The average internet user is bombarded with dozens if not hundreds of email subject lines every day. Most of us have developed an anti-headline defense and tune out when we sense an email subject line is trying to sell us something.
For both news articles and advertising, 75 percent of your success is gated by your headline. If the headline does not convince the user to read on, all is lost.
The good news is that you have us to guide you, and we spend a significant amount of time testing subject lines every day for our publishing partners. We are collectively mailing millions of newsletters and promotional Spotlights every month, so we have a huge data pool to test with—and we do!
Below are the five promotional email subject lines that get the best response for our publishing partners, along with the email frameworks that pair best. Then, we’ll get into the email subject line archetypes we use to come up with these subject lines, and how you can use them too, to develop your own.
1. “Please Accept or Decline Your Benefits” Email Subject Line
This is the top-performing subject line across all of our publishing partners, and is sometimes altered to be or “Please Accept or Decline These Benefits.” It works best when paired with a “Statement of Benefits” Spotlight framework, which is a digital take on an old direct-mail format—you’ve probably seen or received this type of offer in the mail, where all the benefits of the product are presented as line items in a statement-like format.
Another subject line that works with this framework is “Please Claim Your Benefits Now!”.
Below is an example of the Statement of Benefits framework paired with this subject line. Take a look at how The Old Farmer’s Almanac has deployed this framework for its Gardening Club offer:
2. “You’ve Been Gifted” Email Subject Lines
This subject line is also consistently a top-performer for our publishing partners. What prospect of yours wouldn’t want a free gift?
We’ve also learned that “You’ve Been Gifted X Issues” works better than “You’ve Been Gifted X Years”.
The “You’ve Been Gifted” email subject line is a new twist on simply saying “FREE,” and works well when selling an all-access subscription or membership where the vast digital library of back issues and content can be positioned as a “gift” for joining or subscribing—with the number of years or number of issues in the library used as a benefit.
Here is an example of the “You’ve Been Gifted” Spotlight, a magazine membership email marketing framework that uses a premiere or charter/debut issue as the “gift”—in this case, the premiere issue of Yankee magazine that was published in 1935, a real collector’s item! Click to see the entire message.
3. “ Offer Confirmed: We’ve Chosen You to Join Us” Email Subject Lines
This email subject line pairs best with a charter offer, and it works even better with a smile emoji added to the front of it. Charter offers can perfectly highlight a membership in a way that responders feel like they’re “getting in at the beginning” with a new product or service.
Another subject line that works well with the charter offer framework and should be A/B tested with your audience, is “Charter Offer: Your Charter Membership Invitation Enclosed.”
See how RecipeLion positions its Charter Membership in this magazine membership email marketing framework below.
4. “You are Invited” Email Subject Lines
The “You are invited” email subject line appeals to anyone who wants to feel special about being invited to something exclusive—this approach works well with any type of membership offer, and here is an example from Cabot Wealth Network that invites readers to join their unique club for investors, Cabot Prime, which includes access to all of their Cabot Advisory Services. Click to see the entire message.
5. “OPEN ASAP! [Company is sending you a year for just $10] Email Subject Lines
This subject line is another top performer, and the brackets make a difference, so don’t try using a dash or removing them.
It pairs best with the “Hero Shot/Short Form” Spotlight framework when the offering includes highly visual products—and a multitude of platforms. In this example from Yankee, the image includes depictions of digital content, a magazine cover, a Summer Destinations guide, and the streaming video series Weekends with Yankee. The rest of this Spotlight framework simply states the product offering’s features in bullet-list format with a prominent call-to-action button:
And finally, we’ve discovered that adding “Last Chance Now” or “Last Chance Today” to any subject line will almost always boost open rates as long as you don’t over-use it.
All of these email subject lines above, and the Spotlight frameworks they’re paired with, are examples of tools that are working for many of our Mequoda publishing partners. As always, we’re constantly testing and seeking continuous improvement in our ever-changing online world.
Since every niche audience is different, one size definitely doesn’t always fit all, but the subject lines above have worked across B2B and B2C audiences alike. We discover all of our best email subject lines by using the following list of email subject line archetypes that have worked for decades and were developed based on traditional direct-mail headlines. While testing the subject lines above, we invite you to also write your own using the subject line archetypes below.
The Best Email Subject Line Archetypes You Can Emulate Today
1. REASON WHY Email Subject Lines
The Reason Why email subject line convinces the user “why” they should do something based on a number of “reasons”. People respond well to lists, as you’ll find out later, and they respond just as well to a list of reasons. Here are some examples:
- 5 Reasons Why You Need a Travel Agent
- 5 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight
- 5 Reasons Why People Are Leaving Your Site
2. BENEFIT Email Subject Lines
Professional copywriters know to emphasize benefits over features. The benefits of my losing weight are enormous. My clothes will fit better. My feet won’t hurt as much. I love the benefits of losing weight. However, one of the features of losing weight is something my doctor calls a “diet.” I have a lot less enthusiasm for this feature than I do the benefits.
Examples of the benefit subject line are everywhere. They generally contain an implied promise.
An example of one subject line for a client, “20 Country Slow Cooker Recipes,” when turned into a benefit subject line, “Top 10 Lazy Skillet Meals” zoomed from an 18.2% to 19.6% open rate. Here are more examples:
- Lose Weight While You Sleep.
- Earn $90,000 a Year Repairing Cracked Windshields.
- Write a Blockbuster in 30 Days.
3. QUESTION Email Subject Lines
The linguistic structure of a question requires the reader to pause and respond. Question subject lines generally pull well because they’re short and entice the reader to find out the answer. In many cases, the reader already thinks they know the answer, and your headline is merely feeding their need for affirmation.
- Would Self-Hypnosis Help You Achieve Your Goals?
- Tired of Making Your Boss Rich?
- Can This Marriage Be Saved?
- Do You Think You Can Retire at 65? Think Again!
Another test to try is “Who Else Wants…”According to Brian Clark of Copyblogger, starting a headline with the question of “Who Else Wants…” is “a classic social proof strategy that implies an already existing consensus desire.”
4. TESTIMONIAL Email Subject Lines
Testimonials help convince buyers because they provide validation and social proof. While testimonials usually appear in the body copy of a sales letter, they can also be effective in the subject line.
- Why Arnold Palmer Uses Quaker State Motor Oil
- More Alaskans Drive on Michelins…
- Tiger Woods Can Afford any car; He Drives a Buick.
Note: While “all caps” normally increases email open rates versus “standard upper and lower,” our testing reveals that the standard capitalization used above often wins when subject lines include names and other proper nouns.
5. HOW-TO Email Subject Lines
The how-to subject line is more specific because it promises to reveal “how-to” achieve the benefit. It’d hard to write a bad how-to email subject line. Simply join a mouthwatering benefit to the words “how to.”
- How to Make a Fortune with a Foolish Idea
- How to Get 12 Hours Out of an 8-hour Day
- How to Sleep Better Than Your Spouse
6. NEWS Email Subject Lines
If your email offers something new, something your customer can’t get elsewhere, consider the news subject line.
- Federal Home Loan Program Announced
- 10 IPOs that Could Double in 12 Months
- Gold Price Poised to Soar in 2021
7. FASCINATION Email Subject Lines
Fascinations are compelling, benefit-driven bullet points that motivate the reader to discover the answer. Fascinations exploit the reader’s curiosity. Often, fascinations include the words “discover,” “secrets,” and “amazing.” This email subject line archetype has been popularized by websites like BuzzFeed in recent years, leading to explosive growth.
- Discover the Ultimate Options Trading System
- You’ll Never Believe How One Start-Up Made $50,000 Last Month
- We Didn’t Believe You Could Grow Vegetables Without Dirt Until We Tried This
8. TARGETED Email Subject Lines
This subject line is very direct in that it specifically identifies its intended audience. 25-year copywriting veteran Mark Johnson told us that this is his favorite type of subject line because targeted subject lines are about the reader; and more than any other topic, people want to read about themselves, says Johnson.
- Attention Bostonians Who Need to Lose Weight
- For Investors Who Hate Paying Commissions
- Are You a Sales Pro Who Wants to Close More Deals?
- What Every Investor Must Know about ZOOM (ZM)
- To the Road Warrior Who Hates to Travel
- Confidential to Tesla Owners
9. HYBRID and PERSONALIZED Email Subject Lines
All the email subject line archetypes can be used in combinations, and many can be personalized. Johnson also suggests that incorporating numerous archetypes into a hybrid form is usually a preferable option to copywriters. For example, using a Targeted email subject line in conjunction with an Urgency email subject line, or a Reason Why subject line used in conjunction with a Fascination subject line.
- Janice Morgan, your Children Can Earn Top Grades.
- A Stock Portfolio for Justin Carver
- Bernie Madoff, Happy with your Stockbroker?
10. LIST Email Subject Lines
Readers love lists because lists comprise convenient summaries. Note that the blog you are currently reading is a list. One of the easiest ways to get double duty from your subject lines is to start with a great idea based on one of the proven archetypes and combine it with the List subject line.
- 10 Win-Win Strategies for Quitting Your Job
- 10 Ways Your Garden Could Fail This Spring
- How To Make 10 Great Cookie Recipes
11. INTRIGUING PROMISE Email Subject Lines
Anyone with a curiosity quotient higher than room temperature can be intrigued and motivated to open an email.
But using the intriguing promise subject line absolutely requires that you fulfill the reader’s expectations with information that at least partially satisfies his curiosity. The product you are offering must completely fulfill the promise.
- The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches
- Hidden Money: 17 Markets that Pay
- Wanted: People to Write Greeting Cards
- Banking Secrets that Banks Don’t Want You to Know
12. TEASER Email Subject Lines
A teaser subject line is also intriguing, but without an implied promise beyond an engaging narrative. Teaser subject lines must be followed by an expertly crafted story that instructs or entertains, otherwise the reader will feel deceived.
- Do You Close the Bathroom Door When You’re Home Alone?
- Last Friday I Was Scared…My Boss Almost Fired Me!
- Living Well for Less is the Best Revenge
- Soon, an Economic Emergency Could Wipe You Out
13. SEASONAL Email Subject Lines
The Seasonal email subject line references a holiday or time of year performs well. Often your control mailing can be adapted to use a seasonal reference, thereby increasing response.
- Your New Year’s Resolutions for Losing Weight
- Unique Gifts for Dads and Grads
- Huge Savings on Holiday Overstock
14. ISSUE-BASED Email Subject Lines
The Issue-based email subject line simply announces the editorial content contained in the body copy. It tells what’s inside, and subliminally sells what’s inside. Top-performing phrases in issue-based subject lines according to Mailchimp are “Daily Scoop”, and “Daily Scoop from” as well as “Daily Perspectives,” and “Newsletter Issue”.
- The Daily Scoop from [COMPANY]
- Daily Perspectives from [COMPANY] on [DATE]
- Weekly [COMPANY] Newsletter Issue 24: [TOPIC]
15. COMMAND Email Subject Lines
The Command email subject line directly tells the reader what to do. It always begins with a verb that demands action.
- Subscribe to Sunset Magazine.
- Put a Tiger in Your Tank.
- Invest in Gold Bullion.
- Stop Needless Hair Loss.
16. URGENCY Email Subject Lines
Using urgency in the subject line is a time-honored method of creating anxiety. Some people respond better to the threat of losing than to the promise of gaining, however it’s not the best performing subject line in this list. When used creatively and mixed as a hybrid with some of the others, it can work quite well.
- Last Chance to Send Your $10
- Save 50 Percent Today Only
- Don’t Forget to Register
All great journalists and copywriters maintain an extensive “swipe” file to inspire them and help break a logjam of so-called “writer’s block.” You should, too. Every time you read an email subject line or news headline or magazine cover line or advertising headline that strikes a responsive chord, copy it into an ever-growing document entitled, “Headlines I hope to use someday.”
Which email subject lines work best for you?
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2017 and is updated frequently.