5 Email Subject Line Best Practices We ALWAYS Follow

How many times have you meticulously crafted an email campaign, spending hours polishing the content, the format, and the offer, only to throw a last-minute subject line at the top before hitting send?

No big deal, it’s not like anybody’s going to buy anything based on just the subject line, right?


The truth is, your email subject line is HANDS DOWN the hardest working piece of your email. Think about it: every time one of your emails lands in a prospect’s inbox, you’re giving them a choice. As potential customers scan their email inboxes every morning, they’re choosing which messages they’ll interact with based only on a couple factors: who the email is from and what the subject line promises.

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It doesn’t really matter if you’ve created your greatest email masterpiece if nobody reads it. And when the only thing standing between your audience and your juicy offer is a tiny little subject line, that sucker needs to pack a punch!

So, what’s the secret for sending emails people can’t resist clicking on? Here are the email subject line best practices we consider every time we craft an email.

Stay out of the spam filter

First things first. Nothing else matters if your email gets caught in a spam filter before it hits your recipient’s inbox. Be choosy about the words you use. Something like “Free offer, act now!!!” reads like a spammy offer sent by a robot (have you actually heard anybody say those words, ever?) and is bound to be deleted at best or caught by a spam filter at worst.

Avoid using excess punctuation, all caps, and weird symbols. They might seem like great ways to attract attention, but take a peek into your spam folder. It’s where exclamation marks and the %-sign loooove to mingle.

There are plenty of ways your email subject line can get your message banished to the junk mail folder. Check out this list of subject line slip-ups for more on what not to do.

Get specific

I know there are times when MY inbox is overflowing with newsletters, updates from my team, requests, and actual correspondence from my network. Those are the times when anything that doesn’t seem important or capture my attention right away gets lost in the shuffle.

If you don’t want your email swallowed up by inbox clutter, don’t contribute to it! Your readers are just as busy as you are, so respect their time by keeping your email subject lines focused, to the point, and — shocker! — actually related to the content of your email.

Take this example:

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This might not be the most exciting email in the world, but you probably know exactly what it’s about. It also leaves a little bit of the information out (A live event? Where?? What’s it about??), building some intrigue and making sure that you’ll click through to see the details, and hopefully purchase a ticket!

But what if your email is part of a regular newsletter? It’s not triggered by anything that’s coming up, and the structure and subject matter is pretty much the same week after week. Should you send out a subject line that says “This Week’s Newsletter” week after week after week? Boring! Even if I’m a fan of your content, a generic subject line like that might have me thinking I’ll have more time to read next week’s edition instead.

For our regular emails, we like to include a short little prefix — [SMM-Digest] or [The Dash], for example — to identify the newsletter. Then, we follow that with a specific subject line that lays out what this week’s edition is all about.

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That email up there scored us one of the highest open rates ever for our Social Media Marketer Digest emails. I credit that to being able to immediately identify who the email’s from (me!), why you received it (because you’re a member of Social Media Marketer), and what the email’s all about (email marketing).

The fact that the content was super relevant to the audience didn’t hurt either.

Which brings me to the next rule…

Speak to ONE person

You may have thousands of people on your email list, but when you’re communicating with them, remember the environment they’re reading their emails in. They’re probably solo, at their desks, on their phones, or catching during their daily commute. Reading email is a solitary experience, so why would you address your subscribers as a group?

Avoid using your email subject line as a platform for group announcements. Steer clear of phrases like “all of you” or “you all,” and keep it personal and conversational.

Think about appealing to ONE single person from your email list. Pick out one person and write to just them. Think about what’s important to them, what they’d be interested in, and how to phrase your subject line to really directly address their personal situation.

New Products Added

Is this really how you’d talk to a customer one-on-one? I know that if I were scanning through my cluttered inbox, that wouldn’t mean much to me. It’d be an easy choice to skip this one.

Our new product will protect your pet from common dangers found in your home.

Hmm, now that makes me think “hey, I want MY pet protected.” This is a subject line any single member of a pet-loving audience would find a lot more enticing.

Get people curious

Let’s look at that example again:

Our new product will protect your pet from common dangers found in your home.

Even if I don’t think my pet needs any extra protection, the subject line above still makes me a little curious. Now I’m thinking, “wait, there are common dangers in MY home?” Even with a few other emails waiting for my attention, I’d click that one just to find out if you know something that I don’t.

Remember, your email subject line has just one mission and one mission only: to get people to open your email! Piquing the curiosity of your readers is a great way to get their attention, and there are a lot of ways to accomplish this.

Ask a burning question. (Hint: Just make sure you provide an answer, delivering on the promise made by your email subject line.)

This example from Ramit Sethi asks a question that none of us can say no to:

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Doesn’t everybody? Okay, well yeah, I’d better read that.

Say something off-the-wall. Another example from Ramit here shows how just being random can build some intrigue:

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What? This is going to be an interesting story.

Build some mystery. This example from Marie Forleo shows how you can leverage what your readers already know about you.

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Her subscribers might be thinking, “well, I know think Marie’s personality pret-ty well. And if SHE’S shocked, it’s pretty likely I’ll be shocked, too. I’d better check this out.”

Most importantly, experiment!

The MOST important piece of this puzzle is to continually be tweaking and testing your email subject lines.

Don’t try to follow ALL of these rules at the same time. Pick and choose, experimenting a bit with each.

Your readers are humans, too. No other list in the world has the same combination of people (each with their own preferences, feelings, and emotional triggers). Your specific message, the timing and frequency of your emails, and the relationship you have with your readers can lead to an awful lot of variation.

So don’t just guess at what will work. TEST for what will work.

If you stumble across a technique that breaks EVERY rule in the book, yet has your readers begging for more… go with it!

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About Laura Roeder

Laura Roeder is a social media marketing expert who gives businesses of all sizes the tools they need to make their mark on the web. She is the creator of the social media scheduling software Edgar, as well as social media marketing web courses like Creating Fame and Social Brilliant.


  1. Writing email subject lines are the toughest part of the whole process. I labor over them and still am not entirely sure how they will do until they’ve gone out. I do think experimentation is one of the more important things to do. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to figure out what resonates with your audience.