3 Tips to Write Clickable Subject Lines for Email Marketing

In 2012, President Obama sent me an email. The subject line read simply:


When I saw it land in my inbox, I felt a tiny pang of starstruck excitement. Wait, did the POTUS seriously just email me directly?

I opened it—as surely as millions of Americans did. It was the 2012 campaign’s most successful subject line, raking in millions in fundraising.

I know: you’re not the president. And I know: “Hey” is an outlier. But I bet you’ll agree that when it comes to email marketing, subject lines are everything.

Just like headlines, your subject line acts as the tip of the spear: 80% or more your audience will probably read the subject line, but only a fraction of those contacts will feel compelled to click it and read on. The key is to find something simultaneously disarming but not disingenuous. Like “Hey.”

Read on for our B2B and B2C subject line best practices.

1. Tell, Don’t Sell

At MarketSmiths, we’ll be the first to rally against boring, bland copy. But when it comes to subject lines, MailChimp’s research actually shows that plain and descriptive fares far better than salesy, cute, or promotional.

Most people are already on guard against gimmicky sales emails. You shouldn’t try to trick them into reading yours—if they’re actually interested, a descriptive subject line gets the job done better.

Your subject should clearly broadcast what’s inside the email—if it’s a newsletter, your subject should include the word “Newsletter.” In that same spirit, MailChimp also recommends including your company’s name in the subject line. Don’t overthink it!

2. Sidestep the Spam Filter

The last thing you want to do is trigger your audience’s spam filter. Your marketing email should avoid the desolate wasteland of the spam folder as if its life depended on it (because it does).

To that end, you should excise these triggers from your subject lines immediately:

  • Spammy words like “free,” “now,” and “cash”
  • Funky symbols used to sneak by spam filters, like $$$, *, ~, and !!!

3. Test & Optimize

Your audience is one of a kind. What works for B2B email campaigns might not work for B2C email copywriting. Your contact list is bound to be unique, even compared to others in your industry. That’s why it’s important to test, measure, and optimize.

If your email client has an A/B testing feature, you should absolutely use it to hone your subject lines. Make sure the subjects are distinct enough to make a difference—a tiny tweak may not register a huge change in open rates.

Even if you don’t have access to A/B testing features, it’s easy enough to do manually: just segment your contact list in half, send one half your “A” subject line, send the other half your “B” subject, and compare the open rates after a couple days.

Consider using personal attribution for subject lines (“Bob, as Head of Resources, could you use this?”). Tools like Hunter.io can help locate not only email addresses but additional personal attributes to update your mailing list.

Putting It All Together

At MarketSmiths, our copywriters combine all these best practices and more to craft email marketing campaigns that convert. At the end of the day, nothing beats the insights that come from experience.

Feel free to contact us to see how we can help you send clickable, irresistible subject lines with your next marketing email.

Gregory Lewis

Gregory Lewis

A winsome wordsmith, Gregory M. Lewis loves nothing better than absorbing new information and crystallizing it into clear, captivating copy. Greg brings his incisive insight and easy-going approach to every project. In his free time, the Chicago native can be spotted at Nets games, art galleries, and local concerts in Brooklyn.

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