Crafting the Perfect Email Subject Line: A Complete Guide

Microsoft has become the latest tech giant to announce its cutting workers. The companys decision follows layoff plans at other industry titans, including Twitter, Meta, and Amazon.

If you find yourself hit by these layoffs, or are just on the hunt for a new position, its important to not only dust off your résumé and cover letter, but also to craft the right email subject line if youre contacting a hiring manager.

A bad subject line can land your important note in the trash, while a well-crafted one increases open rates, a 2019 study published in Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal showed.

Insider spoke with career experts including Amanda Augustine and Dmitri Leonov to learn their secrets on crafting the perfect email subject line. Here are their top tips. Advertisement

Your email’s subject line is like a front door – it’s the first thing recipients see when your message arrives in their inbox. A compelling subject piques curiosity and entices them to open and read your email.

But a weak, confusing, or overly salesy subject line will likely get your email ignored or even sent to the trash

That’s why learning how to write effective email subject lines is a critical skill for personal and professional communication. Follow this comprehensive guide to craft subject lines that get opened, read, and acted on.

Why Strong Subject Lines Matter

Let’s start by looking at why well-written subject lines are so important for email success:

  • Increases open rates – Emails with clear, benefit-focused subject lines have much higher open rates. This gets more of your message read.

  • Helps recipients prioritize – A descriptive subject line allows readers to identify which emails to open first based on urgency or interest,

  • Sets expectations – By summarizing the content and purpose upfront, you avoid surprising or misleading recipients once the email is opened

  • Enhances deliverability – Spam filters are less likely to block emails with relevant, straightforward subject lines devoid of “spammy” words.

  • Saves time – Scannable subject lines allow busy recipients to quickly determine which emails they need to read now and which can wait.

  • Improves organization – Subject lines make emails easier to search for and categorize within overflowing inboxes.

The bottom line is that the subject line makes or breaks whether your email gets read. Take the time to craft ones tailored for each situation.

Subject Line Length and Formatting

Let’s start with some universal formatting tips for structuring effective subject lines:

  • Keep it short – Subject lines should be less than 70 characters. Lengthy subjects get cut off on mobile.

  • Put key info first – Lead with the most relevant details so they’re visible even if truncated.

  • Use sentence case – Write in sentence case style with just the first word and proper nouns capitalized.

  • Avoid over-punctuation – Excessive punctuation looks unprofessional. Stick to periods to end statements.

  • Specify reply types – Use “RE:” for replies and “FW:” for forwards so recipients know the context.

Now let’s look at formatting approaches for common email types:

Personal Emails

  • Use first names for familiarity
  • Include context like “Dinner tonight”
  • Casual tone with abbreviations

Professional Emails

  • Full recipient name + company
  • Formal tone and grammar
  • Topic overview like “Meeting follow-up”

Email Newsletters

  • Name of the newsletter
  • Issues number and/or date
  • “Subscribe” to introduce lists

Promotional Emails

  • Offer in the subject
  • Call recipients by name
  • Urgent tone like “24 hours left!”

Follow these best practices, and you’ll have subject line framework down. Now let’s focus on writing compelling content.

Ways to Make Your Subject Line Irresistible

While strong subject line writing does require creativity, there are proven formulas you can use to write ones guaranteed to get opened:

1. Speak to the Benefit

Emails promoting offers or events should summarize the key benefit readers will get from opening. For example:

  • Learn how to double conversions

  • Last chance for 50% off

This builds anticipation and highlights what’s in it for them.

2. Spark Curiosity

Subject lines that tease content without giving everything away pique reader’s curiosity to open and learn more. For example:

  • I can’t believe what he said

  • Wait till you see these photos

3. Ask a Question

Drawing readers in by posing an intriguing question inspires them to open your email to find the answer. For example:

  • Tired of long meetings?

  • What if you could work 4 hours per week and still get everything done?

4. Use Social Proof

Showcase your credibility by referencing well-known brands, media, or testimonials. For example:

  • As seen on Forbes and Business Insider

  • Join 100,000+ satisfied users

This builds immediate reader trust and interest.

5. Leverage FOMO

FOMO stands for “fear of missing out,” which you can spark with subject lines like:

  • Sale ending in 24 hours

  • Last chance to register

The feeling of potentially missing out on something exclusive or urgent is a strong motivator to open.

6. Offer Freebies

We’re all tempted by freebies, so promote them in your subject line:

  • Claim your free eBook

  • Register to get a free $100 Amazon Gift Card

This works well to incentivize conversions. Just be sure what you’re offering is truly free with no strings attached.

7. Personalize

Including recipients’ names makes subject lines feel more customized and relevant:

  • Hey [Name], check out these photos from the event

  • [Name], here’s the report you requested

Studies show personalization boosts open rates significantly.

Common Subject Line Mistakes to Avoid

With an understanding of techniques that work, let’s also look at some common mistakes that can doom your subject line’s performance:

  • Using all caps – THIS LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING! All caps comes across as aggressive.

  • Making it too long – Try to keep it under 60 characters so recipients aren’t forced to truncate.

  • Overusing exclamation points – One is plenty to convey importance or urgency. Too many look unprofessional.

  • Being too salesy – Avoid overpromising. Keep the focus on reader benefits.

  • Using spam trigger words – Terms like “free,” “percent off,” “cash bonus” often trigger spam filters.

  • Bad grammar or typos – Proofread thoroughly, as these undercut your credibility.

  • Too vague – Give readers a clear idea of what your email is about.

  • Forgetting branding – Include your name, company, or newsletter name so recipients recognize you.

Following the advice in this guide will help you avoid these pitfalls and consistently craft irresistible subject lines.

Subject Line Ideas and Examples

To help inspire your subject line writing, let’s look at some real-world examples that incorporate the elements discussed:

  • Curiosity – “This baby elephant has a very unique best friend…”

  • Question – “Could your morning routine be harming productivity?”

  • Social proof – “As seen in The Wall Street Journal: The future of AI”

  • FOMO – “Last chance: 40% off summer styles this weekend only!”

  • Personalization – “Hi James, your 3D printing guide is ready to download”

  • Freebie – “Sign up to get a free professional headshot mini-session”

These demonstrate how subject lines can grab attention in a crowded inbox to boost open rates. Test different types to see which resonate most with your particular subscribers and their motivations.

Subject Lines Are Key to Email Success

An email’s subject line is essentially its first impression on recipients. Following the tips in this guide will help you get it right so your emails make a winning first impression:

  • Keep them concise, scannable, and properly formatted
  • Tailor them for personal or professional context
  • Use specific formulas like curiosity and social proof
  • Avoid common mistakes like vagueness and typos
  • Continually test and optimize based on performance

With these strategies, you can engage audiences with irresistible subject lines that drive actions, conversions, and results. The power is in your subject so take the time to perfect them. Your open rates will thank you!

how to subject an email

Indicate if you need a response.

how to subject an email

“People want to know whether they really need to read this now and if they have to respond,” said Augustine. If you need a response, make it clear in the subject line by saying “please reply” or “thoughts needed on X topic.”

If not, simply start the line with “Please read,” or tack on “no response needed” or “FYI” to the end. Advertisement

Make sure you re-read the subject line.

how to subject an email

Augustine also warned against copy-and-paste errors. Sometimes when people are sending a similar email to multiple people, they forget to tailor it to each reader and end up with the wrong name or title in the subject line. The easiest way to avoid this is to reread the subject line before you hit send. Advertisement

7 Subject Lines That Get Your Emails Opened

What is an email subject line?

The definition and function of email subject lines go beyond mere summarization. They capture the spirit of the email, giving the receiver a snapshot of the content and its relevance to them. Sure, it’s a title. But it’s also a carefully crafted invitation that beckons the reader to explore further.

What are the best punny email subject lines?

It’s a great way to delight your recipients and spice up your emails. Some of the best punny email subject lines come from JetBlue, with subject lines like “Land wander-ful low fares now!” Quirky — a community-led invention platform — worded one of its email subject lines like this: “Abra-cord-abra!

What is a fundraising email subject line?

Fundraising email subject lines ask the subscriber to donate their time or money to an organization or cause. Use emotions and ethics to craft subject lines aimed at generating charitable donations. Crafting good email subject lines serves to increase value metrics and help your business achieve marketing goals.

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