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Steal This List! 100 Subject Lines (and 7 Tips) That Will Get Your Emails Opened and Clicked on

by Kimberly Smith  |  
February 24, 2009

In a December 2008 Datran Media survey of 3,000 marketing executives from Fortune 1000 companies, 80.4% of respondents identified email as the strongest-performing advertising channel for their brands, and 82.4% said it helps increase sales through other channels.

For companies interested in generating similar results, the first step is to improve open rates through the use of effective subject lines.

We asked DJ Waldow, director of best practices & deliverability at Bronto Software; Ben Chestnut, cofounder of MailChimp; Dylan T. Boyd, VP of sales & strategy at eROI; and Greg Cangialosi, CEO of Blue Sky Factory, to weigh in on what makes a good subject line.

Here's some of what they came back with:

  1. Keep it concise, 35 characters or less, according to Cangialosi. "Longer subject lines will be truncated by some email clients," he said.
  2. Make it about the reader. Boyd suggests writing to the audience, not at them; keeping the customer lifecycle in mind; and personalizing the message based on profile or behavioral data. "Always pushing your sales agenda will reduce the open rate and conversion rate," he said.
  3. Make it actionable by providing a sense of urgency and a clear call to action (think verbs!). "Put the most important information and the key call to action first," recommended Cangialosi.
  4. Ensure your message is simple, clear, and informative. "If it is not simple, [is not] understood, and doesn't give a clear action or value, then it will be passed over," said Boyd.
  5. Avoid ALL CAPS and exclamation marks. "[ALL CAPS] feel like you are shouting for attention and not being respectful of your subscribers' time," said Boyd. Chestnut added: "If there are 100s of other emails in the inbox with subject lines screaming for their attention, sometimes whispering is the best way to stand out."
  6. Include your brand. "This is especially important if your company name (from line) is not that well recognized," said Waldow.
  7. Draw attention with buzz words like "Twitter" or "YouTube," said Waldow, who also offered, "I like to think about subject lines as headlines in newspapers. Does it catch enough of your attention to read on?"

For an idea of what works for us at MarketingProfs, here's a look at the Top 100 most effective subject lines from the MarketingProfs Get to the Point! Newsletters.

See whether any of these catch your attention...

  1. Potty All Night Long
  2. Four Blogs You Should Be Reading
  3. Seal Your Pitch with a Kiss
  4. Release Me Please!
  5. A Week at IKEA
  6. Twitter for Timeliness
  7. I See Riches on the Horizon
  8. Newsletter No-No's
  9. A Doctor Who Only Makes House Calls
  10. Widget for Dollars
  11. Did He Really Call It a 'Nymphomercial'?
  12. I Am McLovin!
  13. Playing Tag
  14. The Freeconomics of Online Media
  15. How Customers Are Like Lab Rats
  16. Sidle Up to the LiveBar
  17. The SEO Rapper
  18. Burger King Tells a Whopper
  19. Get 'em to Gawk
  20. A Coffee Klatch for Every Marketer
  21. Laugh 'Til You Cry
  22. Shameless Marketing Stunt
  23. A Super Bowl Strategy That Paid Off
  24. How Saying the Least May Achieve the Most
  25. Loaf Run
  26. Senior Makes Site Accessible
  27. Oh, Count the Ways You Can Annoy a Journalist
  28. Ranting and Raving
  29. Jingles 101 with Dinah Shore
  30. When Your Video Isn't Viral
  31. On-the-Fly Creativity
  32. Put That Checkbook Away
  33. Branding Tips from the Queen of Burlesque
  34. Time to Yelp!
  35. Get Over It, Kid
  36. Do You Have Peripheral Vision?
  37. Rules Schmules
  38. Create a Customer Walk-a-Thon
  39. Is Your Newsletter a Must-Read?
  40. Keeping Up With the Kremplers
  41. Subject Lines: Tell, Don't Sell
  42. Cool Open-Rate Stats
  43. Podcasting is Easier Than You Think
  44. Don't Be a Twit
  45. My Blog, Myself
  46. Think Small to Win Big
  47. Social Security Shenanigans
  48. Would Your Blog Get an A?
  49. A Resolution You Can Keep
  50. How to Measure That Long Tail
  51. You've Been Punk'd ... and Wiki'd
  52. The Cold, Creamy, Refreshing Story of Social Media
  53. The Wisdom of the In Crowd
  54. The Angel in Red Speaks to Us
  55. Glad You Could Make It!
  56. Springtime for Twitter
  57. Using Tricks of the Journalistic Trade
  58. We're Still Married to the Past
  59. I Like 'em Small and Focused
  60. Get Gored
  61. Will Dance for Gum
  62. It's Alive! It's Alive!
  63. No More Boring Conferences
  64. A Clearly Good Marketing Plan
  65. Yammer to Keep It Together
  66. Passengers: Your Captain Has Screwed Up
  67. Invite. Engage. Inoculate.
  68. The Slow Art of Customer Seduction
  69. How to Blow It in Five Words or Less
  70. Give 'em a Good Tease
  71. Taking the Email Plunge
  72. Analyze This
  73. The Deviant Approach to Creativity
  74. A Gentle Step into Web 2.0
  75. Sprechen-Vous Italiano?
  76. We're Short on Euphemism Today
  77. The Revolution Will Be Widgetized
  78. Inspiration from the Swat Team
  79. Why You Want Customers to Notice Your Zits
  80. Help Your Customer Live the Fantasy
  81. Remember Me?
  82. Pepsi's Scheme Fails Taste Test
  83. Mind Your E-Manners
  84. Time to Step Up Your Blogging
  85. Go Where the Current Leads
  86. Look at Me. Now CLICK.
  87. Warm Up Your Thinking Cap
  88. What You Can Learn From Starbucks' Mistakes
  89. Dumb It Up, People
  90. Those Jerks Are Talking About You. So Talk Back!
  91. How to Be a Better Blogger
  92. A Permission Marketing Primer: Picking and Choosing
  93. It's Time to Socialize, People!
  94. Stick to the Script!
  95. Loose Lips Sink Ships
  96. Customer Service the Lexus Way
  97. It's Talkification Time!
  98. Plurk It, Baby!
  99. The Cocktail Party Rule
  100. On Target

Want to learn more about optimizing your email communications? Check out Email Marketing Benchmark Report 2008 (FREE) from the MarketingProfs Store to learn how others are using email marketing. As a Premium Member, you have free access to this and hundreds of other templates, tools, case studies, research, and "how-to" guides to help you rapidly build effective marketing programs.

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via

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  • by Roy Young Tue Feb 24, 2009 via web

    These subject lines may also be good headlines for email newsletters used to nurture leads or retain existing customers. In general, they make great engagement copy.

    Thanks, Kim!

  • by Kamaraj Retnasami Tue Feb 24, 2009 via web

    I am sorry but I am a little disappointed with this article. Some of those subject lines are terrible and I would, personally, never open a mail with some of those subject titles.

  • by Robert Graham Tue Feb 24, 2009 via web

    I'm wondering if there were any testing results on the open rates based on these headlines / subject lines.

  • by Carol Burns Tue Feb 24, 2009 via web

    These subject lines are highly effective because MarketingProfs readers signed up to receive these newsletters from "Get To The Point!" and are aware that the content is useful for them. I agree these are engaging subject lines for this particular audience but not for general subject lines. The 7 rules are good, however, there is also a debate as to not repeating the company name in the subject line since the recipient should already be aware of whom you are and it can be considered wasted real estate.

  • by Constance Semler Wed Feb 25, 2009 via web

    In some countries, subject lines like these would be downright offensive, or even unintelligible.

  • by Amy Boardman Thu Feb 26, 2009 via web

    I'm very disappointed in this article. The 7 tips haven't given us anything new. I would argue that tip 7 is a way to not only get your message deleted, but also blocked. I completely agree with what has already been said - the subject lines work for the audience of marketers that have opt'd in. If you are trying to make the point that those lines worked because you know your audience, you could have done that with 10 winning subject lines, not 100. It would have been helpful to see a list of action words that generate responses across industries.

  • by Stephanie Miller Sun Mar 1, 2009 via web

    Fascinating irony here. The subject line of the email that featured this article headline is VERY compelling - don't we all want a short cut to writing amazing subject lines?

    But then this article didn't really deliver. The tips, although from respected folks in the email industry, are not highly actionable. Then, the list of subject lines is just from one particular organization, in the publishing business. With trained editors on staff. Huh. Not so helpful.

    The headline/subject line promised me Subject Lines to steal. But I can't use any of these, I'm in a different business.

    So it proves once again the only REAL rule about subject lines - they must be authentic and compelling in order to drive a response.

    And there are no short cuts to that.

    Nice try, Marketing Profs!

  • by Mike Martin Tue Mar 3, 2009 via web

    Some of these may be okay but some would get my spam and junk mail fast, and certainly would not be opened by me or the business executives I send to.
    I especially can't believe in numbers 1,3,4,12,50,61,81,90,95,98,86. These seem way far out to go from a serious business to another serious business.

  • by Sarah Nord Tue Jun 9, 2009 via web

    Agreed with all comments above. These subject lines would only be appropriate for marketers communicating with other marketers (and many of them are not even appropriate in that context). I could never use any of these subject lines in my B2B communications. This article is ridiculous.

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