Email Marketing Writing Great Subject Lines

Writing Great Subject Lines - Email MarketingEmail marketing seems like a breeze. All the top people are telling you to just grow a list, send out emails to it and watch checks start rolling in. Well, writing great email headlines or subject lines will add to your success.

The industry standard for email open rates in the third quarter of 2009 is about 22% according to Marketing Firm Epsilon, meaning that 22% of the people who receive your message actually open it. This is a little disingenuous as there are email systems which allow you to see the message without ever actually “opening” it and also programs which show as an open without the user having actually read it. But let us start there.

My last three mass emails have had an open rate of between 21.2% and 70.3% with the industry standard being 13.5% for both the open and click through rate for marketing companies (according to Constant Contact FAQ open rate chart). The best click through and open rates seem to be for Craft emails with a 27.1% open rate and 22.1% click rate.

So what do all those number mean for your company’s email marketing campaigns. Having more people open your messages means that you have more of an opportunity to engage them, sell your products or services or just let them know you are thinking of them. BUT, you will never get that opportunity if they never open up your message.

Your subject line is HUGE in email marketing. It is what is going to intrigue your reader enough to open your message and read what you have written. You would read a message from a friend who said big news, but would you read one from your phone company that said big news? I would assume that they are talking about big news for them, not so much for me. WIFM (whats in it for me) is what every email reader thinks when considering whether or not to spend their precious time opening your email.

Email Marketing Subject Line Case Study

I was talking with a client the other day and she said that she was GREAT at sending follow-up emails to people who had visited her trade show booth and requested a free product sample, but that she didn’t have a great response rate. REALLY? They met her in person, gave her their email address, SAID they wanted a free product sample and then would not even hit reply with their mailing address. HUM. I was confused until she told me her subject line, “Trade show follow up”. DOH!

Picture that potential client sitting at home or at work, going through the hundreds of emails they get a day and seeing trade show follow up. I would assume that someone was trying to sell me something or that I would be getting a “nice to meet you” kind of thing which I do not have time for! Now picture that same person sitting there and an email comes in saying “How to get your complimentary green cleaning product” or “Here is your free cleaning product sample”. There is a lot more in it for them that way! One note, having free in your headline may cause some of the spam filters to block your email so use it judiciously!

Email Subject Lines Examples

Here are some poor subject lines pulled right from my email inbox. There is NO way that I would ever open them in the mass of emails I get in a day.

  • Your daily dose from DSN news – this one comes every day and I generally NEVER read it. I do not know specifically what it is about today and have no compulsion to read it. Many emails come like this, it is easier for the sender but I have to think that their open rates would increase if they told me a little about what I would be reading.
  • One in a lifetime (open now) – this is WAY over the top! I would not open this as the claim is too ambiguous.
  • Discovering the keys to social media marketing – Too fluffy, would rather see 5 ways to increase your twitter followers.
  • Urgent, Last Chance, Heads Up or any other “tickler” subject lines with no indication of what it is about – If the sender can’t spend the time to tell me a little bit about why I should be so motivated I am not going to waste my energy.
  • Affiliate marketing “launch” emails – I get a ton of emails from internet marketers and I can always tell when they are launching a new product, my email box fills up with duplicate subject lines. If you are going to do affiliate marketing, PLEASE cut and paste the subject line and then do a twist to make me open yours instead of the 30 others I get in a day!

Here are some GOOD subject line examples from people who I read frequently. Most of them are marketing related so translate them into your industry!

  • Tara Did You Get This Free Google Tool? – it has my name (not all that necessary but some people like that) AND it talks about a free tool. Additionally this guy sends out great content that I always enjoy reading.
  • Great tools for business marketing – I obviously have a tool thing, but I like to know what is out there that can help grow my business.
  • Proven way to higher summer sales – Relevant time wise AND says they have empirical data to back it up, what is not to like?
  • Extended this weekend Free Shipping At… – If it is a product or company that I buy from, free shipping always hooks me and they get bonus points for the timeline call to action.
  • Networking Lead Gen Tips & Tricks – this is my last headline which had a great open rate, click through rate and I generated sales with it! It works because I send great content AND have a focus on marketing so they know there will not be cooking tips or extra “fluff” in there.

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Email Subject Lines Headlines


  1. says

    Thanks for your tips on the subject line and the nice examples, they are really appealing to the recipients. A good subject line will surely raise the open rate. I think it is also important to ensure a high delivery rate. For example, Comm100 Newsletter is can send free emails to the inboxes with 95% delivery rate or even higher. If one can adopt them together, the marketing campaign will be more successful.

  2. says

    Hey there,

    I am a regular visitor of your website and I like it. A friend of mine has developed a new one-click software with his team. This software has already pulled over 100,000 search engine visitors (Google & Co) to their website within one single month. I thought this may be something for you, too. You can read more about it here:

    Best, Chris

  3. says

    Hey thank you for the awesome content!

    This is my first time here, and I have always used a
    conversational question for my subject lines in my email
    marketing, so I was searching for other subject line ideas.

    I came across this site and I really like your tips on subject
    lines. I actually switched mine up and I am looking forward
    to the difference in open and click through rates!

    Thanks again,
    Gabriel Johansson

  4. Tara Jacobsen says

    @gabriel – glad you got some tips! make sure to stop back and let us know how your new subject lines work out!!!

  5. says


    Great read… What is your stance on follow up emails sounding personal?


    – A note from Stu
    – You crossed my mind
    – Checking in
    – Let’s connect this week

    Thanks, and I look forward to hearing you thoughts…

  6. Tara Jacobsen says

    Hi Stu! I always tell people to remember that there is only one person reading your email at a time. SOOO sounding personal is good for me!!! It is easy to fall into the “hi all” trap, make sure you are writing to one person.

  7. says

    Hi Tara. I’m just about to launch my new recipe site and want to send out an email to friends and colleagues letting them know the site is up (with the hope that they will forward it on). Been wracking my brain for a great subject line – Stumped!

  8. Kathryn says

    I just stumbled on this post as I struggle for a great email headline for a new campaign. I pay for mandatory education classes at my local real estate association so that agents can attend for free. I want them to consider using my product. The basis of my email is the Law of Reciprocity…I paid for your classes, please consider my product. I have a great reputation in the industry but my field is fairly competitive. I feel just like the person in your example about the trade show follow up. I welcome any and all suggestions.

  9. Tara Jacobsen says

    @Kathryn – how about thank you (for attending) and a favor – you could ask them to either take a peek at your product OR if it is not for them, could they pass on the recommendation to another agent who might be able to use it. One thing to consider, if you are not getting the response (in sales) that you want, you may want to discontinue this program and spend your money some other way!!!


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