On Writing Your Email Subject Line


Picture a TV preacher (Televangelists as they are known) opening their show.

They’re up on a huge stage, mic in hand. There’s the intense lighting, the energy, the music…

… and then the opening line booms out across the stadium:

“Are YOU hoping to go to heaven one day?”

No response.


So, our evangelist looks out into seating.


The stadium is empty.

And that’s a shame because the evangelist was about to deliver their best-ever show.

Oh well…

Our example goes the long way round to show the reason for this article…

What’s the Point of an Email Subject Line?

… sending an email with a poor subject line is like giving a brilliant sermon in a church with empty pews. Your email newsletter could be the best thing since having your bread sliced by Shakespeare, but if no-one opens it then it’s all just a big waste.

People might click on the email because they love your brand. But when you send a newsletter you don’t really know what’s going on around it. And that’s relevant.

What if the person has signed up to a competitor too? What if that competitor’s subject line is a firecracker that has people clicking faster than they would for an online shopping slot during the first lockdown?

Without the open, nothing else happens. Your pews stay empty. And that’s where your subject line can help.


In this article:

  1. So, What Makes a Perfect Email Subject Line?

  2. But is Any of the Above True?

  3. Your Snippet. Don’t Forget It

  4. Using Emojis 🙂

  5. Spam Words in Your Email Subject Line

  6. Is an Email Subject Line Really That Different?

  7. Final Thoughts



email subject line on a mobile phone


So, What Makes a Perfect Email Subject Line?

Really there’s no one single thing that makes an email get opened, but the language of your subject line plays a crucial part. Even if someone did stumble upon the genie of open rates, what happens when the recipient is going through their inbox just as the kids put the cat in the dishwasher? The distraction is probably enough to get that perfect email forgotten.

It’s just the stuff of life.

Below is a typical list of what you’re supposed to include when you write subject lines:

  • Keep it short and snappy
  • Ask a question
  • Use personalisation – i.e. ‘Hey Jeff’
  • Use real sender name – that means something like ‘From: Jem at Revive Digital’
  • …and avoid the ‘no-reply’ sender name too
  • Let them know what they’re getting by opening
  • Include numbers


It’s not untrue. But is it the full picture? You’ll often see blogs saying your subject line should be warm and friendly, that it must be compelling and have urgency.  But what do those really mean? Using that logic we get:


Hi Petey, Can Your Bonfire Do This? Hurry


(It’s the same principle as a dodgy dating site – you know when “enjoys long walks and likes hot countries” matches you with a camel.)

And it’s not to say that being friendly, warm or including urgency are wrong. It’s just that it means different things to different people. That is all. What is more important is the context, specific language and the affinity your audience has with your brand.


mobile phone email inbox


And a Note on Mobile Opens…

These days, most email newsletters are opened on mobiles. So that means generally speaking your newsletter will display much smaller in your recipient’s inbox. As marketing powerhouse Hubspot puts it:

“Email subject lines will get cut off if they’re too long, particularly on mobile devices. And with up to 77% of email opens taking place on mobile, we recommend using subject lines with fewer than 50 characters to make sure the people scanning your emails read the entire subject line.”

But is Any of the Above True?

There are a lot of ideas and suggestions and resources about writing the ideal subject line.

Phrasee, a specialist machine learning subject line platform, has compiled their own list of myths around subject lines.

Phrasee’s clients include Ebay, Gumtree, Dominos and Wowcher. It says:

Myth 2: An email’s subject line is the primary reason subscribers decide to open your email

It’s bigger than one thing, but a reputable sender name combined with good subject line language does boost opens.

Myth 3: Certain keywords alone make emails go straight to the junk folder

While individual words are factors, alone they are not determining factors. Others such as subject lines, sender name, historical engagement rates and so on combine to trigger spam filters.

Myth 6: Including an emoji/offer/first name etc. in a subject line always boosts results

Emojis, offers and subscriber names work… sometimes. People’s tastes and preferences change so you need an ongoing, multivariant testing strategy.

Myth 9: Short subject lines produce better results

It’s one part of it but not the whole story by any means. It’s easy to measure, so many shout about it. On its own a subject line length has no effect.

Our favourite though is myth number 10:

“What works this week will work next week…”

Using the same subject line will work for a while, then your audience will grow bored of it and its impact will be reduced. Anything can work as a singularity, but the daily/weekly/monthly cycle of sending emails is the real test. Sorry.

You can read ‘The 12 Myths’ here.

Your Snippet. Don’t Forget It

Your snippet is a little bit of text that gets pulled in following the subject line. Sometimes you can customise it, other times whatever is the main bit of text inside your email gets pulled in. Either way use it to your advantage.

Between your subject line and your snippet your recipient should know what’s coming before opening the email. Now you just have to make them want to dive in.

Great Subject Lines

The Hubspot team put together a list of their favourite subject lines, some of which we’ve listed below (funnily, a third of the lines were greater than their 50 characters suggestion). Visit their article for an explanation of why they like each one.


Best of Groupon: The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve) (75 characters)

Free (Cool!) Clothes Alert (33 characters)

The timer’s going off on your cart! (38 characters)

What Did You Think? Write a Review. (39 characters)

1,750 points for you. Valentine’s flowers & more for them. (61 characters)

Rock the colour of the year (30 characters)

Black Friday shoppers are the worst customers (48 characters)

*Don’t Open This Email* (27 characters)

As You Wish (15 characters)

Google sees smartphone heroics in Oreo. It’s The Daily Crunch. (66 characters)

Where to Drink Beer Right Now (33 characters)

Not Cool, Guys (18 characters)

DO NOT Commit These Instagram Atrocities (44 characters)

Everything you wanted to know about email copy but were too afraid to ask (77 characters)

Want a Custom Emoji of Tullamore & 6 Months FREE Walks? Book a Walk Today for Your Chance to Win! (103 characters)


Each is very different; some quirky, some funny, some direct and to the point. The takeaway is that in a crowded inbox, keeping it fresh and varied is going to give you the best chances of success.


Using Emojis 🙂

The use of Emojis in email subject lines has been gaining in popularity for years now. First it was a way of gaining attention, now there’s a more psychological element to it. Emojis help bypass certain barriers in the brain. Does that smiley face in your inbox get your attention and make you think positively? Again there’s no single thing that is the decider in getting your email opened but don’t overlook them (or overdo them).

Read: The Psychology Behind Using Emojis in Digital Marketing


spam in your email subject lines


Spam Words in Your Email Subject Line

There are lots of lists of spam words. We’ve included a few here simply because we can’t not include them and you’ll probably recognise some from your own Junk Folder. But remember, spam words alone won’t send your email into oblivion.

  • Click below
  • Click here
  • Click to remove
  • Direct email
  • Direct marketing
  • Email harvest
  • Email marketing
  • Form
  • Increase sales
  • Increase traffic
  • Increase your sales
  • Miracle
  • Never
  • Passwords
  • Problem
  • Remove
  • Reverses
  • Sample
  • Satisfaction
  • Solution
  • Stop
  • No disappointment
  • No experience
  • No gimmick
  • No inventory
  • No middleman
  • No obligation
  • No purchase necessary
  • No questions asked
  • No selling
  • No strings attached
  • No-obligation
  • Eliminate debt
  • Financially independent
  • Get out of debt
  • Get paid
  • Lower interest rate
  • Lower monthly payment
  • Pre-approved

mail order newspaper adverts headlines are like email subject lines

Is an Email Subject Line Really That Different?

Email subject lines are like old-school mail order ads. It’s just a different platform. What was a headline from a newspaper ad in the 30s is now a subject line. The medium might change but the principles (and the nature of what moves humans to action) doesn’t. Learn the old ways and you’ll be successful in the newer ways.

Consider these:

1. How Women Over 35 Can Look Younger

2. It’s Mutiny to Mix Gin and Tonic Without Schweppes

3. How to Tour the USA for £35 a Week

4. The Only Sale That Matters

5. Why Some Foods Explode in Your Stomach

6. All Good Things Come to an End…

7. Six Types of Investor – Which Type Are You?

8. How to Plan Your House to Suit Yourself

9. You’ve Never Seen a Suit This Colour…


Now, can you tell which three were email subject lines? The other six are old school mail order or newspaper ads written decades ago (and decades before email or computers were in homes).

*Answers below…

Final Thoughts

In general copy should be written to the length it needs to do its job. It’s not different because it’s a subject line. But also there are other factors too… your reputation, the click history of the recipient, the format of the email…

But when you approach your subject line think about cutting those words that don’t add anything. But also don’t write to highly specific word count at the expense of clarity or losing your email’s best selling points.

Best practise is great as a starting point, but it’s a floor not a ceiling. Don’t aim for best practise and never higher.

And as with everything in marketing context is everything. If everyone does the same thing then you’re back to square one in the attention stakes.

If this subject has opened something for you, then drop us an email. We can definitely help.

*Did you get that 4, 6 and 9 are the email subject lines?

And If Your Open Rates Aren’t Doing What They Could, Could You Use a Little Help with Your Subject Lines?