Email Subject Lines that Can’t Help but Get Opened

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It’s the quandary of everyone who sends marketing emails: How do you get people to actually open your emails? There’s a lot that goes into creating a clickable, compelling email, but consider the first thing people see: The subject lines. 

To make subject lines even more enticing, stop thinking of them as titles, headlines, or placeholders. Think of them as part of a long seduction, where mystery attracts, even tempts them to read—and of course the body of the email pays dividends. News headlines have long been considered seductive, so let’s draw that temptation and mystery into your subject lines, as well.

It’s all about the relationships

As with most aspects of life and business, the key to seductive email subject lines that entice recipients to click is to have a relationship with your recipients. A relationship implies that they already trust you. This doesn’t come about by just emailing people—it comes through identifying the right people in your target market and solving their problems.

For this reason, you should always make sure that your email looks like it’s being sent by a person—the sender should not be “Company Name, ” or “Department Name,” but a person’s first and last name. For example, “” looks impersonal, and is likely to fall flat. Instead, have the sender be an actual person’s email address.

Short and shocking

Another tip for good email subject lines is that sometimes brevity and a bit of mystery is the best way to draw someone in. So unsurprisingly, “Hey!”, “Hey,” and “hey” are very effective email subject lines, since they look like they’re from a friend and curiosity stands a good chance of winning out. 

Other short, intriguing bits include “This just in …” and “Breaking news … “

That being said, be aware that people respond to subject lines that directly address the nature of the email, so you can use the informal shocker subject line, but try to quickly point out the nature of the email: “Hey, check out [company name]’s newsletter!” or “Breaking news! [company name] is releasing [new product]!”

Long and provocative

People have been using email like text messaging: They’ve been putting the “text” in the subject line without any content in the body as a fast way to get a message out. As a result, people are used to longer message-like subject lines. On occasion, you can use this phenomenon to your advantage in your subject lines.

Put it all out there and tell people exactly what they’re getting. That honesty and length can stand out in an inbox.

Three formulas to get you started:

  • How to + [benefit] + [timeframe]
    Example: How to Generate 300 Leads in Under 10 Minutes

  • ‍[Someone famous] + Guide to + [Benefit]
    Example: The Grumpy Cat Guide to Viral Marketing Memes

  • ‍X Things You Should Know about Y
    Example: 713 Things You Should Know About Good Email Subject Lines

Stimulating punctuation

Dots, lines, and swirls can do a lot for an email open rate. Ellipses (…) add extra mystery because they create an information gap so that people want to know what comes next.

Believe it or not, even emoticons can help your open rate, but they should be used judiciously to avoid looking spammy. For example, “Hey! ;)” is probably not going to get your desired outcome because it looks like a spam email from an online dating service. However, “Hey thought you’d like this :)” could be very effective when sent to customers who trust you and with whom you have an existing positive relationship.

Don’t, however, go so far as to put HTML emojis in your subject lines. Not only will it look like you’re communicating like a 12-year-old, but it could very likely get your message sent to spam.

One word of caution: We recommend you nix the dollar sign and even money amounts. They have been known to increase your emails risk of being marked as spam. Surprisingly, hyphens can help your open rate, since they aren’t as commonly used in email subject lines, they can help visually set your email apart from the rest of an inbox.

Keep your tone consistent

Make sure that the tone of your email’s subject line matches the tone in the body of your email. For example, sending an email with the subject line “Hey!” that contains formal or corporate content will be completely dissonant with your subject line, and people will feel baited; the converse is also true. So make sure that your voice is consistent in all aspects of your emails.

Aim out of your league

Final tip: Set your sights high.

Though the general open rate average is about 20 percent, aim for 30 percent. That way if you fall short, with say, 25 percent open rate, you’ll still be ahead of the curve.

If your rates aren’t quite that high, fret not. Remember, success comes through building relationships, and the better your relationship with email recipients gets, the higher your open rate will go. In the world of email marketing, the way to understand and improve this relationship is to learn what works and what doesn’t, and adjust your approach accordingly. The way to learn is to test and measure.