10 Ingredients of a Great Subject Line for Email Marketing

Samuel Edwards
July 12, 2022

Email marketing is alive and well. In fact, 59 percent of B2B marketers assert that email marketing is the most effective medium for generating revenue available. Despite critics insisting that the rise of mobile devices and social media are stifling the potential reach of email campaigns, a creatively and thoughtfully structured email blast can still reach thousands of people and generate tons of new leads for your business. 

The biggest problem facing email marketing today is not in new technologies or new formats (though a responsive email design is a necessity). Instead, the biggest challenge today is the same biggest challenge it faced a decade ago: getting people to open the email. And in order to get people to open your email, you need an awesome, captivating subject line. 

These ingredients combine to make a fantastic subject line your email recipients can’t help but want to open:

1. Conciseness

Subject lines aren’t the place to get long-winded. You might be tempted to talk about the benefits your brand has to offer or the special deals that await your users inside, but you only have about ten words, so you can’t afford to do anything but convince your reader to open the email. Buzzwords and fluff content have no place here; instead, use simple, meaningful words to convey a single idea. If you’re struggling, go ahead and draft out a long version of your subject line, then cut it down word by word, focusing on eliminating anything that isn’t absolutely necessary for your message.

2. Personalization.

Nobody wants to open an email that was obviously sent to everyone under the sun. If there’s no personalization factor, there’s no individual incentive to open the email. Some companies use personalized subject lines to feature each recipient’s name. Other companies work to become familiar with their demographics and include something that’s very important to that portion of the population. Whatever you do, don’t make your subject line generic. Make it as personal as you can.

3. A Tease.

Don’t give everything away up front. If users can get everything they need out of a subject line, they have no reason to open the email. Use a tease to draw users into your material, along the lines of “discover the long-held secret…” This implies that there’s something very significant on the other side of the email without telling your reader exactly what it is. It’s a powerful tool that leads to many more opens.

4. Time Sensitivity.

Emails also tend to receive more opens when the subject line indicates some level of urgency. Don’t overly pressure your readers, but do subtly imply that your deal or offer is time-sensitive. For example, you could use the phrase “today only” or “24-hour sale” to make users react quickly and open your email. Otherwise, they could postpone opening the email and never get to it.

5. Authority.

Though email subject lines don’t allow you much space to accomplish the feat, it’s important to distinguish your brand as an authority in the space. For some businesses, that means unveiling unique information by using words like “the latest data.” For other businesses, that means outpacing the competition by using phrases like “prices you’ll never see elsewhere.” The key is to make your brand (and therefore your email) stand out.

6. Humor.

A little bit of humor goes a long way. Giving your readers something unexpected will make your subject line pop out in an oversaturated email inbox, and making them laugh will endear them to your brand. Take, for example, Groupon’s now-famous email subject line: “Best of Groupon: The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve).” It was original, unexpected, and funny, and it got Groupon a lot of email opens and clicks.

7. Originality.

People get dozens, if not hundreds of emails every day. If you want to get past the clutter, your subject line really needs to stand out. No more “try now” messages, or clichéd phrases that readers are sick of seeing piling up in their inboxes. Write something you know you’ve never seen in your own inbox before.

8. A Question.

Questions tend to lead to more opens, especially if the question is one the user has had before. Recently, real estate platform Zillow distributed an email with the simple subject line “What Can You Afford?” The subject line conjures plenty of emotions and thoughts without bogging the user down with special offers or special values. Instead, it simply invites the user in to find out more.

9. Action-Based Language.

People tend to remain idle unless prompted to do something. Using action words in your subject line is a perfect strategy to get people to take action and open your email. Of course, you don’t have to rely on straightforward action words like “open” or “read;” you can use almost any command verb as long as it is somehow related to your purpose or your brand.

10. Value.

Finally, your email subject line should convey some kind of value to the user. In the simplest sense, you can mention a freebie coming out for your subscribers, but try to go beyond the conventional. Use concise words to effectively demonstrate how users will feel or how their lives will improve after opening the email—even if you only imply it. 

You don’t necessarily need to include all of these ingredients in your subject line, but it is important to include at least a few. You only have a few words to capture your audience’s attention, so make them count! Spend at least as much time writing your subject line as you do the rest of your email’s body. 

Get in touch with us about your marketing today!


Samuel Edwards

Chief Marketing Officer

Throughout his extensive 10+ year journey as a digital marketer, Sam has left an indelible mark on both small businesses and Fortune 500 enterprises alike. His portfolio boasts collaborations with esteemed entities such as NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Price Benowitz LLP, a prominent law firm based in Washington, DC, and the esteemed human rights organization Amnesty International. In his role as a technical SEO and digital marketing strategist, Sam takes the helm of all paid and organic operations teams, steering client SEO services, link building initiatives, and white label digital marketing partnerships to unparalleled success. An esteemed thought leader in the industry, Sam is a recurring speaker at the esteemed Search Marketing Expo conference series and has graced the TEDx stage with his insights. Today, he channels his expertise into direct collaboration with high-end clients spanning diverse verticals, where he meticulously crafts strategies to optimize on and off-site SEO ROI through the seamless integration of content marketing and link building.