Have you ever put moisturiser on your phone? I assume you haven’t, and I must say it’s not a habit for myself either.

But it happened, and it was all because of a little ‘ding!’ and an email that popped on the screen of my phone that I had to open IMMEDIATELY even if my hands were covered in moisturiser because I was two steps in to my morning routine.

The funniest part of this story isn’t me trying to open the phone and getting lotion all over it, it’s actually the email subject line, that was one word long. What was the word?

Well, don’t laugh… It was ‘panic’.

I have to say, even if it’s been a while since I got that email, I still think it’s the best email subject line I ever saw. I mean, it was effective, wasn’t it?

So, how come some email subject lines make us click on them while others don’t? What’s their secret sauce? This is what I want to share with you today and what I think can also improve your results in other areas of your online marketing.

email subject line

The Main Attributes of Great Subject Lines


You can write your email subject line in many ways, in many styles, but there are a few that prove to be more effective at getting people to open the emails than others. Here are 7 ingredients that can improve your open rates:

#1 Scarcity

Our brains are hard-wired to perceive something rare as precious. If there are one million red shirts in the world but only 3 green ones, you’ll want a green one. I’ll want a green one. You can use this to your advantage, by including in your subject line something about how scarce the thing you’re offering is.


– Digital Marketer: ‘T&C is selling out! Only 32 seats left!’
– AppSumo: ‘Depositphotos’ 100 images deal has one foot out the door’
– Digital Marketer: ‘[Last Call] For the Ultimate Email Marketing Game-Plan (PDF)’

#2 Relevance

Maybe you have a niche tool you’re selling or you have something to say about a big news story that is of interest to your potential customers or it’s an event or holiday that’s approaching. Use things that are relevant to your audience to hook their attention.


– AppSumo: ‘Don’t miss lifetime access to this SEO Swiss Army knife’
– Thrillist: ‘How to Survive Your Next Overnight Flight’
– Eater Boston: ‘Where to Drink Beer Right Now’

#3 Informality

Don’t be afraid to write your subject line using an informal tone, especially if it ties in well with your brand. Imagine you’re emailing an old friend.


– The Hustle: ‘Look what you did, you little jerk…’
– Digital Marketer: ‘I called. You didn’t answer.’
– Influitive: ‘So I’ll pick you up at 7?’

#4 Curiosity

People love a good story, and if you tempt their curiosity, they’ll open your emails. You don’t have to invent stories for them, just find a new angle to present the content you already have.


– Refinery29: ’10 bizarre money habits making Millennials richer
– Warby Parker: ‘Pairs nicely with spreadsheets’
– Sephora: ‘Products the celebs are wearing’

#5 Recipient Value

Ah, the good old ‘what’s in it for me’. I value my time and you do also, so it’s safe to say the people receiving your emails do too. So, why would they take the time to open your email? Use their self-interest in your favour.


– The Black Tux: ‘Get priority access.’
– HP: ‘Stop wasting money on ink
– AppSumo: ‘Get more followers than Queen B 👑’

#6 Urgency

Make them realise that the clock is ticking and it won’t be long before whatever you’re offering will be gone.


– Guess: ‘Tonight only: A denim lover’s dream’
– Digital Marketer: ‘Your 7-figure plan goes bye-bye at midnight…’
– AppSumo: ‘Only 24 hours left to get webtexttool ⏰’

#7 Action Focus

If they’re scanning through too many emails, they might not even read the whole subject line. That’s why you can use action verbs at the beginning of your email subject line. This will help them figure out if it’s exactly what they need at that time.


– Digital Marketer: ‘Steal these email templates…’
– AppSumo: ‘Book more clients today 💪’
– Topshop: ‘Meet your new jeans’

Extra Do’s and Don’ts you should know about

To make your subject lines even more effective you could also take these good practices into account:

  • your subject line should be 50 characters long or less, if it’s too long it will be cut off by the email service provider when it displays in the recipient’s inbox
  • make people feel like they’re the only recipient; they’re not reading it with other 300 eyes looking at the screen at the same, it’s just them and it should feel that way; using tags for personalisation can help with this, but not if you overdo it
  • don’t be scared of emojis, they can help you better communicate the urgency or the relevancy of your email
  • it’s OK to use just one word if it makes sense for what your email is about (they got me big time)
  • ask questions, they’re a great vehicle for setting the context for your offer or emphasizing the value of your product
  • A/B test your subject line; your email marketing tools probably offer this, you just have to figure out how to use it, as it can have a great impact on your open rates
  • don’t forget about the preview text, use that space to make your subject line more effective, hint at what value they get by opening the email
  • don’t use all caps, people actually hate it when they receive emails with the subject line in all caps or with too many exclamation points or question marks
  • don’t mislead people, don’t promise them in the subject line something they won’t find in the body of the email, not even as a joke

You know what’s absolutely amazing about these tips you can use to improve your email subject line?

You can apply them to almost everything you do as an online marketer:

1) Events and webinars: It’s all about scarcity and recipient value. You want to make people realise you have a limited number of seats so they should hurry up to book their spots and you also need to tell them what’s in it for them – why they should attend. Use these and you’ll write your headline and sub-headline for announcing your webinar or event in no time.

2) Social media posts: Use curiosity, relevance, and informality when writing your updates. Entice people with your stories, stay authentic in your communication, and make sure you talk about the things they care about, not what you want to sell.

3) Sales pages: Channel urgency and recipient value. State the main benefit in the headline and spur urgency in the sub-headline. It’s as simple as a formula. You can even use your email subject line to test the best copy for your sales page.

4) Blog posts: It’s all in the paragraphs about relevance and action focus. Think of the things that are important for your audience (like pain points) and draft a list of actions associated with solving their biggest problems. That’s going to be a good start for writing down topics and blog post titles.

Let me know in the comments below what was the best email subject line that ever landed in your inbox.

Also, if you’re using A/B testing for your subject line, tell the rest of us what service you’re using and if you’re happy with the results.

Don’t be shy, let’s all put our mind together and improve our email marketing game!