8 tips to write subject lines that get opened (+ examples)
Last updated: January 30, 2024
Have you even written a newsletter if you haven’t stressed out over your subject lines?
Your subject line is the gatekeeper to your email: When checking their inboxes, most of your audience will quickly scan through the list of subject lines to decide what’s worth opening.
That puts email marketers in a tough position. With so little real estate to work with, how can you create subject lines that get clicks and conversions? In this post, we’ll break down the key elements of a successful subject line, from the right subject line length to tone, clarity and urgency.
Stay ahead and read our Q3 2023 email engagement report to uncover trends & best practices for success:
But we know that the real challenge comes down in the execution. So along the way, we’ll include examples from leading newsletters and legacy publications to spark some ideas for you.
Ready? Let’s get going:
9 tips to write better subject lines (+ examples)
Keep it concise
Our research shows that subject lines with 20 characters or less outperform their longer counterparts. Go any longer and your subject line could get cut off on mobile devices.
Having trouble getting under this limit? Use your preview text to provide more context to the subject line.
Use numbers when possible
Which subject line are you more likely to remember? “Grow your audience by 35% with our best practices” or “Get more subscribers with our best practices.” Most likely, it’s the latter.
Your audience is more likely to remember concrete stats than abstract ideas. That’s why subject lines that cite numbers outperform their peers. Look for opportunities to quantify your subject lines whenever possible.
For example: “How the Tangle newsletter reached 77,000 readers and $624,000 in annual revenue” by Simon Owens’ Media Newsletter.
Spark an emotional response
The best subject lines are the ones that a Don’t be afraid to be a little dramatic (within your brand guidelines).
- “Jezebel died for web publishing’s sins” by Brian Morrissey’s The Rebooting. Sure, he could have said “Jezebel succumbed to market pressures.” But that reads like an academic paper or press release — something the audience will find anywhere else. But this alternative shows more personality and hints at a more engaging, informative read. It differentiates The Rebooting’s coverage from the rest and above all else, that’s what’ll convince people to read. (Disclaimer: We periodically sponsor The Rebooting.)
- “Why banks are suddenly closing down customer accounts” by The New York Times. Suddenly losing access to your bank account — do we need to explain why this might catch the audience’s eye? Turns out that this article discusses how banks are closing accounts they suspect of illegal activity — something that’s unlikely to impact the average reader. But by leaving that context out of the subject line, NYT creates a stronger emotional response that’ll encourage the audience to read.
Studies have shown that we’re more driven by the desire to avoid losses than to pursue gains. So sparking a sense of FOMO in your subject lines will move your audience to act – and net you more opens and clicks.
If someone gets the gist of your email just from reading the subject line, they’re not clicking through. An effective subject line will tease the topic, but leave some room for recipients to ask questions. That’s the key to generating opens and, more importantly, creating value over time.
- “The advertising recession is over” by Simon Owens’s Media Newsletter: This subject line works because it a) counters a year of headlines stating that ad revenue is in a slump and b) it inspires a lot of follow-up questions. Is the ad recession really over? What proof is there to support this? How can I adapt my ad strategy from here? All of those questions make it much more likely that someone will open, click and read more.
- “These teens got therapy. Then they got worse” by the Atlantic. Like the previous example, this subject line goes against commonly held beliefs about mental health treatment. If someone’s even a little interested in the teen mental health crisis, or mental health in general, this contrarian approach will spark their intrigue and invite them to learn more.
Drive action with the 4 Us
Above all else, your goal is to get your audience’s attention and inspire them to act. But how can you achieve this in practice? SEO expert Neil Patel recommends using the 4 Us to write subject lines that get clicks.
Your recipients will be looking at your email alongside 100+ other messages in their inbox. So why should your reader choose your email over the rest right now? Think about this as you write your subject lines. Communicate a sense of urgency both through your content strategy and copy.
For example: “5 SEO tasks you need to complete now” by Neil Patel.
How to do this:
- Tie your content to timely industry developments and research: “New: 2023 industry benchmarks”
- Tweak your phrasing. Something like “10 email trends you can’t afford to ignore” rather than “10 email best practices to inform your strategy” adds a layer of time sensitivity to an otherwise evergreen topic.
Differentiate yourself from your competitors either in the content you promote, your phrasing and tone, or mentioning your brand’s specific value proposition.
Be as precise as possible, supported by stats and research whenever possible. So if you’re promoting any proprietary research, exclusive interviews or truly one-of-a-kind research in your emails, emphasize this HARD in your subject lines.
Offer something of value for the recipient.
For example: “🧘♀️NEW: How to protect yourself from graphic visuals” by The Reuters Institute.
How to do this:
- Speak to common knowledge gaps or needs. The Reuters newsletter is written for journalists, by journalists. In the example above, they’re helping their audience address one of their most timely and urgent needs: how to process potentially traumatic images while covering warzones.
- Create narrower audience segments: Overly broad targeting results in bland, forgettable subject lines. If you’re trying to reach a 20,000-person marketing segment with one email, you’ll be forced to use generic copy and offers to appeal to the masses. Avoid this by looking for opportunities to further segment your audience. Instead of targeting all audience development managers, send “audience development managers who have engaged with our revenue resources” one email and “audience development managers who have engaged with our content development resources” another message. Some other common use cases: Split your audience into subscribers and non-subscribers. Or segment your audience by engagement level so you can create different emails and subject lines for your passive audience and super fans.
(On Omeda, you can mix and match more than 100 different filters to make these segments as narrow as possible).
This way, you can create more relevant — and successful — subject lines for each group.
Personalize your subject lines
Out of hundreds of emails in our inboxes, we’re all just a little more likely to notice — and click — the ones that address us by name. Studies bear this out: Personalized subject lines get 50% more opens, according to research from Marketing Dive.
Pro tip: Subject line hacks might be enough to earn opens. But to get them to click, convert and keep engaging over time, the rest of your content needs to be personalized as well.
Consider including dynamic content in your emails so that everyone in your audience gets content that’s fully personalized to their individual browsing and purchase history. (Note: On Omeda, you can pull in data from your CDP to create highly targeted dynamic content in your emails.)
Choose clarity over cuteness
Worried your subject lines aren’t catchy enough? You might not need to. There’s a time and place for wordplay. Your subject line isn’t it. Your main goal is to get the point of your message across and attract interest. If your audience has to reread your subject line to get the joke, or gets distracted by your humor, they’re less likely to take the intended action of opening your email.
For example: Our experience bears this out. Testing revealed that newsletters get the most opens, clicks and conversions when we use “Omeda Newsletter” rather than something more pithy.
A/B test your subject lines
Small phrasing tweaks can have a big impact on performance. So don’t be afraid to experiment with your subject lines.
A/B test all of your options before launching to your whole audience. On Omeda, you can conduct A/B tests with up to 5 splits at once, so you can identify your best-performing options more quickly, then replicate them in future campaigns. (Learn how to conduct more effective A/B tests here.)
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