Create Subject Lines That Get Your Emails Opened

By Janine Popick

Email inboxes are a crowded place these days. In order to stand out, you’ve got to up the ante on your email marketing. Creating content that provides real value to your readers is a great start, but only if they actually open your email. You need to hook ’em first with attention-getting email subject lines, so they will open your messages and get to all that great content. Here are five email subject line types and real-life examples to help you succeed.

5 Types and Examples of Email Subject Lines

1. Humor

Use a little humor—something a bit cheeky or daring—in your subject lines to engage your readers. Take for example this subject line from retailer J. Crew: “At work? Don’t open this email.” Curiosity naturally will get the best of many readers and upon opening the email they discover a flash sale offer with the promo code “SNEAKY.” J. Crew does a nice job carrying the theme all the way through the user experience here.

2. Call to Action

This type of subject line has a clear “do this” message. Our example comes from Orbitz, with its simple greeting, “Open me. I’m kinda awesome.” They don’t beat around the bush, but instead tell you exactly what they want you to do while also combining a bit of humor. It entices you to open the message to see what kind of awesomeness awaits you inside. In this case, it’s an offer to save 15 percent off their best hotel deals.

3. Personalization

Placing a reader’s name or other information about him or her in the subject line can either help get your email opened, or it could get you a quick drop into the trash bin. It depends on how you use the personal information. Truly engage recipients by including personalization that addresses a subscriber’s preferences and needs. Use the data you have on purchase history, demographics, location or customer status to personalize messages and give a more intimate and tailored feel.

For example, a winery may include the name of a particular Sauvignon Blanc a customer has purchased paired with suggestions of similar flavors. Or, an airline may include a merge field for the number of frequent flyer miles each recipient has earned along with suggested travel locations.

Here’s an example from Jordan Winery with a subject line that reads, “Janine, you have 5,000 Loyalty Points!” Not only do they include my name, but the number of loyalty points I really have with them. They also know that loyalty points can be used toward wine purchases and when you open the email, guess what’s inside? Yep! Wine, wine, wine—all ready to be purchased with a click

4. Exclusivity/Offer

Try different subject lines that state free shipping, a percentage off, a dollar amount off or other promotional language to see what resonates most with your subscribers. This example from Gap touts early access to its “Friends & Family” shopping event. The subject line reads, “Early access! 40% off Friends & Family + more.”

Gap goes the extra mile by also using a pre-header; the pre-header is the text that shows up beneath the subject line when readers scan their email inboxes. In Gap’s case, the pre-header complements the subject line, further compelling readers to open the email; the pre-header states, “Today only for our valued cardholders. Plus, get extra points! Online & in stores, including Gap Outlet.”

5. How-to

Providing useful content that you can tout in your subject line is a powerful way to increase those open rates. That’s what makes how-to content so compelling. Birdy Botanicals, a natural skin care company based in San Francisco, nails it with a subject line touting tips for eating healthy: “A Key to Great Skin—Easy Tips for Adding Superfoods to Your Diet.

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse (a Deluxe company), a provider of self-service email, social and event marketing solutions for small businesses. Connect with her on Twitter at @janinepopick.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the Forums. Join the discussion today!

Must Read

Get the Free Newsletter!

Subscribe to Daily Tech Insider for top news, trends, and analysis.