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How To Write Email Subject Lines: 9 Best Practices To Hook Your Subscribers (Plus 50 Ideas You Can Steal)

By Rachel Waldmann
22 minute read

SubjectLines-01I’d venture to guess you receive at least a dozen marketing emails a day. Many of them are probably from ecommerce sites, just like yours. From deals, to newsletters, to welcomes, and policy updates, there’s a lot to sift through. 

Think through your own email habits. Are most of those marketing messages getting opened? Read? Probably not. So when you do take the time to open a marketing email, what’s the differentiating factor that sets it apart from the rest? Chances are, it’s the subject line that draws you in. 

The cliche is true: you only get one chance to make a first impression. Your subscribers will judge your email based on a fleeting glance at your subject line in their inbox. You already poured your time and effort into crafting a brilliant email marketing campaign; you don’t want it to be ignored (or worse, deleted 😱). 

Even the greatest marketers sometimes get tripped up while writing subject lines, so don’t sweat if you fall into that category. Fortunately, there are a few proven formulas you can follow to craft subject lines that catch your subscribers’ attention. Let's dive right in.

1. Include preview text

First of all, a great subject line is composed of two parts: the subject line itself, and the preview text that follows. Preview text is the little snippet of copy at the beginning of your email that appears next to the subject line or under the sender in the recipient’s inbox.

When crafting a subject line using the following tips, also be sure to keep in mind engaging preview text. Together, these two create the pretty packaging that your email is wrapped in.

Preview Text

2. Be concise

A frequently asked question is, “how long should my subject line be?” And while there’s no cut and dry answer, studies have found that subject lines in the range of ~65 characters (or 5-9 words) tend to be most effective.

Our Customer Success team actually loves the formula “3 Seconds. 3 Words.” when it comes to writing great subject lines. Your email is (hopefully) hitting lots of eyes, so try to use simple language that can be easily understood by the largest possible audience. Now’s not the time to bust out your SAT words.

Remember, you only have your readers’ attention for a few seconds (if that), and sometimes less is more.

Examples:

 Brand  Subject Line   Preview Text
 Faceittea  Get 30% off Everything

 Hey Beauties 💗 Take   advantage before it   runs out

 Coconut Lane  You've won 💖30% OFF 💖 💖  none
 Inside Weather  Down to save 20%?  none
 Inked Gaming  We think you should   buy   from us.  Here’s why...

 

3. Get to the “what’s in it for me” ASAP

Your subscribers will be reading your emails on multiple different devices, including mobile, which shows fewer characters of your subject line. Make sure the most important information is visible, no matter the device, by putting it first.

One of my go-to practices for any email I write, whether it’s marketing-related or not, is getting to the “what’s in it for me” for my audience. Show your recipients immediately what’s in it for them if they open your email. Perhaps it’s a great deal, a solution to make their lives easier, or new products they’ll love. If they don’t see the value in it for themselves, they’ll probably delete. Call me a cynic, but it’s true.

Examples:

Brand

Subject Line

Preview Text

 Parabo Press

 Our Gift to You - Free Square   Prints

 We don’t want you to miss   out on the joy of seeing   your photos...

 Jax & Bones

 Just Adopted A Dog? Now   What...

 none

 Tortuga

 Packing tips from the pros 👩‍🏫

 Bring everything you need   without checking a bag.

 Primary

 Rompers = summer's one-   piece wonder

 There! We said it! They’re   the best!

 Chubbies

 summer fashion 101

 gals at Chubbies   Important legal mumbo   jumbo

 AllBirds

 New Breezers, Exclusively For   You

 Snap them up before   they’re gone.

 BlackTravelBox

 You're gonna love this one...

 Check out this week’s   #TravelCrushTuesday

 Club Huey

 ☁️Your Dream Come True ☁️

 New Tees 50% OFF! 

 Magic Spoon

 Let’s make your life   easier

 Choices...choices.   Sometimes they really get   in the way.

 FIGS

 re: how good you're going to   look

 (because the best looks   great on you)

 

4. Ask a question

Human psychology dictates, when you ask a question, someone will try to fill in the blanks with an answer. Asking a question of your readers will buy you a couple of seconds of their attention as they consider what their response is. It can be a completely hypothetical question, inspired by what you’re selling. Just make sure it actually relates to the content of the email.

Similarly, you can set your subject line up as a teaser, like having it be the first part of a trivia question, fun fact, or riddle, so your readers need to open the email in order to see the rest.

Examples:

Brand

Subject Line

Preview Text

 Andie Swim

 What’s your Pool   Persona?

 Complete your pool look.

 Fire Cider

 Looking to save 18%   on every bottle of Fire   Cider?

 none

 The Baby Cubby

 Have you seen our   Instagram?

 Become a member of the   Baby Cubby family and stay   in the loop.

 Tortuga

 Have you had this   problem with your   luggage?

 none

 Morgan & Milo

 What Makes Our   Shoes So Comfy?

 The secret that explains why   it feels like walking on a   cloud.

 Magic Spoon

 Ready to make your   morning better? 🥣

 Meet the breakfast of your   dreams

 O-Live & Co.

 (sent from Claudio   from O-Live)

 The bad news: 70% of   US bought olive oil is   fake...

 The good news inside this   email...

 FLOYD

 Know someone who   deserves a vacation?

 Nominate them to win!

 Jeni’s Ice Creams

 Looking for the   perfect birthday gift?

 Here’s a gift that keeps giving.

 Slate

 Love our choco milk?   Review us for a   discount!

 none

 

5. Create urgency

Everyone is susceptible to the fear of missing out, or FOMO. Use this fear of regret to drive urgency for your readers to open your emails, click, and hopefully buy. Whether you’re alluding to product scarcity or a limited-time offer, giving your audience a deadline or a sense of belonging if they engage is a surefire way to grab their attention and seal the deal quickly.

Examples:

Brand

Subject Line

Preview Text

 Modcloth

 Tick, tock! 25% off is   ending!

 Don’t miss your chance.

 Coconut Lane

 🙊39% off for 39 MINS   - GO GO GO Gals! 🙌

 none

 Seven Rock Life

 72 HOUR SALE!!!

 WE APPRECIATE YOU!   HERE IS A GIFT :)

 BoldBody Apparel

 RUNNNNNN🏃‍$99   Sets Are Back! 

 See for yourself what being   good is all about.

 Slate

 Last call 🍫🥛 buy 3,   get 1 free! 

 none

 Equal Parts

 You don't want to miss   this 🍳🔪

 Use code SAVE15 and take   15% off your next order of   $100+.

 FLOYD

 Last chance to shop   The Summer Sale!

 Save up to $125 through   11:59pm EST.

 BlackTravelBox

 Get it before it’s gone!

 Today is the last day to use   your code for instant   savings.

 Parade

 "⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐" - Over   10k Parade Customers

 Imagine wearing your   favorite underwear every   day.

 Black Girl Sunscreen

 Good news and bad   news - plus Beyoncé   loves us.

 none

 

6. Use command words

Another quick psychology lesson for you: people respond positively to clear, direct instructions. Using command words in your subject line straightforwardly points people to the action you want them to take. Words like “get,” “buy,” “look,” and “shop” are short, yet effective.

Examples:

Brand

Subject Line

Preview Text

 Boden

 Look what’s on SALE...

 Well, this is exciting.

 FIGS

 Wear these. Look awesome.

 Take 15% OFF Your Next Order.

 Outplay

 Wear your Pride 🌈

 Pick your flag & wear your Pride.

 Cratejoy

 Read All About It! 🗞 See   What Everyone’s Talking   About

 none

 Leesa

 💤 Get your best rest now,   pay over time

 none

 Cape Clasp

 🦈 Come to the SHARK side   🦈

 Daddy Shark, Mommy Shark,   and Baby Shark Approved

 

7. Use numbers (and emojis)

Give your readers a good idea of what’s included in your email by being as specific as possible, including any relevant sales or discounts in your subject line. This serves the dual purpose of immediately informing customers about the reason for your email, and enticing them to open it to get that sweet deal.

Numbers and emojis also serve the purpose of breaking up text, making it even more digestible for a quick scan. Plus, emojis are a fantastic opportunity to exercise your brand voice, and make your emails feel a bit more personal. 

Examples:

Brand

Subject Line

Preview Text

 The Copper Closet

 $10 OFF $50 or More   ONLINE ONLY!

 Save when you shop NOW-   Sunday!

 Fire Cider

 1 Day Flash Sale: 15%   off Bulk Fire Cider 💥

 Today only, save 15% off any   flavor gallon, half gallon, or   growler.

 HELM Boots

 Hey There - We Have   $75 Off Just For You

 none

 The Gap

 40% 👏 off 👏 all 👏   shorts

 An extra 40% off clearance,   too. 

 

8. Personalize (and have personality)

Gone are the days of overly formal email jargon. Talk to your recipients like they’re old friends (especially since they’re probably more likely to open an email if it’s from a friend). In fact, it’s estimated that personalized subject lines improve click-through rates by an average of 14%.

You can include your subscriber’s name in the subject line, or take it a step further by using list segmentation. This allows you to personalize emails based on customers’ data you’ve collected through previous transactions and onsite popup forms.You may choose to send particular messaging to new customers, existing and loyal customers, serial browsers, customers interested in a particular type of product, or customers within a particular geographic area.

It also might help to personalize yourself; for instance, I receive emails from Elisa at The Baconer, rather than just The Baconer – and now I feel like I know Elisa. I’m a vegetarian, but I always open her emails.  

Whatever you do, stay away from generic subject lines, like July Newsletter. Would you be tempted to open that email? No? Didn’t think so.

Examples:

Brand 

Subject Line

Preview Text

 the MUNIO

 (Elina from Munio)

 We picked this for you.

 none

 FIGS

 We heard you needed   these.

 Shop PETITE Scrub   Styles.

 Whisky Loot

 (Joel at Whisky Loot)

 We’ve got you sorted,   friend.

 The whisky revolution   is here.

 Chubbies

 Like my last relationship

 We like to keep our   shorts CASUAL

 Death Wish Coffee Co.

 What day is it, Rachel?
 (personalized with   recipient’s name)

 There’s something in   here for you.

 Ollie

 We've cooked something   up just for Daisy

 (Ollie is a pet food brand.   Subject line is   personalized with   recipient’s dog’s name)

 For a limited time, get   60% OFF your first box   of Ollie

 

9. A/B test

Not sure if these ideas will work for your brand? A/B test them, by splitting your email list into two halves and sending each an identical email, with one key difference in the subject line. Observe the statistical performance of each and use this data to improve.

Takeaway: Subject lines are important, but don’t have to be scary.

Your subject line is just as important as the content of your email itself. It acts as the sparkly object that draws your readers in.

You can steal the examples we showed you and make them your own. But the ultimate way to get subject line inspiration is by paying attention to those of the emails that catch your eye in your own inbox!

You want your readers to open your email, engage with your brand, and hopefully make a purchase, and the subject line is the first step.

Topics: Email Marketing Ecommerce Brands

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