How to write simple email subject lines that get opened

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When it comes to writing email subject lines, people often try too hard. After all, the content of your email is meaningless if your recipient never ends up opening it. Unfortunately, this means that senders resort to corny, irrelevant, or deceptive subject lines in the hope of getting opened. And the consequence of using these kinds of subject lines is that your email will be rendered useless as a way of getting your recipient’s attention.

This leaves the million dollar question: how can I get people to both open my email and respond to my message? It turns out that the solution is really simple. We have created a simple template I will share with you but it is first important to understand what you’re trying to achieve.

Your email’s subject line needs to do two things

  1. Convince your recipient to read your message
  2. Accurately present the intention of the message

Your recipient looks to your subject line to decide whether they will open your email. In fact, a study by Chadwick Martin Bailey found that 64% of people open an email solely on the basis of the subject line. This means that a subject line is an opportunity to get your foot in the door. It doesn’t matter if you have an established relationship with the person or not. Of course, this comes with an expectation.

The expectation is that the content of the message will reflect what is promised in the subject line. When the content does not match the subject line, it kills the credibility of the message in the eyes of the reader, and you won’t get the response you want.

Subject lines to avoid

Think about it this way. You want your reader to do something after reading your email. It could be click through to an offer or give a reply which requests more information about your product. For instance, imagine you got this message:

URGENT Action required

You would expect that the content of the message would be about a pressing concern. So how would you feel if it turned out to be a pitch asking for a sales meeting? If you are anything like me, you would probably feel lied to and immediately stop trusting the email and the sender. More importantly, you would not respond to the message the way the sender would want you to.

And this isn’t the only way you can destroy trust in your message with your subject line. Another common technique to avoid is a subject line that pretends to be a reply to a previous email like this one:

RE: It was great to meet you at WWDC

The recipient might open the message because they think it is part of a conversation that they are in the middle of. It won’t take very long for them to find out that they are reading a new message, leading them to disregard everything in the message.

In addition to outright deceptive subject lines, there are a number of subject lines that have become so common and generic that recipients no longer click on them. These Include:


Do you know what your sales team is doing wrong?

A “Quick Question”

Quick question

Ones that sound like a generic marketing newsletter

Sales conversations derailed?

Why would anybody use one of these bad subject lines?

For some of you reading this, it is obvious that these are bad techniques to use. So why would anyone use a deceptive or highly touted but overused subject line? It is because they lose sight of the real goal of their email, to convert the reader. Instead, they focus solely their open rate.

Look, we all know an 80% open rate is great. After all, you need your recipient to read your message in order to convert them. So you need to optimize your open rate as a step in optimizing your conversion rate. Your 80% open rate doesn’t mean anything if you can’t even convert 1% of your recipients.

This means that you want a subject line that gets your recipient interested enough in your message to open it and then act on the content. And this is where our simple subject line formula comes in:

We have switched our cold emails to this simple subject line formula

After sending over 80,000 cold email campaigns, testing as we went along, we have landed on this simple formula:

(Name of recipient) x (Name of Sender)

Elon x Lew

Let’s look at why this works. For one thing, it is short and this is important. An Adestra report stated that subject lines with 2 words or less had a 53.7% chance of being opened on average, higher than any other word count.

It is also personalized, explicitly stating that this is a message from you to your recipient. The same Adestra report as before states that personalized subject lines are 22.2% more likely to be opened than non-personalized ones. After all, would you be more interested to read something that could apply to anybody or something that applies to you specifically?

And this subject line sets up your message to deliver on a personal conversation. If you send a personalized message intending to start a conversation with your recipient, that is exactly what can be expected from this subject line. personalized-subject-lines-are-22.2%-more-likely-to-be-opened-than-non-personalized-ones.

What are the benefits of simple subject line?

We have used this on roughly 20,000 cold emails, for which we have an average open rate of 80% and an average conversion rate of 10%. Not only that, but we have avoided hurting our reputation. You see, deceptive and overused subject lines can be flagged by users and hurt your sender reputation. This will hurt your ability to deliver your emails in the future.

We came across this formula by doing simple A/B tests to see what worked. It is important to keep testing as subject lines can become overused and ineffective. But for the time being, you could get the same results we get by using this simple formula for your email subject line.

Of course, the subject line isn’t the only way to optimize conversion. You need a good campaign to back it up. Find out what we have learned about writing the first cold email and follow-up emails of a campaign that helped us get a 10% conversion rate.

no prior experience & time required

Find your winning outbound formula with Concierge

no prior experience & time required

Find your winning outbound formula with Concierge

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