subject lines, email marketing

Your email is important. You want your audience to read it. But as your potential reader is scanning their inbox their index finger is resting on the mouse. Your email is one short click away from the trashcan. How do you hook people to open your email?

Whether or not someone opens an email is almost entirely based on the subject line. (Sure – other factors like familiarity with the sender plays a part, but 9 times out of 10 it’s the subject line that decides it.) That’s why your #1 goal in writing a subject line is to get people to open your email. That’s it. Once in, your #1 goal for your email is to get the reader to click your link. That’s it.

Below are 10 email subject line tips that boost your open rates.

Subject lines are like a French sandwich

When writing your subject line, your goal isn’t to cram all the tips below into each subject line like a Sloppy Joe. (Remember those messy sandwiches from your childhood? They were okay, but not everyday!) The idea is to sprinkle these techniques around – mix and match them.

When my wife and I visited the small village of Arles in the South of France there was a small café we loved going to every day called Le Monde De Sophie. Every day they had a new and surprising selection of sandwiches. What made them so good was each sandwich only had a couple of key ingredients, but the way they were blended was delicious. Sometimes it was brie, honey, and apples. Other times it was goat cheese, walnuts, and sage. The combos were simple, but always kept us on our feet for new delights.

Think of your subject lines the same way. Surprise your reader. Keep it fresh.

Write the email first then find your subject line within the email

Having a hard time coming up with a good subject line? Often it’s easer to write your email first, then find your subject line buried within the text. You may be surprised how easy it is to find a phrase that pops right out that captures the whole email message in a short, compelling way.

Build a copy swipe file

You don’t need to work so hard to come up with a great subject line, either. You can get tons of ideas and phrases from other great marketers and businesses. (It’s called COPY-writing for a reason!)

Here’s what I do and recommend:

  1. Create a unique email account with Gmail or Yahoo that you’ll only use for subscribing to other people’s lists.
  2. Create a rule in your email system that all emails coming from your new, unique email goes directly into a special folder. (I call mine “Copy Swipe Folder”.) This way you don’t clutter your inbox.
  3. Use your new email to subscribe to people and businesses you like and/or who you know are great copywriters.
  4. Over time, you’ll collect a folder filled with great copywriting examples. The next time you need to write an email and subject line, you’ll have a vast resource of ideas and inspiration.

Top 10 Tips for Good Subject Lines

Tip #1: Build Curiosity (See how below : – )

35% of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone. (Source: Hubspot).

If your #1 goal is to get readers to open your email, the best way to do this is to pique their curiosity in your subject line. Make it so irresistible and compelling that your audience HAS to see what’s inside.

It’s like a good two line joke. The first line builds tension and the second delivers the punch line…

I told my wife she was drawing her eyebrows too high.
She looked surprised.

To build curiosity, don’t give everything away in the subject line. Think of your email content. Then ask yourself, “How can I tease this? What would get ME to click to learn more?”

Another trick is to think of your email as a story and your subject line is like the hook.

Notice how these examples are like an itch that just needs to be scratched…

“How one funnel saved my marriage…”
– Russell Brunson

*Don’t Open This Email*
– Manicube

A $1B businesswoman, a SuperNanny, and more surprises…
– Ali Brown

6 Clever Ways to (Ethically) Boost Ecommerce Store Sales
– Neil Patel

Peyton Manning (and winning in the face of adversity)
– Jeff Walker

Tip #2: Write like you’re writing to a friend… my friend

This is a big one. If you follow this tip, I will bet an ice cream you’ll get better responses…

Your inbox gets clogged and flooded, right? You just want to get through it and clear it out as fast as possible. So what do you do? If you’re like me, you quickly delete the emails you know are trying to sell you something (or emails you know are from a company).

What emails do you always open?

I imagine you open the ones from friends you know – or that sound like they are from someone you know. If you see an email Where Every First Letter Is Capitalized You Know It’s Not From A Friend.

But what if you wrote in a friendly, relaxed style that says, “Hey – I know you and I’m touching base.”

So why not write your subject line (and your whole email) like you would a real friend in real life? Take this challenge: the next mass email you write, picture a genuine friend of yours and write the email just like you would to that ONE friend. Write the subject line like you normally would to a good friend.

To get an idea of how you write subject lines to friends, look in your send folder. Notice how you naturally write when it’s to someone you know well. Notice the difference?

Your tone will dramatically improve… and very likely, you’ll see an uptick in open rates and responses.

Notice how these examples feel like a friend is writing you – even though they are sales-focused emails:

SO excited — had to share! (Oprah related :  )
– Marie Forleo

The webinar you requested is ready…are you?
– John Assaraf

Want to connect one-on-one?
– James Roche

Tip #3: Create a sense of urgency (Like, now!)

Subject lines that create a sense of urgency and exclusivity can give a 22% higher open rate. (Source: Email Institute)

Hop! Hop! I don’t have much time, but I had to share this with you…

If your email topic is time sensitive, say so in the subject line. Be careful not to make it hype-y. It’s got to have real urgency… and try to personalize it when you can. Again, think of how you would tell a friend about something really cool you discovered that has a deadline. Write like that.

DO NOT Commit These Instagram Atrocities
– Thrillist

– Perry Marshall

Want to create a best-selling package? (time sensitive)
– Ali Brown

Tip #4: Be 98.4% specific

Use numbers. Use stats. Be exact.

Tell them (tease them) about what’s inside the email. For example, don’t just say, “thank you” say, “Thank you – Your special report is in.”

Don’t just say, “How to increase open rates” say, “Increase your open rates by 37% today.”

You’ll find that if you have a specific number related to your email message, there’s usually a story behind that number. Use your subject line to spark the reader’s interest and initiate a compelling story, which you’ll tell in your email.


Fwd: You just got paid $4.95
– Ramit Sethi

93, 94, 95, 96…(4 Seats Left). Black Box Brotherhood…
– Garrett White

Fw: Here’s your download
– Frank Kern

Tip #5: Keep it short

Subject lines with 30 or fewer characters have an above average open rate. (Source: Adestra)

40% of emails are being opened on mobile first where email subject lines will get cut off if they are too long.

But you’re in luck because short subject lines go hand in hand with piquing curiosity. Have fun with this one!


3 anti-laziness tactics (I use these)
– Ramit Sethi

Magic words
– Ramit Sethi

– Frank Kern

Tip #6: Make the first word an action verb

Action verbs lend themselves to action and good storytelling.


Walking away from what I “wanted”…
– Ali Brown

Turn Strangers into Customers (Step-by-Step)
– Dave Rogenmoser

Build Links Like The Pros: 13 SEO Tools That’ll Skyrocket Your Rankings
– Neal Patel

Tip #7: Ask a compelling question?

This is an easy, no-brainer tip that will boost your open rate. Simply present your subject line as an open-ended, curiosity-building question.

This tip works especially well if you know your audience, because you can ask questions they are already thinking in their heads.

For example, think about your ideal client. Picture them talking with their spouse or a best friend over coffee. It’s a deep, heart-to-heart conversation where they are sharing their true feelings and concerns. What kinds of questions are they asking their loved one to help seek answers?

“What Can You Afford?”
– Zillow

WHY?? (I’m deliberately losing money)
– Frank Kern

want ME to write YOUR copy?
– Russell Brunson

Tip #8: Be “Punny”


Like all these tips, don’t overdo this one. But if it suits your personality and you can get away with it, why not add some humor to your subject lines?

10 Engagement Tips to Gobble Over Thanksgiving
– AddThis

Tip #9: You can personalize it

Personalized subject lines are 22.2% more likely to be opened. (Source: Adestra)

Don’t overdo this one either because people will start to realize over time your emails aren’t really personalized. Again, think about how you write your friends – you might add their first name… sometimes. You can personalize by coding their first name in or simply using “you” and “your”.

Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring
– Warby Parker

If you do consulting, please read this…
– Ali Brown

Tip #10: MIX and MATCH your formatting…

Nothing is set in stone with subject lines. Rules are meant to be broken, so have some fun with formatting your subject lines in creative ways. They’ll stand out.

Some ways to add spice to your subject lines include:

  • Use ellipses…
  • Use text faces like : – )
  • Use (parenthesis) or [brackets] for highlight.
  • Use all CAPS
  • use all lower case


my mentor was wrong…
– Jeff Walker

BRAND NEW (5 second read)
– Frank Kern

[$25k Video] How To Growth HACK Your Business
– Neil Patel

Don’t be shy (and watch your open rates)

See what your audience responds to over time. What do they seem to like? Or dislike? Adjust your copy accordingly. Chances are you can be more creative and relaxed than you are being now when writing your emails and subject lines.

I encourage you to be yourself. Your audience is hungry for authentic connections. If you let your personality shine, chances are you’ll see higher open rates.

Use these tips to inspire and guide you, but feel free to break the rules, too–as long as you see a positive response from your audience.

Share your Comments Below

What ideas did you get from this article? If you’re already sending a lot of emails, what have you found to be your most successful subject lines? Please share in the comments section below…