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Wordsmithing Effective Subject Lines (With 162 Samples)

– Posted in: Copy Writing, E Mail Marketing

Effective E-mail Subject Lines

Writing effective subject lines is critical… but difficult to do week in and week out. And if you’re like me, in the rush to get out your newsletter or promotion you can easily send out some of your best content, only to have it aggressively ignored by thousands of people who are too busy trying to get their inbox empty to check out your weekly written pitch.

So, what follows is a combination of great links, guiding principles, and outright stolen content.

Keys to effective email subject line creation

Keys to effective email subject line creation

So some guiding principles:

1. When people check e-mail, their objective is to get through as many e-mails as quickly as they can. Your competition is not just the other e-mails in their inbox, you are also fighting their general desire to plow through stuff. So you have to be engaging.

2. Subject lines are short… generally 50 characters is the most you should use. Any more than that won’t be seen in the average mail client. And with the continued use of mobile devices, crafting a 20-40 word subject line that zings is a great goal.

3. Who the message is from is almost as critical as the subject line. Make sure your list is set up with the correct “From” info you want, and stay consistent with it so your list gets to know who you are and gains trust in you over time.

4. Avoid spam words. I won’t go into them here but every decent autoresponder has a spam checker you can and should use before you hit send.

5. Us ALL CAPS sparingly.

6. Use exclamations! sparingly.


OK, next, here’s a few pieces on the subject that are excellent, if you really want to dig into the subject:

Great best practices article from mail chimp:

Big takeaway: words to avoid. Besides the obvious, the three words “Help,” “Percent Off,” and “Reminder” all scream “Ignore!” to your list.

Great under the radar tips and advice here:

Takeaway: Try one word subject lines. How about “Panic” as the single word? Interesting, right?

Humor, numbers and lists. “This years assassinations ranked from most to least tragic” particularly got my attention.

Next, there’s a great list of swipe e-mail subject lines here:

By Brian Massey. I like this one because it breaks them down into interesting categories, that in themselves make you think, like:

Things that don’t fit together: Non-Sequiturs

-Meat is Might: Epic Meal Time Rules the Web

-How to be strategically unlikeable online

-Help, my avatar is sick

Shock and Awe:

How not to die: Using tech in a dictatorship

-Media Measurement: Science, Art of a Load of Crap

Rhymes and Alliteration

-The Creative Collaboration Conundrum

Create a Common Enemy

-The systematic undoing of copyright trolls

-Rise of the social spammers

Lead with a number:

-3 secrets to a killer elevator pitch

-100 things designers need to know about people

Make sure and click on the link above to see the entire list.

Then there’s one of the kings of copywriting, Frank Kern. Here’s some of his gems:

good news 🙂 [and test results]



this is ridiculous




The problem with KIDS and CLIENTS lol

Hot Diggity!! (naked in the streets)

ATTACK (of the little old lady)


IMPORTANT (new stuff)

Notice the combination use of single words, curiosity, shock, and how he uses capitalization effectively, while not making you feel like he’s yelling at you.

Following are some additional general subject lines, designed to help you get the creative juices flowing…

You lost. Will 15% off make it better?

-notified participants they didn’t win a contest, but offered a consolation discount code.

Last Day! Free Shipping!

Top 10 under $10

An exclusive offer to you

Introducing our latest (insert text)

Extended a day! Get free shipping through Friday

Private sale ends today

Your choice of amazing items under $50

Sometimes all you need is a little vase lift (apply similar humor/ word twist on your own product)

Celebrity favorites

10 gift ideas for (insert text)

Take your pick: Our 9 favorite (insert text)

The Most Dangerous Book You Could Read

The speech to end all speeches

How to quit your job in 10 months

Your #1 problem today

  • #FAIL: don’t let this happen to you
  • 27 (fun!) ways to (insert text)
  • 7 reasons your family hates you
  • Cure for the common (insert text)

here are our survey results

a fun contest

can you settle a bet for me?

question about project

did you know about this?

a gift to help you [insert benefit]

what’s my secret weapon?

can we make this work?

can you help?

something for you to think about

have you got this yet?

I need your help

are you making this mistake?

have you made these [#] critical mistakes?

what your colleagues won’t tell you

which one do you prefer?

here’s what I found

are you ready?

If you [activity], you need this!

here’s how to [activity] for less

have you stopped doing this?

stop losing [money/time]

I heard you were looking for [product/service description]

cut your [expenses/bills/other negative] in half

top 5 secrets for [product/service description]

three steps to a better [what product/service will help with]

are you missin out?

are they stealing your business?

how many customers will you lose today?

pay less then your neighbors did

you’ve waited long enough

this will transform you [description]

good news for [product] owners

Holiday promotions:

here’s your gift

here’s the top 5 gifts for [activity] lovers

here’s a great gift idea for [family members]

which gift do you like better?

[holiday/season] specials from [your company]

just in time for [holiday/season]

give the gift of [description] this [holiday]

have you got a [holiday] gift yet?

did you forget someone?

do you want to surprise your family?

a unique gift idea

I made this for you

only [#] days left before [holiday]

reminder about your gifts

New version of product just released:

some news about [insert text]

I thought you would like to know

be the first on your block

be the first to get this

the tool that will make or break your business

have your competitors heard?

Limited time/quantity offers:

don’t’ miss out

you don’t want to miss this

only a few left!

your last chance to get this

only 3 more days

this offer expires in [#] days

there only [#] left

there’s only [#] days left

Local/regional promotions:

great news for residents of [city]

do you live in ]city]?

deal for residents of {city/state} only

best deals in [city]

great news for residents of [city]

New product update/version release:

Version [#] has just been released

here’s a brand-new upgrade

here’s an update for your system

can I offer you an upgrade?

are you current?

this is the latest edition

are you using the latest edition?

is your [product description] outdated?

Follow-up offers:

addition to your purchase

use this with [insert product name here]

did you miss out last time?

before you forget…

Offline businesses:

invitation to our open house

here’s your invitation

a coupon for your next visit

will you be dropping by this week?

it was good to see you again

we’ve extended our store hours

our new summer store hours

I’ve set one aside for you

Service business:

would you like some help?

do you need my help?

your follow-up appointment

can I schedule your appointment:

about your last visit

I can get this done for you

I can get it done by Friday

did everything work out ok?

is there anything else you need?

just a reminder

can I help?

did you find what you needed?

how’s everything working out?

Phrases to be careful of include:

Money back

Credit Cards Accepted

Extra Income


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