in people’s inboxes. That’s daily, by the way. It makes sense when you consider that projected data suggests that by the end of this year, there will be 293.6 billion people with email accounts.
As you can see from the above chart, that number is only going to grow. The good news is your potential email audience will grow as well. The bad news is you only get that one email subject line to reel them in. If you do a bad job at it, that’s it. Your chance of getting a new customer could be gone.
That’s why it’s so important to take the time to craft a well-meaning, clear, catchy email subject line. If your company is feeling a little stumped, never fear. In this article, we’re going to share some of our favorites so you can rev up your own
1. Market Hero — “This Ugly Email Funnel Generated $300k”
Why We Like It: Imagine receiving this email subject line in your inbox. What are your first thoughts? Your curiosity is likely going to be piqued. It’s that Market Hero called the email “ugly” that really gets your motors spinning.
Why is the email ugly? What does that mean and why is it so effective, enough so that the company made $300,000 from the email? Had the subject line just said “This Email Funnel Generated $300k,” that would have been a snooze-fest. As a marketer or salesperson, you probably get hundreds of emails like that a day. It’s the “ugly” part that really gets you opening and clicking this email.
How to Write Your Own: Your subject line can have an ordinary message that becomes extraordinary by throwing in an intriguing verb. It has to be one that really captures curiosity or makes people scratch their head.
Don’t force it, though. Saying something like “our beautiful marketing techniques will get you customers” is awkward and not effective.
2. Quirky — “Abra-cord-abra! Yeah, we said it.”
Why We Like It: Quirky is a company that sells unique office products. The above email subject line was promoting their charging cords and it went into completely punny territory.
An email that can give you a chuckle while gaining your interest is the best kind.
How to Write Your Own: Now, humor is hard, and this type of subject line is admittedly not for everyone. Look at Quirky’s website for a moment. Everything is bright and colorful. The emphasis is on creativity and yes, quirkiness (the company got its name for a reason).
If your company is more serious than lighthearted and fun, then the puns will not work. Your audience will wonder why you’re trying to take this approach in your email. It will seem inauthentic and could actually turn off some of your customers.
The best advice we can offer is to give humor a try. See how the subject lines test with your audience. If they do better than expected, then integrate more puns and jokes into your subject lines. If they fail, then okay, at least you tried.
3. Poo~Pourri — “How do astronauts 💩 in space?”
Why We Like It: Admittedly, since Poo~Pourri is a company that sells products for making your bathroom trips smell better, almost all their emails are going to be centered around fecal matter. That said, the question posed in their email subject line is an intriguing one. It makes you stop and think for a moment. You hope that by opening the email, you might get an answer.
The emoji is also a cute touch.
How to Write Your Own: Getting your readers to stop for a second and ponder a question is great. You know your audience is incredibly busy with their day-to-day lives, and spending some time on your email means you’ve really got their attention.
You’re not The Riddler from Batman. You don’t want to always send confounding emails with questions that can’t be answered. Make sure that if you do pose a question in your subject line that it’s addressed in the body of your email. If you can link in a few relevant products while you do so, then all the better.
As for emojis, they’re like humor. For some lighthearted companies, emojis are their subject line bread and butter. For others, it’s weird if an emoji shows up in an email. Be honest about what type of company you are and then go from there.
4. Copy Hackers — “Everything you wanted to know about email copy but were too afraid to ask.”
Why We Like It: This email subject line from copywriting company Copy Hackers is interesting because it plays on our emotions. We’re professional marketers and salespeople and want to come across as such. That sometimes means not asking certain questions because, well, we’re embarrassed. We want to look like experts, and when we don’t know something, we’d rather pretend we do than ask about it.
Copy Hackers understands those fears and promises to alleviate them. You can get all that insider knowledge you wanted without having to ask about it aloud.
How to Write Your Own: You have to know your audience incredibly well to pull off an intimate, emotional email like this one. Could you imagine if Copy Hackers’ audience did know a lot about email copy? A subject line like this would fall completely flat.
If you haven’t already, create buyer personas and organize your audience by those personas. Each persona should have their own personality traits, including career, interests, and pain points. Study those pain points and then try to write email subject lines that address them.
5. DigitalMarketer — “The Content That Built DigitalMarketer’s Community”
Why We Like It: DigitalMarketer is one of the most renowned marketing resources. If you can get a glimpse into any of the company’s inner workings, then of course you’re going to want to. This email promises just that. You’ll get to see which content of theirs was so powerful that it created DigitalMarketer’s community. Sign us up!
How to Write Your Own: You can only write an email subject line this successful if your company has clout. Your business must have grown to such proportions that your audience is eager for a sneak-peek into what goes on behind the scenes.
6. Refinery29 — “I got Botox-& THIS is what it looked like”
Why We Like It: It doesn’t matter if you really follow fashion; if you got an email like thisin your inbox, you would want to click it. It’s okay to admit it. People love seeing a good before and after as much as they love seeing the not-so-good ones.
This subject line leaves the results pretty open-ended. Does this person who received Botox look better for their efforts or worse? The only way to find out is to open the email.
How to Write Your Own: If you want to craft an email like Refinery29’s that grabs attention and just commands you to open it, you have to tread carefully. The reputation of your company is more important than a short-term boost in open and click-through rates.
That means don’t give away proprietary secrets, juicy company details, or information about employees’ personal lives in an email subject line. If you are going to write an email like the shocking Botox example, then you have to have some sort of organic before-and-after to share that people would just be dying to see.
This can be a good chance to show off your products and services, but you have to do it right.
7. J.Crew — “It’s about time we treated YOU. Open for more…”
Why We Like It: Who doesn’t love freebies, discounts, and treats? Sure, the treat in question here is undefined by the subject line. That’s the beauty of it. You’re eager to see what J.Crew is going to give you, so you can’t wait to open the email.
How to Write Your Own: This is an easy email for any company to replicate. Instead of framing your discounts or special offers as “Now X product is 50 percent off,” write about it in the way J.Crew did. Present your special offer so it feels as special as it is. People will open and click your emails right away.
8. Manicube (now TheRedDoorAtWork) — “*Don’t Open This Email*”
Why We Like It: Here’s another great email subject line, this time from the company formerly known as Manicube. It’s simple but it works because it taps into our basic human psychology. It’s common knowledge that the more you tell someone not to do something, the more they’re going to want to do it.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a thought (the classic “don’t think of a pink elephant” trick) or a command. When you’re told not to do it, you can’t help but want to do it. That’s why this email is so powerful, and Manicube knows it. By telling you not to open the email, what are you going to do?
That’s right, open the email.
How to Write Your Own: Manicube is certainly not the first company to send an email like this, and they definitely won’t be the last. If you want to play with the psychology of your customers a bit (responsibly, of course), then try sending an email like this with similar wording. Then sit back and see what happens.
9. Firebox — “We don’t want to stress you out, but…”
Why We Like It: But what?
This subject line from retailer Firebox works for two reasons. The first is that it triggers the very powerful sense of FOMO that can guide many of our decisions. FOMO means fear of missing out. No one wants to be the last in their group of friends, coworkers, or peers to own that cool new product. They’ll feel left out.
Firebox’s email is probably about to tell you that a deal they’re running is almost over or that they’re nearly out of stock on a major product. Regardless, they don’t even have to complete their thought for you to get that feeling of FOMO. Firebox may say they don’t want to stress you out, but in not completing their sentence, that’s just what they’re doing.
The second reason this example is quite powerful is because of that ellipsis. Sure, they could have finished the sentence in the subject line, but where’s the fun in that? They know the subject line will get you curious by leaving it as is.
There’s probably another reason Firebox chose to go this route. The fewer words you have in your email subject line, the higher the open rate, found conversion rate company Invesp.
As the infographic illustrates, using five words max gets you an open rate of 16 percent. Six to 10 words is the sweet spot, with the highest open rate of 21 percent. Going longer, like 11 to 15 words, nets you a decent open rate of 14 percent.
It’s all downhill from there. Writing a subject line with 16 to 20 words drops the open rate to 12 percent. Using over 21 words decreases it even more to nine percent.
Firebox’s email is eight words, putting it right in that sweet spot.
How to Write Your Own: This is another email that’s easy enough to do yourself. Just make sure you convey the crux of your information before adding your ellipsis. Also, watch your word count if you want a high open rate.
10. LinkedIn — “Black Friday shoppers are the worst customers”
Why We Like It: Wow, how rude, right? Especially to receive this email on Black Friday.
As one of the biggest shopping days of the year, on Black Friday, your email inbox is going to be absolutely inundated with companies trying to get you to buy their discounted products. That means it takes much more effort to stand out from the pack. If you’ve been sitting on some really good subject lines, now would be the time to bring them out.
LinkedIn sent this email as part of its November newsletter, where the company shared an article about holiday marketing. Does the subject line make more sense now? No, not really, but it’s definitely going to invoke emotion in you.
If you’re a Black Friday shopper, you’re probably going to be upset, maybe even offended. If you hate Black Friday and like to sit home that day and eat leftovers, you might open the email because you agree.
How to Write Your Own: Polarizing, even insulting email subject lines such as this one from LinkedIn are admittedly not for every company. As a small business or startup, being flippant like this could do your company more harm than good.
LinkedIn is one of the biggest social media platforms out there. According to 2019 data from B2B content marketing company Foundation, there are over 500 million people on the site. If a few customers drop them over this email, then so what? They have millions more.
Small businesses and startups can’t afford to lose customers in droves, which can happen with an email like this. If you are going to take a potentially offensive approach, then wait until you’re in a position where you can let go of some customers without serious repercussions.
The above list of email subject lines runs the gamut. Some are funny, others rely on psychological tricks, and a few are even offensive.
While not every single example we shared in this article will work for your company, hopefully reading through this list has inspired you. If you were stumped on what kinds of emails might resonate with your audience, you have a few different directions to take.
No matter which email subject line you thinkwill work best, make sure you always test it. Then, once you catch lightning in a bottle and get high open and click-through rates, try to keep it up. Good luck!
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