When it comes to email marketing, the subject line is your chance at a great first impression. Within a few seconds of looking at a subject line, your subscriber will make a decision to either read or delete your content. Here are seven ways to write an email subject lines to boost email performance.

1. Create Urgency

One study found creating urgency in a subject line led to a 22% higher open rate, but it’s wise to use them sparingly to maintain their impact.

Birchbox uses all elements of the email to drive a sense of urgency. The subject line begins with “Hurry!”, while also creating some intrigue by hinting at a surprise inside. The sub-header then provides context with details about the deal, and the email body cites a “limited time offer!”


Birchbox subject line


Birchbox - urgent - headline

Birchbox email example

Flour brand King Arthur created urgency with the subject line “The timer’s going off on your cart!” The timer visual is relevant to bakers, and also sends a clear message that it’s time to check the offer.

Other terms that can be used to create urgency include:

Final Hours
Don’t miss this
Save now

2. Use Humor

Subject lines with humor are more akin to the conversations subscribers would have with friends. Humor breaks the ice and takes the “corporate-y” feel down a notch, while giving your brand a memorable personality.

The type of humor you use will depend on the audience, but some of our favorite funny subject lines include:

“Deals that make us proud (unlike our nephew, Steve)” – Groupon

“Just Pho You: Where to Eat SF’S Best Pho” – The Bold Italic

“Your Butt Will Look Great in These Yoga Pants” – Fabletics

3. Spark Curiosity

A subject line that’s out of the ordinary or includes a cliff hanger adds a little burst of excitement and curiosity.

“Is this the hottest career in Marketing?”Digital Marketer
“What a cat can teach you about achieving the writer’s life” – AWAI
“Weird traffic test…” – Digital Marketer
“If you liked neon on the 80s, you’ll love what we have here…”  – Twyla
“Stories on Bill Murray, Asian Politics and Bear Dancing”Wall Street Journal

4. Be Specific with Number

Numbers in article titles are effective, and the same carries over to subject lines. Lists of items pique the interest of readers, while including dollar amounts is also powerful. Letting a customer know exactly how much money they could save with a new deal is more convincing than leaving specifics out.

Some examples with numbers in the subject line include:

How [customer first name] Made Over $15,000 After Reading Our Book
10 Best Customer Survey Questions
10 bizarre money habits making Millennials richer – Refinery 29
“Price drop: Wikibuyers found $260 in savings on your recently viewed products”Groupon


Groupon email examples

“Your April statement – you have 3,565 points worth $25.46” – Expedia

Expedia email example

Expedia email example

5. Personalize It

Customers know that most branded emails are sent to thousands and thousands of other people. That’s why it can be so attention-grabbing when a reader’s own name appears in the subject line.

A person’s name can be placed in nearly any subject line, but just like with urgency subject lines, you don’t want to use personalization so much that its appeal starts to fade.

“Happy Birthday Mary – Surprise Inside!”Rent the Runway

“Mary, do you remember me?” – Bonnie Fahy

“I didn’t see your name in the comments!?” – Kimra Luna

Another way to make email subject lines personal is to use a phrase that someone would expect to see from a friend, such as “Are you coming?” or “Quick favor?” or West Elm’s “So, what do you think?”

6. Make an Announcement

The appeal of being the first to hear breaking news or learn exclusive information is exactly why announcements are another style to add to your roster.

Scout Books uses this method to make a letter from the company president exciting. These types of emails aren’t always the most thrilling, and in fact, using the word “newsletter” in a subject line tends to decrease open rates. However, Scout Books infused their announcement subject line with a little curiosity by stating “We have some news…” along with a bee emoji.

Scout Books email example

Scout Books email example

Other announcement subject lines include:

“Important Information About JustGive”JustGive

“The winners of the postcard contest are…”Fluent City

“Announcing Cardhop for Mac, the contacts app you’ll actually want to use”Flexibits

7. Address a Pain Point

Digital Marketer ran an email subject line split test that put the pain point phrase in the lead. Though the first headline, “Little _______ = big sales [QUIZ]”, had a higher open rate and the second subject line actually had a higher click through rate. While the mysterious subject line caught the attention of Digital Marketer subscribers, the pain point subject line resonated with an issue they faced and let them know exactly what would be solved by checking out the email.

Digital Marketer

Digital Marketer

Salesforce connects with readers by offering a solution to their issue. If readers feel frustrated by their businesses slow growth, you bet they’ll want to check out “How to grow your business faster in 15 minutes.”

Salesforce email example

Salesforce email example

Choosing a subject line style that matches your email’s content, goals, and intended audience is the first step to creating email subject lines that will rock your readers’ world, but it isn’t the end. Here are some other factors to consider:

Subject Line Length

Some studies have found that subject lines with fewer words, even down to five words or less, have higher open rates. While a few extra words probably won’t make or break your subject lines, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep them around 50 characters or less so that mobile readers are able to see the entire line.

Segmentation and Localization

Just as personalization in the subject line can boost your email’s performance, segmenting your list and switching up emails for different regions can increase engagement as well.

Catchiness vs. Clarity

It may seem counterintuitive to point out the importance of clarity over catchiness, given we just reviewed different ways to make your subject lines more attention-grabbing, but your subject lines still need to make sense. As we saw in the Digital Market study, higher open rates won’t equate to increased click rates if the reader isn’t aware of what content lies beyond the subject line.

Test to Perfect

The best way to learn what types of subject lines work with your audience is to test it!

In next week’s post we’ll take a deeper look into email marketing best practices with an overview of how to write effective email copy.

What’s the best subject line you’ve ever seen?