So what makes you want to take that extra step to actually open an email? Often, it’s the subject line. After all, it’s your very first impression of the email — and from it, you’ll do your best to judge the content on the inside.
If you’re an email marketer, or just someone who happens to send emails on behalf of your company, you don’t want to be one of those ignored (or — gasp — deleted) emails in your subscribers’ inboxes. You’ve got to make sure your email subject lines are top-notch — and what better way to learn how to do that than by examining some great examples of subject lines?
Let’s take a look at what makes a great subject line, followed by a few examples that, old or new, we’re crazy about.
(While you’re at it, check out our new Out-of-Office Email Generator to make your email address even more delightful to your contacts.)
Not too long ago, a HubSpot alum received this email two weeks before he needed to renew his prescription — talk about great timing. And when you’re eye prescription is expiring, it happens to be an excellent time to upgrade your glasses. By sending an email at the right time, Warby Parker increased its chances of this email getting opened.
But timing isn’t the sole reason we included this example. This subject is brilliant because it appeared at the right time and with the right tone. Using conversational words like “uh-oh,” keeping the subject line sentence case, and leaving out the period at the end, the subject line comes across as helpful and friendly — not as a company trying to upsell you.
It’s hard to be funny in your marketing, but Groupon’s one of those brands that seems to nail it again and again. After all, who can for get this classic unsubscribe video?
This subject line is no exception. The quip, “(Unlike Our Nephew Steve),” actually had us laughing out loud. Why? It’s completely unexpected. The first part of the subject line looks like a typical subject line you’d get from Groupon, highlighting a new deal. The parenthetical content? Not so much — making this one a delightful gem to find in your inbox.
First of all, we have a not-so-secret love for emojis in email subject lines. Personally, I’m partial to turquoise — so when I see an email implying that I might somehow be able to obtain a free turquoise dress, chances are, I’m clicking.
That’s part of what makes this subject line work. It draws the recipients eye by using visual content (emojis), and it hints at an offer of something free. That hints at an incentive to open the email: There’s a something to gain inside.
Similar to Warby Parker, this subject line makes use of urgency. If I don’t take action on my King Arthur Flour shopping cart — like actually buying them — it will be cleared, and I’ll have to start all over again.
Okay, so maybe this is a low-risk scenario. But when it comes to my baking goods, personally, I don’t like to take any chances, or risk forgetting what I was going to buy. That’s where the personalization aspect of this subject line comes in: King Arthur Flour — especially its online shop — tends to attract both professional and home bakers who take all things culinary a bit more seriously than, say, someone who only buys flour on occasion from the supermarket. And wouldn’t you know? Those are the same bakers who probably don’t want to spend time building their shopping carts from scratch.
The moral of the story: Know your audience when you’re writing email subject lines. Is there something that they take seriously more than others? If so, incorporate that into your copy.
I received an email with this subject line about a week after buying a portable stove at REI for a camping trip I was going on. I had just gotten back from that trip, too. It was perfect timing for them to ask me what I thought of it.
Companies ask satisfied customers to write reviews of their business all the time. But when you specifically send these requests to the people who just purchased something from you, you’re being smart with your mailing list and reaching recipients whose interest is still warm.
Another reason this subject line works? It’s not expecting a good review. REI is genuinely asking me what I thought of the stove I bought. Maybe I hated it (I didn’t) … the company just wanted me to speak up.
Any time we see a weather-related alert, our ears perk up. In RCN’s case, it isn’t just a way to lure recipients into opening an email. The subject line above is RCN’s way of updating its customers to potential power outages and driving attention to the brand that provides them with cable and Wi-Fi — even during inclement weather.
If you can hitch your email marketing campaign to an event you know people pay attention to, and have something helpful to offer in response, you’ll see your email open rate soar.
It’s such a specific number … 1,750 … of course you’re going to open this.
Coming from an airline, an offering of “points” might as well be gold to someone who likes to travel. And if that recipient also has a significant other, sending this email leading up to Valentine’s Day is a home run.
The best part about the subject line above is how particular JetBlue was about the number of points available. Instead of, say, “20% your next return flight of 1,000 miles or more,” this subject line gives it to you straight: 1,750 points, and all you have to do is buy flowers for your loved one. You’re already wondering how far you can fly with 1,750 points, I can tell.
In six words, Etsy was able to promote a product solely by its color, and inform you that there is apparently a “color of the year.” The email is truly too intriguing not to open.
Etsy is an ecommerce website for user-created marketplaces, and the reason we were impressed by its subject line above was because of the way it uses mystery to drive value into a suite of products. This email isn’t an invitation to buy clothing or jewelry; it’s an invitation to find out what the color of the year is.
Spoiler alert: It was “ultra violet.”
This subject line is likely the boldest of the Black Friday emails you’d see in your inbox in the days before Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s a bit judgmental, but it actually came in a LinkedIn Pulse newsletter, promoting an article one of its users wrote on the topic of holiday marketing.
And there’s no doubt the title resonates with how some people feel during the most hectic holiday shopping day of the year.
LinkedIn has nothing to sell on Black Friday, so the subject line above does little harm to its business. Nonetheless, commenting on a popular cultural observation, however facetious, can show your confidence and help you relate to your community.
Ever been told to not do something? Being asked to refrain from something can actually have the opposite effect — you now want to do that thing even more.
That’s the strategy behind Manicube’s subject line. It’s a simple but effective way to make people curious enough to open your email. (Just be sure that the contents of your email actually have something worthy of that subject line.)
Okay, so maybe your business doesn’t involve Botox. But still — are you intrigued? I am, and despite my better judgment, I clicked.
That’s the power of leading your emails with a story: It sparks curiosity, which works in two ways. There are times when our natural curiosity can pique our interest without context, such as in the example above. But in this case, the subject line implies that there’s an intriguing story ahead. Why the heck did this person get Botox? And what did it look like? As the saying goes, “Inquiring minds want to know.”
Think of the stories behind your industry, and then, find ways to include them in email newsletters and frame them within the subject line in a way that piques your recipients’ collective curiosity.
Imagine getting this subject line in your inbox from a website showing apartments for rent. It’s both exciting and encouraging (“Here are a bunch of apartments right in your budget. Yay!”), but also kind of competitive — pitting your cash against what the market offers. Would you click it? I certainly would.
Personalizing emails to cater to your audience’s emotions — for which there’s a broad spectrum, when it comes to real estate — is key to getting people to open your emails. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know how to take advantage of them, either. In addition to principles like urgency, crafting an email subject line that implies scarcity is another great way to increase your conversion rates.
When writing emails, you should also think about the recognizable names and reference that make people tick. For example, take this subject line from UncommonGoods forwarded to us from HubSpot’s Content Director, Corey Wainwright, who happens to be a die-hard fan of The Princess Bride. Apparently, “As You Wish” is a pretty big reference to that movie (I know, I know — I need to watch it again), so when she saw this subject line in her inbox, she just HAD to click.
Even though she knew logically that the email was part of a larger-scale send, it almost seemed like it was tailored to be sent personally to her — after all, why else would it include a reference to Princess Bride in the title?
UncommonGoods knows its buyer persona like the back of its metaphorical hand. While it may not send emails to individual subscribers with references to their favorite movies in the title, it does have a general understanding of its subscribers and their interests.
If you’re subscribed to a newsletter from a publication like TechCrunch, chances are, you signed up because you’re either interested in or want to learn more about technology. To reflect that, the media outlet crafts its daily email roundups (“The Daily Crunch”) with a subject line that reflects one of the latest, most compelling news items in the industry.
Here’s the thing: Staying on the cutting edge is hard, especially with something that evolves as quickly as technology. So by writing email subject lines that reflect something that’s recent and relevant, TechCrunch is signaling to email recipients that opening the message will help them stay informed and up-to-date on the latest industry news.
Think about the things that your audience struggles to keep up with — then, craft an email roundup and matching subject line that reflects the latest news in that category.
Okay, you caught me: I’m a beer lover. (One of the many reasons I like working at HubSpot.) But that’s not what hooked me here. The subject line arrived in my inbox just at the time I needed it: at 6:45 on a Wednesday evening. Absolutely. Genius.
Think about it: You’re just over hump day and want to decompress with a few coworkers after work. Right as you’re about to head out, you get a notification on your phone that says, “Where to Drink Beer Right Now.” Perfect timing makes this subject line something you can’t help but click on.
For your own emails, think about how timing will affect how people perceive your emails. Even if you send an email in an off-peak hour, you could get higher engagement on your email — if you have the right subject line.
Okay, we admit it: We love BuzzFeed. If nothing else, its staff knows how to write great copy — and that sentiment includes an exceptional email marketing team. Many of my colleagues have signed up for BuzzFeed’s daily emails, and pretty much any day of the week, they win for best subject line in their inboxes.
While there are a few of BuzzFeed’s subject lines here and there that aren’t anything to write home about, it’s the combination of subject lines and the preview text that is golden. They’re friendly, conversational, and, above all, snarky.
Here’s the text that followed the subject line above: “Okay, WHO left the passive-aggressive sticky note on my fridge. Honestly, who acts like this?” That conversational tone and snark pull us in over and over again — and it’s the preview text that completes the experience for me.
We’re not all equipped to be snarky writers, but most email platforms have the preview text easily available to edit. How can you use that little extra space to delight your customers (oh, and probably improve your email stats)? Maybe you could use the subject line as a question, and the preview text area as the answer. Or maybe it’s a dialogue: The subject line is one person, and the preview text is another.
You get the idea. By using that space, you have more opportunities to attract new subscribers.
No matter how humble people are, most don’t like to do things wrong … so why not play on that natural human tendency in an email subject line, especially if you’re in the business of helping clients (or prospective clients) succeed? Thrillist certainly does in the subject line above, and it makes the language even more vibrant by using DO NOT — a great takeaway for B2B marketers.
Instead of using the typical contraction “don’t,” Thrillist spells it out and adds the all-caps for effect. That way, you’ll notice the subject line in your inbox, and then not, finder it harder to resist clicking on it.
Think about how going negative in your marketing might be a good thing. For example, many of us have anxiety about looking silly and stupid, so figure out how you can play to those emotions in subject lines. Of course, it’s important to back up that subject line with encouraging, helpful content, so that you’re not just ranting at people all day.
Getting negative can get your subscribers’ attention — this subject line certainly caught mine.
Next is a subject line from Buffer. Back in 2013, Buffer got hacked — every tech company’s worst nightmare. But Buffer handled it exceptionally well, especially on the email front.
What we admire about the subject line is that it’s concise and direct. In a crisis, it’s better to steer clear of puns. People want to see that you’re not only taking the situation seriously, but also be reassured that the world isn’t ending.
Because of the way the subject line is worded and formatted, you feel like Buffer is calm and collected about the issue, and is taking your personal safety into consideration. That’s pretty hard to do in just a few words.
Here’s another great example of leveraging your audience’s full plate to your email marketing advantage. Who hasn’t refrained from asking a question out of fear of looking silly or out of the loop? Excuse me, while I sheepishly raise my hand.
” … but were too afraid to ask” is one of those phrases that, to us, probably won’t go out of style for a long time. People seek insights from Copy Hackers — an organization dedicated to helping marketers and other professionals write better copy, as the name suggests — because, well, they have questions. They want to improve. And when that audience is too afraid to ask those questions, here’s Copy Hackers, ready to come to the rescue with answers.
What does your audience want to know, but might be too embarrassed to ask? Use that information to craft your content — including your email subject lines.
For reference, Tullamore is the name of my colleague Amanda Zantal-Wiener‘s dog. And the subject line she received, written above, is another winning example of perfect emoji placement — especially when it’s a cute dog.
Here’s a great example of how personalization goes beyond the email recipient’s name. Wag!, an on-demand dog-walking app, includes the names of its customers’ pets in a portion of its email subject lines. But this type of personalization is more than just a first-name basis. If there’s anything my colleague Amanda loves more than free stuff and baking goods, it’s her pup. Wag! knows that, and by mentioning Tullamore by name in the subject line — in tandem with an offer, no less — it caught her attention and piques her interest.
Last, but certainly not least, is this punny email subject line from Quirky. Yes — we’re suckers for puns, in the right situation.
What we like most about it is the second part: “Yeah, we said it.” The pun in the beginning is great and all — it refers to a new invention featured on Quirky’s site to help everyday consumers detangle their numerous plugs and cords — but the second sentence is conversational and self-referential. That’s exactly what many of us would say after making a really cheesy joke in real life.
Many brands could stand to be more conversational and goofy in their emails. While it may not be appropriate to go as far as Quirky’s subject line, being goofy might just be the way to delight your email recipients.
The Crunchbase Insights email has an interesting way of wrapping details about all the stories it will present you in one subject line. This is eye-catching because it seems like an odd mashup of words, but gets to the point about three complicated stories at the same time.
When it comes to email, Crunchbase is known for their longer, text based emails. They all read like a more conversational letter to a the email recipient and casually discuss and hyperlink Crunchbase’s top stories. While the subject lines feel interesting and eye-catching, the emails often report deeper business news that cut right to the chase.
This subject line shows how you can be punchy, but also fun and creative when trying to pull in your audience.
Shutterfly, a company that allows you to print your photos on interesting products or other frames gets visual with their subject lines by occasionally using an emoji. Due to their company’s nature and creative audience, the fire emoji in this subject line seems to work without feeling desperate.
The email subject line also pops because it has a lot of buzzwords, including “hot,” “freebie,” “gifts,” and “alert.” In just once line, it is able to give the potential reader a good reason to open it, especially if they love using Shutterfly.
When you open the email, it aligns perfectly with the subject line by announcing a freebie promotion. This strong alignment between the subject line and message might keep people from just skimming the message.
In this subject line, WIRED includes Amazon, a large company name. Including the name of a big brand can be a great way to boost open rates because people who enjoy or use products from a big brands might click into a subject line that discusses them.
Additionally, when a brand name is combined with negative words like “phishing” or “scam,” people might open the email much more urgently so they can learn how to avoid running into the issue being discussed.
While Shutterfly’s message has strong alignment with its subject line, WIRED oppositely gives a subject line related to the last story in its newsletter. This is an interesting way to get your readers to scroll through the entire email and see the other stories before they get to the story that lead them to click into it.
Above are some of the best subject lines we’ve gathered, but we asked the marketers on our team to give some additional favorites and what makes them so good:
“Using empowering, positive and defiant language to leverage the use of Canva tools – love it.”
“Emojis always catch my eye amongst the 100+ emails I receive on a daily basis. As an email geek myself, this subject line matched my interests and piqued my curiosity.”
“It’s personalized and piques my interest because A) I’m being asked for input and B) I want to be in the know about this mysterious dance (#fomo).”
“If you can make a pun, include a social reference, or even just a familiar phrase, it’ll catch people’s attention.”
“Swearing is controversial in email marketing, but I think it worked really well in this email from Everlane. Not only was it a clever and concise way to introduce their new line of footwear called ‘The Day Collection,’ but it also aligned with the brand voice they use in other emails and across their website.”
“Grammarly is so good about rewarding you/making you feel good about your writing.”
“And if/when you turn their plugin off, their retention strategy is great! They reach out with subject lines like these that immediately drive me to click through and turn their plugin back on. Very well done reward/habit building.”
These are just some of our favorite subject lines — and since we receive plenty of them, we’ll continue adding the best ones as we discover them.
Want more? Read How to Write Catchy Email Subject Lines: 19 Tips.
Originally published May 4, 2020 10:00:00 AM, updated May 04 2020