Our guide to creating killer subject lines

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“Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?”


This quote from 1994 action-classic Speed has entirely nothing to do with email marketing but absolutely everything to do with getting your attention. And this is what your email subject lines have to do.

The average person receives 416 commercial emails a month, that’s around 13 a day and comes on top of the personal and work emails they’ll also be receiving. If you want them to sit up and take notice, you have to have a killer subject line. (You have to have great content too, but that’s another article completely.)

The primary purpose of your subject line is to cut through the noise and to make people open your email. If this fails, all the hard work you’ve put into creating your great content, brilliant offer and optimised landing page will fall by the wayside.

The good news is, creating great subject lines isn’t too tricky but it does take a little bit of time and consideration to get right. While there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach, the more tips and techniques you’re aware of, the better your subject lines will be.

Here’s six tips from us to help you create the kind of subject lines people will pay attention to.

  1. Keep it short and sweet. You’ve got mere seconds to grab someone’s attention and get them to open the email. Keeping it short and sweet is the key, if your subject line is going above 50 characters then it’s too long and will be cut off, especially on mobile devices. But make sure they are descriptive and informative, teasing the content of your email and giving people a reason to open.
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Posing a question in the subject line is a great way of creating intrigue in the recipient. From a simple ‘How can we help?’ through to a ‘Did you know…’ the strategic use of questions in your subject lines can help improve your open rates.
  1. Educate and inform. ‘How to’ guides and lists are a brilliant way to tell your subscribers something they didn’t know before. Let them know they are going to learn something once they open the email up and they are much more likely to.
  1. Be urgent and immediate. We’ve all seen emails like this. From your 24-hour flash sale to your offer for a limited period, creating a sense of urgency and commanding people to act now are other hugely successful ploys for creating subject lines that stand out from the crowd.
  1. Make them an offer that’s too good to refuse. This is closely linked with the above and, put simply, having a compelling offer in your subject line that’s too good to turn down will always get people opening your emails. Everyone loves a free lunch.
  1. Be personal and relevant. If you know who your customers are, understand them and have the right data in place, then you can serve up personalised and relevant subject lines which will give your open rates a significant boost, especially when combined with the points above. For example, a hotel we work with recently opened a new cocktail bar. In the week’s proceeding the opening we ran a data collection exercise where we got the name, email address and favourite cocktail from their customers. When it came to launching the bar, we were then able to send a email with the subject line: “Sam, your mojito is waiting for you” – both personalised and relevant.

At its very core, a great subject line will inspire people to act. Test what works, measure your results and don’t be afraid to try something different. And please, whatever you do, don’t send an email with the subject line ‘July Newsletter.’

If you’d like more tips on sending better email marketing campaigns you can download our guide below.

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