How to Write Killer Email Subject Lines for Sales
To achieve success with email marketing, there is one aspect you must nail. In fact, without this one aspect, your campaign is guaranteed to flop.
It’s your email subject line.
If your subject line doesn’t compel people to open your email, it doesn’t matter how good your copy or offer is.
Therefore, it’s essential to invest time into learning how to write killer email subject lines.
What’s a smart subject line for sales emails?
While there is no right or wrong way to write a subject line, there are some tips you can use to boost your current open rates.
Here’s what you need to know.
Make them descriptive
A study by Backlinko showed that the optimal email subject line is between 36 and 50 characters. In fact, this length outperformed short subject lines (1-15 characters) by 32.7%.
However, watch out for subject lines more than 70 characters, as open rates begin to diminish above that length.
If your subject line is too short, your audience likely won’t open the email because it’s hard to be specific in under 15 characters. Given that you’re writing an email subject line for sales, you can’t afford to be vague.
For example, imagine receiving these subject lines in your inbox:
- Content Strategy
- Quick Question
- Marketing Lesson
Those brief descriptions don’t give you a compelling reason to click, so they likely will perform poorly. On the other hand, short subject lines can be too specific and reveal too much too fast.
For example, you probably wouldn’t open these emails because they’re clearly trying to sell something:
- 15 Minute Call?
- Marketing Course
- Coaching Services
However, these longer subject lines are descriptive but not a dead giveaway that you’re going to sell something:
- How to “buy back your time”
- Sam Smith Referred me …
- I Reduced FB Ad Costs by 30% Instantly — here’s how
The only exception for writing shorter and somewhat vague subject lines is if your audience is already actively engaged with you.
For example, these three email subject lines, written by copywriter Justin Goff, work well because he has a small yet highly active email list:
- Hang with me?
- BIG news
Therefore, because the list is already actively engaged and invested in his content, short subject lines can be effective.
Use proper online etiquette
Using proper etiquette is essential, particularly if you’re pitching prospects cold.
Therefore, avoid writing in all caps and don’t add too many exclamation points.
The only scenario where all caps might be appropriate is if you use it to emphasize a deadline.
For example, this is the last email in Ramit Sethi’s sequence to sell his course on finding a dream job.
Emojis are also becoming increasingly popular in the email marketing space, though they also require appropriate etiquette.
Search Engine Journal published a report after A/B testing emojis in their email subject lines, and it showed that seven out of ten campaigns with emojis received more abuse reports.
This can be devastating for deliverability, so be sure to keep an eye on that metric if you choose to use emojis.
In addition, the open rates for subject lines with emojis were actually lower than those without emojis.
Avoid false promises
Avoid making exaggerated statements unless you can truly justify them.
For example, if you choose to use any of these subject lines, your email must justify the claims:
A $25,000 bonus gift should be more than a free ebook and a coaching session. Similarly, if you have a million-dollar lesson, you should have a case study to go with it to show that your tip really did provide a million-dollar increase to the offer.
Nonetheless, case studies and data stories are a great way to hook people. In addition, each of the emails that followed these subject lines were able to justify the value. Incorporate your own versions of them in your email efforts, but don’t exaggerate any claims.
Run A/B tests
You can always improve your email subject lines, so continuously test them — a 1% increase in open rates can drastically improve email performance.
As you begin testing, change just one variable at a time to know which one was successful.
For example, a good test of two different subject lines might look like this:
How I Increased Conversions By 60%
How You Can Increase Conversions By 60%
Virtually all email marketing services now offer A/B testing tools. If you don’t want to pay for a service, Mailchimp allows you to have a free account for a limited number of subscribers, so you can start testing today.
Segment your audience
Serving relevant content to your audience is essential to running a successful email marketing campaign. Therefore, to ensure the content you send covers the right pain points, leverage email segmentation.
Email segmentation allows you to send specific content to specific prospects based on actions they have taken from previous emails and on your website. This is invaluable, as each person coming to your website has different needs.
For example, if you sell an SEO course, you may find that some of your buyers are new to SEO, whereas others might be agency owners looking for training material.
In this case, even though both parties are looking at the same course, their needs are very different, and they would respond better to two different pitches.
Those who are new to SEO would likely respond better to messaging that covers how a student went from an SEO newbie to making six figures per year.
However, the CEO would likely prefer to see a case study showing how the course enabled a newbie SEO to double traffic/conversions in a matter of months and how it impacted business growth.
You can also segment your audience by gender, age, geography, and actions they’ve taken.
Research from Campaign Monitor also showed that segmentation is incredibly effective and can increase revenue by up to 760%.
Subject line templates for sales
Now that you have some basic guidelines for writing email subject lines for sales, here are some templates you can use to craft your own.
I swiped all of these examples from world-class copywriters like Ramit Sethi, Justin Goff, Larry Kim, and others, so they’ve been proven by the best of the best.
Curiosity is an incredibly powerful tool to increase your open rates.
While vague subject lines will decrease your open rates, creating a story and leaving out a key piece of information will make your open rates skyrocket.
- Subject Line: The email secret used by VShred and Agora that prints money
- Template: The (industry) secret used by (major brands) that prints money
- Subject Line: The 8-letter word that has made my business a LOT easier (and more profitable)
- Template: The X-letter word that has made my (day, work, campaign, etc.) a LOT easier (and more profitable)
- Subject Line: The secret to getting paid $50,000 to write a sales letter
- Template: The secret to getting paid $50,000 to (prospect’s job)
- Subject Line: My investors think I’m crazy
- Template: (Professional relations) think I’m crazy
- Subject Line: What millionaires know about money that most people don’t
- Template: What (idols) know about (desire) that most people don’t
Notice that in each example, the copy builds drama (prints money, shed tears of joy) and omits one key part (THIS, 8-letter word, email secret).
If you need more inspiration, check out BuzzFeed titles. They have cracked the code to writing compelling headlines and you can use many of them as email templates.
When writing these headlines, it’s important to remember that while clickbait may be effective at generating open rates, it won’t drive sales if you don’t deliver. Therefore, be sure to always deliver on what you say you’ll do.
While curiosity often resonates better with prospects that respond emotionally, data is a great way to appeal to prospects that respond to logical pitches, so it should be a staple in every nurture sequence.
A study by CoSchedule of 155 million emails also showed that subject lines that included numbers experienced a 206% higher clickthrough rate than email subject lines without numbers.
So, here are some great data-driven email subject lines:
- Subject Line: This investment had an 11x ROI for me
- Template: This investment had an (X) ROI for me
- Subject Line: How I save 20 hours every WEEK
- Template: How I save X hours every WEEK
- Subject Line: How I get 30–50% conversion rates on my upsells
- Template: How I get X% conversion rates on my (product)
- Subject Line: How I lost $2 million on Facebook ads (real numbers)
- Template: How I lost (amount) on (experiment) (real numbers)
- Subject Line: These 5 tactics led to my $150MM exit
- Formula: These 5 tactics led to my (impressive feat your audience cares about)
If you’re creating a nurture sequence, storytelling is a great way to get people hooked with your brand. In addition, your prospects won’t forget you as storytelling is 22 times more memorable.
Therefore, give the audience a teaser of the story in your subject line:
- Subject Line: How I Turned a Product Hunt Failure Into a Success
- Template: How I Turned a (audience goal) Failure Into a Success
- Subject Line: 8 months ago he didn’t know what copywriting was … now he’s making $12k a month (story inside)
- Template: X months ago he didn’t know what (industry) was … now he makes X a month (story inside)
- Subject Line: From “unemployable” to 6-figure Dream Job
- Template: From (current pain) to (ideal scenario)
- Subject Line: How I Made My First Thousand Dollars with Local SEO
- Template: How I Made My First Thousand Dollars with (Product)
Offering a solution to avoid pain or avoid missing out is one of the most effective and fundamental copywriting tactics.
For example, the idea of losing a home triggers much stronger emotions than the idea of purchasing a home.
Therefore, by writing a subject line that focuses on pain-point avoidance, you can tap into heightened emotions and make your copy much more compelling (assuming that you have a great solution for their pain).
Here are some samples that focus on pain avoidance to help dramatically increase your open rates:
- Subject Line: How I Lost $50,000 on Facebook Ads in a Week
- Template: How I Lost (item of value) on (platform/industry) in (time)
- Subject Line: 93% of marketers FAIL at this ROI-driver
- Template: X% of (target audience) FAIL at this (goal)
- Subject Line: What no one tells you about starting a biz
- Template: What no one tells you about (goal/journey/product)
- Subject Line: Email marketing’s fatal flaw
- Template: (Product/service/industry)’s fatal flaw
- Subject Line: The Mistake that Caused Pier 1 to Go Bankrupt
- Template: The Mistake that Caused (pain point)
Perhaps the most important part about writing pain-avoidance subject lines is that you must know your audience on a personal level.
You should not only understand what they want, but also why they want it.
For example, if you sell a weight loss product, your clients may not care about what the scale says. Instead, they may want to lose weight to go to the beach with the family.
While avoidance is a great way to grab your audience’s attention, you can also use the pain-point solution approach.
Therefore, rather than stimulating fear, the pain-solution approach is designed to stimulate pleasure. These solutions should include words like “easy,” “simple,” and “quick,” as they are taking the prospect away from pain.
Here are some of the best pain-solution subject lines:
- Subject Line: Fix your back pain with this simple solution
- Template: Fix your (problem) with X
- Subject Line: How to make 2–3x more money without any extra work
- Template: How to (achieve) 2–3x more (goal) without any extra work
- Subject Line: The antidote to procrastination
- Template: The antidote to (pain point)
- Subject Line: How to get more Facebook leads for FREE
- Template: How to get more (desire) for FREE
- Subject Line: How I Doubled My Traffic by Creating Less Content
- Template: How I (achieved goal) by (working less)
Mention an influencer
Mentioning an influencer is a great way to increase open rates. It shows the prospect that you have similar idols and makes you appear more familiar.
For example, if you’re a basketball fan and someone sends you an email mentioning Michael Jordan, you’ll probably be more inclined to open that one in an inbox full of generic messages.
But if you mention an influencer, be sure it’s someone in your space rather than just a generic celebrity.
Here are some classy ways to mention an influencer without name dropping obnoxiously.
- Subject Line: A brilliant Dan Kennedy lesson …
- Template: A brilliant (influencer) lesson …
- Subject Line: Stefan Georgi’s copy was a failure … then THIS happened
- Template: (Influencer)’s (talent) was a failure … then THIS happened
- Subject Line: A Michael Jordan trait that you DON’T want
- Template: A (influencer) trait that you DON’T want
- Subject Line: I followed Oprah’s morning routine for a week …
- Template: I followed (influencer)’s (habit) for (time frame) …
- Subject Line: How Neil Patel revived his dying Facebook traffic
- Template: How (influencer) (achieved audience goal)
About 80% of customers are more likely to purchase from a brand that serves them personalized offers, so it’s no surprise that personalizing your email subject line will help increase open rates as well as other key metics.
These personalization templates (particularly the first two below, which demonstrate a mutual connection) should be your go-to subjects for cold emails.
For nurture sequences, personalize your messages with a specific field such as the prospect’s name or company, as studies show that this can increase open rates by up to 50% across various industries.
You can also personalize the subject line based on an action the prospect took on your website (see #4).
- Subject Line: Great chatting at SXSW
- Template: Great chatting at (event)
- Subject Line: Judy recommended I get in touch …
- Template: (Mutual connection) recommended I get in touch …
- Subject Line: Copyblogger’s Content Plan for Quarter 1
- Template: (Brand)’s (your service) Plan for Quarter X
- Subject Line: Megan, take a look at these email subject line case studies
- Template: (Name), take a look at (very specific point of interest)
Note: This one is usually based on an action they took on your website.
- Subject Line: Megan, meet Jeff
- Template: (Name) meet (someone in your company)
Ask a question
Science has proven that people love to talk about themselves. Research by Scientific American shows that talking about yourself lights up the same areas of the brain as eating good food or even taking drugs.
Therefore, centering the conversation around your reader rather than yourself can help you develop a deeper relationship with them and keep them more engaged.
So, start by asking them a question about themselves in your subject line.
Here are a few good templates:
- Subject Line: Are you Person #1 or Person #2?
- Template: Are you (Option 1) or (Option 2)?
- Subject Line: Do you have Special Snowflake Syndrome?
- Template: Do you have (target audience vice)?
- Subject Line: What does Rich Life mean to you?
- Template: What does (achieving goal) mean to you?
- Subject Line: How Would Your Life Change if You Lost 10lbs?
- Template: How Would Your Life Change if You (achieved goal)?
- Subject Line: Why do you manage your money like you’re 20?
- Template: Why do you (do or avoid vice)?
One of the best ways to stimulate sales from your emails is by creating urgency in your subject lines.
A 2018 study also proved the power of urgency when subjects consistently chose to perform unimportant tasks with an illusion of expiration over more important tasks.
While too much urgency too early in the sale may seem spammy or even turn people off, it’s an effective way to finish a nurture sequence and encourage people to take action.
- Subject Line: The free account you forgot to claim is being deleted
- Template: The free (offer) is being deleted
- Subject Line: You have until 11:59pm TONIGHT to sign up for Dream Job
- Template: You have until (time stamp) (DAY) to sign up for (product/service)
- Subject Line: $14,591 in one day — here’s how (Earnable closes tonight)
- Template: (Audience Goal) in one day — here’s how (product/service) closes tonight)
- Subject Line: Seats are being filled up extremely fast … only 21 spots left
- Template: (Openings) are being filled up extremely fast … only X spots left
- Subject Line: Closing time (“Access All Of 2020” plan gone)
- Template: Closing time (“Access All Of (course)” gone)
State something controversial
If you’ve followed an expert for some time and the subject line goes against everything they have ever said, you’re probably enticed to click to see more.
This is the same tactic that television producers and magazine editors use to grab people’s attention.
Here are a few examples:
- Subject Line: SEO Is Dead
- Template: (Practice you’ve been teaching) Is Dead
- Subject Line: Why I Regret Investing in Live Events
- Template: Why I Regret Investing in (product/service you offer)
- Subject Line: Why I don’t create weekly content anymore …
- Template: Why I don’t (perform my service) anymore …
- Subject Line: We’re deleting our email list
- Template: We’re deleting (revenue driver)
Note: The offer was ultimately to sign up for messenger updates.
Obviously, most of these subject lines are ultimately addressing a problem within the industry and then explaining how your product/service fixes it.
Try out one of these templates today
Remember, your subject line will have a huge impact on your email marketing success. Take 30 seconds to try out one of these templates and create a stellar subject line.
If you don’t hear back from a prospect, be sure to send a follow-up email and experiment with logical versus emotional sequences.
So, which one of these email subject lines will you try first?