Email Subject Lines: What Works and What Doesn’t



You no doubt receive a landslide of marketing emails each day. In fact, most of us are bombarded with hundreds of email messages every day. If you are an email marketer (like mwah), you send thousands of emails a day (thank you automation tools). The sheer volume is enough to make even the most organized person crazy.
So what makes you open an email? The subject line of course. Just a few little words can make or break your chance at grabbing an audience’s attention. Just 40 to 50 character sales pitches that convince people to click, open and read. Considering the super-brief amount of text, there’s an incredible amount of things that can go wrong even before getting to the actual content. You want to stay away from subject lines that are vague, aggressive, too-familiar or just downright annoying.
If you’re open and click stats are down, take a quick look at a few of these BAD subject lines and adjust your creativity.
  1. “Quick question”
    This is a red flag for a productivity sucker. Take out the “quick” or, better yet, try “Question about…”
  2. “Tuesday”
    Doesn’t get more vague that this! This is so nondescript, and searching for it later will be a nightmare. Try “Sale on XX/XX!” and provide the actual date.
  3. “???” and its best friend “!!!”
    are unnecessarily aggressive, and actually don’t communicate anything. Use words. Be specific.
  4. Hey, can you call me…”
    Nope. I will not call you. You call me. I’m a busy lady! Try “Call this afternoon” or “Calling you Wednesday”. Sometimes, when you give a person a head’s up, they may actually answer.
  5. “URGENT” or “ASAP”
    If it’s really urgent, you’re chances are better just calling or instant messaging. All caps scares people and if they open the email to a marketing message, you’re gonna get an unsubscribe pronto! Stop crying wolf or you’ll lose credibility.
  6. “Are you busy?”
    Yep, we all are. This will not make me open your email in any way whatsoever. Try something like “Let’s talk about X”. When your audience is prepared by details in the subject, they will actually want to read it.
  7. “No Subject”
    Although this can be seen as a trick to seem “real”, it isn’t. And when your audience opens up a marketing email with no subject, they will think you are a real fool and disregard it immediately.
  8. “Monthly Newsletter”
    Filler words and generic copy that is repetitive will get you ignored super fast. Try “May News” or tease “Headline X”.
  9. “Act Now!”
    Oh really? Do I need to drop everything to buy your product that still has 97% of inventory left? Try “Buy Today for 50% Off”. This tells the audience why they should act now.
  10. Something like “Our Service Is So Great!”
    A focus of me, me, meeee will not win your audience over. Show them how you can help them in a few words. Try “Let’s Get You Ready For The Holidays”.

A great subject line can be clever, and maybe even a bit unusual to capture attention. Be benefit-focused and accurate about what’s inside the email. Pro Tip: Put a number on it. People love numbers and lists… notice the majority of our blog titles. 😉


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Author Info

Well, hi! My name is Cassandra (Cassie) and I am the Brand Manager and Strategic Marketing Director for Systemax. Oh, and I also run our Marketing Automation platform. I like to keep busy. Plus, I like working with all sorts of people. When I’m not working, I’m running, yoga(ing), creating, mothering and friending. Life is good and I love to share, so I hope you enjoy my ramblings. xo