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.

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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.

Lewis Stowe

Lewis Stowe

As a Content Marketing Specialist here at Growbots, I am surrounded by excellent people who are full of ideas and insights. What gets me excited is creating inspiring, useful content which gets those ideas to as many people as possible. When I am not working hard to produce 10x content, I hunt for exciting new recipes to try and countries to explore.

  • Juanjo Gómez

    Love your post, this is exactly the kind of articles I like most: articles based in your own experience. In my opinion, short subject lines work better as well.
    Thanks for sharing it!

    • Lewis Stowe

      Hi, Juanjo. Thanks for reading. We have started to process a lot of our experiences and have been publishing them here. A good example is this post about how we reached $1 million ARR in just 7 months

      If you are looking for more, stay tuned as well because we have a lot of insights that we will be publishing soon.

  • Nick Montanari

    So is this literally just the two names? If so this must be an “one off” subject line meaning you can’t really use it again. Also, it doesn’t seem to do much in teller the recipient what’s in the email.

    • Lewis Stowe

      Hi, Nick. Thanks for reading. Far from being a one off fluke, we have been using the two name formula for a while with our cold emails to great success.

      Think about it, this subject line signals that you want to have a personal conversation with the recipient. The goal in our case is to get the recipient to read the message without feeling deceived. A simple subject lines does that perfectly.

  • Sounds interesting

    • Lewis Stowe

      Glad to hear it. If you try it out, I would be curious to hear how it works for you.

  • Hey Lewis,

    sounds like I need a change of plan. I use to just set up my emails with just the subject, but I can see how making your emails more personal can get your better results.

    Thanks for the share! Have a good one!

    • Lewis Stowe

      I’ll be interest to hear how it goes. It would be great to get some outside data to back up our internal results.

  • BOOM

    Great article with a great headline, will be testing out the X x Y” strategy and will feedback, thanks Lewis!

    Just off to share this bad boi with my 9k best twitter friends 😉


    • Lewis Stowe

      That is great to hear. I’ll be waiting to hear how it goes.

  • Why “X x Y” instead of “X + Y”? Did you test both of them? Did the plus version not get as many opens or conversions?

    • Lewis Stowe

      Thanks for your suggestion Roger. We didn’t test a plus instead of an x. It would be interesting to see if that makes a difference.

  • Great article got to read.

    Interesting things you have shared that we should avoid.

    Whenever I sends emails for backlink to webmaster I writes ‘Need Your Help’ in subject line and I gets response back from them because my mail content convince and explain them why my link is better to add in your content.

    We should not stick only on trick. We always should do experiment. Experiments tells us what does work and what not.

    • Lewis Stowe

      I completely agree. Testing is key. We decided to share this format because it tested well but that is not to say that other methods wouldn’t test equally well or that this method will last forever. We generally used proven methods on 75% of the emails we send while we try new ideas on the remaining 25%.

  • Nice Article. Worth trying. I will try this technique in my next campaign and see.

    • Lewis Stowe

      Great. Tell us how it goes.

  • Great article. will try this technique!

    • Lewis Stowe

      I’m glad you like it.

  • Nice post!!. All techniques are actual helpful for increase the the leads, I follow these techniques..

    • Lewis Stowe

      We have definitely found this formula to be helpful so I hope it works for you.

  • Michael Y

    Perfect example of of keepin’ it simple. Thanks!

  • Michael Y

    Perfect example of keeping it simple – thanks!

    • Lewis Stowe

      Glad you like it.

  • Kuba

    Hi Lewis, just found your article – great piece!

    • Lewis Stowe

      Glad to hear Kuba.

  • Indeed, its not average, but openrate is not the only thing you want to reach. I guess people who opened Elon x Lew are not reading the mail as they point out it is a newsletter. Also i guess the clickrate ‘ll decrease…

    • Lewis Stowe

      Thanks for reading Viktor. Your are right. Open rate is only worthwhile if it juices conversion rate. This formula has worked best for cold emails, intending to start a conversation. It would require more testing to see how well it works for other types of emails.

  • Interesting post, Lewis. Personalisation is certainly key for a subject line but I also think you need to indicate some value for the recipient. This is always overlooked in the world of e-commerce (where I operate) because store owners think they always need a discount to get an open rate. The problem with that is, people are bored by discounts because everyone is doing it.

    I’ve has success asking questions or providing must-know content for customers. For example, the subject line ‘, Here’s something you need to know’ achieved a 64.3% open rate for my client. The email communicated a Which? report that affected business travellers. The subject line encouraged a high open rate and the joint brand credibility with Which? helped achieve a click thru rate of 25.1%.

    That particular email didn’t have a great sales performance but it wasn’t about that. It was about nudging the customers to tell them we are still here and ready to add value in a ‘personal’ way.

    Sometimes retailers are so focused on sales that they take their eye off the ‘brand-building’ ball.

    • Lewis Stowe

      Those are some great insights Matt so thank you for sharing. You are absolutely right that finding a good subject line requires a novel combination of value and personalization and that what has worked in the past may not work anymore.

      It is also true that the expectations set by the subject line affect conversion rates. We got 80% from these with cold emails because this suggests the start of a conversation but it may not work as well for an email newsletter.

      I’d love it if you could share some more of the insights you’ve discovered.

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