How to Create Email Subject Lines People Can't Resist Opening

Your subject line is perhaps the most important part of your marketing email. It’s your headline, your attention-grabber, and ultimately the thing that will encourage recipients to open or trash your email. How can you make enticing subject lines capable of standing out even when mixed in with possibly hundreds of other messages? Start with these 7 tips:

Treat it as a Headline

Think of the headlines you see in newspapers, magazines, and other publications; they are written in a way meant to entice people to read the whole article. You should take this same journalistic approach when creating your subject lines, and look for a hook, a play on words, or a teaser that piques readers’ curiosity. Get a feel for what a good headline looks like by flipping through old magazines or skimming through past and current headlines on your favorite newspaper.

Stick to the Fundamentals

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Whether your subject line is funny or interesting, make sure it is informative. You can do this by following the “Four U’s” of headline writing:

  • Useful: Does your headline stress the value of your email content?
  • Ultra-Specific: Make the theme of your content clear.
  • Unique: Don’t be boring. Make it sound interesting and offer a different perspective.
  • Urgent: Encourage recipients to read your email now by making it seem time sensitive (use this sparingly or it will lose its effect).

Keep it Short

Some email applications only display partial titles and these can be abbreviated even more when viewed on a mobile device. You don’t want to spend time crafting a stellar title only to have most of it cut off; thus it is always a good idea to keep your subject less than 50 characters (with spaces). That doesn’t leave you with a lot of room, so choose your phrase carefully and make sure you put the most important words at the front of the sentence.

Be Honest

Granted, you want to create a sense of urgency and importance, but you shouldn’t have to make anything up to make it true. For instance, don’t say “click now to win a free iPad” if you’re not really having such a giveaway (this will only make people distrust your brand). Instead, pinpoint what’s most useful or interesting about your email and advertise it in the subject line. Also, avoid using words like buy, free, or win in the subject line since many email applications filter such titles directly into the spam folder.

Identify Yourself and Stay Consistent

Make sure your recipients know who your emails are from, and ask them to add you to their contact lists so you don’t end up in the spam folder. You may want to include your company name in the subject or use some other identifying words unique to your industry. Over time, if you continue to provide relevant content, your readers will begin to recognize your emails. Also, make sure your messages are always coming from the same address (even if you have different team members sending the emails). Otherwise, you may confuse folks or not make it past their spam filters.

Use Humor

Most everyone can use a little humor in their day, yet most people’s inboxes are full of dull, uninspiring messages. By using a subject that promises amusement or even just a smile, you can stand out among your humdrum counterparts. That said, you don’t want to overdo it with the comedy (you want to be taken seriously), so use humor only on occasion and when it’s suitable.

Review Your Analytics

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If you’re using email marketing software, and you should be, then you can use the analytic features to test readers’ responses to your emails. Pay attention to which messages were opened the most and take note of the subject lines used. Do the most opened emails have any similarities in their subject lines? If so, see if you can recreate the formula when writing future subjects.

When trying to create compelling subject lines, the most important thing to keep in mind is that many people receive dozens or more emails per day — that’s a lot to compete with. Always challenge yourself to think of new ways to stand out from the crowd and ask yourself, “would I want to read this?”

2 Comments on “How to Create Email Subject Lines People Can’t Resist Opening


    Yea the scammers and spammers do this all the time to me like Winner or Congratulations making me believe that I won something when I didn’t trying to get me open an attachment with a virus attached to it.

    1. Richard Morrison

      Thanks for commenting.  That’s so very true and very unfortunate that people have to do that.  The subject line is as equally important, if not a bit more, than the content inside the email.  It’s always a challenge to find that perfect subject line without it sounding like spam.


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