Welcome to the 8th annual installment of DigitalMarketer’s 101 Best Email Subject Lines!
Within this post, I’ve got 101 PROVEN, swipeable email subject lines that are yours for the taking. And if you’re one of our email subscribers, there’s at least a 20% chance that you played a role in determining what made the list. If that applies to you, please prepare for a little déjà vu. 🙂
Though you’re currently reading one of the most aptly titled blog posts of all time, you’ll find more here than just subject lines. I’m going to break down the 8 components of every good subject line AND you’ll get an analysis of our top 10 performing subject lines of 2020.
That way, when you’re finished with this post, you can:
1. Start deconstructing and reproducing the elements of YOUR best-performing subject lines…
…or…2. Completely steal ours, if you haven’t already.
(NOTE: Looking for the subject lines from previous years? We’ve collected all 700+ top-performing email subject lines since 2013—and all the amazing analysis that comes with them—into The Ultimate Email Subject Line Swipe File! Create your FREE DM Insider account here to get instant access!)
If you’re new to the post (or email marketing in general), take a minute to familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of email subject lines.
These are 8 different components I found again and again in our top-performing email subject lines…
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.
If self-interest subject lines work because they communicate a direct benefit, curiosity-based ones succeed for the exact opposite reason.
They pique 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.
Do you like free stuff? Do you like to buy things when they’re on sale?
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.
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.
But 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.
Don’t forget to remind your list about the person or people behind your products.
Sometimes you need to thank your subscribers, tell them a story about yourself, or make a human appeal for their attention.
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.
Telling a story, or at least teasing the beginning of one in your subject line is a unique way to highlight benefit and get the open rate you’re looking for.
As for our best subject lines of the year… here they are.
The 10 Best Email Subject Lines of 2020
10. How to keep up with digital marketing… 🏃💨
CONTENT: T&C Early Bird Discount
OPEN RATE: 15.80%
ANALYSIS: We’ve seen that the use of “How to” in subject lines establishes authority, and draws readers in. Your subscribers want to learn something they fear they might not know yet, but believe may be helpful to them. In this instance, digital marketing is something that seems like it changes every day. Keeping up with the changes in the industry can be pretty daunting, so content that shows you how to keep up is incredibly valuable and attention-grabbing.
9. Why my first business failed
CONTENT: Tony Robbins Event Follow-Up
OPEN RATE: 15.92%
ANALYSIS: While maintaining flavors of curiosity, I got declarative with this one. Seeing as how the bulk of our email list identifies as a “marketer” in one form or another, and Content is something that virtually all marketers need nowadays… I knew that if I took one of THE keystone levers of the industry and used the well-known Bill Gates idiom, “Content is King,” as a departure statement that would separate us as an authority on the subject, I’d both deliver valuable information to our subscribers and get a few opens.
8. Something BIG is coming
CONTENT: April Accelerator Flash Sale
OPEN RATE: 16.08%
ANALYSIS: We all love a good teaser. In this subject line, the tease is on full display. You want to grab the reader’s attention, AND get them interested in following your message at the same time. Just make sure the body copy in your message pays off too—you don’t want to be the boy or girl who cried wolf or you’ll lose trust from your readers (and future opens).
7. Holy crap… 21,601?!?!
CONTENT: Lab Open Access
OPEN RATE: 17.35%
ANALYSIS: There’s a couple of wins in this subject line. Namely, profanity is like salt: using just the right amount can be a great thing, but too much will ruin the experience. And while we’re not necessarily advocating for “profanity” all the time, we will use a dash of it when we need to get our point across.
You’ll also score points with your reader by using a number in your subject lines, which is proven to increase open rates—bonus points if it’s a very specific number. And finally, like #8, the curiosity factor is strong in this one.
6. 3 Rules for Marketing During a Crisis
CONTENT: Newsletter for March 21, 2020
OPEN RATE: 19.9%
ANALYSIS: Let’s face it. This year sucked. Millions of businesses were left trying to navigate the global pandemic crisis, and the marketing industry was no exception. It makes sense that guiding principles were popular fodder for subject lines. Our big takeaway on this one is to make sure you “read the room.” Note that this subject line was used in March, when the pandemic was newly on peoples’ minds and more likely to get clicked on. There have been ebbs and flows to when audiences felt like discussing crises this year, and this was the right time to talk about it. It might not have worked so well in the summertime.
5. 🥺 80% off gone in 3…2…1…
CONTENT: Content Marketing Mastery Sale
OPEN RATE: 22.54%
ANALYSIS: Scarcity is one of Cialdini’s principles of persuasion, and in my opinion, it’s the best. There’s no better way to stir someone to action than telling them they’ll miss out on something great if they don’t. (NOTE: This mail is a “closer” mail, the last in a week-long promotion meant to catch folks who missed earlier mails. Closers don’t typically get many clicks, but in this case the use of this simple square emoji 🥺 gave it a boost because it looks like the content didn’t load. In fact, it grabs inbox attention more than the use of an actual emoji—just be sure NOT to lean on this tactic too much. Like crying wolf, it loses efficacy.)
CONTENT: T&C 2020 Close
OPEN RATE: 25.12%
ANALYSIS: The ultimate goal of a subject line is to get the recipient to open the email, and sometimes less is more. With a simple, 3-letter question this subject line is able to stand out in the inbox among other generic, longer subject lines.
3. Get Certified in Content Marketing for $195?
CONTENT: Content Marketing Mastery Sale
OPEN RATE: 25.27%
ANALYSIS: That question mark is no accident. The Content Marketing Mastery certification course is one of our most popular, and it’s always a big draw for our subscribers when we put it on sale. At 61% off the normal price of $495, a lot of people were interested in this promotion. To warm audiences, a discount of that size begs the question: “Why now?” They know they want it. They’re looking for a reason to get it, it’s why they clicked. Cold audiences click to do the comparison. Hence the question in the subject line mark feeding both needs. 😉
2. CLOSING down in 3…2…1…?
CONTENT: 1-Minute Facebook Video Ad Playbook
OPEN RATE: 28.08%
ANALYSIS: Again, scarcity is a powerful motivator here. The 1-Minute Facebook Video Ad Playbook is one of our most popular playbooks EVER, but when we say we’re closing a sale down, we mean it.
1. ⚠️ FINAL Chance for free access!
CONTENT: Lab Open Access
OPEN RATE: 34.53%
ANALYSIS: Combine scarcity, the use of a powerful emoji, and the promise of free access to one of our core products, and you have a recipe for the highest open rate we saw in all of 2020.
Now that you know what made the top 10 the most opened, here are the other 91 top-of-the-line email subject lines that round us out to an even 101.
91 More Email Subject Lines to Swipe
• ISSUE #26: A match made in…?
• A note to our community
• 10 things every marketer should know
• 60 seconds to sales?
• How DM nearly TRIPLED its open rates
• [T&C2020 KEYNOTE] Marcus Lemonis!
• Level up your marketing IRL
• Sales are slipping through your fingers
• Are you skipping T&C 2020?
• 🧠 Smartest investment ever?
• Stop it.
• Lab is now free through the end of March
• It’s like 7 conferences in 1
• The Terminator Is Coming To T&C 2020
• 1.4 billion views?
• [GRAPHIC] Lessons from Quarantine
• Issue #40: pick 3…
• [VIDEO] My full Traffic & Conversion Summit 2019 Keynote
• New workshop turns your email list into an 🏧
• CLOSING down soon?
• [LAST CHANCE] 68% off sale ends today
• 5-day marketing challenge (starts today)
• 💥 95% of product launches fail, says Harvard (here’s why)
• We found “hidden pots of cash” in your business 💵 💵
• The CRAZIEST marketing statistic I’ve ever heard
• YOU a certified marketing specialist? (FOR FREE??)
• READ: Our 11 Copywriting Book Recommendations
• People really hate THIS
• why your email open rates are slipping…
• Email Newsletter Workshop closing tonight?
• REMINDER: $1000 Off T&C tickets gone at midnight
• [EMAIL MARKETERS] Build a Sequence that Primes & Converts Subscribers
• [Low Ticket Alert] T&C 2020 “Early Bird” Tickets Almost GONE
• 2-3x you email open rates?
• You’ll be paying $700 more on Friday
• Will you also 2x your business at T&C?
• Last chance to try Lab for FREE!
• No marketer should miss this…
• [LIMITED TIME] The $7 plan for Facebook ads that convert
• Are you losing ground to competitors?
• open rates in the toilet? (we’ve been there)
• [VIDEO] Want help selling your “boring” product?
• %FIRSTNAME% – Your 8-Step Email Conversion Templates are waiting…
• [FLASH SALE] The 1-Minute Video Ad Playbook
• Insider #51: our glossiest issue yet
• %FIRSTNAME% – THANK YOU!
• %FIRSTNAME% – Don’t Miss Out!
• [READ] How we’re going back to “business as usual”…
• got 39 bucks?
• Get Lab FREE (No Trial, No Credit Card, No Upsell)
• Let’s work on your marketing…together!
• [CLOSING] No time to write sales emails?
• The napkin that cleaned up a $248k mess
• 😳 73% OFF gone in 3…2…1…
• %FIRSTNAME%’s (less than) 10-hour warning
• The lowest price EVER for ⚡ Copywriting Mastery⚡
• Email Newsletter Workshop closing soon?
• $55 today, $997 tomorrow
• [CLOSING SOON] $7 for my Sales Boosting Bullets Playbook
• Our Greatest Hits of Copywriting
• Stop binge watching our trainings!
• How to slip past your prospect’s “promo-dar” 📡
• ICYMI – your refund
• Free Training: 2x Your Sales In 6 Months?
• READ: 100 Books Every Marketer Should Read
• Feeling 🤩🎉 or 😨😱?
• You’re about to miss out…
• Vacation, all we ever wanted
• I’m closing the doors…
• 🛑 STOP blogging. Start splintering.
• 🛑 Stop binge watching our trainings!
• [SWIPE] Our 2020 Holiday Marketing Plan
• The “Post-COVID” reboot?
• %FIRSTNAME% – Last day to SAVE ⏰
• [GRAPH] Ready for your sales to look like this?
• Free access expiring SOON
• This REALLY ticks me off
• SWIPE: 15 tools & templates for video ads that SELL
• Bad news
• RSVP: Free training this time tomorrow?
• HATE writing your own emails?
• 🔊You gotta see this, %FIRSTNAME%
• no such thing as a “failed” video ad?
• I’m getting rid of my 11 mastery courses TONIGHT
• 🖱(Ctrl)+C & (Ctrl) + V
• Too many good ideas? STOP. 🛑
THAT. IS. IT.
If you’re tired of reading “NAME” and seeing “[BRACKETS WITH WORDS IN ALL CAPS],” it’s for a good reason:
Last year, those were [REALLY POPULAR FOR US, NAME].
In fact, out of our 101 best email subject lines of 2020, 23 used the [CAPS BRACKET] and 15 used the first name field.
Another cool find?
While our average subject line was 6 words, our TOP 3 of 2020 were all less than 5 words.
REMEMBER: AGAIN: Brevity is the soul of wit and pattern interrupts WORK.
There will never be a “golden subject line formula.”
And that’s GOOD news, because formulas lead to stagnation. And stagnation leads to your subject lines (and as a result, your email marketing strategy) being white noise.
For all I know, last year’s [CAPS BRACKETS] and sub-5-word email subject lines could be this year’s “all emoji” or “5 en-dashes and an ampersand” subject lines (whatever that is).
That being said, I won’t chalk it up to “who knows,” because there are CERTAINLY guidelines and best practices to follow.
And if you can combine said best practices, a little creativity, the power of split-testing, and the application of the scientific method…
…you’ve got yourself a pretty solid formula for consistently pumping out winning subject lines.
Huh. Maybe some formulas do work.
Food for thought.
Anyway, if the contents of this post can act as a staple for the best practices and creativity portion of my little spiel up ^ there, it’ll’ve done its job.
Now get to work. 🙂
(NOTE: Want to see what subject lines made the list last year? What about the year before? You can get the last 7 YEARS of top-ranking email subject lines—that’s more than 700 subject lines—in The Ultimate Email Subject Line Swipe File. Sign up for a FREE DM Insider account here to get instant access!)