10 Commandments of Compelling Email Subject Lines

Are you aware that 47% of email recipients decide whether or not to open an email based on the subject line alone? It may seem like a small and insignificant part of your message, but it is a crucial aspect of conversion and is one of the very first impressions you give your recipients.

If you want people to click and read your email content, it all starts with writing a great subject line. After all, it is any marketer’s ticket for standing out in a congested inbox.


Here are the ten commandments of compelling subject lines for emails:

1. Thou shall keep it short and sweet.

If your email subject line is too long, it will get cut off, especially on mobile devices. With 67% of emails being opened on mobile devices, your subject line should be fewer than 50 characters to ensure that people going through their inbox can read the entire subject line of your email.

If you find it challenging to keep subject lines short, just think about which words matter less and remove them. For example, if you are sending an order confirmation, “Your order is complete” looks way better than “Order #69854755 is complete,” don’t you think? 

2. Thou shall time it right.

Sending an email is all about timing. If you run a restaurant, the perfect example would be to send an email about your “Week-long lunch special at 50% off” at 11:00 P.M. on a Monday. This strategically compels people who are off to lunch to drop by your restaurant, or to try your lunch special on a different day that same week.

3. Thou shall make it easy to understand.

The more clear and concise your subject line is, the more likely people will read its content. Most of the time, it’s much better to be brief than to use complicated and flowery language.

To create a clear and concise subject line, think like a customer and not as a marketer. How will your email content benefit your customer? Would you read it if the subject line was “How to increase open rates,” or would you prefer “Increase your open rates by 50% today.” The answer is quite obvious. Giving precise descriptions backed up by statistics pique a reader’s interest, while general statements prevent your email from standing out against a sea of similar and/or clearly-written subject lines.

4. Thou shall mention what’s inside.

Nothing is more infuriating than a subject line that does not match the email content. It’s even more annoying when the content is entirely deceiving. If your subject line is “Get Our Free Book Now!” and your content focuses on attending a seminar to win a free book — you are technically “clickbaiting.” You risk upsetting your customers, which may prompt them to unsubscribe or even block you.

Another example is when a customer downloads an offer that you are delivering via email. Your subject line should say something like, “Your new ebook is here!” or, “Your ebook awaits!” This works better than a simple “Thank You,” since it states that something significant is in the email.

5. Thou shall use action-oriented words.

Subject lines are similar to calls-to-action in a sense that you want the language to inspire people to click. Subject lines that begin with action verbs are enticing and can drastically increase your clickthrough rate.

Actionable subject lines will inspire people to click on your email by instilling excitement. For example, “Watch Grammy-Winner Bruno Mars Perform,” is more exciting than a more generic and less actionable “Bruno Mars Live. The former subject line uses “Watch” to help the reader envision themselves at the concert.

6.Thou shall make the recipient feel special.

People love having a sense of belonging. The power of “exclusivity” has the potential to build loyalty and compel customers to convert better on your emails. With the right phrasing, you can make your recipients feel special, and the effect can do wonders for your small business. Here are a few examples:

  • “An exclusive offer just for you.”
  • “Something special for our beloved customer.”
  • “You’re invited!”
  • “Shhh! This is a private invite for our top customers.”
  • “Our gift to you.”

7. Thou shall create a sense of urgency.

Communicating urgency in a subject line can compel readers to click or act sooner than later, especially when phrased creatively and strategically. An example would be “Uh-oh, our sale is only until tomorrow” or “Your coupon is expiring.”

8. Thou shall ask a compelling question.

Similar to blog posts, asking a question in your subject line can draw readers in. For instance, you might want to try the following: “Are you guilty of these web design mistakes?” or “Is this why your video marketing is failing?” The ask-a-question tactic is a great way to provoke a customer’s curiosity and encourage them to click your email.

9. Thou shall be punny (Get it?).

Let’s face it. We all love a good pun every now and then. Adding puns to your subject line is a delightful way to spice up your emails and cause a few giggles. Just make sure not to overdo it.

For example, Quirky is a community-led invention platform that worded one of its email subject lines as “Abra-cord-abra! Yeah, we said it.” The second part is conversational and self-referential, which is precisely what most people would say after making a joke in real life.

10.Thou shall avoid over exaggerating (use of all caps and exclamation points).

Did you know that over 85% of people prefer subject lines that are in lowercase? If you are guilty of writing subjects lines such as the following: “OPEN NOW AND GET A FREE TRIAL” or “Get 75% off on your first order!!!!!” most of your emails must’ve ended up in the trash bin. Fact is, no one likes being yelled at, and using all caps or a ton of exclamation points imprints that very impression. Not only are these tactics disruptive, but they also appear spammy.

Write better email subject lines today.

Now that you know our secrets to writing compelling subject lines, go forth and start augmenting your email marketing. Just remember that although these tips are a great place to start, it is still important to figure out what works best for your target audience. If you have great content to share, you have to prove it in your subject line.

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