11 Email Subject Line Templates Every Marketer Should Know
Ever wondered how to write effective subject lines quickly and easily? Well, read on because I’m about to share two decades of email and subject line experience with you — including 11 proven subject line templates I discovered while running a publishing division.
As I write this, I’m responsible for sending 31 million emails a month. To break that down for you, I’m currently in charge of managing six different email lists, five of which I mail 2 to 3 times a day, 7 days a week. In the month of November 2021, I sent out 333 unique emails to these six lists.
And this month is not unusual. I’ve been in charge of sending hundreds of millions of emails since 2015, which have generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue for my clients.
Now I don’t want you to think I personally write every email I send. I do write some of them. But many of them have been written by other people — including writers I’ve personally trained.
If I’m copy chiefing another writer, I’ll review and edit his work. If I’m provided a file of approved email swipes, I’ll select the email I think will work best for my list. Ultimately, what I do is a combination of writing, chiefing, selecting, and editing.
Once the emails go out, I track the results: opens, open rates, clicks, click rates, total revenue, Earnings Per Click (EPC), and Revenue Per Thousand (RPM). There are some other unique metrics I might look at based on the client, but these are the main ones.
All is to say, I’ve had a front row seat in the email marketing arena for the last six years. During that time I’ve trained more than 20 writers on how to write subject lines. Some of those writers have gone on to manage big email lists of their own. In fact, one is a part-owner in a very successful company in the survival niche.
Anyway, the only reason I share all this information with you is so you know I’ve got just a little bit of experience with email. ;-) But enough about me. Let’s talk about you…
You Wrote the Email, Now What?
Okay, you’ve written an important email to send to your list. (They’re all important, aren’t they?)
But your subscribers will never read your email if they don’t open it. And if your email isn’t opened, it essentially becomes digital trash — whether your email ends up in the Trash folder or not. Which ultimately means your subscribers won’t learn what you’re teaching or buy what you’re offering.
So the first step to success with email is getting your email opened. How you do that rests primarily on your subject line. (Your From: line also plays a big role, and I’ll touch on that later in a different article.)
The Goal of Every Subject Line
Once your subscriber receives your email, the best possible outcome is for him or her to read your subject line, open your email, read your email, and then take the action you’ve requested inside your email.
Obviously, the only way this sequence of events can happen is if your subject line does its job. And what is that job…?
The #1 goal of your subject line is to capture enough attention and elicit enough curiosity or desire to get your subscriber to open and read your message.
Just like a headline, getting attention with your subject line is not enough. I read all the subject lines that hit my inbox, but I don’t open all of those emails. I only open some of them.
This is an important point. Almost every subject line in a person’s inbox gets at least a little bit of attention, even if it’s only a split second. The difference is in how the person responds. Did he read the subject line but leave the email unopened? Did he delete it without opening? Or did he open the email and actually start reading?
To get your subscriber to open and read you must go beyond getting attention. You must translate that attention into curiosity and/or desire. You want your subscriber’s inner voice to have a visceral response that might sound something like one of these:
- That’s different, I’ve never heard of that before…
- WTF? I’ve gotta see what this is all about…
- That’s exactly what I need right now…
- I better act on this so I don’t miss out…
If you notice, the first two inner voices are responding to curiosity while the third and fourth are responding to desire.
Can you combine these? Absolutely. It’s often best to trigger both curiosity and desire at the same time. This way you’re pairing two powerful forces in one subject line.
But, as you’ll see in the 11 subject line templates below, curiosity plays the lead role.
How Long Should a Subject Line Be?
As I’ve analyzed winning subject lines, I’ve found that most fall into a narrow window of about 6 to 10 words. And, all other things being equal, shorter subject lines are better.
This is not to say you should force your subject line to be shorter than it needs to be. Sometimes you’ll have a subject line that is 12 or 14 words long, and you’ll find that every single word is necessary. That’s okay.
In fact, some of the subject line templates I use often require a few extra words. Just know that you’ll have better odds of writing a winner if your subject lines are within that range of 6 to 10 words.
6 Types of Subject Lines that Work Really Well
I’ve identified six main types of subject lines that you’ll want to experiment with. Here they are…
- Shock Value
These are broad types instead of specific subject line templates, which we’ll get into in just a minute. First, let’s dig into each of the six types…
1. The Curiosity Subject Line
The #1 reason people open emails and click links is… curiosity. If you can build enough curiosity into your subject line, people will almost have no choice but to open, read, and click.
Here are a few examples of strong curiosity headlines. Keep in mind, these were written specifically for a conservative political audience…
- Guess Which Famous Actor Told Obama to “Grow a Pair” on Twitter?
- This Welfare Mom Has Been Collecting Government Checks for 12 Years – Here’s What She Thinks about Getting a Job
- 3 Armed Men Break in and Threaten to Kill 8 People. What Happened Next Was Exactly What Should Have Happened.
- The Real Reason the NRA Was Created (and It Was NOT to Defend the 2nd Amendment)
And here’s another one I wrote that did really well:
- Nancy Pelosi Wins an Award Nobody Should Ever Want to Win
Pelosi is already a lightning rod among conservatives. Her name alone sparks negative emotion. But now readers will wonder what award she won… why nobody should ever want to win it… and why Pelosi was only too happy to accept it. Lots going on here.
How can you use curiosity in other markets? Here are two ways:
- Promise a benefit while withholding one key detail the reader needs to achieve that benefit.
- Juxtapose two seemingly unrelated ideas.
Here’s a winning subject line from Svelte Media for one of their free guides:
- shrink your midsection by eating this
This one promises a simple benefit — “shrink your midsection” — but then conceals whatever it is you’re supposed to eat. Any reader who desires a slimmer belly will want to learn which food they should be eating.
Switching markets, here’s a winning subject line I wrote in the financial market that ran for a number of months:
- How Alaska Could Fund Your Retirement
This one juxtaposes two ideas that are incongruent. A reader will likely think, “What does Alaska have to do with funding my retirement??” And he will open the email to discover the answer.
2. The Informational Subject Line
In some markets (like health, survival, and business) it’s often important to provide useful information. So headlines that promise information can be good. For example:
- Here’s Why Rising Food Prices Are Here To Stay – Sovereign Man
- Unorthodox email strategies that’ll put some hair on your chest – Ben Settle
- How Thieves Can Break into Your Garage in 6 Seconds with a Metal Hanger (and How to Make Sure They Don’t) – Ryan Healy
- 3 Foods Americans Eat that Are Banned in Other Countries – Ryan Healy
- How to poop in the next 24 hours – Peak Biome
All of these subject lines promise information of some sort. Notice too how all of them arouse some curiosity — which nearly all good subject lines do.
3. The News Subject Line
In some rare cases, a news headline is the best approach. A news headline merely announces in plain language something newsworthy that happened. Here are some examples:
- Facebook Bans Gun Pages – Ryan Healy
- Buffalo Police Go Door to Door, Confiscate Legal Guns from Law-Abiding Citizens – Ryan Healy
- Woman Who Came Into Contact With Escaped Monkeys Says She Developed Symptoms – The Epoch Times
As you can see, these are simple headlines. But they work well because they are topics the audience is interested in.
In the first example, it’s effective because it also taps into people’s desire to be outraged.
In the second one, it’s effective because it’s outrageous and it naturally makes the reader wonder, “Why?” and “How are they getting away with this?”
In the case of the third example, the news is unusual (almost like a tabloid) and makes the reader wonder what kind of symptoms the woman developed and how contagious they might be.
The problem with news is that it’s time sensitive. If you don’t strike while the news is fresh, it will quickly lose its power. This is especially true for national or international news.
The reason for this should be fairly obvious. Anytime big news happens (the death of a celebrity, for example), it spreads like wildfire on social media. By the time you can get an email out, the news has probably already reached a significant portion of your subscribers.
If you use a news subject line, I suggest two things:
- Choose a news item that hasn’t been widely covered yet.
- Get the email out quickly.
4. The Shock Value Subject Line
Shock value subject lines have some similarity with news and curiosity subject lines. But this type of subject line works because people like to be outraged. They like to experience righteous anger. Shock value subject lines give them something to be outraged by.
Here are a couple examples:
- Oregon Man Arrested for Talking about Guns on Bus
When you read this headline, your gut-level response is, “Whaaaat???” Because the headline doesn’t make sense. Why would a guy be arrested for merely talking about guns?
Obviously, curiosity plays a role in this headline. But it’s the shock value that’s most important.
Here’s a pure “shock value” headline that I wrote:
- R.I. State Senator on 2nd Amendment: “Go F*ck Yourself”
No curiosity here. Just a statement of fact. But readers may be thinking, “Did he really say that?” They click to go see the video.
You don’t necessarily have to write much to generate shock value. For example, if you’re an authority figure in your market and you’re known for a specific role or skill set, you could simply say:
- I quit.
5. The Controversial Subject Line
In every market, writing something that may be considered controversial will draw eyeballs.
Think about the things that are considered “sacred” by the majority of people in the market. Can you say something that runs contrary to what the market holds as sacred? And can you support your claims? If so, you could have a powerful subjectline on your hands.
For example, here’s one that did really well to a health list:
- Study Shows Drinking Cow’s Milk Causes Early Death
One controversial post I wrote on my blog years ago generated more eyeballs and traffic than anything I’ve written before or since. The subject line that announced the article was simple:
At that moment in time, those words hit hard in my market. I was suggesting that Internet marketing was dying and close to death, which was a very controversial thing to say at the time.
6. The Promotional Subject Line
Promotional subject lines are extremely common. They’re the ones that push for action and usually involve some form of urgency.
If your subscribers have signed up for deals — or you’re running a product launch or limited time special offer — then you’ll be using promotional language in your subject lines at some point.
A few examples:
- Ovation @3500 Is Already 💥90% Subscribed💥- Invest Now! – Elevate CIG
- [Starting Now] Doors are open! – Kyle Milligan
- We go live in 1 hour (don’t be late) – Jake Hoffberg
- New day, new mystery … your 40% off savings await! – Kohl’s
- Your last annoying Cyber Monday email of the day! – Shinesty
Which Type of Subject Line Is Best?
First, a caveat. All of these types of subject lines are appropriate in the right circumstances. And your business model may dictate that the majority of your emails and subject lines are promotional in nature.
Nevertheless, of the six different types of subject lines I’ve shared, the one that is the most reliable is the “Curiosity Subject Line.” A well-written curiosity subject line will almost always work well.
The hardest one to use effectively is the “News Subject Line.” Only use a news subject line when you have something that’s really strong — and you’re able to get it out to your list quickly. Otherwise, choose one of the other types.
11 Proven Email Subject Line Templates
To make it even easier on you, I’d like to share some of the most powerful subject line templates I came up with while managing a writing team and running a large political news publishing division.
Some of these templates might not be appropriate for you and your business. But they should still provide some structure and inspiration for you.
Also, please note that my team and I were sending political stories to an older conservative audience, so most of the examples are from that market. If your political views don’t jibe with these, that’s okay. I’m not promoting any particular political view here. I’m just sharing what worked.
So without further ado, here they are. While you’re reading, consider which of these subject line templates you’ll use first.
1. The “Crazy Result” Template
[This Thing Happens] [This Crazy Result]
[This Thing Happens] – You Won’t Believe What Happened Next
[This Thing Happens] – What Happens Next Will [Verb + Emotional Result]
Example 1: When an Armed Thief Put His Gun to the Forehead of a Random Customer, He Never Expected This to Happen
Example 2: Man Waves ISIS Flag on Liberal College Campus – Students’ Reactions Will Leave You Horrified
Example 3: White Cop Kills Black Teen Near Ferguson – Here’s Why Nobody Is Crying Foul
Example 4: Teen Pulls Gun to Steal Air Jordans from Man Exiting Mall – But Those Sneakers Were Never in Danger
Example 5: Black Guest Accuses Fox News of Racism. When Asked for Specifics, She Offers this 6-Word Fail…
Example 6: Thugs Shot This Grandma 3 Times – Then She Pulled This Out of Her Purse
Example 7: Congressmen Jockey for Better Offices, Furniture – You Get to Pay the Bill
Example 8: This State Banned Sharia Law – Now Muslims and Liberals Are Outraged
2. The “Small Thing, Big Effect” Template
[These # of Words] [Unusual Effect of These Words]
Example 1: The 12-Word Sign on a Family Dollar Store that Has the Nation Screaming “Racism”
Example 2: These eight words should send a chill down Google’s spine
Example 3: The 9-Minute Hobby that Produces a Yearly Income
3. The “Try Not to” Template
Try Not to [Cry/Freak Out/Lose It/Laugh] When You See [This Unbelievable/Disheartening/Ridiculous Thing]
Example 1: Try Not to Cry When You See Who the GOP Favors for Its 2016 Presidential Candidate
Example 2: Try Not to Cry as You Watch this Boy’s Tribute to Fallen D-Day Soldiers
4. The “Restore Your Faith” Template
[This Positive Thing] Might Restore Your Faith in [Something Most People Have Lost Faith in]
Example 1: House Republicans Just Passed a Controversial Bill that Might Restore Your Faith in the GOP
Example 2: What This CEO Just Did with His $1.8 Million Bonus Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity
5. The “List” Template
[#] [Tricks/Ways/Methods/Hacks] [to Do Something Interesting/Useful]
[#] [Tricks/Ways/Methods/Hacks] that Could [Amazing Benefit]
Example 1: 10 Useful Tricks You Didn’t Know Your Microwave Could Do (#6 is Pure Genius)
Example 2: 7 Survival Hacks that Could Save Your Life in a Crisis (VIDEO)
6. The “Every Person” Template
[Something] Every [Type of Person] Should [Have/Know]
Example 1: A Geeky Gadget Every Prepper Should Have
Example 2: 11 Email Subject Line Templates Every Marketer Should Know
Sorry, couldn’t resist throwing that 2nd example in there to show you that I eat my own dog food. ;-)
7. The “Guess Who” Template
Guess Who [Said/Did] [This Crazy Thing]?
Guess Which [Person/Country] [Says/Thinks/Does] [This Crazy Thing]?
Example 1: Guess Who’s Defending a Christian T-Shirt Maker Forced to Print LGBT Shirts?
Example 2: Guess Which Senators Want the Feds to Report Ammo Purchases?
Example 3: Guess Which Famous Actor Told Obama to “Grow a Pair” on Twitter?
8. The “You’ll Never Guess” Template
You’ll Never Guess [Who/What/Which] [Person/State/Company] [Verb] [This Crazy Thing]
Example 1: You’ll Never Guess What Vandals Left Behind When They Stole Baby Jesus from This Nativity Scene
Example 2: You’ll Never Guess How Much EPA Employees Were Paid to Misbehave
9. The “Just 1 Tweet/Image” Template
Just 1 [Tweet/Image] Explains [Something that’s Difficult to Understand]
[Person] [Does Something Amazing/Shocking] with Just 1 Tweet
Example 1: This 1 Tweet Sums Up Everything that’s Wrong in American Politics
Example 2: Rob Lowe Absolutely Obliterates Obama with Just 1 Legendary Tweet
Example 3: 1 Image that Explains the Bundy Ranch Standoff in 60 Seconds
10. The “Perfect Response” Template
[Something Shocking Happens to Somebody Famous] – [He/She] Has the Perfect Response
[Name of Person] Has the Perfect Response to [Something Controversial]
Example 1: Fox News Contributor Suspended for Cursing Obama on Air, Her 9-Word Response Is Perfect
Example 2: Trump Has the Perfect Response to Biden’s Israel Policy
11. The “Dear Name” Template
[Dear Name] [Something Shocking, Surprising, or Unexpected]
Example 1: Dear Google, Please Take Me Off Your Dumb Mailing List
Okay, Let’s Wrap This Up…
There’s a LOT of information in this article. I don’t expect you to retain it all or master it until you’ve had the opportunity to actually apply these email subject line templates in your business (or for your clients).
With that in mind, please bookmark this article and share it or even link back to it if you know other people who’d benefit from it.
And if you’re looking for somebody to manage and monetize your email list… review your current email sequences… or write some promotional emails or swipes for your affiliates… I’m your guy.
Just go here and fill out the form to contact me.
I’m rootin’ for ya,
Ryan “subject line templates” Healy