I’d venture to guess you get tons of emails in your inbox every day.
From coupons, to daily deal sites, to newsletters, to password resets, to your mother wanting to know when you plan to visit — it’s a lot to sift through, never mind actually open.
So what makes you want to take that extra step to actually open an email? Often, it’s the subject line. After all, it’s your very first impression of the email — and from it, you’ll do your best to judge the content on the inside.
If you’re an email marketer, or just someone who happens to send emails on behalf of your company, you don’t want to be one of those ignored (or — gasp — deleted) emails in your subscribers’ inboxes. You’ve got to make sure your email subject lines are top-notch — and what better way to learn how to do that than by examining some great examples of subject lines? Let’s take a look at what makes a great subject line, followed by a few examples that, old or new, we’re crazy about.
What Makes the Best Email Subject Lines?
Before we dive into these fabulous examples, let’s look at what common elements you might find in a subject line. There were eight different components we found again and again in our top performing email subject lines:
There’s a phrase that, for many of us, is reminiscent of classic infomercials: “Act now!” And while we wouldn’t encourage using that exact language in your content, we do agree that communicating urgency and scarcity in an email subject line can help compel readers to click (or act) — when phrased creatively and strategically. But because you don’t want to be known as “the brand that cried wolf,” use these subject lines sparingly, and try to limit them to when the occasion genuinely calls for immediate action.
Sometimes, subject lines work because of their ability to send the message, “You will benefit from opening this email.” But other times, it’s good to maintain some sense of mystery — especially if it pique’s the recipient’s natural curiosity and interest. Because they require opening the email to get more information, they can result in, well, a higher open rate. But make sure the subject line, while enigmatic, still aligns with your brand. Too obscure, and it could end up being seen as spam.
Here’s where that benefit of opening a given email comes in. At the end of the day, people love new things and experiences — especially when they come free, or at least discounted. Open with that by including it in your subject line. Personally, I’m much more inclined to open my daily newsletters when there’s an offer of or allusion “free stuff” directly mentioned in my inbox.
No two email subscribers are exactly the same — and, sometimes, that means the emails you send them shouldn’t be, either. At this point in time, marketers have never had more ways to learn about their subscribers’ preferences, jobs, or general (dis)likes. So when you send them content, on occasion, make it catered toward the individual.
5) Relevance and Timeliness
When we subscribe to an email list, much of the time, it’s because we want to be kept informed, or at least learn more about a given topic (more on that later). Similar to piquing your audience’s curiosity, crafting email subject lines that incorporate trending topics or timely headlines can help you establish your brand as an authority within your industry — and can compel people to click to read.
6) Name Recognition
Let’s face it: We all have famous people who, at some point, we presently or previously have admired. And when you understand your audience’s preferences and interests, you can pique their interest by including the names of this admired, recognizable individuals by including them in your content — and mentioning them in your email subject lines. But take heed: This tactic really only works when it aligns with your brand, product, or service, so keep it relevant, rather than just throwing out a recognizable name for the sake of recognition.
7) Cool Stories
At risk of sounding like a broken record, here’s another place where curiosity comes into play. By front-loading your email subject line with a compelling allusion to a story that the message tells — but can only be read if opened or clicked — your audience is like to become intrigued, and want to learn more. Again, make sure the story is relevant to your brand. Otherwise, it might just confuse your readers and prevent them from opening the email.
16 Email Subject Lines to Inspire Your Own
1) Warby Parker: “Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring”
Not too long ago, a HubSpot alum received this email two weeks before he needed to renew his prescription — talk about great timing. And when you’re eye prescription is expiring, it happens to be an excellent time to upgrade your glasses. By sending an email at the right time, Warby Parker increased its chances of this email getting opened.
But timing isn’t the sole reason we included this example. This subject is brilliant because it appeared at the right time and with the right tone. Using conversational words like “uh-oh,” keeping the subject line sentence case, and leaving out the period at the end, the subject line comes across as helpful and friendly — not as a company trying to upsell you.
2) Groupon: “Best of Groupon: The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)”
It’s hard to be funny in your marketing, but Groupon’s one of those brands that seems to nail it again and again. After all, who can for get this classic unsubscribe video?
This subject line is no exception. The quip, “(Unlike Our Nephew Steve),” actually had us laughing out loud. Why? It’s completely unexpected. The first part of the subject line looks like a typical subject line you’d get from Groupon, highlighting a new deal. The parenthetical content? Not so much — making this one a delightful gem to find in your inbox.
3) Clover: “? Free (Cool!) Clothes Alert ?”
First of all, we have a not-so-secret love for emojis in email subject lines. Personally, I’m partial to turquoise — so when I see an email implying that I might somehow be able to obtain a free turquoise dress, chances are, I’m clicking.
That’s part of what makes this subject line work. It draws the recipients eye by using visual content (emojis), and it hints at an offer of something free. That hints at an incentive to open the email: There’s a something to gain inside.
4) King Arthur Flour: “The timer’s going off on your cart!”
Similar to Warby Parker, this subject line makes use of urgency. If I don’t take action on my King Arthur Flour shopping cart — like actually buying them — it will be cleared, and I’ll have to start all over again.
Okay, so maybe this is a low-risk scenario. But when it comes to my baking goods, personally, I don’t like to take any chances, or risk forgetting what I was going to buy. That’s where the personalization aspect of this subject line comes in: King Arthur Flour — especially its online shop — tends to attract both professional and home bakers who take all things culinary a bit more seriously than, say, someone who only buys flour on occasion from the supermarket. And wouldn’t you know? Those are the same bakers who probably don’t want to spend time building their shopping carts from scratch.
The moral of the story: Know your audience when you’re writing email subject lines. Is there something that they take seriously more than others? If so, incorporate that into your copy.
5) Manicube: “*Don’t Open This Email*”
Ever been told to not do something? Being asked to refrain from something can actually have the opposite effect — you now want to do that thing even more.
That’s the strategy behind Manicube’s subject line. It’s a simple but effective way to make people curious enough to open your email. (Just be sure that the contents of your email actually have something worthy of that subject line.)
6) Refinery29: “I got Botox—& THIS is what it looked like”
Okay, so maybe your business doesn’t involve Botox. But still — are you intrigued? I am, and despite my better judgment, I clicked.
That’s the power of leading your emails with a story: It sparks curiosity, which works in two ways. There are times when our natural curiosity can pique our interest without context, such as in the example above. But in this case, the subject line implies that there’s an intriguing story ahead. Why the heck did this person get Botox? And what did it look like? As the saying goes, “Inquiring minds want to know.”
Think of the stories behind your industry, and then, find ways to include them in email newsletters and frame them within the subject line in a way that piques your recipients’ collective curiosity.
7) Zillow: “What Can You Afford?”
Imagine getting this subject line in your inbox from a website showing apartments for rent. It’s both exciting and encouraging (“Here are a bunch of apartments right in your budget. Yay!”), but also kind of competitive — pitting your cash against what the market offers. Would you click it? I certainly would.
Personalizing emails to cater to your audience’s emotions — for which there’s a broad spectrum, when it comes to real estate — is key to getting people to open your emails. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know how to take advantage of them, either. In addition to principles like urgency, crafting an email subject line that implies scarcity is another great way to increase your conversion rates.
8) UncommonGoods: “As You Wish”
When writing emails, you should also think about the recognizable names and reference that make people tick. For example, take this subject line from UncommonGoods forwarded to us from HubSpot’s Content Director, Corey Wainwright, who happens to be a die-hard fan of The Princess Bride. Apparently, “As You Wish” is a pretty big reference to that movie (I know, I know — I need to watch it again), so when she saw this subject line in her inbox, she just HAD to click.
Even though she knew logically that the email was part of a larger-scale send, it almost seemed like it was tailored to be sent personally to her — after all, why else would it include a reference to Princess Bride in the title?
UncommonGoods knows its buyer persona like the back of its metaphorical hand. While it may not send emails to individual subscribers with references to their favorite movies in the title, it does have a general understanding of its subscribers and their interests.
9) TechCrunch: “Google sees smartphone heroics in Oreo. It’s The Daily Crunch.”
If you’re subscribed to a newsletter from a publication like TechCrunch, chances are, you signed up because you’re either interested in or want to learn more about technology. To reflect that, the media outlet crafts its daily email roundups (“The Daily Crunch”) with a subject line that reflects one of the latest, most compelling news items in the industry.
Here’s the thing: Staying on the cutting edge is hard, especially with something that evolves as quickly as technology. So by writing email subject lines that reflect something that’s recent and relevant, TechCrunch is signaling to email recipients that opening the message will help them stay informed and up-to-date on the latest industry news.
Think about the things that your audience struggles to keep up with — then, craft an email roundup and matching subject line that reflects the latest news in that category.
10) Eater Boston: “Where to Drink Beer Right Now”
Okay, you caught me: I’m a beer lover. (One of the many reasons I like working at HubSpot.) But that’s not what hooked me here. The subject line arrived in my inbox just at the time I needed it: at 6:45 on a Wednesday evening. Absolutely. Genius.
Think about it: You’re just over hump day and want to decompress with a few coworkers after work. Right as you’re about to head out, you get a notification on your phone that says, “Where to Drink Beer Right Now.” Perfect timing makes this subject line something you can’t help but click on.
For your own emails, think about how timing will affect how people perceive your emails. Even if you send an email in an off-peak hour, you could get higher engagement on your email — if you have the right subject line.
11) BuzzFeed: “Not Cool, Guys”
Okay, we admit it: We love BuzzFeed. If nothing else, its staff knows how to write great copy — and that sentiment includes an exceptional email marketing team. Many of my colleagues have signed up for BuzzFeed’s daily emails, and pretty much any day of the week, they win for best subject line in their inboxes.
While there are a few of BuzzFeed’s subject lines here and there that aren’t anything to write home about, it’s the combination of subject lines and the preview text that is golden. They’re friendly, conversational, and, above all, snarky.
Here’s the text that followed the subject line above: “Okay, WHO left the passive-aggressive sticky note on my fridge. Honestly, who acts like this?” That conversational tone and snark pull us in over and over again — and it’s the preview text that completes the experience for me.
We’re not all equipped to be snarky writers, but most email platforms have the preview text easily available to edit. How can you use that little extra space to delight your customers (oh, and probably improve your email stats)? Maybe you could use the subject line as a question, and the preview text area as the answer. Or maybe it’s a dialogue: The subject line is one person, and the preview text is another.
You get the idea. By using that space, you have more opportunities to attract new subscribers.
12) Thrillist: “DO NOT Commit These Instagram Atrocities”
No matter how humble people are, most don’t like to do things wrong … so why not play on that natural human tendency in an email subject line, especially if you’re in the business of helping clients (or prospective clients) succeed? Thrillist certainly does in the subject line above, and it makes the language even more vibrant by using DO NOT — a great takeaway for B2B marketers.
Instead of using the typical contraction “don’t,” Thrillist spells it out and adds the all-caps for effect. That way, you’ll notice the subject line in your inbox, and then not, finder it harder to resist clicking on it.
Think about how going negative in your marketing might be a good thing. For example, many of us have anxiety about looking silly and stupid, so figure out how you can play to those emotions in subject lines. Of course, it’s important to back up that subject line with encouraging, helpful content, so that you’re not just ranting at people all day.
Getting negative can get your subscribers’ attention — this subject line certainly caught mine.
13) Buffer: “Buffer has been hacked – here is what’s going on”
Next is a subject line from Buffer. Back in 2013, Buffer got hacked — every tech company’s worst nightmare. But Buffer handled it exceptionally well, especially on the email front.
What I admire about the subject line is that it’s concise and direct. In a crisis, it’s better to steer clear of puns. People want to see that you’re not only taking the situation seriously, but also be reassured that the world isn’t ending.
Because of the way the subject line is worded and formatted, you feel like Buffer is calm and collected about the issue, and is taking your personal safety into consideration. That’s pretty hard to do in just a few words.
14) Copy Hackers: “Everything you wanted to know about email copy but were too afraid to ask”
Here’s another great example of leveraging your audience’s full plate to your email marketing advantage. Who hasn’t refrained from asking a question out of fear of looking silly or out of the loop? Excuse me, while I sheepishly raise my hand.
” … but were too afraid to ask” is one of those phrases that, to us, probably won’t go out of style for a long time. People seek insights from Copy Hackers — an organization dedicated to helping marketers and other professionals write better copy, as the name suggests — because, well, they have questions. They want to improve. And when that audience is too afraid to ask those questions, here’s Copy Hackers, ready to come to the rescue with answers.
What does your audience want to know, but might be too embarrassed to ask? Use that information to craft your content — including your email subject lines.
15) Wag!: “? Want a Custom Emoji of Tullamore & 6 Months FREE Walks? Book a Walk Today for Your Chance to Win!”
First of all: For reference, Tullamore is my dog.
Second: Another emoji for the win — especially when it’s a cute dog.
Here’s a great example of how personalization goes beyond the email recipient’s name. Wag!, an on-demand dog-walking app, includes the names of its customers’ pets in a portion of its email subject lines. But this type of personalization is more than just a first-name basis. If there’s anything I love more than free stuff and baking goods, it’s my pup. Wag! knows that, and by mentioning Tullamore by name in the subject line — in tandem with an offer, no less — it catches my attention and piques my interest.
16) Quirky: “Abra-cord-abra! Yeah, we said it.”
Last, but certainly not least, is this punny email subject line from Quirky. Yes — we’re suckers for puns, in the right situation.
What we like most about it is the second part: “Yeah, we said it.” The pun in the beginning is great and all — it refers to a new invention featured on Quirky’s site to help everyday consumers detangle their numerous plugs and cords — but the second sentence is conversational and self-referential. That’s exactly what many of us would say after making a really cheesy joke in real life.
Many brands could stand to be more conversational and goofy in their emails. While it may not be appropriate to go as far as Quirky’s subject line, being goofy might just be the way to delight your email recipients.
These are just some of our favorite subject lines — and since we receive plenty of them, we’ll continue adding the best ones as we discover them.