How to write email-opening subject lines

500 email subject lines.jpg

Because after all, having your email opened AND read is what you want, isn’t it? If they then DO something, better still.

I’m going to focus on B2B emails because that’s my bag. You might create nurturing emails for prospects or provide extra support and contact to your customers.

Whatever your email’s purpose it needs a decent subject line.

Research suggests businesspeople receive 121 emails daily. Whatever the figure, it’s a lot.

Will they open every email? Of course not. Do you? That’s why subject lines matter so much. Let’s help yours achieve higher open rates.


What doesn’t work?

Time for a chuckle. I’ve dug out dreadful examples of B2B email subject lines. Have you received something similar yourself?

Subject line: Our monthly newsletter

*Yawn* Even if I know you, I’m bored already. Why should I bother?

Subject line: Enquiry

Dull, vague, and akin to clickbait. Don’t be tempted.

Subject line: You’ve been specially selected!!!!

And… I don’t believe you. It also lacks relevance and leans towards a clickbait attempt. Multiple exclamation marks show poor use of punctuation and dent my trust in you.


No need to SHOUT at me. Never use all capitals to ‘stand out’. It’s dire and annoys people.

Subject line: RE: my earlier email

Don’t hoodwink me into opening your email. Keep RE: and FW: for their intended purposes.

Subject line: The results of our study into the benefits of our unique service and how it can help you to grow your business

Waaay too long. In your preview pane you’ll see something like: “The results of our survey into the benefits of...” Not very compelling, is it?


I could easily find more abysmal examples. And I’m sure we’d both laugh about them. Instead, let’s now look at smart techniques behind email-opening subject lines.

You won’t manage to use all these techniques for one subject line. Try ticking at least one, though.


Be relevant

Or should I say, know who you’re emailing and what they value hearing from you. Your subject line should suggest either:

  1. Who it’s for, or…
  2. What it’s about

Who’s it for: “3 ways for coaches to land more clients”

What’s it about: “How to ensure they open your email”

When your recipient sees a vague or irrelevant subject line they’re far more likely to delete it without opening.

Cryptic subject lines can also backfire. Curiosity, yes, but cryptic can leave them wondering what you mean – in those vital seconds. And… delete!


No more than nine words

I wince when I see a subject line more than nine words long. For many reasons.

  1. If you can’t get your point across in nine words, it’s too complex
  2. 80% read emails on a smartphone. Longer subject lines are quickly lost
  3. More words take longer to read – that’s seconds of their attention you don’t have

Science suggests we absorb the first AND last three words in a heading. So, think about front and back-loading your subject line.

Whilst brevity is fabulous, don’t cut words to the detriment of clarity, relevance, or value. Find your optimum place to be.


Focus on THEM

Don’t say: “Why we make the best widgets in the world”

Do say: “Why our widgets give you more [benefit]”

Focus on a key benefit then unpack more in your email copy.

Your reader doesn’t want to know how great you are. They don’t care one bit. Sorry.

In those important inbox-scanning moments, they’re looking for what’s to gain.

Can they learn insight to help their progress?

Will they discover something to help them?

Is it worth their time to read?

Focus on their problems, their needs, their wants. Your product or service is always secondary to that.


Offer benefit and value

Following on from my last point, focus on the difference you can make for them.

If you tend to get stuck talking about features, ask ‘so what?’ after the feature to find your benefit.

This article might help you: Why benefits are more compelling than features

Want clarity on your value? Ask your customers, they always know.


Empathise with their pain

Another engaging route is to empathise with their pain.

“Having trouble getting your emails opened? Try this”

“Building a [xxx] business is hard. Discover what works”

“Powerful CRM software that’s easy to use”

Of course, to achieve this you must understand their pains. So, ask your customers what was going on when they contacted you. You want insight on their challenges and frustrations before you made them go away.


Ask questions

I love a good question. They’re not just for verbal communication. And the good news is our brains are hardwired to answer them (or to know the answer when it’s relevant).

That’s why many a good headline contains a question. Neuroscience at work again.

Questions can be combined with many different subject line techniques.

Highlighting your value: “Coaches: would you like to land more clients?”

Empathise with their pain: “Your production planning’s muddled. Shall we change that?

Focus on them: “Could our finance software save YOU 6 hours a week?”

Generally, a positive message works better than a negative one. Turn a pain on its head if need be.

And you’ll see how I used numbers as numerals and capitals for emphasis. Both help readability when used sparingly.


Don’t be spammy (or sales-focused)

Always do the spam and click-bait litmus test. How would YOU feel receiving your subject line?

One duff email can tarnish your entire reputation. It’s not worth it. Better to build a positive reputation for valuable and relevant emails they want to open.

Avoid dodgy lines such as:

“You’ve just won!”

“Free [product] with every order”

“Want to see how I can rocket your sales?”

“Look at this!”

“Your order”

“Have you got 10 minutes?”


Be original

A list of perfect email subject lines doesn’t exist. Not for your specific business. So, copying others not only looks lazy, it might not work.

Make subject lines your own. Add your personality. A touch of your business humour from time to time. An emoji if you fancy trying them (many suggest they help open rates). Be you and be original.


Finally, whatever subject line you create, ensure the content of your email delivers on it. If you offer them five ways to achieve something, give them five ways. If you highlight something will enhance their business, explain how. Deliver on your subject line promise.

There’s so much to those (up to) nine words. Don’t overlook their importance for a moment longer. And if you need a hand with your email creation, I’d be happy to help you.