10 Tips for Writing Email Marketing Subject Lines That Get Opened

10 Tips for Writing Email Marketing Subject Lines That Get Opened

Table of Contents

If you want to succeed with email marketing in 2023 and beyond, mastering compelling subject lines is a must.

Your subject line is the first and only chance to convince subscribers to open your email. If you blow it, all the time spent crafting the perfect email copy is wasted!

After 20+ years of using email as my #1 marketing channel, I’ve picked up plenty of tips and tricks for writing attention-grabbing subject lines.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll share 10 powerful subject line strategies you can use to boost your open rates starting today.

Let’s dive in!

Tip 1: Know the Purpose of Your Email First

Before you start writing, get clear on what you want the email to accomplish. This will inform how you write the subject line.

Primary Purposes of Marketing Emails

There are two primary purposes for most marketing emails:

  • Get Clicks – Drive traffic to your site, offer, etc.
  • Create Awareness – Remind subscribers you exist, build mindshare

If your goal is clicks and conversions, write the subject line to create intrigue and urgency around taking action.

If it’s more of an awareness play, the subject line can be simpler – just getting it read is the goal.

For example:

  • “Last Chance! Sale Ends Tonight at Midnight!” (call to action)
  • “New Article on Link Building Strategies” (awareness)

Know your purpose before writing the subject line and make sure to align the messaging with your goal.

Tip 2: Make Subject Lines Visually Stand Out

Your subscribers’ inboxes are crowded. Make your subject lines visually distinct so they pop out.

Some easy ways to do this:

  • Replace Words with Symbols – &, #, %, etc. Concise and eye-catching.
  • Use Brackets – [Limited Time Offer!] Brackets frame the subject.
  • Numbers – People scan for numbers indicating stats or discounts.
  • Emojis – 😱 Use sparingly but they attract attention.
  • CAPITALIZE – CAPITALS stand out but don’t overdo them.
  • Name Personalization – Putting their first name in grabs their eye.

Test these out, but don’t overdo it. Too many visual cues can seem spammy.

Tip 3: Keep Subject Lines Under 50 Characters

Phone with an email subject line extending beyond the limits of the phone
Phone with an email subject line extending beyond the limits of the phone

Long subject lines simply don’t work in today’s mobile-centric world. 

Email opens happen more on phones than computers, and length limitations are more constraining.

When subject lines exceed 50 characters or so, the extra words get truncated on mobile devices. Important information gets lost, and readers never see your core hook.

So it’s vital to keep subject lines tight and ultra-concise. 

Shoot for well under 50 characters maximum whenever possible. Less is often more when it comes to compelling short-form copy.

To test out if your key message comes through clearly on mobile, send a test email to yourself and check on your phone. If the most crucial information gets cut off, go back to the drawing board.

Carefully edit down the subject line, word-by-word, until you’ve got just the absolute essential hook intact. Remove any unnecessary fluff or filler words. 

Mobile-optimized subject line writing is an art of brevity and precision.

Tip 4: Get Specific to Pique Curiosity

Generic subject lines fail to captivate interest. Keep it vague and watch your open rates continue to tank.

To spark curiosity, get specific with quantifiable details and numbers. These make the subject line concrete and vivid.

For example:

  • “How I Generated 212% More Leads with This Tactic” is way better than “Generate More Leads!”
  • “Get 800+ New Email Subscribers with This Strategy” is better than “Increase Your Email List Today”
  • “I Tried This Easy Trick & Lost 10 Pounds in 2 Weeks” is better than “Lose Weight Right Away”

See how a precise statistic, a quantified target, and a specific time period and result make those subject lines pop like crazy?

Quote Graphic

Vague subject lines barely register in readers’ minds. But be specific, and people instantly visualize and relate. Their curiosity is piqued. They want to find out more.

So get granular with details and numbers whenever possible. Instead of talking in generalities, give them specifics to latch onto.

Use subject lines to paint a vivid, tangible picture. Skip the generic, and watch those open rates soar.

Tip 5: Use Power Words That Trigger Emotion

Want subject lines that pack a punch? Power words are your secret weapon.

These ultra-potent words spark emotion, paint vivid visuals, and create instant associations. They grab attention on a primal, subconscious level.

Compare these pairs of words:

  • “Poor” is bland. But “Broke” immediately conveys the emotion of desperation.
  • “Information” is generic. But “Encyclopedia” conjures up a vast treasure trove of knowledge.
  • “Concentrated” is flat. But “Laser-focused” makes readers feel that intense precision.

See how power words instantly add color, sensation, and impact?

Power Words Instantly Add Color, Sensation, and Impact

Now take any lackluster subject line and swap out dull words for electric power words.

Does it say “Find out”? Replace it with “Uncover the secrets to…”

Does it say “Buy now”? Try “Snatch up this hot deal before it’s gone forever!”

With strategic power word substitutions, your subject lines will crackle with energy and flair. Readers will feel compelled to open and keep reading.

So dig into those thesauruses and find words with gravity and punch. Weaponize your subject lines with vocabulary that packs a wallop straight to the emotions.

Then watch those open rates explode as power words work their magic.

Tip 6: Speak to Specific Segments

Do you have a large, diverse audience with varied interests? Target your subject lines to speak directly to specific segments.

Even if a subject only appeals to a subset of your list, open rates will be sky-high from those passionate subscribers.

Meanwhile, others who don’t care will self-select out. That’s perfectly fine – you don’t want to force irrelevant emails on them anyway.

Segmenting allows you to leverage the diverse interests of your audience for laser-targeted subject lines.

For example:

  • If you’re a fashion retailer, target teen girls vs. middle-aged women.
  • If you’re a SaaS company, speak directly to product teams vs. executives.
  • If you’re an online course creator, address subject lines to beginners vs. advanced students.

You can go one step further and segment based on behavior. Target email subscribers who opened one email but not another. Or segment those who clicked on a specific email.

Zeroing in on your audience by their interests, behaviors, and desires will help you serve emails that are relevant to the needs RIGHT NOW.

Concept of targeting a specific subgroup of a bigger audience

It’s like you’re emailing a list of one…but you’re targeting many more birds with a single stone.

With precise segment targeting, OPEN RATES CAN ABSOLUTELY EXPLODE! So get to know your audience segments intimately and craft subject lines that irresistibly appeal to each one.

Tip 7: Use Blind Subject Lines to Pique Curiosity

Want to spark an urgent emotional response? Try a blind subject line.

These intentionally vague lines pique curiosity by revealing zero details:

  • “I can’t believe this just happened…”
  • “Wait, was this you?!?”
  • “You won’t believe what she just said about you…”
  • “I need to talk to you immediately…”

With no context given, readers are driven by intense curiosity to open and find out more.

Blind subject lines make it seem like you’re emailing someone personally about an important, urgent matter. Even though it’s an email blast, it feels targeted and essential.

This technique clearly works based on raw human psychology. But use it sparingly.

Why? Because overuse it and subscribers may catch on and feel manipulated. You can’t Cry Wolf too often.

That said, a well-timed blind subject line can be highly effective at spiking open rates.

Just mix it into your subject line rotation no more than 20% of the time. Enough to pull the curiosity lever, but not so frequent that the magic wears off.

In the end, intrigue and mystery are powerful. So go ahead and sprinkle in some blind subject lines when you need that extra dose of opens.

Tip 8: Label Program-Specific Emails

Do your subscribers get emails about multiple products or programs? Help them instantly identify relevancy with labels.

Quote Graphic
Quote Graphic

Simply include the program name in brackets at the start of applicable subject lines. For example:

  • [FB Ad Secrets] New Training Released
  • [Fast Track Success] Updated Roadmap
  • [Copywriting Masterclass] 50% OFF This Week Only

You can also abbreviate or shorten the name of your program to keep your subject lines under 50 characters.

  • [FBAS] New Training Released
  • [FTS] Updated Roadmap
  • [Copy Class] 50% OFF This Week Only

This allows subscribers to quickly parse which emails are tied to programs they care about.

Without labels, subscribers seeing emails about programs they don’t belong to may tune out entirely.

But when you implement clear program labeling in subject lines, subscribers can glance and instantly know:

  • If an email is tied to a program they invested in
  • How critically important that email is for them
  • If they can safely ignore unrelated program emails

This strategy maximizes relevancy. Subscribers feel you respect their time by allowing them to filter effectively.

In turn, they pay closer attention to the labeled program emails that matter most to them.

So leverage labels to help subscribers instantly identify the premium program content they want most. It’s an easy win for higher open rates on your most important emails.

Tip 9: Optimize the Sender Name

Your “from” name has a big influence on open rates. Use a sender name your subscribers instantly know and trust.

For example, when starting out, use your personal name. Early subscribers connect with you as an individual first. Seeing an email from you in their inbox will get opened.

But over time, as your company grows, begin incorporating your brand name too. This builds equity in the brand, not just yourself.

Some examples of transitions:

  • John Smith → John Smith (Acme Co)
  • Jane Doe → Jane Doe (CEO, Bizness)
  • Bobby Jones → Bobby Jones (AwesomeStartup)

The goal is to eventually transition to just your company name, once it has enough brand recognition. But do this slowly.

Tip 10: Create a Swipe File of Good Subject Lines

Subject Lines Going Into a Document

Want endless inspiration for writing compelling subject lines? Study what’s working for other marketers.

Start by creating a swipe file – a document where you collect great subject lines you see in the wild.

The process is simple.

Whenever an email lands in your inbox with a subject line that catches your attention, copy and paste it into your swipe file.

Especially look for subject lines from companies you don’t know. If a random sender sucked you in, their subject line must be fantastic.

Soon you’ll have a growing library of real-world subject lines that hook recipients and get opened.

Now when you sit down to write your own subject lines, consult your swipe file.

Look for common patterns and angles that work. Compare approaches between companies in different industries.

Having these proven examples gets your creative juices flowing. You’ll generate way more ideas, faster.

And you can even tweak swiped lines to fit your own products and offers.

With a swipe file, you leverage the wisdom of other successful email marketers. Your subject line learning curve shortens exponentially.

So start building your email subject line swipe file – it’s one of the most powerful tools for mastering email subject line writing fast.

Want a jumpstart? Check out this free swipe file of 100 subject lines.

Bonus Tip 11: A/B Test Your Subject Line Variations

You’ll never know which subject line performs best unless you test.

Once you’ve brainstormed a few potential subject lines, set up an A/B split test.

Send one variation to a small portion of your list, and a different one to another similar segment.

Then look at the open rates. The winner can be sent to the rest of your subscribers.

For example, you could test:

  • “How I Lost 10 Pounds Fast”
  • “Rapid Weight Loss – My Secret”
  • “Forget Dieting – I Lost 10 Pounds in 2 Weeks”

Ideally, create 3+ variations and test against each other simultaneously.

Rotation testing (sending subject line A, then B, then C) also works but takes more time.

Tools like Sendlane make it easy to set up A/B tests directly within an email campaign.

The key is to let the data from a split test decide what subject to use. This takes the guesswork out of your headline and subject line writing forever.

You’ll quickly learn what angles and wording resonate most with your audience.

So don’t fly blind – A/B testing subject lines will unlock higher open rates faster than anything.

Level Up Your Email Game with Killer Subject Lines

Level Up Your Email Game with Killer Subject Lines

Email marketing lives and dies by the subject line. Master the art and science of compelling subject lines, and your open rates will soar.

Leverage these 10 proven tips like visual formatting, concise copy, power words, specificity, and more to grab attention in crowded inboxes.

Always A/B test different options and analyze the data to refine your intuition. Study swipe files of winners.

Most importantly, remember your subject line is step one of a relationship. Never mislead or manipulate. Build trust and deliver value.

With compelling, authentic subject lines, your emails will get opened, read, and acted on more than ever before.

If you want to take your email marketing to the next level, be sure to join my free Facebook group for entrepreneurs

In our incredible community, we network, share cutting-edge strategies, and provide exclusive insights into what’s working now. 

See you on the inside!

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