5 Email Subject Line Formulas to Skyrocket Open Rates (55 examples)

Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter - McKinsey reported

And you know it's true. So you get on the email marketing bandwagon. Increase subscribers through amazing lead magnets. Sign up for an email marketing service like MailChimp or Infusionsoft. Write a great email. Add some visuals. Polish it up. You're done. You start to press send when you see you haven't written the email subject. So you quickly type something in and press send.

But when you check analytics, you see horrible open rates.

Why? What did you do wrong?

Chances are your email subject line sucks. Marketers often forget the importance of email subject lines and treat them as an after-thought. However, it's a vital component of your email. If it doesn't appeal to your audience, they'll shrug and move on to the next email.

You don't want that.

According to Convince and Convert, 33% of email recipients open email based on subject line alone.

Use these 5 ingenious principals to create subject lines with sky-high open rates.

1. FOMO - Make urgency and scarcity your BFF

Have you ever,

  • Stood 6 hours in line for Walmart’s black Friday Sale?
  • Went home with way more (useless) stuff than you needed in a flash sale?
  • Bought a super expensive online course because only a few seats were remaining and you wouldn't get another chance to buy it for a whole year?

It’s not you. It’s all of us. People are known to act rashly and impulsively in urgent situations.

And this is what you need to take advantage of in email marketing. Encourage subscribers to open your emails by using urgency inducing words in the subject line.

According to Email Institute, ‘Subject lines that create a sense of urgency can give a 22% higher open rate.’

Use the following words (or short phrases) in your subject lines to browbeat subscribers into opening emails and taking action right away.

  • 24 hours
  • 1 day left
  • Ending soon
  • Hours left
  • Expires tonight
  • Hurry
  • Final
  • Go!
  • Last Chance
  • Last day
  • Limited Time offer
  • Final Reminder
  • Only 2 spots left
  • Save 20% Now
  • 50% Off

Several brands and businesses are using this strategy to boost their email open rates. Just open your inbox and read subject lines by popular brands.

Email Subject Line Examples
Here are examples with sky-high open rates by Digital Marketer to get your creative minds whirring.
  1. [Last Call] For the Ultimate Email Marketing Game-Plan (PDF)
  2. [Last Chance] 75 percent off all our Execution Plans ends TOMORROW!
  3. [TODAY] Our Facebook ad targeting plan (3 pm Eastern)
  4. CLOSING down soon! (Don’t get locked out)
  5. There is still time…
  6. Are you In or Out?
  7. [FLASH SALE] My 6-Step Market Research Plan (and workbook)
  8. All Execution Plans 75% off!
  9. I called. You didn’t answer.
  10. Don’t hate me if you miss this live

2. Keep it short, sweetie (K.I.S.S)

Everyone talks about our decreasing attention spans. Several have even gone as far as to compare us to goldfish and their attention spans. Smh.

But, why is this information so vital?

Because with every passing day, people have less and less time to consume content. With over 205 billion emails sent every single day, it’s essential for YOUR emails to stand out from the crowd and get clicked. This is where short, to-the-point email subject lines comes in.

According to ContactMonkey, ‘Subject lines with 1 to 2 words are opened 15% more than those with 3 or more words.’

Email marketers are reporting astounding success with short subject lines. Content Marketing Up saw a consistent increase in their open rates when they started using short email subject lines.

Email Subject Line Stats

Glen Allsop of ViperChill saw an 83.2% increase in their open rate when he used a simple email subject line ‘Profitable Niche #2: Cloud Niche’.

Email Subject Line Examples

According to him, ‘[This was] something pretty much unheard of in our industry.’

And how can we forget Obama’s email campaign? Subscribers received emails with subject lines like, ‘Wow’, ‘Change’, and the very famous ‘Hey.’ His digital team tested different headlines against each other with as much as 18 variations of the same subject line to see what works.

Obama Email Subject Line Examples

 

Short, cryptic subject lines seemed to do really well for him and helped raise most of the $690 million by Obama’s administration.

According to Adestra, ‘Subject lines with 30 or fewer characters have an above average open rate.’

Here are some examples you can take as a model.

  1. BuzzFeed: Not Cool, Guys
  2. DiningIn: !
  3. Al Franken: Me Again
  4. Al Franken: You, Specifically
  5. Ramit Sethi: Entrepreneur = insecure
  6. Danny Iny: Responsibility
  7. Ramit Sethi: About Monday
  8. Ramit Sethi: I’m happy
  9. Paul Jarvis: Now What
  10. Neville Medhora: Klasstime

3. Be mysterious

Your palms start itching. You try to scroll past it but you keep thinking about it. Who? What? Why? These questions constantly revolve in your mind. And you know you won’t be able to sleep unless you appease your curiosity and find out. What do you do?!

You give in and click on the email to read ‘9 disgusting facts about Thanksgiving.’

Who doesn’t love solving a mystery?

Tease your subscribers and tell them part of the story instead of the whole thing.

Let’s assume your email consists of a case study. So, your email subject line could be ‘6 months ago, she lost everything. And now….’. You can use questions here, as well. For example, for the same case study you could say, ‘How xyz rebuilt her brand from scratch within 6 months.’

Money Dashboard boosted clicks by 228% when they used a mysterious email subject line. They tested the following 2 subject lines for a survey invitation email.

A: What’s your opinion here first name?

B: Please put us out of our misery

And these were the results when they pitted subject line B against subject line A. Amazing, isn’t it?

Email Subject Line Stats

Here are stellar examples from popular brands to inspire you.

  1. Digital Marketer: How “Ryan Deiss” became “DigitalMarketer”
  2. Rent the Runway: "Happy Birthday {first name} - Surprise Inside!"
  3. Manicube: "*Don't Open This Email*"
  4. Thrillist: “What They Eat In Prison”
  5. Grubhub: “Last Day To See What This Mystery Email Is All About”
  6. Eat This Not That: “9 Disgusting Facts about Thanksgiving”
  7. Bushra Azhar: The Curious Case of Selena Soo
  8. Bushra Azhar: A Spoof and a Tip
  9. Derek Halpern: I’ve got a challenge for you
  10. Paul Jarvis: What if I’m wrong

4. Kill them with emotion

According to Fuel Design,

Emotional Buying Decisions

 

To encourage action, you need to use emotion-heavy headlines. It doesn’t necessarily involve tears and snot. It involves treating your subscribers as humans and writing emails like you’re talking to them.

As an interesting article on CoSchedule says, ‘Stop sending your emails with subject lines that sound like a robot. Your audience is human.’

Email Subject Line Examples

There are several ways you can use emotion in your subject lines. Use their name in the subject line, tell them happy news, celebrate a global event together, get excited about things that excite your subscribers, and make it all about them instead of tooting your own horn all the time.

Coschedule compiled a list of 180+ words you can use to create emotional headlines (and email subject lines) that gently nudge subscribers into opening your emails.

Emotional Word Examples

Here are some real-life examples to help you create emotion-packed subject lines.

  1. DotMailer: Let’s talk about cutting up your customers
  2. Unicef: Will you put down your phone to save child’s life?

And a few by WordStream,

  1. Everyone Is Gay: Social Media As Social Action
  2. Why Your 5-Year-Old Is More Digital Than Most CMOs
  3. Your Marketing Sucks: Why You Need to Think Local

5. Bring on the funny

Make your subscribers laugh and they’ll open your email. Make them go ‘meh’ and they’ll probably unsubscribe you. It really is that simple.

However, not everyone can pull off humor successfully. There are several don'ts you need to be extra careful about when infusing marketing with humor.

  • Don’t be offensive. Avoid making jokes on religion, politics and family. Some things are out of limits and using them for humor can backfire. So stay away from taboo subjects.
  • Don’t try too hard. Every heard a joke that wasn’t funny? Yeah. Nobody likes that. Don’t be funny for the sake of being funny.
  • Don’t use the same joke over and over again. So your funny email subject line saw a massive increase in open rate. And you want that kind of success again. What do you do? You DON’T use the same joke, or a variation of the same joke again. You come up with something else, something original.

Learn and emulate the following examples to nail a LOL subject line.

  1. OpenTable: Licking your phone never tasted so good
  2. Move Loot: Seat Your Heart Out
  3. Travelocity: Need a day at the beach? Just scratch n’ sniff your way to paradise…
  4. Uber: Since we can’t all win the lottery…
  5. Overstock: Seriously. We’d like to thank you.
  6. Grubhub: Last Day To See What This Mystery Email Is All About
  7. Refinery29: 10 bizarre money habits making Millennials richer
  8. Groupon: Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)
  9. Eater Boston: Where to Drink Beer Right Now (Sent at 6:45am on a Wednesday)
  10. Fabletics: Your Butt Will Look Great in These Workout Pants
  11. Edgevale: Get In Our Pants
  12. UrbanDaddy: You’ve Changed
  13. Influitive: So I’ll pick you up at 7?
  14. BloomThat: Better than a pumpkin spice latte!
  15. Gap: Mondays are suddenly AWESOME
  16. The Bold Italic: Just Pho You: Where to Eat SF’s Best Pho
  17. Pop Physique: Get Ready. Keep the Pie Off Your Thighs Returns.
  18. The Muse: We Like Being Used
  19. BuzzFeed: Yes, We’re Still Talking About Kim Kardashian’s Butt
  20. Baby Bump: Yes, I’m Pregnant. You Can Stop Staring At My Belly Now.

Source: Vertical Response

Bonus: Don't use these spam words

Are you sure your email isn't flagged as spam?

You don't need to be a Nigerian prince promising to fill my bank account with a billion dollars to end up in my spam folder. One small word used in the subject line can easily flag your entire email as spam. And if your email ends up in spam, nobody will read your email. Zero open rates, zero sales.

Here's a super-useful list by Hubspot which contains SPAM trigger words you need to avoid.

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