How to Craft Email Subject Lines that Hook!

Content Marketing

Will they read it or trash it? You have eyeballs for just a fraction of a second while recipients make that decision. Well-crafted email subject lines will improve your open rates, avoid exile to the junk folder, and get your message to people most interested in your company or product.

Some topics are inherently irresistible (How you can make extra money today!), but most are something your recipients have seen a million times. Or maybe you’re selling a boring product in an oversaturated market, like insurance or home security systems.

Even if your most animated conversations about work send dinner guests scrambling for the door, you can write an enticing email your customers will want to open. Here are some helpful tips to improve your email subject lines!

Subject Line Basics: Length and Style

Sometimes, we get so focused on the content or the words, we lose sight of length and style (or grammar!).  Here are some areas to work on with every email to optimize your potential success with open rates.

1. Keep it short

Shoot for 40 characters or less… that’s up to about eight (short) words. Everybody has a cell phone (ok, only 90% of all American adults, don’t be such a stickler) and 81% of them say they use their phones to check emails. If your subject line is short, they see the whole thing even on a tiny screen. If not, they’ll see a potentially misleading truncated version.

2. Don’t overlook the preheader

The first line in your email shows up with the title. That space is prime real estate. Make it count. How many times have you seen this in your preview? “If you have trouble viewing this email, read the online version.” #Fail!

3.  Turn down the drama

Extra exclamation points and all caps are more likely to turn people off than earn their attention. You might also wind up in the spam folder. That would be bad.

Bad email subject lines

Make sure your email subject lines aren’t breaking simple rules that send your email in the SPAM folder!


4. Make it personal

A 2012 Aberdeen Research study found that personalized subject lines results in 14% better open rates and 10% better conversions.


5. Run an A/B test

A/B Test Email Subject Lines

Take advantage of this capability with most marketing tools and A/B test your email subject lines to learn what works!


Sometimes what we think is enticing doesn’t interest customers. A/B testing your subject lines is a great way to measure customer response on small groups before sending out a dud to your entire list. There’s no excuse to not do this, since nearly all email automation tools now include a really simple A/B testing capability.

Subject Line Content: What’s your goal?

Your email is designed to meet a goal, and it’s a good idea to keep the goal in mind while writing the subject line. Mentioning a sale, a membership perk, a contest or some other benefit to the recipient is good strategy. However, if you’re asking for donations or help, you might want to save that for the body of the email.

Goal of Email subject lines

What’s the goal of your subject line? If it’s to tell customers about a sale, then say so!

 Answer Customer Questions

Good content is based on good answers. Listen to your audience to find out what they really want to know, and use your subject line to address their deepest concerns – aka pain points.

Customers want to know how your product will impact their lives. Grab their attention with subject lines that speak directly to your target market.

Providing answers has the added bonus of adding to your content. A short answer in your email with a CTA (call to action) to read more brings your readers to your page for in-depth answers . As an added benefit this type of content is also great for SEO and customer engagement.

How Do You Know What They’re Asking?

Social media usually provides most of the answers you need. Your customers are posting the minutia of their daily lives: what they want to know, what they are afraid of, what they had for breakfast…their undying love for bacon.

social media research

Research social media interactions to learn what your target market is looking for.

Search trends are another way to figure out what’s on the mind of most people. One of the most searched terms on Google in 2014 was Ebola, a disease so deadly and gross it terrified half the nation – without reason.

A sharp company in the health care or life insurance industry might have sent an email with a subject line like “Mary, is your family at risk for ebola?” Of course, the answer is no, unless Mary happens to be an ebola healthcare worker (and even then, no, not really).

By addressing their concerns, you strengthen your authority and build trust. If you give them solid information, they are more likely to share it on social media, widening your reach. But that’s a subject for another post.

You can get additional insight by using our tool to find out what people are saying about your competition.

Don’t Leave Your Email Dead on Arrival

Subject lines are arguably the most important part of your email campaign. No matter how brilliant your email is, without a compelling subject line, your intended audience won’t see it.

What was your most successful subject line?

Sharon Black

Sharon Black is a veteran copywriter and marketer. She loves writing about the challenges and rewards of marketing, at least when she's not pondering the challenges facing her on World of Warcraft. She has been known to serve as part of the grammar police force, but mostly when she is in the official role as editor.

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