No matter what they say, people do judge emails by their subject lines.

In fact, according to Convince and Convert, 30% of email recipients decide whether or not to open an email based on subject line alone. And as per a survey by Convince and Convert, 69% of email recipients report email as spam based solely on the subject line. That’s why it’s so important to craft subject lines that are compelling enough to get people to click through.

Writing the right subject line for your email campaign can be a brainstorming task. You can write the most compelling email body by dedicating hours, but without an attractive subject, your efforts are set to fail. People often tend to ignore this tiny little speck of detail which may as well be the game changer for many. Most of the people just whizz past the subject line. Your product may be uniquely designed, and you may be the best in the business, but if you do not have a compelling subject line, your efforts are a waste.

While they may seem like a small part of your message, they’re one of the very first impressions you have on your email recipients. And they’re a marketer’s ticket for standing out in a crowded inbox.

Do you want your email content opened, read, and replied? It all starts with the subject line.

Successful subject lines actually share several common characteristics. Once you know the science of a compelling email subject line, you can focus on the art of creating it.

1) Creative

The human brain craves novelty. Hence, creative subject lines tend to perform better than the obsolete and generalized ones.

A fresh or unexpected subject line also suggests that this message is different than the other sales emails prospects receive and delete without reading.

Some of the most successful subject lines in sales history have been as offbeat as “11 chicken eggs” and “kimchi and octopus.”

They worked because they were out of the ordinary and attention-grabbing. But they were also a teaser to the story the reader would discover inside the email.

Being a little quirky is effective, but keep in mind this strategy isn’t about coming up with weird or random phrases to “scam” people into opening your emails. Instead, figure out what’s unique and interesting about your message and use that to pique the reader’s curiosity.

The more you know your reader, the easier it will be to use this strategy.

2) Clear

It can be tempting to sacrifice clarity for cleverness. However, research has established that straightforward subject lines get 541%(GigaOM Research) more clicks than witty or amusing ones.

The takeaway? Don’t try to be funny in your subject line.

Here’s an example of a funny subject line versus a clear one:

Clever: “Need a day at the beach?”

Clear: “Would you like to avail X service?”

subject line



3) Personalized

Reusing subject lines can be efficient — but only if the subject line is right for that specific prospect at that specific time. For instance, if a salesperson discovers via LinkedIn that her prospect works at a conservative organization, she shouldn’t use a subject line with an emoji in it. However, one with a smiley face might go over well with a prospect at a more informal company.

Reps can also personalize subject lines to their prospects by inserting their names and/or company names and referencing relevant challenges or goals.

To give you an idea, here’s one subject line is written in two different ways:

Prospect #1: “Does Anand need to hire support reps?”

Prospect #2: “How’s Sellulose’s talent pipeline?”

You can take this strategy one step further by creating personalized subject lines for every email that is to be sent. You can browse your prospects’ social media accounts, blog posts, websites, and more to find interesting facts you can reference in your subject line. Here is a couple of examples:

  • “love that you were in a band”
  • “Someone from your Bandra location”

4) Concise

Effective subject lines are usually short. Most email platforms cut off subject lines after 50 characters (or roughly eight words). That’s the number to watch if salespeople want their entire subject lines to appear in their prospects’ inboxes.

However, they might consider using even fewer words. According to an analysis by Return Path of more than 40 million emails, subject lines with three or four words generate the most responses.

Since most prospects scroll through their inboxes quickly, a short subject line usually has a better chance of grabbing their attention.

To shrink a subject line, salespeople should use short words and remove unnecessary ones.

Before: “When you’re scaling rapidly, incurring technical debt is inevitable”

After: “Technical debt at Darkness”

5) Human

The average person gets a lot of sales email every day.

As a result, prospects don’t typically prioritize emails that appear promotional, even if they’re actually from a person.

Reps can do a few things to distinguish their emails from marketing ones. First, they should only capitalize the first word in the subject line and any proper nouns, like so:

  • “Fellow IIT grad”
  • “Mr. Dixit suggested I reach out”
  • “Brilliant post on VoIP, Mr. Sharma”

Salespeople should also steer clear of using caps lock, exclamation marks, or “sales” words like “discount”, “promotion,” “coupon,” “sale,” “special,” and so forth.

6) Accurate

Representatives who use misleading subject lines are shooting themselves in the foot. An intriguing line will probably improve their open rate — but if the email itself doesn’t match up, prospects will feel tricked. It’s like ordering a dish based on the mouth-watering picture on the menu and receiving something completely different.

A salesperson can test how well his subject lines align with his messages by asking a few team members, “What do you think this email is about based on this subject line?” If their answers dramatically differ from reality, it’s a good indicator the line is deceptive.

7) Contextual

The subject line isn’t the only thing buyers look at when deciding whether to read a message. They also look at the preview text, or the first few lines of an email that appears next to the subject line before the recipient opens it.

Because these show up side-by-side, representatives should try not to repeat their subject line in the first line of their message.

Subject line: “Fixing Y’s low Yelp rating”

Preview text: “Dear X, Fixing Y’s low Yelp rating is probably …”

Subject line: “Fixing Y’s low Yelp rating”

Preview text: “Dear X, Customers are 60% less likely …”

Not only is the second example more enticing, it also communicates more information in the same number of words

8) Using Analytics

Crafting great subject lines on a consistent basis is a challenge for every sales representative. If you’re out of ideas, look through your old messages to see which lines got the most responses — then draft similar ones. A more convenient alternative, however, would be to draft multiple subject lines and use a tool like Sellulose which uses analytics to pick the best performing one.

Thus, we are now endowed with a fair understanding of the components of a great sales email subject line. All that’s left now is to put this array of knowledge to good use. Happy drafting!


Sales Expert:  


Geet Mehr – Cofounder Sellulose

Sellulose is virtual email assistant for sales people 

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