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How to Write an Email Subject Line That’s Too Good Not to Open

by Article by Jenn Villa Jenn Villa | February 2, 2022 at 12:15 PM

How’s your email marketing going? Not so hot? If your email open rates are cruddy for your industry, it’s time to take a hard look at your current strategy.

With a few simple yet impactful adjustments, you can really entice recipients with a cleverly-worded email subject line.

Here are a few tips for writing more appealing email subject lines that’ll increase your open rates (and hopefully conversions!).

1. Leverage the Occasional “Oops!” Email

Okay… okay. No one likes to be tricked, and faking a mistake will only cause a customer to lose trust in your brand. For instance, you don’t want to write the subject line, “Oops! We got something wrong!” as false bait and actually talk about something irrelevant in the email body.

However, there are a few ways you can imply a mistake to pique curiosity while actually offering something positive! A prime example might be to say, “Uh oh! Time’s Almost Up.” Once the recipient opens the email, you include a discount code for your product’s sale with a rolling countdown ticking off when the sale ends. This email starts off with a negative expression of “Uh oh!” but then proceeds to leverage urgency in the subject line to offer a reward — without deceiving.

Words to use in the subject line: Oops, Uh oh, Oh no, Yikes, Darn, My Bad, Sorry, etc.

Don’t Do This

Including the words “Fwd:” or “Re:” in an email that isn’t actually forwarded or a reply is lying; and it’s not a good look on any brand.

Also, be sure to not overuse the “Oops” format over and over in your email marketing. Drip them every few months. If you’re sending out messages like that frequently, you’ll lose your customer’s trust and interest — like the boy who cried wolf.

2. Use Emotion

Bleck, no one wants to open a stiff email. We want expression, life, character. Objectivity only accounts for 10% of our decision-making — emotion the rest. In many cases, emotion dominates logic. 

A few things to keep in mind:

Loss Aversion & Scarcity

We often react more strongly to the idea of losing something versus gaining the same thing. For example, old cigarette marketing campaigns found ads promoting the years you’d lose off your average lifespan due to smoking to be more powerful in influencing quitting than the advertisements that pushed the years you’d gain from quitting. 

Close to loss aversion is scarcity — or the idea that a product or service will no longer be available if someone doesn’t act fast. Whether you promote a seasonal offering or a limited release, think of ways you can use fear of loss in your email subject line. Consider a line like, “Limited Release: Get It Now or Never!” to get email recipients thinking of all the great stuff they’ll lose if they don’t act now. 

Words to use in the subject line: Last Chance, Expires, Only, Today, Exclusive, Just For, Limited Stock/Time Offer, etc. 


In our “Oops” email example above, we turned the negative emotion of making a mistake into a positive experience by delighting the reader in the email body. However, there are plenty of ways to frame a positive experience upfront. For instance, advertising the price of one of your products or services in the subject line as “$12.99 with FREE Shipping” looks inherently more appealing than “$7 with $5 Shipping.” 

In the second worded email title, the shipping is almost just as much as the item, and numbers without cents look more intimidating. In the first phrasing, the reader sees “12” instead of “13” (a lower number) and feels like they’re getting a great deal on shipping. Consider a few ways you could frame your offer in the email in a more positive light subconsciously to use human psychology to your advantage.

Words to use in the subject line: Free Shipping, .99, You’ll Save $, % Off, etc.

3. Compare Objectively & Thoroughly  

We all love a good comparison when making a purchasing decision. Who doesn’t love to weigh our options and know the pros and cons of choosing the best product or service? The problem is, when we put on our marketer hats, we tend to shy away from this type of content for fear of putting a competitor down and being subject to the other brand’s judgment. 

But there are ways to address the difference between your product/service and your competitors without running them through the mud. For instance, in a blog you could compare your product to two other competitors’ by talking objectively about the facts of all products. Consider comparing review ratings in a “Best Of” roundup or talking openly about your products’ differences without making one or the other seem superior. Let the reader come to that conclusion on their own after clicking the offer in the email. In this example, you could use the title, “{Brand Name} vs. {Brand Name}: What Customers Have to Say.”

We’re telling you, people love a good side-by-side look when making a decision. Serve that up in a juicy email and you’re sure to get clicks!

Words to use in the subject line: Vs., Compared To, Stacked Up Against, Or, The Best Of, Customer Comparison, etc.

4. Yes — Use the Emoji!

Some avoid using emojis in email subject lines because they fear getting lost in a spam folder. However, spam filter parameters are more advanced nowadays than you might think: they analyze the sender’s domain and IP address to determine its credibility. That’s why major brands like Target or Bath & Body Works are fine using emojis — and trust us, use them they do!

But don’t go crazy. There’s an etiquette for using emojis in email subject lines... Consider a few emojis that show deep, heightened emotions that trick the brain into paying attention. For example, the siren “Police Car Light” emoji 🚨 or the “Pointing Backhand” emoji 👉 do an excellent job drawing the eye. Also, consider emojis that leverage urgency and timeliness like the “Alarm Clock” ⏰ or “Hourglass”⏳ emojis. 

Consider bookending emojis as well to call attention to a particular word. For example, one email subject line might read “It’s Finally Here: Your New Favorite Sweater.” Notice how the “Sparkles” emojis stack the word “Favorite” away from the other words to draw attention to it.

Popular emojis to use in the subject line: 🚨 👉  ⏰  ⏳ 👀  🙌

Don’t Do This

Emojis can work if they are used sparingly. Don’t pack every email subject line with one or it’ll lose its “wow” factor.

Also, be aware that emojis look different on every device. For example, the guy in a blue sweater emoji on the iPhone might be wearing red on an Android, so be careful not to call out specific details of the emoji in an attempt to be clever like saying, “Sale on All Blue Sweaters,” since Android users see red.

Lastly, be cautious of using newly released emojis in an email subject line, as some users may not have updated their emoji keyboards. As a rule of thumb, if the emoji has been around for over a year, you’re probably safe to use it. 

5. Personalize 

The average number of emails in an inbox is 200, according to Techjury. You are competing with a lot of other messages, and one way to make your subject line stand out is to make it seem specifically intended for the person it’s being sent to — not some email blasted out to thousands of recipients. In fact, personalized subject lines are 22% more likely to be opened, according to Invesp research.

An instant way to show them the email was meant for them specifically is to use a personalization token directly in the subject line. A line like “Bill, You’re In Luck!🍀 ” is more likely to spark your interest than one without a name in the subject line. This is possible when using an email platform connected to a CRM, where lead/customer contact information is saved and can be added to the content using a token. 

You can even weave some of these tokens into the body of the email. For example, if you know the customer shopped at your store within the last month, your message might say “We know you were just at our 👀.” In the body, say “For being such a loyal customer, here’s an additional 20% off of your next order!” 

Similarly, consider ways you can use a customer’s behavior in your email subject line as well. If a customer purchased your lawn fertilization services, consider a personalized subject line saying, “Hey How to Write an Email Subject Line That’s Too Good Not to Open, how’d you like your treatment?” These messages can be completely automated yet still feel like they came from a single person curious for feedback. 

Words to use in the subject line: Personalization tokens such as  How to Write an Email Subject Line That’s Too Good Not to Open, , , , , etc.

Generate Leads & Conversions From Your Emails

You’re putting a lot of energy into writing the best email subject lines, so let’s make sure your hard work pays off. Not only do you want to increase your email open rates; you should also care about the actions readers are taking after viewing it.

Give your emails a strategic conversion path by downloading our ebook, Online Marketing Strategies for Lead Generation & Conversions today.