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Ah, the elusive subject line. Just when you thought you wrote something brilliant, you find that your open rates are less than impressive. How could writing 5-7 words be so hard? You used to write 2,000-word papers in college. You can form a sentence in your sleep. No really, you’re a sleep talker.


The truth is that subject lines are the doorway into your email campaigns. If that doorway isn’t enticing, no one will go on to click your emails, let alone buy your products. In fact, Convince and Convert reports that 33% of email recipients open email based on subject line alone. Even more challenging, your readers are inundated each and every day by a tidal wave of other emails vying for their attention. So how do you write email subject lines that cut through the noise?


Let me first reveal that subject lines are everywhere—on billboards, in songs and commercials, magazines, news articles, and even everyday conversations. To create your own, all it takes is knowing how to shape it, and the inspiration will start flooding in.


I’ve spent the last three years working in demand generation with one major goal in mind: crack the code on writing the perfect subject line. After hundreds, if not thousands, of subject lines tests, I have boiled it down to these three tips to improve your subject lines and increase your open rates:


1. Front-Load the Important Words

You know that one friend who’s horrible at telling stories? You know, where 15 minutes into telling their story, you begin thinking “Where is this even going? Are we ever going to hear the good part?” And by the time they finally get to the good part, you’ve already checked out. Yeah, some subject lines are just like that—don’t let it be yours.


People want to know why your email is more important than the thousands of others in their inbox, so put all the important, actionable words in the front of your subject line to entice opens. In other words, get to the point! In my experience, changing the structure of the sentence line to front-load the important keywords has increased open rates by 10-20%.


Let’s take a look at a recent email from Chase to their Sapphire Preferred cardholders. “Earn 10K bonus points” catches the eye, and it hooks you into wanting to learn how, perhaps by opening the email. Rather than asking their subscribers to do something first, they front-load the subject line with the benefit they’ll receive.


Chase Sapphire Subject Line


2. Use Numbers

People love numbers and lists. They’re easy to read, help us make sense of more complex concepts by breaking it into smaller parts, and let us know exactly what to expect (e.g. 5 Things Your Subject Lines Are Missing). The New Yorker even published a piece on “A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists,” which goes into this in depth. Numbers can also be used to create a sense of urgency or emphasize a discount. For instance, Godiva uses numbers to do both in the example below.


Godiva Rewards Subject Line


3. Use Rhymes, Alliteration, and Puns

This might seem weird, but I have always seen subject lines that use rhymes, alliteration, or puns do really well. Have you ever read a word or name over and over again until it either sounds weird or gets funnier each time? My word is “hullabaloo,” which means a great noise or excitement. Or have you ever read a subject line that was so clever it deserved to be opened?


If you can write a subject line that rolls off the tongue, you will get a higher open rate. It’s like music to the ears! It’s not easy to come up with these but when you do, they will perform exceedingly well. In fact, I’ve seen extraordinary subject line performance where I’ve beaten the control by 30-40%! For some inspiration, just take a look at some of the session names from SXSW. Some of my favorites from previous years? “Social Music Marketing: Bands, Brands and Fans” and “An Unusual Arsenal: Tech Tools to Topple a Tyrant.”


That’s it! 3 tips to improve your subject lines and get your emails opened. I hope that these tips inspire you to get out there and write subject lines like no one has ever seen before. Remember, subject lines exist everywhere. All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open.


What other tips do you have for improving email subject lines? Share them below!

Here are 25 elements you can test in your emails:

  1. Subject line
  2. From name
  3. Day of week sent
  4. Time of day sent
  5. Cadence
  6. Links vs. buttons
  7. Image-based CTAs vs. HTML CTAs (aka bulletproof buttons)
  8. HTML vs. text
  9. Subject line character length
  10. Social sharing icons
  11. Preheader text (text preview following the subject line)
  12. Personalization–first name, company name, address, etc.
  13. Header height
  14. One column vs. two columns vs. three columns
  15. Video in email
  16. Using lists and numbers
  17. P.S. note in email footer
  18. Using trust icons
  19. CTA placement
  20. Short copy vs. long copy
  21. Social proof
  22. Mobile optimization
  23. Special characters in subject line
  24. Declutter
  25. Resending to non-openers


For more resources on email marketing, check out our blog on Tips & Tricks for Optimizing Your Emails as well as our Email Marketing Best Practices.


Happy testing!

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