The best email subject lines aren’t stumbled upon. They are crafted with intent. If you’re searching for proven formulas to get your audience to take action, keep reading. In this blog post, we’re sharing 177 of the best email subject lines out there, and insights on how to craft your very own high-converting subject lines. But first, why are the best email subject lines so successful?
Best Email Subject Lines: Tips and Examples to Generate Results:
Understanding the Anatomy of the Best Email Subject Lines
Words are powerful. The right words in the right order have led armies into battle. They’ve also been responsible for billions in eCommerce revenue. In fact, when it comes to marketing, email remains the best channel for generating ROI.
To better understand how email subject lines are capable of generating high open-rates, you need a basic understanding of human psychology. You need to know what makes people take action. One of the very first lessons that copywriters learn is that people buy based on emotion and justify their purchases with logic. That said, to get people to take action, you’ve got to create an association between what you have to offer and an emotion you know they can relate to.
Can emotions really be that effective? Fluent realized the power of emotions in copy. They found that 68% of millennials have been influenced by promotional emails.
But which heartstrings should you pull on? It all depends on your audience and what you’re offering as a product or service. Growth marketers know to focus on emotional triggers. In this blog post, we’ll cover eight. They are scarcity, humour, social proof, vanity, greed, sloth, curiosity and reciprocity. And when it comes to crafting effective subject lines, these psychological triggers form the foundation of many successful email campaigns.
Unpacking Psychological Triggers
Before we jump into how to use these triggers, let’s examine what they are and how they work. Psychological triggers are emotional triggers. They are associated with past experiences that are triggered by stimuli. For example, you’re hungry and smell KFC. If you love eating KFC, your mind will trigger a positive emotional response to the smell, and the probability of you walking into a KFC outlet increases.
The best email subject lines work because they are targeted. They are designed to appeal to a specific audience, making readers feel a certain way. And the emotional response you choose to activate depends on the result you’d like to realise. Here’s a breakdown of various psychological triggers you can use, along with examples.
Examples of the Best Email Subject Lines You can use
Scarcity/Fear of Missing out
FOMO is likely one of the most powerful triggers out there. In part, it’s got to do the rate of change in the world, the abundance of information and options, and how the internet has created a sense of instant gratification. And to trigger FOMO, all you have to do is present an offer that’s hard to pass on and assign a degree of urgency, like a deadline or expiry date.
This combination presses upon a reader’s fear of missing out on a great offer. The offer is attractive and the deadline creates a sense of scarcity that triggers the risk associated with loss.
Here are examples of subject lines that highlight scarcity:
- Ryan Deiss: “No marketer should miss this…”
- Ramit Sethi: “Zero to Launch closes tonight (so sorry!)”
- Udemy: “Last chance to buy all of my courses for $10!”
- Scary Pockets: “24 HOURS LEFT TO GET THE VINYL”
- Les McKeown: “the DEADLINE is now...”
- L’Occitane: “Beauty You’ve Had Your 👀 on, Now with $20 OFF!”
- United by Blue: “This is Not a Sale. It’s a Celebration.”
- Kate Spade: “open to see our top picks of sale”
- Miss Selfridge: “Stop EVERYTHING! Up to 50% off ALL Dresses 🚨👗”
- Aerie: “50% off a bra that feels good. It’s REAL.”
- Dollar Shave Club: “Save money. Don’t leave the couch.”
- Hollister: “Your favorite jeans are 20% off 🙌”
- THE ICONIC: “The sale’s on SALE! 😱”
- Moo: “This sale’s too BIG for subject li–”
- West Elm: “💡 THIS SALE IS LIT 💡 20% off all lighting”
- Violet Grey: “The Only Sale That Matters…”
- Urban Outfitters: “ONLY $19.99 (or less) for all of THIS?”
- Paperless: “Early bird gets the sale”
- Tarte: “say goodbye to your exclusive 20% offer”
- Violet Grey: “There’s Still Time To Save On These Exclusives”
- Urban Outfitters: “Clock’s ticking ⏲ 50% OFF 500+ items”
- Torrid: “BOGO free clearance is over in 5…4…3…”
- ThinkGeek: “Buy One Get One Free OR ELSE”
- The Spinsterz: “It’s there and then it’s GONE. POOF. 💥”
- Proven: “bye, bye, bye”
Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt
Like FOMO, fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) are also strong motivators. They play on one’s aversion to risk and the fear of loss. But unlike FOMO, FUD should be wielded with caution. Used too often or incorrectly, and you could transform your brand from a helpful resource and solutions provider to a fear monger. To use FUD effectively, address an aspect that your audience is struggling with and give it context.
Context is everything.
The right amount of context will give your reader just enough motivation to take the next step (open the email).
Here are examples of subject lines that apply FUD with just the right amount of tact:
- Les McKeown: “The growth leadership killer you’ll notice too late…”
- Ryan Deiss: “Are you losing ground to the competition?”
- Fred Medrano: “No clue where to begin? I got you!”
- Inc. Magazine: “Stop making mistakes”
- Inc. Magazine: “Layoffs”
- Don’t let network outages cripple your service
- A painful meltdown waiting to happen
- Your marketing budget need not be a gamble
- Don’t let toxic reviews hurt your business
- Sumo: “You don’t want FOMO do you?”
- Sumo: “I was right - and that’s not good for you”
- “Have you solved your [challenge] yet?”
- Houzz: “Avoid these kitchen design problems.”
- Warby Parker: "Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring"
- WIRED: "Watch Out for This Amazon Phishing Scam."
Humour is a little tougher to master than most other triggers. Partly because people have different ideas of what they find to be funny, and because the wrong idea can open a can of worms. But it’s still possible to leverage humour and you don’t need to write the funniest subject line either. All you need do is find a neutral enough subject and lead with a positive message. And if you know your audience well enough (more on this below), you’ll have a good feel for what they are interested in, want and how to engage them.
Here’s a collection of funny email subject lines that show it’s possible to make humour work for your brand:
- Eater Boston: “Where to Drink Beer Right Now” (Sent at 6:45 am on a Wednesday.)
- OpenTable: “Licking your phone never tasted so good”
- Groupon: “Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)”
- The Muse: “We Like Being Used”
- Warby Parker: “Pairs nicely with spreadsheets”
- UncommonGoods: “As You Wish” (A reference to the movie The Princess Bride.)
- Travelocity: “Need a day at the beach? Just scratch n’ sniff your way to paradise…”
- TicTail: “Boom shakalak! Let’s get started.”
- Thrillist: “Try To Avoid These 27 People On New Year’s Eve”
- Baby Bump: “Yes, I’m Pregnant. You Can Stop Staring At My Belly Now.”
- Gozengo: “NEW! Vacation on Mars”
- The Hustle: “Look what you did, you little jerk…” (This one’s a reference to the movie Home Alone. We hope.)
- Happy Socks: “How d’ya like your socks in the morning? 🍳”
- Sweaty Betty: “Does this come in black?”
- Sunski: “It’s finally (mostly) sunny!”
- Studio Neat: “Great, another email!”
- Chubbies: “Call me Thigh Fieri”
- Huckberry: “Ahhhhhhh.”—Your feet”
- Beardbrand: “[True or False]: Your beard loves to lift, bro.”
- Bonobos: “SAAALE! Extra 40%! Sorry for yelling!”
- Patpat: “Forget Your Troubles, Come On Get Matchy!”
- AYR: “the fresh pants of bel-AYR”
- Blue Apron: “Sure, you *could* send a fruit basket”
- Beauty Box: “Witches be crazy, and so is this box! 🎃”
- NASTY GAL: “Pop Bottles --#GIRLBOSS has arrived!”
Social Proof is one of the oldest and most used triggers. You’ve seen it incorporated into almost all marketing campaigns because it’s so effective. Why? Because people all have a deep sense of belonging. We need to be associated with something bigger than ourselves. Be it an idea, cause or group, being associated with something strengthens our sense of identity. What’s more, where the opportunity to align oneself presents itself, social proof makes it easy to take action.
When using social proof, your goal is to reference something specifically. The best references hold some form of currency (like to a well-known celebrity, a popular idea or trend) and are easily understood by your audience.
Here are examples of how to use social proof:
- Lurn Nation: “[Free Coaching Webinar] - He created 39 millionaires!
- MAC Cosmetics: “Fans are getting REAL about new Studio Fix Stick 👀”
- Framebridge: “Don’t just take our word for it.”
- Birchbox: “We’ve Heard Some Good Things… 😊”
- Yummly: “Simple recipes from popular chefs”
- Zillow: “5 homes that are trending right now”
- Beauty Bay: “Guess what Olivia Buckland is wearing? 👀🔥”
- Aerie: “Crown jewel of sweatshirts.”
- Lenny: “Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz on the Female Gaze”
- Origins: “Find Out Why This Fave Is Sold Every 10 Secs…”
- Huckberry: “‘Want.’ — everyone”
- Warby Parker: “You might have some questions”
- IGK: “Rumor has it..”
- Brandless: “Your absolute faves🌟”
- Tarte: “our NEW palette has ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐”
- Ritual: “Transparency is kind of our thing.”
- Piperlime: “Rachel & Oivias Palermo’s denim picks”
- Patagonia: “Top reviewed styles from customers like you”
- HelloFresh: “Pssst… your friends are cooking up a storm!”
- GolfNow: “You deserve some golf this week (top picks inside)”
- Yummly: “Most Popular Recipes this Week”
- Airbnb: “Make it a good night with John Legend and Airbnb”
- Target: “Moms are loving these fave maternity looks.”
- DigitalMarketer: "Tim Ferriss says “Hi”
While vanity is considered a deadly passion, it’s also a powerful tool. From your clothing choices, to where you decide to grab dinner, vanity is ingrained in everyone and exhibited to a degree. That’s why it’s one of the easiest psychological triggers to appeal to.
When creating email subject lines that appeal to your reader’s ego, aim to ingratiate. People love being positioned as the object of attention. If you can appeal to an aspect of their existence that helps them look good or become a better version of themselves, you’re on to something.
Here are examples of email subject lines where vanity was used to make readers take action:
- Ramit Sethi: “What’s your perfect day?”
- Sephora: “Products the celebs are wearing”
- Fred Medrano: “Killer abs workout! [Follow Along]
- Ryan Deiss: “Level up your marketing IRL”
- Guess: “Don’t wear last year’s styles.”
- Fabletics: “Your Butt Will Look Great in These Workout Pants”
- Rapha: “Gift inspiration for the discerning cyclist”
- La Mer: “Age-defying beauty tricks”
- Pop Physique: “Get Ready. Keep the Pie Off Your Thighs Returns.”
- Jeremy Gitomer: “How Have You Progressed Since the Third Grade?”
- Sumo: “You, an Ecommerce Superstar?”
- Active Trail: “Say goodbye to old fashion style”
- “From Overweight to Healthy and Happy”
- “From Skinny Fat to Lean and Mean”
- Rapha: “As worn in the World Tour”
- “From Resentfulness and Denial to a Healthy Relationship With Food”
- “Kevin Hart Shares Secrets to Keeping Up the Motivation
- “Chad Wesley Smith Shares Secrets to Boosting Your Lifting Potential”
- “Dan Harris Shares Secrets to Good Mental Clarity While Working Out”
- Thrillist: “Try To Avoid These 27 People On New Year’s Eve”
- Sephora: “Your beauty issues solved”
- Alice & Olivia: “Hot date? We’ve got you.”
- Pura Vida: “Happy birthday to us (gifts for you!)”
Greed is as old as time, and today, like FOMO, it’s easily satisfied. While it may not seem morally sound to play to one’s greed, it is possible to use it as a trigger in a more subtle and less divisive way. In fact, some of the most effective uses of greed are more common than most people realise. Think of the last discount offer you saw, or the chance to get more for less.
Discounts are, however, most effective once you established a relationship with your audience. Buyers are more open to communication and taking action if they’ve established that you have something of value to offer based on fruitful past experiences or engagements with your brand. When creating your greed-based email subject lines, be sure to offer something of real value. If you’re not sure what that might be, think about what you’re audience would readily pay for, or experience difficulty trying to get their hands on.
If you can offer that for free or at a discount, they are more likely to open your email.
Here are examples of subject lines that appeal to greed:
- Fred Lam: “Yours Free Book - $1.18 Million In 30 Days!”
- Rapha: “Complimentary gift wrap on all purchases”
- Team Foundr: “Free Ecommerce Mini-Series…”
- Topshop: “Get a head start on summer”
- HP: “New must-haves for your office”
- Seafolly: “A new product you won’t pass on”
- Guess: “25% off your favorites”
- La Mer: “A little luxury at a great price”
- Topshop: “Meet your new jeans”
- HP: “Flash. Sale. Alert.”
- Rip Curl: “Two for two”
- The Black Tux: “Get priority access.”
- Blinkist: “Last chance! Save 4 months when you subscribe now.”
- JetBlue: “1,750 points for you. Valentine's flowers & more for them."
- Eater Boston: "Where to Drink Beer Right Now"
- Shutterfly: "🔥 Hot freebie alert! 15 free gifts, you pick 5."
- Adestra: “Thanks for Joining – Here’s What’s on Sale”
- “Top 10 under $10”
- “FALL FREEBIE”
- “Easter Bundle”
- “Free Shipping”
- “50% Off In Stock Toho, Ships Same Day or Ships Free!”
- “Back to School never looked so good! Specials all week!”
- “NEW [insert product category]!”
Everyone deals with laziness to some degree. While it’s not the kind of trait or behaviour people like to popularize, but it can be a useful and effective tool for generating more opens. Sloth relates to one’s desire to do less and still gain something. Want to play to your audience’s lazy bone? Offer them a shortcut.
Shortcuts are the perfect mechanism for realizing results with minimal effort. And just because being lazy sounds bad, your email subject line doesn’t have to be associated with a negative emotion. The best sloth-based email subject lines offer readers a transformation.
Here are examples of how to use sloth:
- Lurn Nation: “The #1 Success Secret of Bill Gates”
- DigitalMarketer: “A Native Ad in 60 Minutes or Less”
- Market Traders Institute: “[Insert name], stop guessing. Log in now to start winning”
- Syed from OptinMonster: “Grow your email list 10X ⚡ faster with these 30 content upgrade ideas”
- DigitalMarketer: “Steal these email templates…”
- DigitalMarketer: “Swipe these 5 killer traffic campaigns”
- OptinMonster: “Grow your email list 10X faster with these 30 content upgrade ideas”
- DigitalMarketer: “212 blog post ideas”
- Ramit Sethi: “How to email a busy person (including a word-for-word script)”
- Fred Medrano: “The missing ingredient…”
- DigitalMarketer: "Google Display Network (Your one page cheat sheet)"
Curiosity is associated with the mind’s desire for exploration, learning and investigation. It’s a natural part of life and living and how we acquire knowledge and skills. For curiosity to work as part of an email subject line, you’ve got to leave your audience with a question. You have to create a scenario where one’s desire for knowledge is tickled enough to incite action. You can lean into curiosity by posing a question or by hinting at something that seems uncommon or somewhat unorthodox.
Here are examples of email subject lines where curiosity is used artfully:
- Anik Singal: “Honestly, this makes me really mad…”
- Bill Gates: “Why Melinda and I swing for the fences”
- Fred Lam: “Goodbye Dropshipping”
- Fred Lam: “A personal letter…”
- Wholesale Ted: “Here is how dropshippers are getting sued…”
- Netflix: “What’s playing next, [insert name]?”
- Ramit Sethi: “The Sherpa’s remarkable secret”
- Ryan Deiss: “My first business failed”
- Contently: “Casual Friday: Baby Steps”
- DigitalMarketer: “don’t say I didn’t warn you 😬”
- Morphe: “Yeah, what they said”
- Beauty Bay: "Guess what Olivia Buckland is wearing? 👀🔥”
- Ritual: “Transparency is kind of our thing.”
- DigitalMarketer: “NAME, are you part of the 41%?”
- Brian Dean: “Am I the only one with a bunch of questions?”
It’s human nature to want to return the favour. In fact, research shows that reciprocity is a powerful interpersonal norm capable of developing and strengthening relationships. When used in marketing, it’s just as effective. You have the chance to play to your audience’s personal desire to return good favour. Incorporating reciprocity in email subject lines is as easy as being helpful or useful. Determine what your readers need and position it as a gracious offering.
Here are examples of reciprocity in action:
- Too Faced: “All You Have To Do Is Get What You Want”
- Care/of: “Let’s make a plan”
- Shinesty: “You left your stuff at our place”
- Y’OUR: “should you buy expensive skincare”
- Vinomofo: “The 2nd rule of Vinomofo: never leave a wine behind”
- The Kewl Shop: “More about our Sweety Flared Bandage Dress”
- Fab: “There must have been a mistake, you left this behind”
- Bath & Body Works: “Trust your instincts”
- Proven: “Your Place in Line is Going, Going…”
- AYR: “Just lookin out for you 🙂”
- Tuft & Needle: “You Should Sleep on Big Decisions”
- Warby Parker: “Whalen felt the connection”
- Sock Fancy: “Still thinking it over? Maybe this will help… “
- “Giving > Getting”
Creating your best email subject lines will take some practice. It will also require an understanding of psychological triggers. To help you come up with your best work, here are tips to guide your creativity.
Study Your Audience
There’s no dismissing the importance of knowing who your audience is. Know what moves them to action. While you’ve likely read about personas before, they’re just as essential today as they were when they surfaced. Take time to develop your personas. Go deeper than demographics and focus on understanding what values influence your buyer’s decision.
The more intimately you know your buyer, the easier it will be to create subject lines that resonate with your audience. If you need to create personas, try DigitalMarketer’s customer avatar sheet. It’s straightforward and includes all the elements you need to build a complete persona for all marketing projects.
Use the Four Pillars all Powerful Headlines are Made of
Subject lines are really just titles for emails. When it comes to creating strong titles, the 4Us are hard to beat. Subject lines that are unique, ultra-specific, include a sense of urgency or are useful, offer readers more value. They are more appealing, making it easier for audiences to take action.
Pay Attention Length
Length matters. Research shows that 82% of experts send subject lines with 60 characters or less. AWeber also derived that this likely has to do with the way people view content. Apparently, as email apps typically display around 60 characters in an inbox, people have become more accustomed to paying attention to subject lines of that length.
So, try and keep your subject lines to 60 characters or less.
Love them or hate them, emojis have been known to boost open rates according to Return Path. They seem to stand out in inboxes, offering better placement and read rates. But not all emojis work. Return Path found that while “lips” on Valentine’s Day and a “wrench” on Father’s Day were crowd favourites, “clinking champagne glasses” on New Years didn’t go down so well. So, test emojis. You may just find some that boost your open rates.
Deliver ONE Clear Message for Each Email
The most effective marketing is clear marketing. It should be focused on one message which ensures that you don’t dilute or distract your audience from taking action. The same applies to subject lines. While some examples above may reference two or more ideas, these ideas are related, which makes them easy to understand.
As you create your subject lines, focus on highlighting one idea. If you must refer to more than one concept, make sure they are closely related and be artful about how you connect ideas.
Avoid SPAM Filter Triggers
Email spam filters are no joke. They’ve been known to crush the hopes of marketers, leaving campaigns dead in the water. But it is possible to avoid spam filters. Stay away from using all caps and words like “CHEAP”, “GUARANTEED”, or “WORK FROM HOME”. For a more complete list, take a look at this one from HubSpot.
Always Quantify Value
Today, most people have a love-hate relationship with marketing. It could be due to the sense of limited time to get to everything else in the day or the feeling that most marketing is irrelevant and therefore a waste of time. That’s why you’ve got to be smart about the way you position your copy. If you’re able to quantify value, do it. Numbers in the right context offer readers more value than vague concepts or promises.
Personalization isn’t a new concept, but it’s still one of the most powerful principles marketers can apply. It’s as simple as injecting a name into a subject line or referring back to an experience you know your reader has had. A report by Ascend shows that 50% of marketers see personalization as the most effective email marketing strategy. It could help you create stronger relationships with your prospects and customers, relationships that can lead to more revenue.
Wrapping This Up…
The best email subject lines are woven from deep insights, experience and creativity. To write strong and subject lines, lean into psychological triggers. Coupled with a good understanding of who your ideal buyers are and what matters to them, you’ll be able to create email marketing campaigns and copy that resonates with your audience and generate results.