How to Craft Email Subject Lines that Drive Open Rates

It can be argued that the email subject line is, in fact, more important than what’s actually in the email body. After all, it’s hard to convince someone to buy when they don’t even open your emails. Likewise, it’s hard to get your subscribers to buy once they have opened and it looks like it’s from 1996 with horrible graphics and moving GIFs all over the place.

Suffice to say, both the subject line and the actual email body are important. But as the subject line is what your audience sees first, we’ll concentrate on them in this article.

Email data gathered by Convince & Convert shows that 35% of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone while 69% report email as spam based on only the subject line. That’s both awesome and scary. Scary because when you get it wrong, there’s a good chance of being blacklisted, while getting it right means more opens.

Subject lines that are “guaranteed” to work

There are many articles on how to craft better subject lines that are “guaranteed” to work. The problem with most of them is that they lack any data and are usually someone’s subjective opinion of how subject lines should look like. While there’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, without data backing it up it’s just that — an opinion.

This is where DigitalMarketers data on their best email subject lines of 2016 is different. It’s not based on someone’s opinion, it’s based on sending 107,422,263 emails. 100 million emails is a lot of emails. In fact, it’s enough email to produce plenty of usable data to start seeing and recognizing trends and similarities.

This is exactly what happened

They looked at their top performing subject lines and analyzed them to come up with common themes or common elements, if you will, of what makes a subject line work in an email.

It might be surprising to hear, but none of their top performing ones try to be cute or clever. None of them use ALL CAPS or an excessive amount of exclamation points either!!!!! Not only does that look spammy, but it can lead your audience to report your email as such and that is very bad news indeed.

Altogether there are eight common elements/areas/ideas that DigitalMarketer identified:

  • Self-Interest
    Direct and speaks to a specific benefit your audience will gain by opening the email. This kind of subject line also act as a way to pre-qualify openers – the people that open the email are actually interested in what you’re offering and thus things like CTR and the like are more useful.

    Example – 15 Killer Content Marketing Tools

  • Curiosity
    While self-interest subject lines talk directly about a specific thing or a benefit, curiosity works because of the exact opposite reason. They pique interest without giving away too much information.

    Example – Did you get your book yet?

  • Offer
    Offers in subject lines are by far the most popular ones among ecommerce merchants. Being clear and stating directly what the offer is about works best. Don’t try being cute or clever, it rarely works out.

    Example – Swipe our eCommerce Email Marketing Roadmap

  • Urgency/Scarcity
    The most powerful type of subject line. It talks directly to your audiences FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. Whenever something is in short supply, humans are more inclined to go for the buy. Same with urgency. If it’s only good for a couple more days, I better get on it now and buy right away!

    Example – Are you In or Out?

  • Humanity
    Your subscribers are real people with real feelings. Reminding them about the person/people behind your products() is a great way to connect with your audience. Thanking your subscribers, telling them a story about yourself or the company are other great ways to get emails opened.

    Example – Why I (kinda) HATE surveys…

  • News
    Pretty self-explanatory — keeping your audience in the loop about new developments and products is a great way to get more opens. Can work especially well when combined with a curiosity element.

    Example – ANNOUNCING: Marketing Mastery Class

  • Social Proof
    A fundamental characteristic of humans is that we look to the behavior of others when making decisions. You can leverage this in your email subject lines by mentioning individual’s success stories, familiar names, or highlighting how many people are already using a product or service.

    Example – Case Study: 7-figure eCommerce Funnel

  • Story
    Telling a story, or at least teasing the beginning of one, in your subject line is a unique way to highlight a benefit and get the open rate you’re looking for.

    Example – This is what’s truly essential… [part 2 of 3]

For real life subject line inspiration, DigitalMarketer has included all their top 101 subject lines that got the most opens in 2016. It’s all nicely tagged with elements from above so it’s easy to understand what element or a combination of one was used to write that subject line.

If you keep scrolling down that page, the post also includes top subject lines going back all the way to 2013.

BONUS: Sender name matters (and timing & segmentation too!)

In addition to subject lines, changing the from field in marketing emails can have positively surprising results. After all, besides the subject line, the sender name is the only thing visible before opening an email.

HubSpot wanted to see if making the sender name more personal would make a difference in open rates and so they tested a generic from field “HubSpot” against an actual name of someone from their marketing team.

Not only did the more personal variant drive more opens (6.57% vs 7.1%), but it also achieved a better CTR. The generic “HubSpot” got a CTR of 0.73%, while the more personal one got a CTR of 0.96%.

With their list size, that small change generated 292 more clicks and taking into consideration their landing page conversion rate, the personal version got 131 more leads.

This isn’t to say that you should go and change your email settings right now, but what this does suggest that the from field could greatly benefit from a little added attention. This test shows that it’s worth the time and effort it takes to play around with and A/B

Final thoughts

Adding a bit of data to your decision making, or email subject line creation, is never a bad idea. Having actual data can greatly help in coming up with more creative and better lines.

Look at the full list of top performing subject lines and start to experiment with your own to drive more opens and ultimately more clicks and more money in the bank.


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