Email marketing is a game of survival. It’s competitive, fast-paced, and unforgiving.

When your email lands in a subscriber’s inbox, it’s competing with dozens, hundreds, of other messages clamoring to be in the limited group of emails that get opened.

And make no mistake. Those other emails are there to win the game. And the smartest of the smart have developed a secret weapon that almost guarantees their spot at the top of the food chain: an irresistible subject line.

Alright, so maybe email marketing isn’t quite that dramatic, but let’s face it – none of the magical business growth or money-making can come from your email marketing unless your emails get opened. So let’s get to work learning the art of crafting email subjects lines that stand out.

#1 – Keep it short

Just like every other piece of content on the web, your email subject line is exposed to a severe amount of impatience. Your email subject line needs to get to the point, and it needs to do it right away. Keep it short and choose your words carefully. If a word of phrase isn’t a strong participant, throw it out. Only keep the most important words – the words that clearly define why your reader should open your message.

And, as if a short attention span wasn’t enough of a challenge, you also need to factor in the reality that almost half of your potential subscribers will be reading your email on a mobile device. Most mobile devices cut a subject line off at a set number of characters – generally, fewer characters than you will use. So, the shorter you can keep your subject line, the better chance it has of showing up in it’s entirety (or at least close to it) when viewed by the nearly 50% of your on-the-go email subscribers.

#2 – Use curiosity to draw readers in

Curiosity is a powerful tool for getting reluctant or busy people to click on and read your content. It’s true for things like blog posts and social media updates, and it’s true for email marketing.

Create a curiosity-dense subject line on something your readers care about, and you’ll make it nearly impossible for them to hit ‘delete’ before checking it out.

How do you write these irresistibly clickable subject lines? Simply make a statement or ask a question that leaves people dying to know the answer.


Do you make this career-killing mistake during interviews?(I don’t know…do I? Maybe that’s why I didn’t ace that last interview…I better check this out).

Why I’m never going on vacation again (Huh? Everyone goes on vacation. What reason could this person have for stopping permanently?)

#3 – Be controversial

In this era of constant information consumption, we tend to  see the same things over and over and over again. When something new – something that goes against the grain or completely contradicts the theme we’ve grown accustomed to – it catches our attention.

How does your message stand out from the rest? Do you have a new piece of information? Are you doing things differently? Do you have a high-contrast opinion?

Featuring something controversial in your subject line is a great way to grab attention and up your email’s odds of getting opened.

#4 – Be vulnerable

If you’re aiming to build a long-term relationship with your email subscriber, sometimes it pays off to get a little personal. People LOVE getting the behind-the-curtain experience when it comes to people they admire or respect. And if they have subscribed to your email list, chances are they respect the knowledge or position you hold, or admire what you’ve accomplished and what you have to share.

But hold on. This one can get tricky. If you do it in the wrong way, you can totally turn your readers off. It’s important to remember that, even when you’re sharing something personal (as in, something that is innately about you), you still have to make it all about them.

A quick example. Let’s say you’re health coach. People come to you because they want to get healthy, loose weight, and live a better, happier, more active life. One day, you send out an email with the subject line “When I used to be addicted to junk food”. This email tells your story about how, years ago, you resisted the challenge to get healthy and loose weight because it was so hard to give up the junk food you turned to when tired, depressed, or bored. It was such a struggle.

This story is about you (well, not really, but go with it), but it is also ALL about your readers, because you know they are on your list to learn how to bust their own bad eating habits. Most of them can relate deeply to what you went through.

Personal stories work powerfully when they are deeply connect to something your readers care about and/or have experienced.

#5 – Create urgency

I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t fall into the procrastination trap at least once in a while (if you never procrastinate, please email me. I want to know your secret). Most people procrastinate regularly. This includes your email subscribers.

Creating urgency with your subject line gives people a good reason to open your email right away.

Is you message time-sensitive? Are you promoting something that will only be available for a limited time? Will the contents of the email simply be irrelevant after a short period? Use words that express time restrictions or urgency in your subject line.


Today only…

For the next 24 hours…

Limited space available…

Last chance to…

#6 – Avoid (at all costs) the Bait & Switch

We’ve gone over several high-impact ways to get your subscriber’s attention and compel them to open your email. But there is one important caveat that applies to them all: never use a subject line tactic unless you can fully follow through on it in your email.

So if you are saying something controversial to get people to open your email, you better have something controversial to say in your email.

If you’re trying to peak curiosity by claiming that you’re never going on vacation ever again, you better actually have a reason for never going on vacation again. Simple, right?

If you use gimmicks to increase your open rates, you’ll lose the trust of your subscribers. If you can’t follow through on the promise you make in your subject line, then throw it out and come up with something new.

BONUS: You’re more than your subject line.

Your subject line is super important. It’s the first-impression maker. But it’s not the only factor.

The fact that your email is coming from you is important, also. Over time, as people are exposed to your content, they will form an opinion of you and your stuff. If you send really great emails consistently, people will associate worthwhile content with your name, and might open your emails based on that alone (even if your subject line was rather boring that day).

What is your favorite email subject line hack? Have you ever received a crazy good (or bad) email subject line that you still remember? Share it with us in the comments. And, as always, if you enjoyed this post remember to use the buttons below to share it with your friends.