How to write email subject lines that convert and engage

Your audience may not pay a ton of attention to your email subject lines, but to a skilled email marketer, you know just how vital they are. Subject lines are the first piece of information that your readers see when they open their inbox, and you know that the right subject line will encourage them to click on the email to open it, while the wrong one may lead readers to simply drop it in the trash bin.

So sure, we all know how important and powerful they are, but the question that is still asked time and time again, “what makes a good email subject line?”

Good email subject lines truly don’t have to be as intricate as some make them out to be. However, there are some requirements that email marketers need to meet if they want their subject lines to convert. Here’s a quick checklist you should consider with each new email subject line:

  • Did you personalize it to your reader?

  • Is it actionable?

  • Is it unique?

  • Does it tell the reader what’s inside?

  • Does it spark an emotion?

  • Did you consider adding an emoji?

  • Does it meet the length requirements?

These are all vital pieces of the email marketing puzzle that must be considered when your email marketing team begins drafting new email subject lines for your campaigns. Sure, not each and every point will be met each time, but you should be able to check off most of them, and you should always be able to check off personalization—that is, being actionable and sparking an emotion while falling within the ideal email subject line length, which is about 41 characters or 7 words.

Email subject line mistakes to avoid

With every good checklist comes an anti-checklist, otherwise known as things to avoid. It applies to creating email subject lines and some things you’ll want to avoid, including the following.

Acting too much like “a business”

Yes, while you may be a business, you want to relate to your readers on a personal level. Formal emails are more unlikely to be opened, and using marketing jargon can actually hurt your email’s overall open rate. For example, using the word “newsletter” in your email subject line could decrease your average click-through rate by 30%.

Neglecting personalization

Personalization is everything in this day and age. Your readers want to be treated like the individuals that they are, not like another face in the crowd. In fact, this is backed up by research, which shows that personalized email subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened by your readers.

Ignoring your pre-header

The pre-header text is an often-forgotten piece of valuable real estate for email marketers. This is the text that appears underneath or to the right of your email subject line, depending on what device your subscribers are using to view their emails. Pre-headers are a great way to extend your email subject lines to help further entice your readers into opening your email.

Just take this example from Derek Halpern. His subject line is clear and engaging and then is followed up with a pre-header that entices more readers to want to click through and see what he has to offer.

A screenshot of a cell phone

Source: Campaign Monitor

It flows so seamlessly that readers will want to know more, whether they have 1000 subscribers or more.

Neglecting to test before sending

Testing your email subject line could make or break your next email campaign, and for many reasons. It not only helps guide your email marketing team in choosing a subject line that sits well with your readers but could also help prevent painful blunders such as this example from Today’s Parent.

Testing your email subject line could make or break your next email campaign, and for many reasons.

Source: Emma

It’s an email that can and will be quickly marked spam, placed in the trash, or may end up blasted all over social media for poor quality. The brand was more than likely not talking about a dead baby, which can be seen by the preheader text included. However, because they neglected to test their email before sending it, that’s what readers are going to see, and it’s not going to sit well.

5 Email subject lines that convert

Remember, your subscribers came to you for a reason, so your email subject lines need to tell them immediately that you’re providing them with what they want. With that said, here are five email subject lines that are sure to engage your readers and help your overall conversion rate.

1. Personalized email subject lines

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again—personalization is everything when it comes to your readers. Show them that they aren’t just another name in your email subscriber list and personalize your subject lines to each reader. Merely adding their name to the subject line can be the difference between an open and being moved to the trash bin.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again—personalization is everything when it comes to your readers.

Source: Emma

Why it works: Not only is this example from Lord & Taylor personalized with the recipient’s name, but the entire subject line is personalized as if the brand is talking to the reader. They’re addressing the fact that they appreciate the reader’s business, so why not celebrate with an additional 25% off.

2. Implementing questions

Questions are an excellent way to help get your readers to engage with your brand’s email marketing campaigns. This example from ULTA not only asks a question to the reader but is, again, personalizing it with the reader’s name.

This example from ULTA not only asks a question to the reader but is, again, personalizing it with the reader’s name.

Source: Emma

Why it works: This example works because it’s directly asking a question to the reader. This email will most likely be opened up because the reader is being asked for their direct feedback, showing them that ULTA actually cares what they think of their products. The question used in the subject line works because it catches the readers attention and then directs them to give feedback. It’s considered a win-win for the brand and the reader.

3. “How to” email subject lines

Most people turn to individual brands to answer a question or address a pain point that they struggle with. “How to” email subject lines are great because they tell the reader right away that the brand is going to address a question that may be of importance to them, enticing them to click on the email to learn more.

Most people turn to individual brands to answer a question or address a pain point that they struggle with.

Source: Gmail

Why it works: The example works because it gets right to the point of what the email is going to be about, and the fact that they will be addressing “How to” do something. The reader is going to want to know what Nicki has to say about creating and scaling a powerful commerce content program, so they’ll want to open the email to learn more.

4. Scarcity/Urgency email subject lines

Creating a sense of scarcity or urgency is a great way to get at the reader’s emotions and make them want to act immediately. These email subject lines work exceptionally well with retail emails because many consumers have a fear of missing out on deals, especially when they pertain to their favorite brands.

Creating a sense of scarcity or urgency is a great way to get at the reader’s emotions and make them want to act immediately.

Source: Gmail

Why it works: This example from Shoe Carnival works because not only have they created excitement around their 25% off sale, but they have gone ahead and extended the sale for all those that may have missed out on it initially. If this reader needs some new shoes, you bet they’ll want to open this email and see what sales are available to suit their current needs.   

5. Curiosity gap email subject lines

The curiosity gap is a popular theory that is used to leverage a reader’s curiosity to get them to engage with marketing content. This type of email subject line is going to be written to spark curiosity, which will then entice your reader to open the email to learn more.

The curiosity gap is a popular theory that is used to leverage a reader’s curiosity to get them to engage with marketing content.

Source: Gmail

Why it works: This example from politician Bernie Sanders works because he states explicitly that he’s going to be addressing questions that are “too rarely asked.” When it comes to politics, the public will want to know what these questions are, and what types of answers will be given. The desire has piqued the reader’s interest, which will then entice them to open the email to learn more.

Wrap up

Writing email subject lines that engage and convert is a bit of a science, and is what it all comes down to. Your marketing materials were meant to be seen, so you must include certain aspects to get your readers to react. Some of these aspects include:

  • Addressing a hot topic or a consumer pain point

  • Creating a sense of urgency or otherwise stirring up an emotion

  • Address the reader directly through personalization

Want to stand out further from the crowd? Check out these irresistibly clickable email subject lines to help you craft some unique and irresistible email subject lines of your own.

About the Author

Emma Email

Emma is an email marketing platform that gives you all the tools you need to send campaigns that really connect with your subscribers. Unlike other email providers, Emma puts their customers first. It's email marketing that works for you.

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