12 Tips for Amazingly Effective Email Subject Lines (With Examples!) 

Read these email subject line tips to entice your audience to open your emails and engage with your content and messaging.
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Less than a second. That’s how long it takes a person to decide the fate of your email. In the worst of scenarios, they’ll send your message to spam … and nobody wants to end up in spam. Especially when your professional job is marketing and success hinges on you getting emails opened, read, and acted on. (See what we did there?)

But of course, the challenge is that a single sentence dictates everything. And that sentence is the subject line. 

Research shows that 69% of email recipients report emails as spam after reading a subject line. 

In general, the subject line should be: 

  • Succinct
  • Benefit focused
  • Accurate about what’s inside the email

A great subject line can also be clever — and maybe even a bit unusual. Keep in mind these are not hard-and-fast rules. Your audience will always tell you what works and what doesn’t with their clicks. So follow the data. Always follow the data. 

And if you haven’t collected data yet, don’t worry! We’ll help you get started with 12 best practices for email subject lines. 

Email Subject Lines … Focus on the Benefit 

Why should your reader care? Don’t make them guess the benefit of opening your email. Spoon-feed it to them. We’ll give you an example: 

Learn How {Customer Name} Increased Open Rates 77% 

The benefit is “we’re going to show you how this customer increased their open rate and help you do the same.” 

Also, you’ll want to overdeliver on your subject line in the email content. Otherwise, the next time you land in the inbox, your reader will pass you by (or worse, mark you as spam!). 

And by the way, that 77% open rate is a true story; you can check it out here

Great Email Subject lines … Keep It Active 

The challenge with subject lines is you have limited space. Using action words like “get,” “watch,” “join,” or similar can help use that space more wisely. Why? Action words make your subject line more powerful. 

For example, if you have an upcoming webinar, you might write:

Join to Learn How to 10x Email Open Rates

In this example, you’re telling the reader exactly what they need to do and combining it with a specific promise. 

Best Practice Email Subject Lines … Make It Short

You might write a juicy subject line but you’ll face performance issues if it’s too long. Email providers have specific limits to how much text they’ll display, which can threaten to chop off part of your message. Here’s an example:

Long subject line:

Join to Learn How {Company Name} Doubled Revenue and 10x Email Open Rates

What your reader actually sees:

Join to Learn How {Company Name} Double…

A big difference, right? You lost the best parts of your message. 

So, how long is too long? A good subject line is typically 50 characters or less. 

Marketing Emails Subject Lines … Avoid ‘Spammy Words.’

Spammy words earn you a one-way ticket to the junk folder. And here’s the worst part. Machine learning is watching you, so if your emails habitually get marked as spam, getting back into the inbox will be hard. 

A few potential trigger words to avoid: 

  • Free
  • Act now
  • Offer 
  • Get it now
  • Exclusive deal
  • Get started now 
  • Apply now

And watch your use of symbols, emojis, and all caps. They can quickly make you look spam-like to both readers and the ISPs. So know your audience, avoid spam trigger words, and continue to test email subject lines to see what users like and what they don’t. 

Smiling businessman sitting in office lobby reading great email subject lines on a laptop.
Getting your emails opened starts with a great email subject line.

Email Subject Lines … Don’t Try to Act Like You Know Them 

That includes adding a “FW” or “RE” in your subject line or trying to be mysterious (“You won’t believe this …” or even worse, “Hi”). These are bush league tactics that “consultants” want to sell you on but that never result in meaningful relationships with your audience.

Email Subject Lines for Marketing … Put a Number on It 

People like numbers and lists — and the research proves it. Email subject lines that include numbers have 57% better open rates

Don’t just deliver tips or ideas. Deliver “10 tips” or “5 ideas.” Don’t say a client got amazing results; say they “doubled open rates” or “grew by 120%.” You get the idea. Numbers convince readers that opening your email list is worth their time. 

Email Subject Lines … Personalize the Subject Line 

Want to know the fastest, easiest way to increase your open rates? Personalize the subject line. Open rates increased by 50% when subject lines were personalized. Probably the easiest way to personalize an email subject line is to add your recipient’s name to the subject line (you can do that easily with marketing automation). 

And you can further multiply results when combining personalization with trigger email campaigns, like sending a customer a happy birthday message or another specialized message. Trigger emails result in 197% higher open rates and 406% higher click-through rates

Email Subject Lines … Create Curiosity

We can’t help it. When somebody stops mid-sentence, we’re left dangling. We wonder, “What were you going to say next?” 

Subject lines that create curiosity have 22% higher open rates

Humans are curious. Use it to your advantage. 

A legendary advertising headline from 1926 inspires many of today’s viral headlines by using curiosity brilliantly: 

“They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano — But When I Started to Play!” 

Are you going to read that headline and not find out what happened? Did the person play terribly? Amazingly? You’ve got to know, right!?

But here’s the point. Brainstorm subject line ideas that leave your reader hanging so they can’t resist the urge to open and keep reading, allowing you to move them further along their buyer’s journey

Blonde woman sitting at a cafe using smartphone to read email subject lines.
Telling a story is one great way to persuade your audience to open your email based on the subject line.

Email Subject Lines … Use Stories

People love stories. It might be why they’re 22 times more likely to remember information when it’s presented as a story versus a standalone fact. 

An easy way to increase open rates is to mesh a story with a subject line. The piano headline we just shared was a great example. But you could just as easily leverage a case study to tell a story. 

Here’s an example: 

How {Company} Lands $10.5M in New Deposits (by the way, this is our case study, and you can read about it here). 

Don’t have any stories to tell yet? Use somebody else’s. 

Let’s say you sell marketing automation software. You could curate an interesting story about automation to write something like, “How this Company 4x Revenue With AI ….” Then, in the body of the email, weave together content that makes logical connections between the curated story and your brand messaging. 

Email Subject Lines … Leverage AI 

Hitting a creative wall writing email subject lines? Hey, you don’t have to go it alone. Many solutions are starting to leverage AI, which can get your creative juices flowing and help you write better subject lines. 

For example, we just launched Act-On AI Create, which is an email content generation tool that helps with many tasks, including subject lines. Use it as a starting point for ideation and then refine and test email subject lines. 

Email Subject Line Formatting and Email Subject Capitalization

Do you capitalize every word or just the first word in the sentence? Answering the question, “Are subjects capitalized?” really depends on you and your chosen style. We capitalize email subject lines as you would a title, beginning everything (except minor words, such as the articles “a,” “an,” and “the”) with capital letters. Whatever you choose to do, you should be consistent about it. It’s part of your brand’s signature style, and people will come to recognize it.

And speaking of making your brand look good: Be sure to double-check your subject lines for spelling errors and typos. It’s easy to forget this step when you’re in a hurry, and one glaring error can make your business look extremely unprofessional in a hurry.

A black professional in an office types on a laptop while smiling at the great email subject line he's writing.
Even if you feel like you’ve mastered email subject lines, A/B testing and refining will always help you improve.

Email Subject Lines: A/B Test and Refine 

Experiment with proven strategies, but remember they’re only guidelines. Your results may vary. Overstock.com uses all-caps in their subject lines all the time because it’s a strategy that works for them. But they know what works because they’ve tested their subject lines, over and over, to determine what gets their audience’s attention.

Test your subject lines even if it’s a version A vs. version B experiment. If you want to step it up a notch, think about what questions you want to answer with testing. For example, do you want to know:

  • What kind of personalization works better, using a first name or a company name?
  • Does your audience respond well to numbers in subject lines?
  • Do subject lines that tell a story get higher open rates with your audience? 

And the list can go on. Outlining what you want to know helps shape the testing you will conduct and the analysis you do afterward.

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