A close mate outside of the marketing world gave me a sharp reminder recently. He was a bit riled up, complaining about the number of companies that were “spamming” him. From his perspective, he thought people didn’t really use email anymore and he didn’t understand why companies were overloading his inbox.

I briefly tried to explain it from a marketing perspective, but I also felt like he was right, to a point.

Email is certainly still relevant; millions of people use it. But we don’t get excited about email like we used to. When companies heavily rely on email blasts, it creates fatigue with the audience. That only produces more experiences like my mate had, and they’ll eventually tune out and delete messages they perceive as spam.

If you want to avoid creating emails that suck (and keep the open rates up), you have to use subject lines that drive the message home and help you stand out amid the clutter in your subscribers’ inboxes.

Part psychological, part emotional

part psychological, part emotion for get your emails opened

Before diving into some nifty headline ideas, it’s important to point out that you’re not trying to manipulate your audience. Instead, you want to create email subjects that will entice them. The most effective subject lines will speak directly to the interests of the audience, using triggers that immediately grab their attention.

What are those triggers exactly?

Well, that depends on your target audience. This is why major brands and those with extensive subscriber lists will segment their lists into more than one audience. Each segment might have different needs, wants, issues, interests, and psychological and emotional triggers among other things.

Knowing your audience can help you better connect with them on a psychological or emotional level. With that connection, it’ll be much easier to come up with the right subject line so your list doesn’t lose their cool like my mate.

At the end of the day, your email subject lines should follow a simple and straightforward formula:

Interest = Benefit + Curiosity

Your subscriber should be able to glance at the email subject and be able to discern what, if anything, they might get by opening it. It should also make them curious about what they’ll find if they click through and open it.

Now that I’ve laid out the foundational formula for email subjects, here are 7 types of headlines you can use to catch your audience’s eyes.

1. Ask a targeted question

ask a targeted question for get your emails opened

Questions can create serious engagement on social media, and they work just as well when used in your email subject lines. However, you can’t just ask any question; it needs to be highly targeted. This is where that audience research comes into play.

An effective question is something they can relate to, usually involving personal experiences (such as pain points and interests common to your audience). Questions should also trigger an intense sense of curiosity that makes them want to open the email to learn more.

Subject Line Examples:

  • Do you do any of these 5 things in your morning routine?
  • Do you use self-checkout? You might be losing money if you do.

2. “How To” – Leverage valuable content

how to for get your emails opened

One of the most effective subject lines starts out with “How To…” Part of hooking readers in any context is communicating value and showing off the benefits, and that’s exactly what this subject line does. Depending on their pain points and needs, you can provide a clear solution in a format that will resonate with a specific audience segment. If they know exactly what they’re going to get, they’ll open it.

Subject Line Examples:

  • How to Build a Better Mousetrap
  • How to Maximize Your Instagram Ad Budget
  • How to Create More Content Without Writing Anything

3. Tap into their curiosity

I’m not a huge fan of clickbait, but I can’t deny the effectiveness of it. We see shocking headlines all the time on social media, and Buzzfeed has built its content empire around clickbait. Even the Weather Channel uses it.

tap into their curiosity for get your emails opened

It’s effective because it creates an overwhelming sense of curiosity for the audience, and you can leverage that very same curiosity in email subject lines if used carefully and sparingly. The trick is to avoid looking like awful clickbait and instead tug just a bit at their curiosity with relevant info they want.

Remember: Interest = Benefit + Curiosity

Hootsuite explored the effectiveness of this type of content, citing research from George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon and his theory on the curiosity gap. In this instance, it refers to when there is the information missing in a headline but still enough information to spark the curiosity of readers.

“The curious individual is motivated to obtain the missing information to reduce or eliminate the feeling of deprivation,” Loewenstein wrote.

These types of headlines are like the junk food of content. You don’t necessarily want to click, but your curiosity compels you to.

Just like restaurants that have nailed chemistry and marketing to provoke hunger for their products, you can craft some pretty enticing headlines that’ll make your subscribers feel like they absolutely must see what’s inside that email.

Subject Line Examples:

  • The Single Most Effective Trick to Improve Conversions on Your Landing Page
  • 60% of Marketers Struggle with Engagement – Here’s How to Improve It
  • This One Question Will Help You Weed Out Scam Marketing Agencies

4. Grab attention with humor

grab attention with humor for get your emails opened

I’ve come across so many marketers who struggle with maintaining higher levels of engagement. Oftentimes, it simply comes down to trying too hard.

It’s OK to occasionally engage your audience with a more relaxed angle. Make a subject fun, endearing, clever or funny, and your subscribers will be more likely to click. They’re people too, after all. We could all use a break from the constant stream of super-professional content storming your inbox.

Studies have shown that more than 30% of all ads (and over 50% of TV ads) use humor and wit. Why? Because it’s effective.

In a letter from the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute: “Jokes work because they defy expectations. The surprise aspect of these tales kicks in the frontal lobe’s search for pattern recognition. The punchline moment shifts one’s orientation away from information processing toward an emotional response arising deep within the nucleus accumbens.”

I have no idea what nucleus accumbens are, but the basic translation here is that when your brain comes across something humorous, then the logic center turns off and your brain switches over to an emotional response.

Subject Line Examples:

  • This fell out of your shopping cart (but seriously come back…)
  • 5 things the Lethal Weapon movies taught me about delighting customers

5. Win clicks with personalized subjects

win clicks with personalized subjects for get your emails opened

Power words can be extremely compelling, especially when you use action words and verbs. If you combine that with personalization and some of the other examples I’ve used so far, it can make for an irresistible subject line that your subscribers can’t help but click.

Subject Line Examples:

  • Aaron, this fell out of your shopping cart (seriously come back…).
  • Aaron, this one trick is guaranteed to increase conversions on your landing page.
  • Aaron, here’s how to maximize your Instagram ad budget.

Personalization shouldn’t be limited to the email body itself. Include it in your subject line to create the feeling of a more human connection with your brand.

6. Set the content expectation

Depending on the type of email you’re sending, you can set the expectations of the customer ahead of time and remove some (but not all) of the mystery about what’s inside. This can be highly effective with promotions, as well as certain types of content.

Research from Syndacast shows that using the word “video” in an email subject line can boost open rates by as much as 19%. Words like “special offer” also set certain expectations.

Subject Line Examples:

  • 30 Things You Didn’t Know About the Olympics [Infographic]
  • Aaron, Here’s a Special Offer Just for Being a Fan.
  • You don’t want to miss our newest product reveal [Video]

7. Leverage loss aversion

leverage loss aversion for get your emails opened

People are often terrified of missing out on a good thing (this feeling even has its own acronym, FOMO for “fear of missing out”). They don’t often consider that they’ve already lived without it, but once the offer is presented and they lock onto the value, it’s hard to move on without getting it.

Scarcity can be a powerful driver in the behavior of your subscribers. That’s why so many marketers use scarcity and urgency in subject lines. Leveraging that loss aversion can lead to a tremendous lift in open rates, and when used for cart abandonment emails, it can greatly improve your recovery rates.

Subject Line Examples:

  • Entries into the Online Mastery Guru Course Close in One Hour – Don’t Miss Out!
  • Only 2 Days Left to Buy X Product Before They’re Gone Forever.
  • Get 15% Off if You Complete Your Order Within the Next Hour!

What subject line formulas have you used to maximize opens with your subscribers? Share your successes with me in the comments below.

Image Sources: Highya, SumoMe, (1), Unbounce, Campaign Monitor, SumoMe