The 7 Best Email Subject Line Styles to Increase Your Open Rates

1.  Simple, No Nonsense Email Subject Lines

There’s a lot to be said for minimalism – users need you to be clear and concise in your subject lines, as time is always an asset.

MailChimp conducted an email subject line study and found that short, descriptive subject lines fare better than cheesy lures. Some might bristle up at the accusation that humor and creativity should take a back seat when creating good subject lines for emails, especially since many marketing experts say otherwise. It’s worth noting that this succinct approach is most applicable with notification emails, in which a user already has a connection with the content you’re delivering.

great email subject lines

good email subject lines

Most of these subject line examples involve updates or notifications connected with a user’s social media activity, order status, etc. These emails have a specific purpose, and so their subject lines should be specific as well.

2. Funny Email Subject Lines

A humorous subject line can really stick out among the dry, dull emails surrounding it. Humor it a touchy thing though – it thrives on exclusivity, which isn’t always great if you’re trying to appeal to the masses. However, if you know your audience well and your emails are targeted, a well placed joke can get your email opened and can earn major reputation points with folks on your wavelength.

Some funny email subject line examples:

  • Please Touch Me! Enterprise Delight via Multitouch
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts: ESAPI
  • Do Gamers Dream of HTML5 Sheep?
  • LEAN STARTUP: Baby Got (Feed)Back – Putting the Lean in Learn

The “touch me” line is a chuckle that will be understood by most readers, but the cleverness of the other funny email subject lines might be lost on some users who didn’t attend Hogwarts or haven’t taken their Voight-Kampff empathy test. But if you can recite every line of Sir Mix a Lot’s Baby Got Back word for word…like some of us can… you’ll love that “Lean Startup” subject line.

Note: The awesome email subject lines above and several text subject lines below are borrowed from thisClickZ article, full of many great examples.

3. Controversial/Shocking Email Subject Lines

Controversy (sometimes) sells, and it most certainly grabs attention. Using shock, controversy, or insult in your subject lines requires you to tread really carefully. You may get opens, but at the cost of customers. This strategy requires you to be confident in your understanding of your audience’s tastes and perceptions. It’s a bit of a gamble, but the pay-off can be pretty great – would you simply gloss over the subject lines below? Not likely.

  • Everyone Is Gay: Social Media As Social Action
  • Why Your 5-Year-Old Is More Digital Than Most CMOs
  • Your Marketing Sucks: Why You Need to Think Local

4. Single-Word Subject Lines

One effective email subject line strategy involves going ultra-minimalist with one-word subject lines. Let’s take a peek at the promotions tab of my Gmail. The promotion tab is scheduled for a major makeover – Google is starting to display promotional emails in a image-oriented design inspired by Pinterest. If this new setup sticks, pictures will usurp subject lines as the pivotal email element.

Until then, we still need to worry about the current state of the promotions tab. It’s chock full o’ mess, with stacks upon stacks of unopened emails. Which one stands out? For me it’s Amazon Local’s M3 subject line.

effective email subject lines

From a simple design perspective, you can see why the Amazon Local subject line catches the eye – its length and shape stand out from the other largely similar-looking structures.

Another great email subject line example comes from Mequoda with the simple subject line of:

  • Panic

It’s just a single word, but it’s an emotionally huge one. What should I be panicking about? Am I in danger? What’s going on? Am I having an existential crisis? Emotionally-walloping words make a big impression.

5. Email Subject Lines with Numbers & Lists

Many of the factors that make up a good blog post title also make a good email subject line. Incorporating numbers into your subject line attracts attention, as our brains are naturally drawn to digits. This tends to be why top 10 lists are so successful – lists are easier for our brains to process and they create curiosity, in addition to providing the promise of a quick and easy read.

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top email subject lines

Numbers and list email subject lines stand out for the same reasons that one-word subject lines or unusual punctuation do – they are visually jarring. An article at The New Yorker discusses our avid adoration of listmania:

“Whenever we’re scanning the environment for nothing in particular, our visual system is arrested by the things that don’t fit—features that suddenly change or somehow stand out from the background. A headlinethat is graphically salient in some way has a greater chance of capturing our eye, and in an environment where dozens of headlines and stories vie for attention, numerals break up the visual field.”

Basically, the ultimate goal is to make your email subject line visually stand out. How you do that is up to you!

6. Personalized Subject Lines

Incorporating personalization techniques into email subject lines is another way to increase open rates. By personalization I don’t mean incorporating a user’s name into the subject line – this has become so common practice that many users glaze over these as spam. Instead, try location-specific offers and language, or interest targeting. LivingSocial and Groupon are old pros at this, sending emails with subject lines promoting deals in your area.

LivingSocial also sends me emails about deals I looked at but didn’t end up buying by utilizing the very effective but always semi-creepy remarketing strategy. LivingSocial also sends me new deals based on my past purchases. I’ve bought a few Paint Nite and pottery deals in the past, so art-related offers are the ones I see most often in my inbox. They’ve got my ticket alright!

The subject line above combines personalization (via remarketing) with scarcity to create an effective email subject line. Brava!

In a broader sense, it’s good practice to understand your audience well enough to know what language, style, and offers will be attractive to them.

email subject lines examples

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funny email subject lines

Thrillist knows exactly who their audience is – the young, drinking crowd – and their conversational tone fits perfectly here with their fun email subject lines.

Thrillist is doing a ton of other stuff right too; they’ve got lists, localization, and pay tribute to a holiday. Who doesn’t want to impress their buddies with fun Guinness facts on St. Paddy’s?

7. Questions & Other Punctuation in Email Subject Lines

Question marks and unusual punctuation offer another method for standing out from the email masses. Exclamation marks can be useful, but are so over-used in subject lines that they don’t tend to be very powerful. Instead, experiment with some fun symbols or loud punctuation to attract ‘dem eyeballs.

great email subject lines

best email subject lines

how to write subject lines

Asking your readers a question, as opposed to a standard statement, immediately engages them. Questions enter an instant dialogue with users, making them more likely to be opened.

successful email subject lines

professional email subject lines

Above, Banana Republic combines a question with scarcity tactics. Sephora asks an emotionally-engaging question (really? you care?) with just two words, creating a truly great subject line.