Professional Email Subject Lines: Tips and Examples To Help You Stay on Top of the Game

Professional Email Subject Lines: Tips and Examples To Help You Stay on Top of the Game
29 May, 2023 • ... • 10698 views
Natasha Zack
by Natasha Zack

Carefully picked words. Eye-catching images. Compelling calls-to-action. And one line to rule them all: a subject line. Get it right — and your email content gets seen; get it wrong — and your efforts are all in vain… 

Well, this might be a bit of an exaggeration. But subject lines do mean A LOT in email marketing — and all professional communication, for that matter. So, it’s really crucial to get them right. Luckily, we’ve got a bunch of professional email subject line examples to help you out, along with proven techniques to make you less dependent on inspiration. If this sounds exciting, let’s dive right in.

On the importance of a professional email subject line

Subject lines might not matter much in personal correspondence — but professional (i.e., marketing, sales, and pitch) emails are a whole different game. As research from SuperOffice indicates, 33% of subscribers decide whether to open an email based on its subject line. In other sources, this figure is almost two times bigger. And that’s not surprising, considering that subject lines, along with the sender name and the preheader (aka preview text), are the only things people see before they click open. 

Here’s what it looks like in a typical Gmail inbox:

Sender name, subject line, and preheader in a Gmail inbox

Obviously, the more compelling the subject line, the better chances an email has of getting opened. What’s more, quality subject lines protect your emails from landing in spam, which is good for your email deliverability. That means your professional emails need professional subject lines if you don’t want your email open rates to disappoint you. Yet coming up with good ideas on demand might be challenging. 

To help you write subject lines that will actually grab your subscribers’ attention, we’ve put together this list of tried and tested email marketing tips.  

10 proven tips on creating professional email subject lines

Ideally, a great email subject line does these four things: 

  • Draws the readers in emotionally. 
  • Gives a “preview” of the email content (explains the subject). 
  • Compels to take action. 
  • Communicates the brand’s values.

But in reality, it’s not always possible to do all at a time — so, some of the components usually prevail. Depending on your strategy, you might want to make your subject line read more compelling, more emotional, or more to the point. But whatever you do, the key to creating a subject line that works is to clearly understand why you’re using a certain technique, and to what end. 

As for the techniques themselves, there are plenty in email marketing. Here are some of the best practices for you to try. If used responsibly, they will help your subject lines perform better so that your business could get the most out of your email marketing.    

Start with action-oriented verbs

The ultimate goal of a professional email is to compel the reader to take action. That’s why there are CTAs in such emails, whether it’s an e-commerce promotion or a collaboration pitch for a social media influencer. But what use is a great CTA if the recipients don’t open your email in the first place? 

That’s where featuring action-oriented verbs in your subject lines can help. These verbs, also known as “action verbs” or “action words”, refer to doing rather than being, and thus prompt the reader to take immediate action: open the email and click on your CTA without contemplation. 

Here’s what it looks like in an actual email. In this example, starting with “complete” instantly informs the recipients of what they’re supposed to do and eliminates the guesswork.      

From: Michaels Stores

Subject line: Complete your order now and save with this coupon. 🙂

Email subject line with an action-oriented verb example
Source: MailCharts

Make subscribers feel “special”

Feeling “special” helps people feel better about themselves, boosts their confidence, and bolsters their sense of identity. So, naturally, they tend to feel grateful to those who make them feel that way. In terms of email marketing, that means brands who make their customers feel “exclusive” stand better chances of winning the latter’s loyalty. 

To make your subscribers feel special, use words and phrases containing the word itself, its derivatives, or synonyms: “specially for you”, “special treat”, “just for you”, “special/exclusive offer”, etc.

Tip 

This technique works best when you actually offer something exclusive to a specific subscriber. In the example below, which is an abandoned cart email, the brand gives a personal discount, justifying the “specially-for-you” subject line of the email.

Take a look at how clothing brand Volcom utilizes this technique to create a feeling of “exclusivity” with its simple but effective subject line. 

From: Volcom 

Subject line: 🎁 It’s for you…

“Special” email example
Source: MailCharts

This technique works great for e-commerce companies. But it is also applicable to other professional email subject lines. For example, sales pitches that make recipients feel special will likely get more attention than generic ones.

Compare:

Not bad: Try our Task Planner 3.0!  

Better: Task Planner: exclusively for [Company name]

Spark curiosity

“Curiosity killed the cat”, they say — but people (as well as cats) still cannot help being curious. Curiosity is an integral part of human nature — and marketers can (and do) use it to their advantage. Particularly, when it gets to crafting exceptionally compelling subject lines for professional emails. 

In this email from the blogging platform Medium, the subject line is a question most people ask themselves these days — so, who wouldn’t want to know the answer? Luckily, it’s right there in the email body (part of it, that is). 

From: Medium 

Subject line: Why is food so expensive?

Curiosity-sparking email example

Create a sense of urgency

Chances are, you’re quite familiar with all those “last chance”, “today only”, “limited number”, etc. email subject lines. What all of them have in common is creating a sense of urgency by playing on FOMO (fear of missing out) — one more human emotion often leveraged by marketers. Too primitive, you might say — however, it works!

In the example below, “ending tonight” coupled with the discount create a sense of urgency by leveraging FOMO (a deal is expiring in a few hours, so the subscribers are going to miss the discount unless they hurry up).

From: Atoms 

Subject line: Ending tonight: 15% off for Back 2 School

“Sense of urgency” email example
Source: Really Good Emails

Keep it short & straightforward

The best email subject lines are often simple and straightforward, research by Sean Bestor revealed in 2019. Common sense also suggests that at least some people have neither time nor inclination to guess the meaning of vague/mysterious subject lines. That’s why being clear and putting value forward often is the winning strategy.  

As the length goes, it’s usually best to err on the side of conciseness to avoid your subject lines being cut off. Generally, the recommended length is around 40-60 characters. However, a recent report from GetResponse indicates that subject lines containing 61-70 characters have the highest open rates, while 241-250-character subject lines demonstrate the best CTRs. So, don’t panic if you need a bit more than 60 characters — but do try to put the most important words first.

Here’s an example of a subject line containing 87 characters: 

From: Best Buy

Subject line: Today only: Save $320 on Arlo Pro 4 12-pc. spotlight camera security bundle, plus more.

Email with a long subject line example
Source: Milled

Showcase social proof

People trust other people, not brands. That’s why “social proof” — i.e., content from regular customers — is a powerful way to convince your subscribers that your products or services are really worth trying.  

In email marketing, utilizing UGC works in a similar way to social media marketing or any content marketing, for that matter. Just pick a few best reviews — and don’t forget to feature the most flattering quotation in the subject line. The email below is a typical example. 

From: Paro

Subject line: 5 ⭐️ reviews: “So simple and quick to assemble…”

“Social proof” email example
Source: Really Good Emails

Liven it up with emojis 🙂

Most subject lines are plain text, so the ones with visual elements naturally stand out. However, research data is controversial: for example, a Return Path study indicates emojis increase open rates, while a later research by Nielsen Norman Group shows emojis in subject lines increase negative sentiment instead. So, make sure emojis go in line with your communication strategy prior to deciding whether to feature them in your subject lines. 

Another thing to consider is the number of characters available. Sometimes, symbols speak louder than words — but other times, saving space is a better strategy. And of course, moderation is key when it comes to emojis. 

Compare:

✔️ Sitewide Sale: final hours ⏰ (Pact) 

🚨🚨🚨Final Sale!🚨🚨🚨

Avoid clickbait

These days, people know clickbait for what it’s worth. That means emails with clickbait subject lines are almost certain to end up in the trash; moreover, anti-spam filters can also recognize clickbait and filter it out. The ultimate outcome will be your damaged reputation — both sender score and brand reputation with your customers, that is. 

But how do you know whether a subject line contains clickbait? Well, if you feel it might, it’s definitely a red flag — and a reason to come up with a different version. 

Compare:

✔️ 5 Tested Ways to Earn Remotely  

❌ MAKE 💲🍋 FROM YOUR BEDROOM!

Personalize them

Email personalization is a long-standing best practice to improve open rates, and personalized subject lines are one of the most common examples. Thanks to email automation, including personal data such as the recipient’s first and/or last name, location, birth date, and more in a subject line can now be done in just a few clicks.  

A more advanced way to personalize is by segmenting your email list and sending out different content to different segments, accompanied by subject lines to match the email body. Personalized holiday emails are also a staple of email marketing, along with individual offers and triggered emails. 

Here’s a typical example of a birthday email with a personalized subject line. 

From: Applebee’s

Subject line: Smiles Davies, we got you a birthday gift!

Personalized email example
Source: Really Good Emails

Important

Though personalization remains an effective tactic, personalized email subject lines should be approached with caution in 2023. The main reason is, there’s data indicating they don’t work as well as they used to anymore. For example, the GetResponse report revealed that emails with non-personalized subject lines get higher open rates and higher CTRs than those with non-personalized ones.

Optimize for mobile devices

Various estimates show that people spend an average of 4-5 hours a day with their smartphones. That time includes checking emails: according to Litmus data, up to 44.7% of recipients open their emails on mobile devices, so optimizing your emails for mobile is imperative.   

In relation to email subject lines, that means making sure they don’t contain more than 40 characters — ideally, 35 or less — so that your subject line could be fully displayed on all devices. If you opt for a longer subject line, at least make sure it carries the bulk of the meaning in the first few words in order to make sense on mobiles.

Making full use of the preheader is also a good idea: this way, you can shorten your subject line while still saying enough. 

A Gmail inbox screenshot on an Android smartphone
Here’s what a typical Gmail inbox looks like on an Android smartphone. Longer subject lines are cut short

Run A/B tests

Sometimes you don’t know which tactic will work best for a specific email from your campaign. And that’s where email marketing A/B testing comes in: with this feature offered by professional ESPs like Selzy, you can test variations and pick the winning one based on statistical data. 

Technically, A/B testing comes down to sending two different variations of one email to two different segments of your email list and then gathering and analyzing statistics. When you have the winner, you can use automation to send out mass emails with the winning subject line to your whole list (or a specific segment, if your campaign is targeted). 

In the example below, Pura Vida Bracelets tests two variations of one subject line: the longer and the shorter one. 

Subject line A/B testing example
Source: Bluecore

More best professional email subject line examples

Now that you know the secrets to crafting outstanding professional subject lines, let’s take a look at some more real-life examples from a variety of brands.   

Cold subject lines

Writing cold emails might seem challenging, but coming up with the subject lines for them is even more so. Whether a cold email gets opened can make or break a lucrative deal, so the best strategy for cold email subject lines is to put value forward. If you opt for a more mysterious subject line, make sure it isn’t too vague.  

Here are a few examples of cold email subject lines that are relevant yet leave room for imagination:

  • Here’s about your website conversions
  • 5 Reasons to Hire a Realtor 
  • Control 🕒 with our planning app  
  • Top-rated CRM — exclusively for [recipient’s brand name] 
  • Parlez-vous français?    

Announcement subject lines

The purpose of announcement emails is to share updates and, obviously, make announcements. To highlight the essence of the matter, make your announcement subject lines short and to the point and feature words and phrases like “introducing”, “presenting”, “(re)launching”, “say hello to”, “is here”, etc.  

From: Bonfire 

Subject line: Say hello to our new Linktree integration!

Announcement email example
Source: Really Good Emails

More announcement subject line examples: 

  • Presenting the next Extension (Luminar Neo) 
  • Relaunching the Houses Of project! (Houses Of) 
  • Editions are here ⚡(Foundation) 
  • Explore our new climate tools (Probable Futures) 
  • Drumroll, please (Airbnb) 

Pain point subject lines

Pressing on your email recipients’ pain points is a powerful marketing technique that works particularly well in B2B subject lines. However, it’s crucial to do your research to make sure you push the right buttons. For best results, send personalized emails to different segments to address pain points specific to them — and don’t overdo it by pressing too hard. 

For example, this email from Pandora implies a pain point that reads “I can’t find a present for my mom who has everything she needs (and I have to buy something)”. 

From: Pandora Jewelry 

Subject line: For the mom who has everything

Pain point email example
Source: Milled

Here are some more examples of pain point B2C subject lines: 

  • 💡 Change your bad habits with these 5 simple hacks (The Man Shake) 
  • 25 Companies Actively Hiring in April (Glassdoor) 
  • Rejuvenating rest awaits (Herman Miller) 
  • What to wear: Cinco De Mayo (Tara Grinna) 

…And pain point B2B subject lines: 

  • How SEO-friendly is your site? (Semrush) 
  • Want to hit your pipeline goal? Read this… (Calendly) 
  • Resources for developing video ad creative (Hulu) 
  • Creating the perfect destination office (Clevertouch) 

FOMO subject lines

As mentioned earlier, FOMO is closely connected to a sense of urgency. If you want your recipients to take action promptly, refer to high demand, scarce supply, or time running out. To do that, use words and phrases like “don’t miss out”, “be quick”, “be fast”, “now”, “last chance”, “limited number”, etc. in your subject lines. 

Here’s a classic example of a “limited number” FOMO email. 

From: Parks Project 

Subject line: Limited Stock: Yosemite polaroid camera 📸

FOMO email example
Source: MailCharts

More FOMO subject line examples:

  • Don’t miss out! Get it before it’s gone… (Chatters) 
  • ☁ Be fast, the new Cloudboom Echo just dropped (On) 
  • Make me yours before someone else does… (Sweaty Betty UK) 
  • Quick, before it’s gone! (Varley)
  • 🚨 Early Bird Specials Extended – 2 Hours Left! (Misc. Goods Co) 

Abandoned cart subject lines

Abandoned carts are a common problem in e-commerce. To nudge people toward buying, triggered abandoned cart email campaigns are often used with great effect. The best practices for effective abandoned cart subject lines include playing on FOMO, offering an incentive (free shipping or a discount), and giving more information about the product or service.  

The example below illustrates it: first, the brand draws the recipients in with a mysterious subject line vaguely alluding to something they might have missed, and then offers a discount as an incentive. 

From: Hydrant 

Subject line: Still thinking about it? 👀

Abandoned cart email example
Source: MailCharts

More abandoned cart subject line examples: 

  • You left this behind! (H&M) 
  • Your cart is about to expire ⏳ (The Honest Company) 
  • About the items you just picked out… (Sephora) 
  • It’s worth another look. (Icebreaker)
  • Looking for a sign? Free shipping. (United By Blue) 

Funny/creative subject lines

Subject lines that are funny or too creative are not always the best way to go — for example, you should be careful with humor and creativity in B2B communications. However, humor remains a powerful source of positive emotions, so there are many cases when using it in email marketing pays off. As for creativity, it is a great way to make your subject line stand out — if you don’t overdo it, that is. 

If you’re not sure where to use your most creative and/or funny subject lines, holiday campaigns are probably the best choice, as you can see in the examples below. 

From: Drizly

Subject line: Halfy birthday to you.

Funny email example
Source: Really Good Emails

More funny/creative subject line examples: 

  • Did Someone Say Fiesta? (Ethel M Chocolates) 
  • Want your face on a billboard? (Surreal) 
  • Brian picked you some drinks. (Drizly) 
  • Open Me, I’m Irish ☘️ (Postmates) 

Follow-up email subject lines

Follow-up emails are emails sent to subscribers or prospects you’ve been in touch with a while ago. In email marketing, these are typically automated emails sent after an event, a purchase, or as a reminder. In professional communications, emails you send after getting no reply from a prospect are also called follow-up emails.  

Below is a typical example of an after-an-event follow-up email with a personalized subject line directly referring to that event (the capitalization might be excessive, though). 

From: Chase Center

Subject line: Smiles Davies, We Hope You Enjoyed Kane Brown!

Follow-up email example
Source: Really Good Emails

More follow-up subject line examples from brands: 

  • You had a good start on day 1! 👍 So, about making day 2 count… (Busuu)
  • Highlights from Connections (Salesforce) 
  • Get up to speed with a recap of the Apple Event. (Apple) 
  • Spice up your last haul with something new (Forever 21) 
  • Reminder to book: Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina (Tripаdvisor)

To learn more about follow-up emails after getting no reply, check out our article on how to write follow-up emails that get responses.

Final thoughts

Subject lines are essential to the successful performance of professional emails, be it email marketing or professional communication, because they directly influence open rates. That means your emails risk not getting opened if you fail to get your subject lines right. Luckily, there are many tactics to help you nail it — and this article in particular contains everything you need to craft compelling professional subject lines that actually work. 

Now, let’s briefly recap.

  • Professional subject lines are those used for professional emails — i.e., in email marketing and business communications.  
  • Subject lines are important because they directly influence open rates.
  • Best practices for writing professional subject lines include using action verbs, playing on FOMO, showcasing social proof, optimizing for mobile devices, running A/B tests, and more.
  • Brands of all kinds regularly use these best practices, as shown in the examples presented in this article. And you can successfully do it, too.
29 May, 2023
Article by
Natasha Zack
I’m a professional journalist with 10+ years of experience. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with various kinds of media — print, online, broadcast. Currently, I write copy for brand media and teach English part-time. I also have my own edtech passion project dedicated to teaching English via Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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