Let’s face it… sometimes it’s hard to know what to do.

It seems like a week doesn’t go by without some research study telling us to eat this but avoid that. A month later it’s eat that but avoid this.

Remember the brouhaha (“brew” – ha – ha) about coffee? That squabble shows up every few months.

View of woman's hands with one holding a coffee mug and the other typing on a lap top computer

Coffee – friend or foe?

  • Will coffee keep you sharp and alert?


  • Will coffee increase the likelihood of bodily harm to the person who drank the last cup?

But, good people, there is something you can count. It’s true today, and it will be true tomorrow, and the day after that, and so on and so on until aliens eventually take over the world:

Email subject lines are the most important part of your email.

According to Optinmonster.com, 47% of email recipients open an email based only on the subject line, while 69% of email recipients report email as spam based exclusively on the subject line.

All you need do is look at your own inbox to know emails with subject lines that pique your interest are the ones you’ll open. The others join the socks you’ve lost in the laundry, never to be seen again.

Here are 5 tips for writing email subject lines that will compel readers to open your emails.


Keep It Short… Really Short

As of January 2019, most people are viewing their email on iPhones and Gmail.

The iPhone portrait view will give you a complete look at a subject line of up to 41 characters. Gmail will show up to 70 characters. Anything longer and the subject line gets cut off.

With a chopped subject line your reader won’t know what your email is about and is far more likely to ignore or delete it.

And just because it’s short doesn’t mean it’s easy to write… it’s harder. A good copywriter could easily draft 25 or more subject lines before finding one that works, so don’t forget to test.


Make It Urgent

You want your readers to open your email now, and you can do that by creating a sense of urgency in the subject lines of your emails.

When people think something is urgent, they tend to act quickly. It’s in our psychological DNA. If there’s a fire, you act quickly to put it out or to get out.

Stopwatch with the word deadline in red font at the 12 o'clock position

Setting a time limit can create a sense of urgency

Urgency also creates FOMO—the fear of missing out. As social beings, we experience increased anxiety or apprehension if we feel we are missing out on experiences that we think others are having. FOMO is a real thing and it’s always been there, but social media has certainly heightened it.

There are several strategies you can use to create a sense of urgency. One is to create a deadline (make sure it’s a real deadline.) Try these words and phrases in your subject line:

  • Time-sensitive
  • Act now / Act fast
  • Time is running out
  • Don’t miss out
  • Hurry
  • Only a few hours left
  • Quick
  • Today only

Another strategy is to make something scarce. These tried-and-true phrases will do the job:

  • Limited number (or engagement, or edition)
  • Only a few left
  • Space / Seats / Quantities are limited

You’ll want to keep this sense of urgency alive all the way through your email. Check your headlines, cross heads, and CTA (call to action) to make sure the push stays strong.


Include a Number

Remember that the point of a good email subject line is to catch the reader’s attention. It needs to stand out in some way from all the other emails. One way to do that is to include a number.

SEO Hacker, an SEO and Internet marketing service, reported on two studies. The first study by Conductor discovered emails with a number in the subject line had a 73% higher social share and engagement rate than those that didn’t.

The second study by Content Marketing Institute reported subject lines with an odd number had a 20% higher CTR than those with even numbers.

In the sea of words that crowd an inbox, a number stands out. Which is also why you should use the figure (5) and not the word (five).

Lists are also easy for our brains to process and suggest a quick read. They create curiosity. How many times have you read a “Top 10” list of one sort or another?


Try an Emoji

Using emojis in email subject lines is an increasingly popular trend. A much-quoted report by Experian found that 56% of brands that used emojis in their subject lines got better open rates than those that didn’t.

Emojis can pack a lot of meaning into a single character, which is important given our discussion about subject line character length.

A 4 x 3 grid of a variety of emojies

Emojis should be eye-catching, on-brand, and on-topic

But you can’t just throw an emoji into a subject line and think it’ll work. To be effective, and not just gimmicky, the emoji must be eye-catching, on-brand, and on-topic.

You also need to carefully consider and make allowances for how emojis will render depending on web browser, email carrier, and device. It can be tricky, so do your research.

You can find some best practices for using emojis, including how to avoid having your email filtered out as spam, here.


Be Exclusive

People like to feel special. They like to be part of the “in crowd.” If your subject line can make your reader feel like they are privy to something others are not, then you’ve got a great hook.

Try some of these phrases in your email subject lines:

  • Exclusive offer
  • For members only
  • This is a private affair / deal / invitation
  • Only a select few
  • Get the inside news
  • You’ve been chosen

There are, of course, other strategies and techniques you can use to make your emails inescapably compelling. Any Internet search will bring up dozens upon dozens of links telling you how to make your email marketing efforts more fruitful.

Not all articles will agree or be consistent. But one critical point remains constant…

Without a good subject line, nothing else will matter.



Photo credits

  • Email inbox—gabrielle cc from Pixabay
  • Coffee mug with laptop—rawpixel from Pixabay
  • Emojis—TeroVesalaine from Pixabay