How to Craft Email Subject Lines That People Actually Open

by Kevin Wood

Most emails go unopened. To improve your open rates, you need a subject line that gets the job done.

Email subject lines are the first and possibly only time you’ll have to interest your subscribers. if the headline doesn’t do it, they’re not going to open your email. So it’s essential you spend some time making your email subject lines interesting and engaging.

The success of your email marketing efforts depends on it!

By failing to grab your subscriber’s attention with your subject line, they’re much less likely to read your emails and click on the calls-to-action embedded inside. Luckily, email subject lines can be easy to test, so you can further optimize your subject lines toward your subscriber preferences, with time.

But, what do you do when you’re first getting started? Below we dive into a repeatable process that will have you creating email subject lines your subscribers can’t wait to open.

Let’s get to it.

Want to create great headlines, but don’t know where to start? Download our free list of engaging email templates.

The Email Subject Line Basics

email subject line basics
Photo via: Jay Wennington

In order for your email subscribers to share, open, click, and read your emails, you need to spend time creating the perfect email subject line.

You already know the importance of your headline for both landing pages and blog posts — think of your email subject line the same way.

So, what elements must your email subject line include?

1. It Must Intrigue

Chances are your subscriber’s inbox is filled to the brim with messages. Even though they subscribed to your list, they still might not be on the lookout for a message from you.

Your email subject line must entice them enough to stop scrolling through their email inbox and open your message.

2. It Must Be Urgent

If an email gets put off to “read sometime later” it’s never going to get opened. Your email must inspire them to open it up now. To do this you need to create a sense of urgency. Why must the reader stop what they’re doing and read your email now?

However, make sure the urgency is in alignment with the content of the email. Don’t lie or use shock value just to get them to click.

3. It Must Be Relevant

Like we just alluded to, your subject line needs to match the rest of your content. Don’t be sensational just to get your user to open it. The rest of the email must naturally follow from the subject line.

Remember, there’s another person on the other end of the email exchange. Don’t annoy your readers, as this will just lead to more unsubscribes.

4. It Must Be Benefit Driven

Put yourself in your reader’s shoes and think about what they’re going to get out of reading your email. By having a benefit-driven headline, reading your email will add value to their life, so there’s no reason not to open it.

Think about what drives them and their decision making and appeal to those emotions.

5. It Should Be Personal

Mass emails addressed to “whom it may concern” are a thing of the past. Most aspects of online communication are customized, so why should email be any different?

You don’t have to personalize every email you send, but if you’ve been collecting first name data, then it’s worth testing out. However, if you haven’t been collecting this subscriber information, then don’t worry about it — you can still create great headlines without it.

How to Generate Good Subject Line Ideas


Photo via: Bench Accounting

Now that you’ve got a few of the basics down it’s time to create some compelling ideas. Often, the first email subject lines you create won’t be very good. That’s completely normal.

To generate great subject lines you need to come up with a lot. Luckily, the process isn’t too complex, it just takes some time.

Set a timer for 10 minutes. During that time write down every subject line you can think of. Don’t be afraid to get experimental, just remember a few of the guidelines above.

Once the timer goes off, take a look at your list. Do any ideas immediately jump out? Or, can two headline ideas be combined to make something interesting?

Try to pare your list down to two or three essentials that you can then split-test to see which performs the best.

Which, brings us to our next point.

Need some help generating awesome subject lines? Then enter your email to get our free email subject lines template.

Why You Need to Be Split Testing

split testing email
Photo via: Luis Llerena

The absolute best way to improve your email subject lines is through split testing. There’s no better way than cold hard data to see what your subscribers like the most.

Split testing allows you to send one subject line to a certain part of your list and another subject line to another. Then you can gather data from both emails to see which one performed best.

Some elements to split-test include:

  • Personalization of the subject line
  • Long vs. short number of characters
  • Capitalization, vs. titlecase, vs. lowercase
  • Using the same topic with different language

The more you test your emails, the easier you’ll be able to deduce the exact kind of subject line your audience will open and engage with more frequently.

How to Be Captivating in Only a Couple Words

email words
Photo credit: Jakub Rostkowski

Sometimes the most effective email subject lines are also the shortest. In fact, recent research from MailerMailer suggests that subject lines under 50 characters have a higher open rate.

If you were paying attention to the presidential election back in 2008, then you might have noticed that the Obama campaign was very successful with their email marketing tactics. They generated a lot of funding from the emails they sent out.

Want to know the most successful email subject line in Obama’s entire campaign?

It was, Hey.

If short subject lines are good enough for the current President of the United States, then they’re worth testing out in your email campaigns.

Some of the most compelling email subject lines are the shortest and the most relatable. The more you understand your customer, the better you can create email subject lines that appeal to them.

Mastering your email subject lines isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s going to take time to get good at generating creative subject line ideas. Plus, the data you gather from split testing will help to further refine your subject line creation.