The Quick Guide to Making an Amazing Subject Line for Email Marketing

Melanie Balke
July 11, 2023

It’s a reader’s first impression of your email marketing, so it better be fantastic!

I am, of course, talking about your subject line. It’s your one — and often only — chance to engage with a reader’s curiosity. So…

How do you make it count?

Today’s blog post is dedicated to the art of the email subject line. What is it, how does it work, and how can you maximize your impact? I’ll answer all these questions, so buckle up; it’s time for a wild ride!

This will be a fairly long lesson, so don’t be afraid to take a break if you need it. Remember, too, that I can’t possibly cover every iteration of a subject line in a single post. While these examples and ideas work well for many brands, your success may depend on something entirely different! You may find that funny email subject lines work best. Alternatively, your audience may be more serious and information-driven.

Choose the right option for your unique brand voice, and take these subject line examples as a guide.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s dig into the lesson!

What Are Subject Lines?

Letters for a printing press. “The Basics: What Is a Subject Line?”

Ideally, your subject lines grab a reader’s attention. Great subject lines tend to take advantage of deep-rooted psychological ideals, particularly curiosity. However, that isn’t always true! As with everything in marketing, the best email subject lines conform to your brand image, tone, and goals.

You generally want to limit subject lines to about 40 characters, as long subject lines are often truncated on mobile devices. Moreover, you’ll want to avoid spam trigger words and excessive emoji use. More on that in a moment, though.

For now, let’s take a quick look at what a subject line looks like.

What Do Email Subscribers See?

Rows of printing press letters. “Appearances: What Does an Email Look Like?”

What you see in your inbox depends on your device, email service provider, and individual settings. In other words, no two people will see the exact same thing!

As a general rule, you can expect desktop viewers to see more of an email’s subject line and preview text than their mobile counterparts. However, everyone sees at least two elements: the subject and the sender. The screenshot below also demonstrates a third element, often known as “preview text,” that may be present on a user’s display.

A Gmail email, displaying the sender, subject line, and preview text.

Note that preview text isn’t always available. Users may opt to hide such information for a sleeker viewing experience. Alternatively, some clients serve dedicated pre-header text if such information is available.

Here’s the same email in Gmail’s mobile app:

The same email, displayed on the mobile app. In addition to the above information, there is also a profile image.

You have the same information, but it’s displaying differently. Note, too, that the mobile app includes the sender’s profile picture. Keep this in mind as you continue reading!

Other apps have different approaches. For example, some clients will only see the sender and subject line. Adjust your email marketing strategy accordingly and with the knowledge that not everyone will see that carefully constructed pre-header.

Put What’s Important First

A horse and carriage. “Say It First: Put the most important information at the beginning.”

These images also showcase a critical difference between mobile and desktop viewers.

Mobile viewers — who are, by the way, an increasingly prevalent demographic! — have less screen space. In other words, your subject lines are shortened on their phones. While this won’t impact your shorter subject lines, it will affect anything longer than 40 characters.

Put anything important in those first 40 characters. That amazing exclusive offer, witty one-liner, or surprise gift must come first. Otherwise, it’s likely to get ignored.

Check Your Personal Inbox for Ideas

Overlapping leaves. “Find Examples: Check your email to see what other brands are doing.”

Need more clarification?

My best tip to you is to check your own inbox and see what the competition is doing. Every campaign you see is an email subject line example, something for you to build upon, and a direct link to your competitors. Take note of how they speak to email recipients.

You may even want to write down what you see!

But before you do that, let’s finish the lesson!

Basic Tips to Get You Started

Lines of printing press letters. “Basics Tips: How to Write a Great Subject Line.”

Let’s start with some of email marketing’s best practices.

A good subject line is catchy, concise, and personable. Think of it as an elevator pitch. This is your one chance to appeal to someone, and you have about 15 seconds to do so. Think of how you’d present your idea to an actual person, then write your subject lines accordingly.

Some writers even brainstorm multiple subject lines for each campaign, picking the best at the end of the writing process.

Avoid the Spam Filters

Cans of Spam. “Know the Triggers: Avoid a recipient’s spam folder by knowing the rules.”

Start by checking your metrics.

You don’t want that well-crafted subject line to go unseen!

Maintaining a good sender score ensures your brand reaches the right audience. More importantly, it keeps you out of the spam folder. When you first begin your email marketing journey, you’ll need to watch out for so-called “spam trigger words.” Thanks to prolific use by scammers, these seemingly innocuous phrases are often filtered by email service providers. Examples of common spam words include:

  • Best Price
  • Cents on the Dollar
  • Get Paid
  • Make money (and several variants, such as “Make $”)
  • No Catch
  • No Cost
  • Prize
  • Pure Profit
  • … and many, many others!

Now, here’s the kicker…

These words aren’t necessarily bad. You can include trigger words in your email subject lines, but you must maintain a positive sender score. This proves to providers that you’re a legitimate company (and not, say, a totally real Nigerian prince).

Avoid Writing Strangely

Two men in robot costumes and suits. “Ditch the Kitsch: Overly quirky typing is automatically filtered by most providers.”

Secondly, unless quirky writing is “your thing” (as is the case for Age Hams up there), you want to avoid flashy subject lines. Nobody wants an all-emoji or punctuation-heavy subject line in their inbox. It’s annoying at best and downright spam at its worst.

That’s not to say you should avoid these elements. A single emoji or exclamation point is perfectly fine; we use them all the time! But don’t go overboard. Instead, use that energy to craft subject lines that appeal to users without the gimmicks.

Likewise, your subscriber’s inbox is not Twitter (or any other social media platform, for that matter)!

Don’t get fancy. Using special characters to mimic unique fonts (e.g., typing  𝔩𝔦𝔨𝔢 𝔱𝔥𝔦𝔰 or ⓔⓥⓔⓝ ⓛⓘⓚⓔ ⓣⓗⓘⓢ) triggers spam filters and lowers your message’s accessibility.

Again, this boils down to credibility. Many scammers use these “fun” fonts to avoid spam filters and reach unsuspecting email readers. So, for everyone’s safety, providers block such content by default.

From an accessibility standpoint, these “unique” characters are non-standard symbols. Screen readers will be unable to read the content. Many users — particularly those with older operating systems — won’t be able to see your message, as these non-existent characters will display as little more than blank rectangles.

Summarily: Leave those gimmicks at the door; use other methods to encourage readers to open your email marketing campaigns.

The Qualities of Good Email Subject Lines

Overlapping leaves. “Know the Rules: The best subject lines tend to share certain qualities.”

Finally, let’s take a quick look at what makes email marketing subject lines great!

While writing good subject lines is a unique art, it’s also somewhat predictable. You can create subject lines that appeal to wide audiences by combining odds and ends from similarly successful campaigns. Just take a look at a list of sales email subject lines; you’ll see plenty of similarities, such as:

  • Attention-grabbing features
  • Capitalizing on the fear of missing out
  • Conversational language
  • Emphasizing pain points
  • Honesty (don’t forget that false promises are, like, super illegal)
  • Personalized email subject lines
  • Short and catchy phrases

Now, you don’t need to check off every entry on this list. In fact, doing so will likely create a cartoonishly awful result!

Putting the Pieces Together

So, what does that mean for you?

Well, let’s put everything together.

Effective email subject lines are front-loaded, attention-grabbing blurbs. They should be catchy, succinct, and easy to understand. At the same time, they should avoid using gimmicks, such as multiple exclamation points. They tend to hit on a pain point, although this isn’t strictly necessary.

A Few Ideas and Email Subject Line Examples

Numbered stamps. Overlaid texts reads, “Examples: Ideas to Inspire Your Subject Lines.”

Now that we’ve cleared that up., let’s examine a few subject examples!

Remember that these are ideas. Your ideal result will likely look different. Take these examples as starting points and build on them, but don’t expect the best results from copy-and-pasting these ideas into your own email campaigns!

Fun Email Subject Lines to Break the Ice

If you’re looking for catchy email subject lines, you can never go wrong with some humor!

A witty one-liner can make your brand more relatable. Such subject lines are also great ways to break up the otherwise boring monotony of sales emails. Note that many funny examples often double as “catchy” subject lines.

Here are some examples of fun and catchy email subject lines:

  • The Secret’s Out… Get 50% Off!
  • Too Hot Outside? Stay In and Shop
  • We’ve Got Butterfingers! The Price Dropped Again
  • Your Food Sucks! Get Better Recipes

The Tried-and-True Method

Or maybe, your next subject line is going to be super honest.

These examples may not be the most exciting, but they’re doing what they must! Aside from addressing a pain point, a simple subject line may just be the best way to announce upcoming events and sales. You can dress these ideas up as personalized subject lines, but remember that part of their beauty is their simplicity!

If this is the vibe you want for your next email marketing campaign, consider some of these ideas:

  • Don’t Miss Your Chance for 25% Off
  • Free Shipping Is Here (But Not for Long)
  • Hi, [Name]! Get 50% Off Today
  • We’re Offering You Priority Access

Focus on Those Pain Points

Another option uses the all-powerful pain point to… well… make a point!

These subject line examples have the potential to send your click-through rate into the stratosphere! Whether you’re zeroing in on the fear of missing out or focusing on some other problem, these ideas embody some of the best subject lines to pull at a reader’s heartstrings.

However, use caution with these! There’s such a thing as laying it on too thick.

With that in mind, check out these great email subject line ideas:

  • Did You Miss Our Big Announcement?
  • Don’t Make the Family Gag! Try These Recipes
  • Hey, [Name], You Forgot Something
  • Holiday Sales Are Ending Soon
  • Learn the Biggest Secret About Cooking
  • Stop Wasting Time!
  • Your Chance to Get 33% Off Ends Soon!

Still Looking for Ideas?

Overlapping leaves. “Less Stress: Let Us Work With You.”

Are you still stumped?

The art of catchy email subject lines is difficult to master. Plenty of professionals are overwhelmed by the possibilities, and you probably don’t have time to be thinking about email subject lines, anyhow! You have a business to run, and this is low on your list of priorities.

Fear not!

Give me a call, and we’ll chat about your needs. I’ll show you how The Email Marketers can amplify your email marketing strategy.

We know what it takes to write good subject lines; in fact, we know how to make fantastic subject lines! Check out the rest of my blog, too, to see how my team can make your emails shine. We’ll go beyond the best email subject lines. We’ll polish every aspect of your email marketing campaigns, from the CTAs to the metrics.