November 7, 2014 | Kayla Hollatz

We recently gathered some marketing gurus together to give us their expert opinion on how to craft scary good blog subject lines, but that got us thinking, what about email subject lines? Surely they are important factors of click-through rates (CTRs) too.

Like blog posts, no matter how much time you spend writing your email copy, it won’t be seen if none of your email subscribers are interested enough to click on your email.

How can you make sure to hook your subscribers before they even open your email?

Don’t rush it

The subject line is arguably the most important part of your email. It’s the brass key that opens the email’s door. Don’t lose that opportunity by trying to rush through writing a subject line because you’ve already spent hours on the email copy.

Those few dozen characters in the subject line need even more of your attention.

Clarity is king

Being clear is better than being creative. Without clarity, your subscriber will be too confused or irritated to open the email even if they could’ve benefited from the information inside.

Ask yourself if your subject line makes sense without the email copy. The subject line is the first point of contact with your subscriber so it needs to be clear at face value.

Also, if your subscriber finds that the subject line has no message match to the copy inside the email, they will be turned off. No one likes to be misled by click-bait titles. I repeat, no one.

Get ready to study and test

You split test your landing page and website copy. It’s only natural to test your email subject lines too. We use MailChimp which allows us to conduct an A/B test for each of our monthly newsletters. We insert two different subject lines and the clicks determine which subject line is more successful. See, experiments can be fun!

The more you know, the more you can grow your subscriber base.

For more tips on writing subject lines, we ventured outside the office to consult with some email marketing experts. We’ve put together a master panel to help guide you through crafting subject lines. I think you’ll find that their tips are pure gold. You’re sure to find some advice worth treasuring.

The Experts Speak Up on Writing Email Subject Lines

“Whether it’s an email to media or a colleague, the subject line can make or break the reading and responding of your communication. Aside from being convincing, a subject line should reflect your audience and be searchable and timely. Using key words in the subject line will allow the recipient to easily find your communication when later searching through buried emails.

Another important factor, and often overlooked, is timing. Knowing the reading habits of your recipient is crucial in knowing what to say and when to say it. If your contact is an early riser, a 5am email will be at the top of their inbox before the workday and flurry of emails begin. If you know your recipient is always on the go sometimes a well placed question in the subject line is just what they need to stop in their tracks.”

Matt Prince, PR Manager at Taco Bell

“Ask yourself these two questions for every subject line that you write:

  • Am I promising a meaningful benefit to the reader?
  • Have I included as many of the 4 U’s (urgency, ultra-specific, unique, useful) as possible?

If you successfully answer each of these questions with a ‘Yes,’ then you have a subject line that will work. If not, tweak it until you can. AND REMEMBER: the subject line makes a promise that the body copy must fulfill. Don’t make a false promise just to get something read — no hype, no hyperbole.

Just tell your readers the main benefit they will get from investing their time in your content, and you’ll build the kind of trust you need to earn loyalty for the long-term.”

Jerod Morris, VP of Marketing at Copyblogger

The subject line is your reader’s first impression of your email content. Why risk your precious content getting missed with uninspiring subject lines? Your audience is hyper-connected and uber-mobile: you can’t afford to be boring, irrelevant, or inauthentic.

You will be burying many email bodies in the digital graveyard if you aren’t writing engaging subject lines.”

Jessica Roberts, Content Strategist and Writer at Spiderqube

“As a PR agency owner who uses e-mail marketing to share our MaccaPR blog posts with CMOs regularly, I’ve spent a lot of time working on subject line copy. Ultimately, the email subject head is driven by the contents of the email, which I try to make as little about ME and as much about THEM as possible — so my email subject lines tend to be recipient benefit focused rather than Maccabee agency focused.

Although it’s not backed up by A-B testing, I do tend to ask a question sometimes in my email subject lines – if only to make them more conversational and engaging. I seldom put our agency name in the subject line – way too navel gazing.”

Paul Maccabee, Owner of Maccabee Group

Email headlines can be tricky because a few words can separate ‘catchy’ from ‘spammy.’ Keeping headlines short and slightly cheesy can improve open rates. Using a quick pun can catch attention, and a double entendre will leave the reader wondering which way you go with it.

You want to be a little vague, but still give a clue as to what’s inside. Misleading a consumer is a quick way to turn them into an unsubscriber.”

Mike Miller, Digital Strategist at Moddern Marketing

“How do you write the perfect subject line? It all depends on your audience. Email campaigns are all about creativity and irresistible calls-to-action. Obviously great headlines can stand on their own, but avoid pulling in the recipient’s name.

Whenever I see a “personalized” subject line, I expect the opposite. It just feels generic and tacky. Finally, if you are reaching out to someone for the first time, try going way off the grid to stand out. The tease can payoff, but don’t mislead. No one likes clickbait.”

Dan Bonebright, Senior Account Executive at SCG

“Your subject should be clear, concise, and focused on your target market. A solid subject line ensures that your content gets read. It’s imperative if you want the hours spent on content to matter. Don’t skimp on subject lines. They make or break you.”

Charissa Moore, CEO of House of Bliss

“Writing a subject line that entices people to open the email (or even click through to your post) can be really difficult. When I’m writing mine I try to do a few things. Most important is use a few clear, concise words that relate to the topic of the email. A long, clever subject is great, but if the reader doesn’t get it, they probably won’t even open the email.

The other thing to do is if you’re including something special (a discount, free download, etc) use that in the subject line. The reader will be curious about what you’ve included and if nothing else, will open to see what they’re getting.”

Kory Woodard, Blogger and Designer at

“My top tips for successful email subject lines:

  • No all caps
  • Keep copy to minimum
  • Keep it simple
  • Set the tone right away – be clear, concise and informative about what’s in the body of the email”

Vanessa French, President and Lead Strategist at Pivot Point Communications

“I personally like the ultra-minimalist route when crafting the subject of an email. It’s important to keep that subject line short, focused, to the point – it is basically your first impression on the recipient.

Seems like common sense since it is the ‘subject’ of your email, but it is so often overlooked and treated as an afterthought after an email is written. Cut out the fluffy, filler words!”

Rachel Laitala, PR and Marketing Strategist at Tenacious

“Don’t preview the entire email in the subject line. Brevity is enticing — and encouraging. Be creative, but not confusing — focus on an appeal to your subscribers’ emotions.

Give your audience just enough to inspire immediate action, and make the content inside valuable enough to keep them around.”

Sara Frandina, Chief Copywriter and Content Strategist at

“The subject line is the most important part of any email. It determines whether or not someone will open your email and also sets the tone for how the recipient will digest the remainder of the content. Essentially, you’re writing a headline, so a successful subject line should be attention grabbing, informative, and straightforward.

Above all, the most important component to your subject line is customization. A simple method to do this is including the recipients name and/or company. This shows the recipient you’ve put a few extra minutes into doing your research before reaching out and that you value their time and attention!”

Allyn Lewis, Founder and CEO of Relevé Public Relations


A big thank you to all of our experts for sharing their email marketing insight with us. Are there any tips that you’d like to add? We’d love to hear them in the comment section below.




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