[PDF Download] Digital Marketer’s 101 Best Email Subject Lines of 2015 (…and our 3 best email split tests!)

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Categories: Blog, Drive More Traffic

In 2015, DigitalMarketer sent 134 million emails…

…Emails centered around promotions, blog posts, charity, and certifications. And we learned a thing or two about what works in the process.

It’s safe to say for us, 2015 was “the year of the content mail.” DigitalMarketer has become much less reliant on promotional emails as our primary means to engage customers (we still run promotions, but they aren’t as essential for driving traffic).

Instead we have begun to focus more on email as a content distribution platform, to help us segment and excite customers about our products.

What can you take away from that lesson? Make sure you’re incorporating the value-first strategy into your email calendar, and not prioritizing promotions too highly over content. If your customers aren’t getting value, they aren’t opening your emails (and you’re missing tons of sales and relationship-building opportunities).

We went data digging and found our best 101 subject lines for you to swipe or use as inspiration. And as a bonus — we’ve also rounded up our 3 best email split tests you can use to optimize your email marketing in 2016.

This is our third annual Best Email Subject Line Roundup, but there’s 202 more subject lines for you to swipe here:

Before we dive into our 101 winners, let’s look at what common elements you might find in a subject line. There were 8 different components we found again and again in our top performing email subject lines:

1 – Self-Interest

These are your bread and butter subject lines – you should be using them most frequently.

They are usually direct and speak to a specific benefit your audience will gain by opening the email. Self-interest subject lines also help pre-qualify openers by giving them a clue about your email’s body content.

2 – Curiosity

If self-interest subject lines work because they communicate a direct benefit of opening the email, curiosity-based ones succeed for the exact opposite reason. These peak the interest of subscribers without giving away too much information, leading to higher opens. Be careful though, because curiosity-based subject lines can get old fast and are the most likely to miss their mark.

3 – Offer

Do you like free stuff?  Do you like to buy things?

So does your email list. When you are giving something away or selling something your subscribers would be interested in, directly stating that in your subject line is a great way to convince them to open the email and learn more.

4 – Urgency/Scarcity

This is the most powerful type of subject line you have at your disposal.  Subject lines that communicate urgency and scarcity tell readers they must act now. Too many of these can lead to list exhaustion so use sparingly and, of course, only when there is truly a deadline, limited quantity or limited availability.

5 – Humanity

Sometimes you just need to thank your subscribers or send them a holiday greeting. Don’t forget to remind your list about the person or people behind your products.

6 – News

Keeping your audience informed about new developments in your field builds authority and keeps your open rates high. These subject lines often work well when combined with a curiosity element.

7 – Social Proof

A fundamental characteristic of humans is that we look to the behavior of others when making decisions. You can leverage this in your email subject lines by mentioning individual’s success stories, familiar names, or highlighting how many people are already using a product or service.

8 – Story

Telling a story, or at least teasing the beginning of one, in your subject line is a unique way to highlight a benefit and get the open rate you’re looking for.

Ready for the subject lines? As our tradition, we’ll start with our top 10 best…

10. Seriously, get this book.

  • Content: The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth (James Altucher’s book)
  • Open Rate: 16.91%
  • Analysis: This subject line is pretty direct – seriously means no fooling around. But the blind reference to an as-yet unidentified book demands the recipient take a look inside and see if it’s a good fit for their library shelf.

9. I’m pulling the plug…

  • Content: Blog Post
  • Open: 17.13%
  • Analysis: This subject line uses negative language to great effect. What does “pulling the plug” mean for DigitalMarketer subscribers? Is this bad news (or as it turned out, great news)? Only by clicking through can you find out.

8. 7 split testing mistakes

  • Content: Blog Post
  • Open: 17.34%
  • Analysis: Do you like making mistakes? Neither do we (though it happens). So when someone promises to show you pitfalls to avoid before it’s too late, no one wants to miss the opportunity to do so.

7. How HostGator does retargeting

  • Content: Blog Post
  • Open: 17.40%
  • Analysis: This subject is simple and to the point, with a clear value proposition (learn how to leverage their retargeting strategy). The social proof of leveraging a well-known brand helps validate the information contained within the email.

6. TRAFFIC (on a “shoestring” budget)

  • Content: Blog Post
  • Open: 17.79%
  • Analysis: All caps can be pretty polarizing – no one likes to be yelled at digitally. But when you pick a word business owners love, the results are more positive. And offering a cost-friendly solution to a problem never hurts.

5. 11 sneaky email tricks

  • Content: Blog Post
  • Open: 17.83%
  • Analysis: This subject line uses a number that stands out (11) and a compelling adjective (sneaky) to hook the audience. And everyone loves simple to implement strategies, as implied by words like “trick” “hack” or “shortcut.”

4. Facebook Ads (Your first 3 steps)

  • Content: Perpetual Traffic Episode
  • Open: 17.87%
  • Analysis: If you’ve wanted to try something new, like Facebook ads, one of the biggest barriers to entry is not knowing where to start. This subject is clear, direct, and helps people who aren’t sure if they’ll be able to use the information.

3. The YouTube Gold Mine

  • Content: Blog Post
  • Open: 17.90%
  • Analysis: Have you ever discovered a gold mine? Probably not, but it sure would be nice to do so. This subject line combines a high value proposition with intriguing but vague details. Open up!

2. Thank You!

  • Content: $1 Trial Offer
  • Open: 17.99%
  • Analysis: This is a subject line that works so well we sneak it into our mails every year and it never fails to disappoint. People love recognition, and acknowledgement of what they’ve done (if you swipe just one subject line, make it this one).

1. 23 bizarre products selling online

  • Content: Blog Post
  • Open: 18.71%
  • Analysis: This was one of our experiments for 2015, seeing how some lighter, less actionable content would fare, and the fact that subject line took our top slot shows that this strategy works. This subject promises a fun twist on studying just how crazy eCommerce can be. And lists with odd numbers always catch the eye.

Those may be the cream of the crop, but with 134 million emails out the door, we saw a few other good ones, too. Here are the next 90 subject lines that had the highest open rates and a breakdown of the elements that compose them:

  • Think like a Facebook ad pro… – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • 29 Landing Page Reviews (Plus…) – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • Get your Facebook advertising plan – Offer
  • How to Build an Unstoppable Business (2nd Edition) – Story
  • The 3-step Content Marketing plan – Self-Interest
  • [SWIPE] 10 Best Customer Survey Questions – Offer
  • This is embarrassing but… – Curiosity
  • Facebook Ad Case Study [listen to Part 3] – Self-Interest
  • … this failed miserably – Humanity | Curiosity
  • How to get paid [Literally] – Self-Interest
  • Still doing it the old way? – Curiosity
  • Sales ⬆︎, Refunds ⬇︎, Retention ⬆︎ – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • How Emily Faith got 76,974 YouTube views in 10 days… – Story
  • Facebook Video Ads | The Ultimate Guide – Offer | Self-Interest
  • Avoiding the “Facebook ban hammer” – News | Curiosity
  • How to sell tickets to live events – Self-Interest
  • Don’t buy this from Amazon! – Curiosity
  • Finally! Facebook releases… – Curiosity | News
  • Split Test This, Not That – Self-Interest
  • My Gift to you… – Curiosity | Offer
  • New tool changes webinars forever… – News
  • The PERFECT traffic platform? – Curiosity | Self-Interest
  • I’m closing it down! – Urgency/Scarcity
  • Join me in congratulating… – Story | Curiosity
  • Inverted Web Analytics? – Curiosity
  • The ideal length of everything online – Curiosity
  • The PERFECT Facebook Ad – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • BIG news from YouTube – News | Curiosity
  • This critique gets uncomfortable at times – Curiosity
  • [Leads] Scaling from 50 to 5,000+ – Self-Interest
  • Rice, gasoline and website traffic? – Curiosity
  • The AdWords Remarketing “Easy Button” – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • Private Invite – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • Big Celebrity Announcement – News
  • [SWIPE] Our best email copy – Offer
  • Answers to the Facebook Pixel Madness – Self-Interest
  • 2 killer blog post templates – Offer | Curiosity
  • WANTED: Professional Content Marketers – Curiosity
  • Read this before clicking “Send” – Self-Interest
  • Can’t Buy FB Traffic? – Curiosity
  • This has nothing to do with marketing… – Curiosity
  • Meet me at ICON (and save $300)… – Offer
  • [TEMPLATE] Cold email anyone and get a response – Offer
  • [Podcast] Frank Kern on Paid Traffic – Story
  • Traffic for the eCommerce biz – Self-Interest
  • “I just want the recordings…” – Curiosity
  • Twitter Traffic (In an hour a day) – Self-Interest
  • Paid traffic not converting? Download this… – Offer
  • MAJOR announcement! (big changes at DM) – News | Curiosity
  • Become a “Customer Acquisition Specialist” – Self-Interest
  • 3 proven FB campaigns to run today… – Offer
  • 2 BRAND-NEW certifications launched today – News | Curiosity
  • Start with this funnel – Self-Interest
  • I was wrong… – Humanity
  • Use THIS to become an Authority (in ANY market)… – Self-Interest | Offer
  • $100 or $100.00? (It makes a difference) – Curiosity
  • Blog posts that sell (A complete guide) – Offer
  • I LOVE this little tool! – Curiosity
  • T&C 2016 closing soon? – Urgency/Scarcity
  • Limited-time open enrollment… – Curiosity
  • ①⓪① ways to boost email open rates – Self-Interest
  • New DigitalMarketer Training Center – News | Curiosity
  • Conversion vs. Content – Curiosity
  • 21 landing page mistakes – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • Facebook’s New Lead Ads (What you need to know) – News | Self-Interest
  • Copy and paste these 72 headlines [Last Chance] – Offer
  • How to hire a content marketer – Self-Interest
  • Get your first 1,000 blog subscribers – Self-Interest
  • Stop writing NEW blog posts. Here’s why… – Curiosity
  • [TEST RESULTS] 2,689 leads from “On Site Retargeting” – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • A visit to Facebook (Here’s what we learned) – Story | Curiosity
  • My 2016 business plan… – Offer | Curiosity
  • 5,219% ROI from new traffic source – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • The Remarketing Grid – Curiosity
  • [Case Study] Numbers don’t lie – Story | Curiosity
  • Score your landing page – Self-Interest
  • Create the perfect marketing calendar – Offer
  • Reach 6,372,857 people with zero ad spend – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • A 15.2% lift (but we were shocked) – Curiosity
  • My favorite automation tools – Self-Interest
  • A very direct (and some might even say, “RUDE”) email – Curiosity
  • [CASE STUDY] AZ shoe store 20X’d sales by sending what? – Story | Social Proof
  • Download This Social Media Swipe File (PDF) – Offer
  • Turn ice cold prospects into buyers – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • My favorite business model – Curiosity
  • The Ultimate Course on Paid Traffic – Self-Interest | Offer
  • My new book! (and a big mistake) – Story | Humanity
  • Double sales (Get the formula) – Self-Interest
  • Dirt cheap Facebook leads – Self-Interest
  • ⬆︎ Social media traffic (Your 6-step plan) – Self-Interest

Now it’s your turn — Post in DM Engage or tweet us with #101!

(Want to get big results from a small email list? Copy and paste our simple 7-step formula to generate more sales by sending less emails. Download it here.)

Should you test that?

Now that you have our best subject lines of the year, you should be ready to up your own game and start sending some emails.

We’re going to give you just a little bit more information to help you get an extra bump…Here are our 3 top performing email split tests of 2015.

1. Highlighting a Pain in the Subject Line

Open rate can lie about performance.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look at the metric, because you definitely should. It’s one of your top 4 email metrics to watch, along with click through rate, unsubscribe rate, and earnings per click (EPC).

But here’s a great split test that shows why you can judge a campaign by a single metric.

We ran this subject line split test in March of this year. These were the two subject lines.

101-best-subject-line-2015-3

The “Little _______ = big sales [QUIZ]” beat out the other one, but the results weren’t significant. So at first glance, the test was a wash. However, on closer examination the subject line “This is why your prospects aren’t buying” actually had more clicks.

A LOT more.

We saw a statistically significant lift of 18% in click throughs for the second subject line. The reason? The other headline pre-qualified openers by highlighting a pain they were feeling in their business.

That’s one of the risks with curiosity headlines – they drive more opens but people don’t know what they are getting into when they open. So for more complex or expensive offers, direct and pain-based subject lines can produce better results. Don’t overdo it on the doom and gloom though; a little bit of negativity goes a long way and too much can turn subscribers off your emails.

2. Use CSS Buttons in your email

Setting yourself up for mobile wins has never been more important, as more and more people are using their mobile devices to read email, browse the web and make purchases.

Because of this trend, we decided to experiment with CSS buttons during our Black Friday promotion. We tested emails using buttons for the CTA against emails using just text hyperlinks, which had been our standard practice.

Here’s a glance at what each one looked like:

101-best-subject-line-2015-2

101-best-subject-line-2015-1

We figured the button would win, but we had no idea how incredible the results would be. The email with buttons had a 22% higher click through rate, no small feat and definitely a sign that this test was a winner.

But that’s not the mind-blowing part of the results.

We also compared the performance and found that the earnings per click, the amount of money we made for every person who clicked through the email, was 38% higher for the email with CSS buttons.

3. Use Unicode Symbols to Highlight Emails

We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again — using Unicode symbols in your subject line is a great way to generate a bump in opens.

These symbols are the little pictures that show up in your inbox, including ☼, ★, ☂, and ①. Since Unicode symbols are coded in computer systems like alphabet characters and numbers, they can be displayed on multiple browsers and devices.

Across all kinds of topics and subject lines, we’ve found that Unicode symbols produce a consistent 8% bump in email opens. So these can be a great way to squeeze everything you can out of a big promotion or help push visitors to a particularly strong blog post.

101-best-subject-line-2015-4

You can grab a swipe file of some of the best Unicode symbols here.

Download our 2015 101 Best Subject Lines — with the one subject line trick that increases your click through rate included!

Don’t stop there!

Check out our 101 Best Email Subject Lines of 2014 (…and our 10 worst!)

We start with our top 10 email subject lines for 2014…

10. [WEEKEND ONLY] Get this NOW before it’s gone…

  • Product: AuthorityROI
  • Product Type: Course/Information Product
  • Open Rate: 9.49%
  • Analysis: This is a great example of a flash sale subject line. It combines the urgency of limited availability with an element of mystery. Keep in mind that these work best in very small doses.

9. The Facebook Slap is coming…

  • Product: Twitter Ads EP
  • Product Type: Execution Plan
  • Open Rate: 9.51%
  • Analysis: Personally, just rereading this subject line has me digging through my email archives. It combines the curiosity and news elements, and speaks to a penalty the entire digital marketing industry will want to avoid.

8. Steal these email templates…

  • Product: Email Templates
  • Product Type: The Machine
  • Open Rate: 9.53%
  • Analysis: This one is simple and direct, and makes a clear offer. The phrase “templates” works particularly well with Digital Marketer’s email list.

7. Your 7-figure plan goes bye-bye at midnight…

  • Product: AuthorityROI
  • Product Type: Course/Information Product
  • Open Rate: 9.64%
  • Analysis: Are you willing to wave goodbye to 7 figures? Most people aren’t – this is another great example of curiosity and urgency working in tandem to raise that open rate!

6. Is this the hottest career in marketing?

  • Product: eCommerce EP
  • Product Type: Execution Plan
  • Open Rate: 9.77%
  • Analysis: This one is all about curiosity. Using questions in your subject line is a great way to open a loop that your audience will want to close by checking out the email’s contents.

5. A Native Ad in 60 Minutes or Less

  • Product: Blog Post
  • Product Type: Lead Magnet
  • Open Rate: 9.78%
  • Analysis: Quantifying how long it will take a subscriber to realize some benefit in the subject line is great – it feels manageable and promises results, making even inactive members of your list curious. This offer feels bite-sized and achievable.

4. 212 blog post ideas

  • Product: Blog Post
  • Product Type: Lead Magnet
  • Open Rate: 9.94%
  • Analysis: Another great offer example – it communicates the email’s value in just 4 words.

3. Check out my new “man cave” [PICS]

  • Product: eCommerce EP
  • Product Type: Execution Plan
  • Open Rate: 10.24%
  • Analysis: This is a fun blend of curiosity and humanity – it directly addresses some value Ryan got, a sweet new “man cave,”in the subject. Not only does this spark interest, but it reminds readers about the human connection that brought them to DM in the first place.

2. [URGENT] You’ve got ONE DAY to watch this…

  • Product: AuthorityROI
  • Product Type: Course/Information Product
  • Open Rate: 10.79%
  • Analysis: Once again, curiosity and urgency team up to create a compelling subject line. If you are careful about using these sparingly, you’ll find that they just work.

1. How (and why) to calculate Average Customer Value

  • Product: Blog
  • Product Type: Blog Post
  • Open Rate: 10.91%
  • Analysis: Our number one email subject line, this blends all of the good stuff. It gives you a metric that can improve you business, inspires curiosity about why this number matters, and offers to help you figure out how to calculate it.

(Want to get big results from a small email list? Copy and paste our simple 7-step formula to generate more sales by sending less emails. Download it here.)


Here are the next 90 emails with the highest engagement and what elements they used:

  • [FINAL CHANCE] 7-figure blueprint gone tonight… – Curiosity | Urgency
  • How to write a promotional email – Self-Interest
  • Steal our best subject lines – Offer | Self-Interest
  • Weird traffic test… – Curiosity
  • How to craft a guarantee that sells – Self-Interest | Story
  • [SECOND CHANCE] This weekend only… – Curiosity | Urgency
  • The Machine is coming… – Curiosity
  • It’s landing page magic… – Curiosity | Self-Interest
  • [NEW POST] How To Build an Email Marketing Machine – Self-Interest | Story
  • THIS disappears at midnight! – Curiosity | Urgency
  • A simple sales copy formula – Self-Interest
  • Gold In Your Mailbox – Curiosity
  • [RESULTS] My Facebook Case Study – Curiosity | Story
  • This is working on Facebook right now – Self-Interest | Story
  • Two Words: Cheap Traffic! – Curiosity | Self-Interest
  • [FLASH SALE] 51% off sale ends tonight… – Curiosity | Urgency
  • I made you a video… – Curiosity
  • How to write bullets that sell… – Self-Interest
  • Facebook is cracking down… HARD! – Curiosity | News
  • Thank You! – Humanity
  • [Case Study] Copy & paste this $10 million business… – Curiosity | Self-Interest
  • Swipe my Email Game-Plan (PDF) – Offer | Self-Interest
  • [FREE PDF] Ultimate Email Marketing Game-Plan – Offer | Self-Interest
  • The 10-Minute Bloggers Editorial Plan – Self-Interest
  • What are you doing this weekend? – Curiosity
  • 212 Blog Post Ideas (PDF) – Offer | Self-Interest
  • Is email marketing dead? – Curiosity
  • C’mon – everybody’s waiting for you… – Curiosity | Urgency
  • I LOVE this amazing little tool! – Curiosity | Self-Interest
  • 3-Part Followup Series [Download] – Curiosity | Offer
  • A quick YouTube hack – Self-Interest
  • Find writers for your blog – Self-Interest
  • Facebook Ad Targeting Options [A Complete Guide] – Offer | Self-Interest
  • [NEW FORMULA] Cheap, Targeted Facebook Traffic – Self-Interest
  • 4 emails with stellar click-through rates – Curiosity | Self-Interest
  • Step up your video marketing game – Self-Interest
  • Want to look at our email stats? – Curiosity | Self-Interest
  • Native Ad Hacks? – Curiosity
  • 198% ROI on Twitter Ads – Self-Interest | Story
  • [URGENT] About today’s traffic training… – Urgency
  • Do NOT sell on Amazon without this $10 tool… – Curiosity | Self-Interest
  • How to Stop Ho-Hum Marketing – Curiosity
  • Would You Do THIS For Money? – Curiosity
  • 2 huge mobile marketing opportunities – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • Twitter is the new… Facebook?! – Curiosity | News
  • [PART 2] See how I got $0.10 email optins… – Self-Interest | Story
  • My business model… on a napkin? – Curiosity | Story
  • We beat up this landing page – Curiosity
  • [Gone Sunday] Your traffic training replay is available.. – Urgency
  • Don’t make these 7 AdWords mistakes – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • My Gift to you– Offer | Curiosity
  • Zero to 30K Page Views in 11 Weeks – Story | Self-Interest
  • This sucks, you lose… – Curiosity
  • Should you follow your passion? – Curiosity | Story
  • Low Conversion Rate? Fix These 6 Elements. – Self-Interest | Story
  • Are you missing one of these FIVE steps? – Curiosity
  • Copy and paste these 72 headlines [Last Chance] – Offer | Self-Interest
  • How to craft a winning 3-part followup series – Self-Interest
  • 32 split testing ideas – Self-Interest
  • Less _______ = More Sales [SURVEY] – Curiosity
  • [Template] Create engaging Facebook images – Offer | Self-Interest
  • No blog comments? – Curiosity
  • Download this Social Media Swipe File (PDF) – Offer | Self-Interest
  • Presenting: “Funnel 2.0″ – Curiosity
  • 321% higher conversions using THIS… – Curiosity | Story
  • This guy makes 6 figures per month? – Social Proof | Curiosity
  • Amazon app cherry-picks hottest products for you… – Self-Interest | Curiosity
  • Unlimited penny traffic… – Curiosity | Self-Interest
  • My Twitter Ads Cheat Sheet – Self-Interest
  • Still haven’t launched your funnel? – Curiosity
  • Our top Facebook ad campaigns – Curiosity
  • “Borrow” all my checklists… – Offer | Curiosity
  • SEO is dying (a slow and painful death) – News | Curiosity
  • This is rated aaarrrgh! (details inside) – Curiosity
  • Does your marketing smell funny? – Curiosity
  • Do you HATE money? – Curiosity
  • (time sensitive) Last night’s Funnel training… – Urgency
  • [Case Study] $188,674 from a dead list – Social Proof | Self-Interest
  • [ONLY $7] My “cheap traffic” plan – Self-Interest
  • Get More Email Newsletter Clicks – Self-Interest
  • Reduce shopping cart abandonment – Self-Interest
  • Create opt-in pages that convert like crazy – Self-Interest
  • My Facebook retargeting plan – Self-Interest
  • This gets my highest recommendation – Curiosity
  • Better than Facebook? – Curiosity
  • 28,507 leads in 45 days – Self-Interest | Social Proof
  • A slick mobile lead gen funnel – Self-Interest
  • The Machine is LIVE… here’s your link – Curiosity
  • Pounce on these shifts in digital marketing – Curiosity | Self-Interest
  • Uncomplicate your analytics – Self-Interest
  • I do THIS for traffic… – Curiosity

But don’t do this…

We’re also sharing our top 10 worst emails of 2014 and picking them apart to find why exactly they didn’t work.

Our Top 10 Worst Emails

For these, we looked at emails with the highest unsubscribe to open ratio. Not only did these miss the mark, they drove our audience away! We’re going to work backwards, starting with the 10th most unpopular email.

10. [85% Discount GONE] Blog launch “checklist on steroids” price increasing…  

  • Promotion: Blog Launch EP
  • Promotion Type: Execution Plan
  • Unsubscribes / Opens: 1.78%
  • Analysis: This subject line is trying to do too much at once. The framing of the price increase is presented as both a disappearing discount and a price increase. While these mean the same thing, it can be a little confusing and makes the subject line too long. Sticking with short, sweet, and clear is best.

9. Last chance to be a whale

  • Promotion: The Whale Method
  • Promotion Type: Course/Information Product
  • Unsubscribes / Opens: 1.90%
  • Analysis: This curiosity subject line is cute, but it’s a little too cute. We’ve found that trying to be too clever or funny with subject lines often hurts an email’s performance. This varies by industry, but for educational authorities, it tends to hurt performance.

8. 321% higher conversions using THIS

  • Promotion: Video Sales Letter Formula
  • Promotion Type: Course/Information Product
  • Unsubscribes / Opens: 1.93%
  • Analysis: This subject line isn’t terrible – it’s combines curiosity with self-interest and makes an exciting promise. So I looked at the body as well. A key issue was that the body was even more blind than the subject line – the promise got lost in the open.

7. uh oh

  • Promotion: Napkin Project
  • Promotion Type: Course/Information Product
  • Unsubscribes / Opens: 2.01%
  • Analysis: This is a great example of a curiosity subject line that completely misses the mark. It’s too vague and sets a negative tone. Be very careful when using curiosity subject lines, especially when you don’t mix them with other elements.

6. 3-Part Followup Series [Download]

  • Promotion: Native Ads Academy
  • Promotion Type: Course/Information Product
  • Unsubscribes / Opens: 2.09%
  • Analysis: One of the big issues with this email was that it didn’t explain exactly what kind of followup series was being offered. By not giving the audience enough information, those who opened it and weren’t interested in an email followup series were turned off.

5. Free traffic SUCKS!

  • Promotion: Whale Method
  • Promotion Type: Course/Information Product
  • Unsubscribes / Opens: 2.21%
  • Analysis: This subject line strikes a negative tone right off the bat. While that can be very effective way to get opens, it also sets audience members up to feel frustrated. When you go negative, it’s important to really focus on putting a positive spin in the email body.

4. 43% discount GONE at midnight

  • Promotion: Video Sales Letter Formula
  • Promotion Type: Course/Information Product
  • Unsubscribes / Opens: 2.46%
  • Analysis: This subject line isn’t particularly bad on its own – it combines curiosity and urgency, which is often very effective. However, the subject line is nearly identical to the one sent the day before. Using the same elements in a subject line two days in a row can make your emails seem stale and leave your audience bored. And bored audiences become unengaged very quickly.

3. This sucks, you lose

  • Promotion: Whale Method
  • Promotion Type: Course/Information Product
  • Unsubscribes / Opens: 2.67%
  • Analysis: Another example of a negative curiosity-based subject line. It has a similar issue to the other one – it didn’t spin the tone of the communication enough and left readers with a bad taste in their mouth, leading to a high unsubscribe rate.

2. [GONE TONIGHT] Native Ads training OVER at MIDNIGHT

  • Promotion: Native Ads Academy
  • Promotion Type: Course/Information Product
  • Unsubscribes / Opens: 2.94%
  • Analysis: This subject line is a little too urgent – overdoing capitalization in the subject line can feel like shouting. And no one wants their email inbox to yell at them. Capitalization is a great way to draw attention but works best in small doses.

1. C’mon – everybody’s waiting for you

  • Promotion: Native Ads Academy
  • Promotion Type: Course/Information
  • Unsubscribes / Opens: 3.05%
  • Analysis: This email actually had one of our top 100 email subject lines, but it’s a great example of the double-edged sword of curiosity hooks. The email went to audience members not already planning to attend a webinar. This subject line puts some pressure on the reader which, for those clearly not interested in the webinar, is an unfortunately effective way to drive them off your email list.

Download our 101 Best (and Worst) Email Subject Lines of 2014 now.

Still here? Great!

We’re sharing our 101 Best Email Subject Lines of 2013 below!

In 2013, our best email subject lines were all made up of one of the 8 all-important elements we outlined at the top of this post…

Perhaps more importantly — NONE of our best email subject lines were:

  • Cute
  • Clever

Ok… almost none of our best are cute or clever.  Every once in a great while a cute or clever subject line will work… most of the time they will get low open rates.

For the most part it pays to be direct and clear.

Ok… let’s take a look at our top email subject lines.

We begin with the 10th best email subject line…

10.  Breaking News…

  • Product: Black Friday Webinar
  • Product Type:  Webinar
  • Open Rate: 7.6%
  • Analysis:  This subject line promises that the reader will find something timely and unknown if they open up.

9.  Facebook traffic is dead?

  • Product: Facebook Ad Power
  • Product Type: Course/Information Product
  • Open Rate: 7.6%
  • Analysis:  This subject line creates plays on a reader’s self interest — particularly those that are using or are considering using Facebook for business.

8.  Everybody’s waiting for you…

  • Product: Funnel Webinar
  • Product Type: Webinar
  • Open Rate: 7.7%
  • Analysis:  This is a clever way to use urgency in an email subject line.  This email was sent a couple of minutes after we started the webinar it was promoting.

7.  Kindle bestseller in 4 days?

  • Product: Facebook Ad Power
  • Product Type: Course/Information Product
  • Open Rate: 7.8%
  • Analysis:  This subject line promises a benefit in a short amount of time — a good example of a self-interest subject line.

6.  Watch live? From anywhere?

  • Product: Traffic & Conversion Summit (Event)
  • Product Type: Event
  • Open Rate: 8.0%
  • Analysis:  This subject line creates curiosity.  It creates the following question in the reader’s mind: “Watch what from anywhere?”

5.  Facebook closing down?

  • Product: Facebook Ad Power
  • Product Type: Course/Information Product
  • Open Rate: 8.0%
  • Analysis:  This is a curiosity subject line that implies that something of self-interest to the reader might be going away.

4.  I feel kinda sorry for you…

  • Product: Facebook Ad Power
  • Product Type: Course/Information Product
  • Open Rate: 8.2%
  • Analysis:  This subject line plays on the reader’s ego and creates curiosity.

3.  How to scale your business

  • Product: The Amazing Selling Machine
  • Product Type: Course/Information Product
  • Open Rate: 9.5%
  • Analysis:  This is a clear and direct self-interest subject-line.

2 .  Good news for people who love bad news…

  • Product: Traffic & Conversion Summit (Event)
  • Product Type: Event
  • Open Rate: 9.6%
  • Analysis:  This one creates curiosity through a cute and clever use of word play.

 1.  Can’t Make The Trip?

  • Product: Traffic & Conversion Summit (Event)
  • Product Type: Event
  • Open Rate: 9.8%
  • Analysis:  This curiosity subject line asks a question

Ok… that’s the Top 10.  But there’s more… here are the next 90 email subject lines that enjoyed the highest open rates.

  • Your funnel is broken… – Self Interest
  • [New Video] 1,000,000 customers in 11 months? We have proof. – News | Self Interest
  • Need my help? – Self Interest | Curiosity
  • Ahhh, San Diego! Spanish for… – Curiosity
  • I LOVE this little Facebook tool! – Self Interest
  • [URGENT] Emergency Gmail Webinar Tomorrow, 7/24! Urgency | News
  • The Story of “The Vagabonds” – Story | Curiosity
  • My favorite market research tool – Self Interest
  • Get your business funded in 2014 [Case Study] – News | Self Interest
  • Copy & paste this $10 million business… – Self Interest
  • (time sensitive) Last night’s Funnel training… – Urgency
  • The Ultimate Facebook “Cheat Sheet” – Self Interest
  • Create your own digital magazine (no iPhone/iPad required) – Self Interest
  • Will this KILL your business in 2014? – Curiosity | News | Self Interest
  • Questions about War Room? – Self Interest
  • [TONIGHT] My proven funnel system revealed… Urgency | Self Interest
  • [Last Chance] Create the perfect funnel… – Urgency | Self Interest
  • [PROOF] How to get 10 cent email leads from Facebook… – Self Interest
  • [Free Book] The $10 million discovery (limited) – Self Interest | News | Scarcity
  • Boost your email clickthroughs by 200% – Self Interest
  • No more discounts on T&C! – Self Interest | Scarcity
  • Facebook sucks – Curiosity
  • [FLASH SALE] This is how we get traffic from Amazon – Urgency | Self Interest
  • [Open NOW] The Digital Publishing Blueprint is LIVE! – News | Self Interest
  • The Perfect Webinar Funnel – Self Interest
  • Tim Ferriss says “Hi” – Social Proof
  • Pulling FBAdpower DOWN… – Scarcity
  • LAST CHANCE for Livestreaming… – Urgency
  • New site and new sales in 3 days or less?! – Self Interest
  • 1 cent CLICKS?! (open up)… – Self Interest | Curiosity
  • I hope they’re not mad… – Curiosity
  • [Closing Tomorrow] Don’t get shut out… again! – Urgency
  • Good News… Your 1st sale in 3 days… – Self Interest
  • How I get dirt-cheap, high-quality traffic… – Self Interest
  • [FINAL PLAYING] Emergency Gmail Webinar! Urgency | News
  • Will 2014 be better than 2013? – Curiosity | News
  • T&C CLOSING! Only 61 spots left! – Scarcity
  • Facebook “panic” is great news for you… – News | Self Interest
  • [CLOSING TONIGHT] T&C tickets GONE tonight… – Scarcity
  • [JUST RELEASED] More T&C Tickets Available… – News | Urgency
  • Software cherry-picks the hottest leads for you… – Self Interest
  • Free 68 page book Interview With A Mega-Bestseller – Self Interest
  • [FLASH SALE] Get targeted FB leads for dirt cheap… – Urgency | Self Interest
  • [Finally] Get this Proven Digital Marketing Blueprint – Self Interest | News
  • 85% sale ends today – Urgency
  • You an Amazon Bestseller? – Self Interest
  • Last chance – T&C Closing at Midnight TONIGHT! – Urgency
  • Important letter for you – Curiosity
  • [NEWS] EmailWorld 2013 Sept. 24th and 25th in San Diego, CA – News
  • Announced 306% increase in FB traffic? – News | Self Interest
  • Facebook OWNS Google… – Curiosity
  • [Almost Gone] New T&C Tickets going fast… – Scarcity
  • [IMPORTANT] Gmail Webinar TODAY! – Urgency
  • Only open if your business will do at least 7-figures this year… – Curiosity | Self Interest
  • Apple Newsstand training is CLOSING – Urgency
  • FW: Did you miss this yesterday? – Curiosity
  • Merry Christmas to You! – Humanity
  • Can I help you build your sales funnel? – Self Interest
  • “Panda” update for Facebook? – Curiosity | News
  • Press Releases More Powerful Than Ever? – News | Curiosity
  • Last chance for Apple Newsstand training [FREE RESOURCE] – Urgency | Self Interest
  • Interact with the industry’s brightest minds at the QuickSprout Forum – Self Interest
  • You on Facebook? – Curiosity
  • Turn Ideas into Million-Dollar Products – Self Interest
  • 100,000 unique visitors PER MONTH… – Self Interest
  • The “Mystery Man” Behind 500 Product Launches… – Curiosity | News
  • This 1 “weird trick” is worth the trip – Curiosity | Self Interest
  • Arrested for printing money? – Curiosity | News
  • Can we meet in San Diego? – Curiosity | Self Interest
  • Bad news and good news… – Curiosity | News
  • T&C is selling out! Only 32 seats left! – Scarcity
  • Ex-construction worker earns $309/day with… – Story | News
  • This Free book changed my business… – Curiosity | Self Interest
  • The free books are all gone… – Curiosity | Scarcity
  • [NEWS] 5th Annual Traffic & Conversion Summit OPEN – News
  • [80% Discount] Game-changing software… – Self Interest
  • Content idea generator [Free Resource 1 of 3] – Self Interest
  • [RESULTS] My Facebook Case Study – Self Interest | News
  • THIS Increased Conversions 24%?!? – Self Interest | News
  • FINAL NOTICE: Only 11 seats left! – Scarcity
  • Only 187 free copies of Frank’s book left… – Scarcity
  • No list & NO partners = sales in 3 days?! – Self Interest | Curiosity
  • Your “On Demand” bootcamp replay… – Self Interest
  • Happy Thanksgiving! – Humanity
  • How I “busted-up” Google’s monopoly… – Curiosity | News
  • [SPOOKY NOTICE] 82% off T&C Tickets (CLOSING 24 hours) – Urgency
  • Your DEADline is tonight! 82% off dies at midnight… – Urgency
  • If I had to start all over again… – Story
  • Wanna pick an $80 Million brain… – Curiosity | Self Interest
  • [REVEALED] Turn Likes into email subscribers fast… – News | Self Interest

Download and print our best email subject lines of 2013.

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John Grimshaw

About John Grimshaw

John Grimshaw is Digital Marketer’s Marketing Coordinator. He is the resident number-cruncher, analyzing data from emails, websites, and customer service. Armed with this information, he suggests how to improve both our promotions and the overall customer experience. Connect with John on Twitter.
View all posts by John Grimshaw ➞

Comments:

  • I think this is a great use of data and is very insightful …

    But what happened next?! It’s great getting people to open the initial email, but which of your categories has the greatest engagement?

    I would expect those who click through from ‘Curiosity’ subject lines would drop off a lot more than those who have an exact idea of the content they are going to receive (Offer).

    E.g. Highly Engaged traffic – [FREE PDF] Ultimate Email Marketing Game-Plan
    Lower Engaged traffic – I do THIS for traffic…

    Any information on this would be great as I am always interested in how we can optimise at all levels

  • Laura says:

    Fab list. Not just great for generating subject lines, but helps with content ideas too. Thanks. Shared with my crew.

  • Hey DigitalMarketer great job! This was really an insightful read. We at http://ariticmail.com/ too believe that the language and content of emails can really make or break one’s business. We identify with you on this front as it is our endeavor as well to help our customers and well wishers with some REAL and result oriented email marketing solutions.

  • In it, she doesn’t just give subject line ideas, but why they stood out and grabbed her attention—a part of the process I think we should all consider more carefully. On a personal note, I know I don’t even bother with the “7 things to…” and “8 reasons why” emails.

  • Ryan Twedt says:

    Hey Thanks Digital Marketer!

    Teaching smart people how to start lucrative online software businesses, email copy is huge for our successful students. We love telling them to come here for premium marketing information. Truly believe Digital Marketing is an asset to develop for most, if not all businesses.

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this blog post about email subject lines.
    Stellar quality content. Always impressed. Thanks Digital Marketer.

  • Aaron Mills says:

    I have been writing email subject lines for 15 years, and feel like I just went to school. Good stuff!

  • This is a great post with fabulous insights and tips to master the writing of emails. We will certainly use the recommendations.

    Jonathan
    eWebsiteBroker.com

  • Deanzoo says:

    Nice idea for article, but this is our spam subject lines :) Kind of emails I NEVER open. I guess its all about audience you target and quality of list you have. With good, clean, mature, loyal list and good subject line its more likely to get 45% open rate – true story…

  • a2annie says:

    I just received 2 of the worst email subject line possible:

    1) Enter Subject Line Here
    2) Placeholder Text

    Great examples of epic FAIL

  • The 101 list generally resembles my spam. I note one comment above, “My Top 5 Email Subject Lines from 40 million emails sent…” So this is an email subject line for spammers … ? TY.

  • Lilla says:

    I was thoroughly enjoying this post until I realised that one of you best email subject lines also appears in your top 10 worst subject lines (“This sucks, you lose…”), which kind of undermined the credibility of the whole article for me. It was great to see unsubscribe stats to support the worst subject lines – I’d be keen for more data on the best subject lines: open rates, conversion rates, A/B test results. Might be a good research project for the future

    • Lindsay Marder Lindsay Marder says:

      Hey Lilla – When a subject line knocks it out of the park for us (enough to rank in our 101 best subject line out of the millions we’ll send), we’ll repurpose it in another email, for another list, for another offer. As you can see, the “This sucks, you lose…” performed poorly in an email offering Whale Method. It performed very well in an email offering Native Ad Academy. We’re always testing to see if we can find one magical, evergreen ‘formula’ for a subject line – then we can share it with you all. Thanks for pointing this out, I’m sure other readers have noticed the same thing!

  • Elita Torres says:

    Amazing tool to get my creative mind going. I just recently started blogging about Leadership, Personal Growth and the Development of others and I am sure I will be referring to this post several times. Thanks again.

  • Caleb says:

    I have found high click thru rates when starting a subject with Heres how and also using Re gets high opens as well 😉

    • Amanda says:

      I would avoid using re: in the subject line. To me that is a red flag that the email is spam. I see it all the time when I receive an email from a person I have never conversed with. The sender loses all credibility. If they are going to pretend we talked before, then what else are they willing to fib about?

  • saffron says:

    Awesome writing, thanks John Grimshaw

  • Ed Newman says:

    My Top 5 Email Subject Lines from 40 million emails sent.
    1) Hey Honey!
    2) @email …
    3) re: Work Online
    4) This Dirty Little Secret
    5) This is sick!

  • Lewi says:

    Hi, thanks for this very useful post. However, it would be a lot more useful if you included the body of the emails with the subject lines, so we can make a deeper connection to the Subject Lines. Would you please consider doing this? I’d even be happy to pay $7 for it if you put it together in an eBook.

    The reason I ask is, because many of us have trouble writing our email copy. Providing examples with the subject lines would help us tailor the subject lines to our niches, and help streamline the process.

    I have your subject lines I can tailor, but now I’m staring at a blank page thinking about how do I connect the subject line with my niche. I’m a very model others kind of person. I beleive nothing is truly original and since you’ve provided your best Subject Lines, I ask please help us out by going one step further by providing the body subject matter. Like I said, I’d be glad to pay $7 for this.

    Great post none the less.

  • Anna says:

    How would you rate using personalized subject lines?

    • John Grimshaw John Grimshaw says:

      Anna,

      This is a great question! In 2014, we did not send a single email to our broadcast list that used a personalized subject line. This wasn’t just an accident or a random decision, though. Several studies released in the last few years found that personalized headlines resulted in lower open rates and lower click-throughs. I’m not surprised – reminding people that you have their personal information can make people uncomfortable. I suspect that personalized subject lines also have substantially higher unsubscribe/open ratio than most other mails.

      We only use personalization when emailing buyers information about products they recently bought, because they’ve opted-in to more personalized attention by making a purchase. However, even then we almost always keep it within the body copy.

      • Tara says:

        Hi John,
        Can you share what studies found that personalization in subject lines actually produce lower metrics? Thank you!

  • This is awesome, thanks a ton for sharing this! :)

  • Susan says:

    Thanks John. Great information

  • Grace Lever says:

    Love this…Thanks so much!

    Very clever psychology team 😉

  • Aubrey Hollander says:

    Looks very interesting,however I have not had a chance to read it all

    • John Grimshaw John Grimshaw says:

      Aubrey, I recommend just downloading the pdf document and keeping it as a reference whenever you are stuck on coming up with a subject line. There’s no opt-in for the download :)

  • Debbie says:

    I am just starting to use email and this is perfect timing! Thanks

    • John Grimshaw John Grimshaw says:

      That’s exciting to hear, Debbie! Email is one of our best channels for customer engagement.
      If you really want to make email a core part of your business, keep an eye out for the next time we open up The Machine training. It was one of the first things I did when I started at DM and it completely changed the way I thought about email marketing.

  • Abdul says:

    Hi John great post
    Wow,this gave me a year worth of data to use in my subject lines.

    • John Grimshaw John Grimshaw says:

      Glad to hear it, Abdul! The best part is that when you have a strong understanding of the elements of a subject line, it’s easy to see what mix works best with your specific audience.