8 of the Best (and Worst) Email Subject Lines

You have 2 seconds and less than 50 characters to grab your reader’s attention with the subject line of your email marketing campaign, so it is absolutely vital that you optimise this space. You might be tempted to go for CAPS, exclamation marks and cheesy phrases but contrary to popular belief this is the complete opposite of what you should do.

Good subject lines are straightforward, clear and describe the subject of your email, go figure. It’s simple advice and yet many people don’t take heed. You need to say what the email contains, why your reader should open it and what benefit or reward they’ll get if they do. Have a look at stats online and you will find that the most effective subject lines are almost ‘boring’. Conversely, the ones that have some of the lowest results are generally the ones that look and sound like creative advertising, which recipients automatically think is spam and delete accordingly.

So what constitutes a great email subject line? We’ve rustled up a few examples that have achieved some of the best open rates.

  1. “X Company” Sales & Marketing Monthly Newsletter

  2. “X Company” Webinar: Case Studies – Join Us Feb 15

  3. This Week’s Phone Call / Meeting (Personalized note from sales rep to prospects)

  4. “First Name” – 8 Customer Service Tips that Work

  5. Event Registration Today: (Name of event and date)

  6. Success Tip: # Ways to a better (X topic)

  7. Invitation – Breakfast with (Name of guest speaker and topic)

  8. You’re Going to Love This – Look What We have for You

What makes these good examples you might ask? Quite simply, they follow all of the ‘best practices’ one should consider when drafting an email subject line.

  • They tell you exactly what the message is about,
  • They tell you what company or person has sent it
  • They offer something valuable and relevant to the reader
  • They give the reader a ‘teaser’ and peak their curiosity
  • They avoid any spam-like red flag words
  • They are concise and to the point
  • They’re personalized
  • They aren't blatantly trying to sell something
  • They’re unique and stand out from the usual promo campaigns

And just so you can compare and get an idea of what a shoddy email subject line looks like, we’ve also rustled up a few of those and once again give you the reasons why they didn't make the cut.

1.            Meeting Request: Introducing Our New Product

2.            Free Evaluation of ABC Encrypted Portable Drive

3.            Post-Trade Show Webinar: Expert Insights Into Key Trends and Observations from the Trade Show Floor

4.            European Lakefront Elegance

5.            Register to Win Your FREE iPod!!

6.            Shop Early and Save!

7.            30% off Holiday Sale!

8.            Last Chance! Purchase 5 and get one free on us!

  • There is no evidence of who sent these emails or what is actually being offered – basically giving the reader zero reasons to open the message in the first place
  • The third example is simply too long, boring and drawn out – yawn
  • Win! Save! Free! Sale!– are all spam trigger words and dime a dozen – think how many emails you get like this, and how many do you actually read? None, exactly
  • They aren't personalized or targeted in anyway, making them highly irrelevant. I live in Cape Town, why am I getting promotional campaigns about Europe? The same goes for accommodation, flights and special packages. If someone sends me something about a special offer for a spa weekend in Hermanus they might have better luck.
  • Exclamation marks should be reserved for very special occasions and certainly not for an email you are sending to someone you don’t know. It is the equivalent of shouting and no one likes being shouted at.
  • With the last example, even though there is a sense of urgency (which is actually a good thing), it’s offset with the exclamation mark, which makes it seem pressurized. You can create the same sense of urgency by simply re-wording it – ‘You only have 1 day left to take up our offer of buy 5 get one free – act now’.

So there you have it. Remember that the subject line of your email is often the first contact you have with a subscriber or prospective customer, so you need to do everything you can to make the best first impression possible. It’s hard to get second chances in email marketing, so don’t blow it at the outset with a subject line that screams “spam” and looks like every other promotional email in your inbox. By sticking to a few tried and tested best practices, and by researching subject lines that have proven to be successful, you’ll stand a much better chance of your email landing in the inbox.


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