3 subject line formulas to get people clicking your emails

- August 6, 2018 4 MIN READ
email subject lines

How often do you delete emails without opening them? Those are the emails we want to avoid writing for our mailing lists. Consumers check email at random all day long. Even in the bathroom! By Cynthia Marinakos.

Sometimes I get so sick of the emails that drown my inbox every day. My eyes glaze over deceptive, egotistical, irrelevant subject headings.

You know what I mean, don’t you? Those deceptive ‘Re:’ and ‘Fwd:’ emails from people you don’t even know. ‘Our latest development…’ as if they think you care. Some event ‘Cancelled:’ you didn’t even see the invite for.

How often do you delete emails without opening them? Those are the emails we want to avoid writing for our mailing lists.

Facebook can (and does) change at a whim how often our fans see business posts. It’s easy for a post to get lost in our customers’ timelines. On the other hand, consumers check email at random all day long – even in the bathroom! [Source: Adestra 2016 Australia Consumer Digital Adoption and Usage Study]

Irresistible email subject lines are an important, reliable way to get your useful content – and your brand – in front of customers. Here are 3 formulas to get your share of their attention – and avoid your email being slam dunked into the trash can at first sight. Let’s check them out shall we?

3 email subject line formulas to boost your clicks

Formula 1: Personalisation

<Person’s name>, <user preference / buyer behaviour> <useful information>


  • *|FNAME|* *|LNAME|*, bedding on sale now
  • Think & Grow Rich: similar books you may like
  • Hi *|TITLE:FNAME|* *|TITLE:LNAME|*, please update your email preferences

Why personalisation subject lines work:

The most obvious way to personalise is by using a person’s name:

‘A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.’  – Dale Carnegie in his famous book, How to win friends and influence people.

Mailchimp’s subject line analysis of over 24 billion emails found using both first and last names has the strongest positive impact on open rates.

You can also customise emails dynamically based on past purchases, selections on Instagram or Pinterest, and browse behaviour. Brands who did this got 27% higher unique click rates – and more than double the transaction rates than usual. [Source: Experian’s Quarterly Email Benchmark Report Q2 2016]

In The Psychology of Online Customization, Liraz Margalit Ph.D. tells us people value what they customise. They take ownership of it. Interaction, even online, triggers sensory receptors in their brain. So they actually experience what it would feel like to own an object.

Another customisation research by The University of Texas at Austin found consumers enjoy tailored content – and have a more positive attitude to it, than generic information. Being in control and choosing what they see breaks down information overload.

Formula 2: ‘How to’

How to <do something>


  • How to win friends and influence people
  • 9 simple tips for creating persuasive web copy
  • This 10 minute routine will increase your clarity and creativity

Why ‘How to’ email subject lines work:

‘How to’ headlines (not necessarily with ‘How to’ at the beginning) give readers practical information they can use to improve some aspect of their lives.

Knowing who your reader is and what they need can help you create magnetic ‘How to’ subject lines – backed up by equally captivating content of course.

Formula 3: Direct

<Business name> | <Type of email> | <Month, Year>


  • She Surfs | Weekly Bulletin | September 2050
  • Flower Power | Daily Specials | 26 November 2016
  • Free Delivery Today

Tip 1: Using “Daily” or “Weekly” in subject lines boosts open rates whereas “Monthly” hurts them.

Tip 2: Using | in between words was found to have positive click rates.

Tip 3: Try words ‘Bulletin’, ‘Notice’, ‘News’ and ‘Newsflash’

[Sources: Adestra’s 2015 Subject Line Analysis Report, and Alchemy Worx research]

Why direct email subject lines work:

Direct, dependable, some may say boring, subject lines work. Mailchimp’s #1 tip for improving email stats is: 

‘don’t sell what’s insidetell what’s inside’.

When we’re sending emails, it’s easy to overthink our subject lines.

We need to stand out.

We may aim to come across as clever or funny.

We want our reader curious enough about our playful, creative lines to get them clicking.

It’s easy to forget clarity trumps cleverness. And there is opportunity in being straightforward: when our content is consistently helpful, trusted, and valued by readers, we train them to expect it. So our subject lines don’t matter.

It doesn’t mean we need to always write direct, boring headlines. Mix it up a little with the ‘how to’ formula, and ‘personalisation’ formula.

Test the waters and see how readers respond.

A few other ingredients make subject lines work. Like timing, sender name, length, words, and more. Let’s briefly look at the ideal length of a subject line, and what words to use.

Extra subject line tips: Ideal length and words


Mailchimp’s study of 12 billion emails found there’s no correlation between subject line length and open rates.

However… 77% of emails are read on a phone, according to Adestra’s 2016 Australia Consumer Digital Adoption and Usage Study. And the average screen fits 4-7 words, between 20 – 30 characters.

So short may be best.


A word can make all the difference when you’re limited to 4-7 words. So what words work best?

Top performing words

Thank you,  *|*|*|*|, Thanks, *|*|*|, Bulletin, Golden, iPhone, Breaking, Order Today, Urgent, Breaking, Important, Alert, Announcement, Invitation, Free*, Jokes, Promotional, Congratulations, Revision, [numbers], Free Delivery, Available

*‘Free’ is not recommended in the medical, retail, and travel industries – but works well for restaurant and entertainment industries

[Sources: Adestra’s 2015 Subject Line Analysis Report, Mailchimp’s Subject line comparisons and AlchemyWorx’s subject line research]

Although these subject line words and lengths have been tested across billions of emails, these may not work all the time, for every solopreneur, in every industry.

As a guideline, it will help you improve your subject lines through ongoing testing and getting to know your audience.

Get noticed

It can be tough to write remarkable content that doesn’t get read. These 3 formulas based on personalisation, ‘how to’, and a direct approach, have been proven to help many businesses get email clicks.

Use them. Test them. Improve on them so you build trust, loyalty, and value for your readers through every email.

Boost your email clicks

– Inboxes are overflowing

– Subject line formulas proven to work:

    Formula 1: Personalisation

    Formula 2: ‘How to’

    Formula 3: Direct

– A word can make all the difference

– Optimal length between 20-30 characters

– Test, test, test!


This article first appeared on Flying Solo is a copywriter, rock climber, yogi, and mum inspired by extraordinary everyday people, soul food, and hiking amongst ferns. Connect with Cynthia on LinkedIn or Twitter.