I’d venture a guess you get tons of emails in your inbox every day. Coupons, daily deal sites, newsletters, password resets, lead nurturing emails, social media notifications, invitations to friends’ parties, and maybe even a few emails from your mom. That’s a lot to sift through, never mind actually open.
So what makes you want to take that extra step to actually open an email? Often, it’s the subject line. After all, it’s your very first impression of the email — and from it, you’ll do your best to judge the content on the inside.
I always ask myself one question before opening an email: Will opening this email be a waste of time? Typically, the answer to this question is based entirely on the effectiveness of the subject line. Granted, there are other elements of an email that make me want to open it — a familiar sender name, for example — but 9 times out of 10, the subject line is the determining factor.
If you’re an email marketer, or just someone who happens to send emails on behalf of your company, you don’t want to be one of those ignored (or (gasp) deleted) emails in your subscribers’ inboxes. You’ve gotta make sure your email subject lines are top-notch. And what better way to learn how to do that than by examining some great examples of subject lines?
Check out the following subject lines that we are completely bananas about.
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18 Great Email Subject Line Examples to Inspire You
1) Warby Parker: “Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring”
My boss got this email two weeks before he needed to renew his prescription — talk about great timing. Plus, this would be an excellent time to upgrade your glasses, too. By sending an email at the right time, Warby Parker was already increasing their chances of getting opened.
But timing isn’t the sole reason we included this example. This subject is brilliant because it appeared at the right time and with the right tone. Using conversational words like “uh-oh,” keeping the subject line sentence case, and leaving out the period at the end, the subject line comes across as helpful and friendly — not as a company trying to upsell you.
2) Groupon: “Best of Groupon: The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)”
This subject line is no exception. The quip “(Unlike Our Nephew Steve)” actually had me laughing out loud. Why? It’s completely unexpected. The first part of the subject line looks like a typical subject line you’d get from Groupon, highlighting a new deal. The parenthetical content? Not so much — making this one a delightful gem to find in your inbox.
3) Rent the Runway: “Happy Birthday Lindsay – Surprise Inside!”
It’s no secret that we’re big fans of personalized marketing. It can be incredibly effective — especially in email marketing. According to the 2014 Science of Email Marketing, emails that included the first name of the recipient in their subject line had higher CTRs than emails that did not.
This example shows that stat in action: It’s sent close to the recipient’s (my colleague Lindsay) birthday, and addresses her by her first name.
But that’s not all this subject line does. It also hints at an incentive to open the email: There’s a surprise inside. This subject line does a great job of being clear about what’s in the email without giving away the surprise completely.
4) Barack Obama: “Hey”
This example isn’t about a great subject line, but rather a great subject line and sender name pairing. Regardless of your political leanings, imagine getting an email in your inbox like this. It’s overly familiar, which makes you wonder, “What in the world would Barack Obama have to say to me? I’ve got to click this now.” And that’s what made this email one of the most successful of Obama’s entire re-election campaign.
Pairing unlikely subject lines and sender names could surprise your subscribers and get them to open emails. Are you sending a marketing email from a high-up executive your subscribers respect and admire? Try a casual greeting like Obama’s in the subject line. Or, pair a goofy mascot with a pretty serious subject line. The goal here is to get someone curious enough about the inside message to click on it. And in the case of Obama’s email, I definitely would’ve clicked just to find out what personal message was inside.
5) Manicube: “*Don’t Open This Email*”
Ever been told to not do something? Being asked to refrain from something can actually have the opposite effect — you now want to do that thing even more.
That’s the strategy behind Manicube’s subject line. It’s a simple but effective way to make people curious enough to open your email. (Just be sure that the contents of your email actually have something worthy of that subject line.)
6) Refinery29: “The broke girl’s guide to a luxury vacation”
People love to self-identify. Sometimes, it’s with the company they work for. Other times, it’s the color of their hair or the way they dress. Maybe it’s the music they listen to. Regardless of how they like to identify, it’s an important concept to know (and use within your marketing).
You can see it in action in the subject line above. The word “broke” is that self-identifier — people looking for inexpensive vacation tips will see that word and immediately want to click through because it feels like that subject line was written for them.
The great part about this tactic in email marketing is that you won’t be leaving out people who don’t self-identify as that identifier. If you’re segmenting your email lists properly, everyone in that segment should already self-identify with that descriptor.
7) Zillow: “What Can You Afford?”
Imagine getting this subject line in your inbox from a website showing apartments for rent. It’s both exciting and encouraging (“Here are a bunch of apartments right in your budget. Yay!”), but also kind of competitive — pitting your cash against what the market offers. Would you click it? I certainly would.
Playing off psychological emotions is key to getting people to open your emails. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know how to take advantage of them, either. Get caught up with this ebook from Unbounce — while it’s all about landing pages, the same principles can apply to email subject lines. Principles like urgency, scarcity, and social proof are all great ways to increase your conversion rates.
8) UncommonGoods: “As You Wish”
When crafting emails, you should also think about what makes people tick.
For example, take this subject line from UncommonGoods sent to me from a die-hard fan of The Princess Bride. Apparently, “As You Wish” is a pretty big reference to that movie (I know, I know — I need to see it already), so when she got this email in her inbox with that subject line, she just HAD to click.
Even though she knew logically that the email was a blast, it seemed that it was tailored to be sent personally to her — after all, why else would it include a reference to Princess Bride in the title?
UncommonGoods knows its buyer persona like the back of its metaphorical hands. While it may not send emails to individual subscribers with references to their favorite movies in the title, it does know its subscribers and their interests.
9) DocuSign: “What are our customers saying?”
This subject line was sent in an email late in the lead nurturing process. The body of the email contained a bunch of case studies that were meant to help the recipient move closer to actually purchasing DocuSign.
This is another “right place, right time” example. When someone’s further down the funnel, they’re much more receptive to hearing customer testimonials — in fact, they may even be looking for them. While being clever or punny can definitely get you noticed in the inbox, some cold, hard relevancy can do the trick just find in getting someone to open your email.
10) Eater Boston: “Where to Drink Beer Right Now”
Okay, you caught me: I’m a beer lover. (One of the many reasons I like working at HubSpot.) But that’s not what hooked me here. The subject line arrived in my inbox just at the time I needed it: at 6:45 on a Wednesday evening. Absolutely. Genius.
Think about it: You’re just over hump day and want to decompress with a few coworkers after work. Right as you’re about to head out, you get a notification on your phone that says, “Where to Drink Beer Right Now.” Perfect timing makes this subject line something you can’t help but click on.
For your own emails, think about how timing will affect how people perceive your emails. Even if you send an email in an off-peak hour, you could get higher engagement on your email — if you have the right subject line.
11) Ticketmaster: “Read your review for John Mulaney”
It’s a natural tendency to be proud of something you create — whether it’s a cake, a 100-page ebook, or just a review you wrote about a show you saw last week. Ticketmaster knew that and catered to that tendency in the subject line above.
A friend of mine had seen Comedian John Mulaney live and then left a review of the show on Ticketmaster. To get her back on the site, Ticketmaster sent her that subject line — perhaps to promote her review or buy tickets for another show.
Who wouldn’t want to go check out their own review after they left it? Maybe that person would want to check out other reviews, see if anyone responded, or just see their own name featured on the website. Heck, I blog for a living and I still get excited to see my name in a byline. Remember: Everyone’s got an ego — playing to it could have a big impact on your open and engagement rates.
12) JetBlue: “You’re missing out on points.”
Have you ever heard about FOMO? That’s an acronym for “fear of missing out.” It’s a big deal, especially now with our hyper-connected society.
It’s also an effective marketing tactic you can use to engage your email subscribers. This subject line from JetBlue is not shy about letting you know what you’re missing out on. But, naturally, most people don’t want to miss out on things — especially if those things could save them money or time down the road. JetBlue points may not be the most valuable thing you might be missing out on, but it’s worth an email open to find out.
So, think about the value proposition of the email you’re going to be sending before you write the email. Is there something unique you’re offering that could save people time, money, or effort? Try modeling a subject line after JetBlue and let your subscribers know what they’re missing on.
13) BuzzFeed: “Not Cool, Guys”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love BuzzFeed. I think its staff has some of the best writers out there, and that writing staff includes exceptional email marketing staff. I’ve signed up for BuzzFeed’s daily emails, and pretty much any day of the week, they win for best subject line in my inbox.
While there are a few of BuzzFeed’s subject lines here and there that aren’t my favorite, it’s the combination of subject lines and the preview text that is golden. They’re friendly, conversational, and, above all, snarky.
Here’s the text that followed the subject line above: “Okay, WHO left the passive-aggressive sticky note on my fridge. Honestly, who acts like this?” That conversational tone and snark pulls me in over and over and over again — and it’s the preview text that completes the experience for me.
We’re not all equipped to be snarky writers, but most email platforms have the preview text easily available to edit. How can you use that little extra space to delight your customers (oh, and probably improve your email stats)? Maybe you could use the subject line as a question and the preview text area as the answer. Or maybe it’s a dialogue: subject line is one person and preview text is another.
You get the idea. By using that space, you have more opportunities to attract new subscribers.
14) Thrillist: “DO NOT Commit These Instagram Atrocities”
No matter how humble people are, most don’t like to do things wrong … so why not play on that natural human tendency in an email subject line? Thrillist certainly does in the subject line above, and it makes the language even more vibrant by using DO NOT.
Instead of using the typical contraction “don’t,” Thrillist spells it out and adds the all-caps for effect. That way, you’ll notice the subject line in your inbox and then not be able to resist clicking on it.
Think about how going negative in your marketing can be a good thing. Most people have anxiety about looking silly and stupid, so figure out how you can play to those emotions in subject lines. Of course, it’s important to back up that subject line with encouraging, helpful content so you’re not just ranting at people all day.
Getting negative can get your subscribers’ attention — this subject line certainly caught mine.
15) AddThis: “10 Engagement Tips to Gobble Over Thanksgiving”
I don’t know about you, but I am a SUCKER for puns. If I get a pun in an email subject line, I pretty much open it, no questions asked. And I’d venture to guess that I’m not the only one who loved getting this AddThis email in my inbox around Thanksgiving.
If you are punny, think about small ways you can slip them into your emails to spice them up. It’s easy to go overboard, though, so if you’re concerned about being too punny, check with a coworker who really hates puns. They’ll tell you whether you’re overdoing it or hitting a sweet spot.
Puns can let your company loosen up a bit without going too far — definitely a way to dip your toe in the water of a fun, vibrant online brand.
16) Buffer: “Buffer has been hacked – here is what’s going on”
Next is a subject line from Buffer. A while ago, Buffer got hacked — every tech company’s worst nightmare. But Buffer handled it exceptionally well, especially on the email front.
What I admire about the subject line is that it’s concise and direct. In a crisis, you better not use puns. People want to see that you’re not only taking the situation seriously, but also be reassured that the world isn’t ending.
Because of the way the subject line is worded and formatted, you feel like Buffer is calm and collected about the issue and is taking your personal safety into consideration. That’s pretty hard to do in just a few words.
17) DiningIn: “!”
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, punctuation is worth at least 500 — maybe more in DiningIn’s case.
For their target audience of mobile-savvy people, the subject line with one exclamation point is better than a subject line following all the best practices would. Why? Their audience is familiar with messaging apps, where it’s commonplace to use punctuation in place of words. An exclamation point shows how excited the sender is without the sender having to say that out right.
This is just a great example of knowing your audience and speaking to them using their language — even if that language doesn’t include words.
18) Quirky: “Abra-cord-abra! Yeah, we said it.”
Last, but certainly not least, is this punny email subject line from Quirky. (Told you I’m a sucker for puns.)
What I like most about it is the second part: “Yeah, we said it.” The pun in the beginning is great and all, but the second sentence is conversational and self-referential — exactly what most people would say after making a really cheesy joke in real life.
Most companies could stand to be more conversational and goofy in their emails. While it may not be appropriate to go as far as Quirky’s subject line, being goofy might just be the way to delight your email recipients.
These are just some of our favorite subject lines. Which companies consistently send you great email subject lines? Share your favorites with us in the comments!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2013 and has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.