Email Marketing At Work

Crafting a good email can be stressful, especially when you need to take note of metrics such as opens, unique opens, clicks, bounces, unsubscribes. However, creating copy that stands out in your subscribers’ inbox does not have to take hours or go through multiple rounds of vetting. We have compiled 20 types of subject lines that can improve your click through rates. Also, a bonus cheat sheet awaits at the end of the article.

Before we begin, let’s do a quick recap of the best practices for writing a killer subject heading.

Identify Pain Points

It is a cardinal sin to not have your buyer persona done. In the subject line, showing your subscriber that you have a solution will entice them to open up their email.

Write With Your Brand’s Voice

For example, the tone of copy you would employ for a luxury clothing brand’s event invite will be completely different from a boutique’s swimsuit sale advertorial.

Keep Your Subject Heading Succinct

Man holding smartphone

56% of emails are opened on mobile devices. Trim the frills off your headlines to ensure that your subscribers are able to get the gist of the subject heading at first glance.

anatomy of an email

Using Numbers When Appropriate

Instead of “fifty dollars voucher”, changing it to “$50 voucher” makes it easier to read.

Mind Your Language

Turn off the caps lock and ease up on the exclamation marks. Nobody likes feeling like they’re being yelled at. This also makes the title look spammy. However, this could depend on your branding. If you are a casual lifestyle publication aimed at millennials, then go ahead and be expressive at appropriate times.

Always Segment Your Lists!

Don’t be lazy, because when you’re doing targeting right, your open rates will go up. Check out these articles by Zerobounce and Campaign Monitor for more information.


Now that we are all caught up, let’s dive in to the email subject lines that can net you a higher click through rate.

Types of Email Subject Lines That Can Improve Your CTRs

1. Subject lines that incite FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

This one is a classic and can be seen in many promotional emails. Having this element implies scarcity and urgency. Don’t forget to include a time limit!

  • Zalora: “Ends tomorrow: Buy 2 get 20% off.”
  • ShopBack: “[lightning emoji] 2 days only: 17% off your Apple purchases at Epicentre with Shoppe!”
  • Digital Marketer: “Your private invitation expires tomorrow night”

2. Subject lines that generate curiosity.

Leave your subject line open by dangling a clickbait that incites curiosity and makes your subscribers itch to find out the answer.

  • Grubhub: “Last day to see what this email is all about.”
  • “Things to avoid when planning a surprise party”

3. Subject lines that appeal to their sense of vanity

Appealing to your subscribers’ sense of vanity in your subject heading by promising something that would make them look or feel better.

  • Levis: “Hey (name), you would look so good in these jeans.”
  • Sephora: “Products the celebs are wearing”

4. Subject lines that appeal to their sense of greed

This feels similar to FOMO. However, we emphasize more on the ‘getting a good deal part’ rather than the ‘blink and miss it’ part. If you have done your targeting well, your subscribers will find it hard to pass up a good deal. Many FMCG and retail brands use this tactic.

  • “Score these styles at a fraction of their original costs!”
  • La Mer: “A little luxury at a great price”

5. Subject lines that offer them quick and easy fixes.

Everyone wants things done fast, and done well. That’s why fast food and cheat sheets exist. Brands use this tactic mostly to entice people into entering their emails in exchange for an freebie.

  • “99 Content Marketing Ideas For Fashion Brands”
  • “27 Excel Hacks You Wish You Had Discovered Sooner”
  • Salesforce: “How To Grow Your Business Faster in 15 Minutes.”

6. A subject heading that reminds them to complete an action or process.

These are usually sent to subscribers when they fail to complete an action or step in their sales funnel. For example, when they add an item to their wishlist and just leave it there. These emails then serve to stream your subscribers back down the funnel.

  • Zalora: “Hi (name), your wishlist items are running out of stock!”
  • “Good news! Your shopping bag items are on sale!”

7. Subject lines that feel like a short burst of energy.

When you see an unopened email in your inbox, the subject line is displayed along with a preview of the first line of the email. Try a short statement, and then elaborate further in the preview. This type of subject heading offers a change of pace from the usual longer sentences. However, use this with caution, as the tone of copy has to align with your branding and style.

Email Examples Short Headings


8. Subjects that have shock value.

Create a subject line that offers a controversial view or refutes common beliefs to grab people’s attention.

  • “Everything is Fake News and Journalism is Dead”
  • “In defense of vegan evangelists”
  • “Your body does not sweat out toxins and other hot yoga myths busted”

9. Subject lines that pare the information down to the bare essentials.

Use this for notification emails, or reminder emails. “Your order is being processed. Check the delivery status here.” is better than “Your order #0270218838 is being processed and will be delivered in 10 days via air shipping.” They can then check the details in the email.


10. Subjects that ask questions.

Asking people compelling questions will cause them to open your email in search of an answer to satisfy their curiosity. For example, you can try the following: “Do you know how to ensure your customer service stays top notch?”, or “Are you making these data mistakes”?

  • Kari DePhillips: “Have questions about Digital Marketing? We’ve Got Answers!”
  • Zillow: “What can you afford?”
  • Chris Badgett (LifterLMS): “Could you do me a solid?”

11. Make your subject lines time-appropriate.

Make your subject lines time-appropriate. Scheduling emails is a great way to save time and have more control over when you reach your audience. For example, if you’re doing marketing for a food delivery company, you could send a coupon code for discounted delivery near midnight to entice the nocturnal ones to order in. Or maybe it’s the day before Father’s Day, and you haven’t had time to go shopping. Suddenly, you receive an email from Amazon with gift suggestions and a discount off next-day delivery. Score!


12. Subject lines with pop culture references.

This would require you to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry and have a keen sense of pop culture. A week ago, I received an email from the Quandoo app with the subject line “Don’t you, forget about us… Here’s 1000 points ($15)!”. First half of the subject line is a reference to the song made popular by the first Pitch Perfect movie. And now I have it stuck in my head. Check out some others.

  • DailySkimm: “Are you a Yanny or Laurel?” Referencing an audio clip that divided the internet.
  • “TGIF! If you’re happy and you know it…”

13. Subject lines that make it exclusive.

When people feel like they’re part of an insiders’ club, it gives them a sense of belonging and makes them more open to opening your email. Phrasing like “an exclusive offer for you”, or “special invitation to our next menu tasting” works well.

  • Jason Zomwork: “Free Business Tips Just For You”
  • Zalora: “First Look: All New Arrivals”

14. Subject lines that add a bit of mystery.

Giving readers a taste of intrigue might entice them to bite. But of course, do provide something of value or elaborate well in your body message, because you do not want to be known as the brand that cried wolf.

  • “This might surprise you…”
  • Hubspot: “We challenge you…”
  • “If not you, then who?”

15. Subject lines that say it like it is.

According to Campaign Monitor, the average office worker receives about 121 emails daily. The inbox gets cluttered easily and a clear direction or call to action will be appreciated.

  • “New! Guide to Tokyo’s best nightlife spots.”
  • “Download your quarterly investors report here”
  • SEMRush Academy: “SEO Writing Assistant on Product Hunt- Check it out!”

16. Subject lines that feature social proof.

We rely a lot on social proof to make our decisions. You may be more hesitant going into a empty restaurant because there is no social proof that the food is good to eat. Same goes for our other decisions, before buying a product or going for a movie, we usually trawl the internet for reviews. So take control of your social proof, and show your people what value they can get.

  • SEMRush Team: “[SEO Fundamentals Сourse] 15,000 users took it and it’s rated .”
  • eFinancialCareers: “117,390 people will sit the CFA in Asia – ‘even feeding them is a challenge’”

17. Subject lines that make people chuckle.

Everybody loves a good laugh and it makes them warm up to you. Throw in the offer of valuable content or a good deal, and watch your open rates go up.

  • Natasha from Glints “Want a high flying career? Find out more here – it’s plane simple!”
  • The Scoot Team: “Scoot for a tai-rrific time in Taiwan from $88!”
  • The Scoot Team: “Feeling all Thai’d up? Scoot to Thailand from $44!”

18. Subject lines that identify pain points.

Seeing a pattern here? Yes, that’s right, content that is relevant to your target audience is valuable, hence the repeated note to always segment your subscriber lists! Check out these sweet examples below.

  • Grab: Still craving for local food? Enjoy free delivery with SG53!
  • Onnit: “Fix your posture with our top 5 foam roller exercises”

19. One word subject lines.

One word subject lines. It can be quite daunting trying to distill the message you are trying to convey into a single word, but the results may surprise you. Let’s say you are an online publication for travel and lifestyle content. Instead of titling your email “Check out the best beaches in South East Asia”, consider using “Paradise” in the subject heading, and further elaborating in the preview text.


20. Lastly, the “Hail Mary”.

This type of email subject line is exactly what you think it is. It also sometimes goes against what you know about email marketing best practices. Some people use this as a last-ditch attempt after several unanswered sales emails. Usually something provoking/provocative. It’s something that should be used with caution, especially in the age of social media where it is easy to go viral for the wrong reasons. Check out the examples below.

  • Ezbuy: “We are sorry for not doing good enough in Oct”
  • Money Dashboard: “Please put us out of our misery.”
  • “Your rewards points may be in danger.”

And there you have it! There are no absolute hard and fast rules to categorising email subject headlines. You can actually combine some of the elements together to create a more impactful headline, like this example below.

Example of an email heading with different elements combined.

So get creative! Write many variations, read them out loud, ask a colleague to vet them through. And always do split testing. If you’re into ads copywriting, check out Tested Advertising Methods by copy legend John Caples.

Do you have any favourite or memorable emails received? Sound out in the comments below or if you’re feeling shy, just drop me an email.

And as promised, here’s the email marketing cheat sheet for easy reference! If you can’t download it, you may want to email me for a high-res copy. 🙂

Email Marketing Subject Line Best Practices Cheat Sheet

Gwen is the Sales and Marketing Manager at Equinet Academy. She is passionate about content creation and making digital marketing less daunting for small businesses. Connect with her on LinkedIn.