A cold email subject line is an elusive art. It’s hard to overstate how monumentally important a subject line is and how many people get it wrong.
In our guide to email follow ups you may have noticed that the examples we used didn’t have subject lines. There’s a reason for that.
One can almost warrant writing a book on the subject (pun intended), but we’ve decided to dedicate a blog post to it. Read on if you want to learn how to write an irresistible cold email subject line.
So why’s a cold email subject line so important?
People in sales and marketing send out hundreds of thousands of cold emails each and every day. Most of them will stay cold — forever.
And a wrong cold email subject line is often the culprit.
The human brain is wired in such a way that we easily fall back into established patterns. That’s why when you’re sending a cold email, your first pick for a subject line is probably going to be some tried and tired cliché.
For example, a lot of people want to publish guest posts on a topic that they care about. They draft an email that they’ll send to some editor, and when it comes to filling in the subject line, they put in this:
Do you see the problem with a subject line like this?
If you don’t, here’s what that editor’s email inbox probably looks like:
Only someone obsessive would read through all of these identical emails.
Most people do not obsess over their emails
But if you’re selling a great product, building an awesome startup or just want to publish a truly killer guest post, you deserve a chance for people to hear you out.
And that’s where the cold email subject line comes in.
Because it won’t matter how cool is your project is if nobody reads your emails.
And that subject line is the reason why people open or don’t open your emails.
How to write a great subject line
Although we’re going to mention a lot of examples, please don’t approach the tips below as a handbook of ready-made cold email subject lines for every kind of situation. Instead, think of them as guidelines — a list of different ideas you can utilize to write better, more approachable subject lines.
With that said, here’s the first tip:
Personalization is important, just don’t overdo it
A quick and easy way to capture your prospect’s attention is to make sure that your cold email subject line mentions something specific to them.
And what could be more specific than their names?
But here’s the trick: just throwing their name in the subject line won’t do you any good.
A title like ‘Steven, do you have time for a chat?’ screams of a templated, impersonal approach. Instead, invest some time into researching who your prospects are and what they like, and use that to your advantage, along with their name.
For example, I’m one of those people who like sharing photos of my cat on Instagram. A subject line like this is bound to catch my attention:
It’s cool, because it’s personal. A subject line like this shows me that the sender has invested some time into researching me as a potential client, so I’m far more likely to reward that with my attention.
Just don’t overdo it. Mentioning something that your prospect is clearly enthusiastic about is fine. But if you talk about that thing your prospect has said on Twitter back in 2013, it’s just creepy.
Compliment your prospect when they deserve it
Flattery works, but only if it’s smart.
If I get a message with a subject line like this, you can be sure that I’ll open it:
After all, everybody needs their daily dose of flattery.
Once again, the trick is to show that you care. If you want to compliment your prospect on an article they’ve done, don’t write ‘your latest blog post is great’. Instead, mention precisely which article you’re talking about.
And then there’s another side to that coin. If a message that comes after this subject line is a generic ‘we’ve done a similar post please look at it’, you’re doing it wrong.
Offer your product as a solution to your prospect’s problem
The best kind of a cold email will not be about you or your business — it’s going to be about how your product can help your prospect solve some kind of a problem that they have.
For example, you can send a message with an email subject like this one to explain how your product is better than the one your prospect is using:
You can even go a step further and offer a discount or an extended trial in your cold email, to really win your prospect’s affection.
Make your prospect too curious to quit
I rarely read Fast Company, but I clicked as fast as possible on a recent newsletter they sent me. All because of its subject line:
(Source: Fast Company)
Why is Tesla not normal? What’s going on? Has Elon Musk said something creepy on Twitter again? I need to know!
This subject line was great for inducing my FOMO. Yours could be, too.
Highlight how much work you’ve put in
If you spent days and nights researching your new blog post, or if you know that your startup’s approach is different from your competition, don’t be afraid to talk about that in your subject line. It’s actually just the place to put it.
Here’s an example. As a rule, I ignore most of the requests for backlinks that come to my email. But if I’d receive a message like this?
I’d at least consider linking to that blog post and most definitely would have replied. There’s a lot of low-quality content on the internet — standing out with the effort you put in is a great way to separate yourself from the crowd.
Use numbers to simplify your message
Numbers are great. Humans love looking at numbers, because it allows our brain to process information quicker.
So, summarize the key points behind your business’ value proposition in a list and emphasize it in the subject line:
Reverse psychology is kind of dumb — but it works
Sometimes the most potent way of getting a prospect to read your email is… telling them not to.
Is it weird? Not really. As humans, we love reverse psychology tricks. Here’s an obvious example:
Yup, I’m going to open it.
But using reverse psychology in a cold email subject line comes with one important caveat. The email itself should be worth it. If you’re telling me not to open this email, I want to know why.
That’s why it’ll work great if you’re trying to tell me about your research on why we should spend less time on emails. But if it’s followed with a typical ‘…because it’s going to make your life awesome’, I’m never reading anything that person will send me, ever again.
Self-awareness is a great quality
Look, cold emails won’t save the world. At the end of the day, a cold email is just a cold email.
So why not have some fun doing it? A subject line like this…
…will make me laugh and catch my attention. We’ve all been there. I know that feeling.
It instantly tells me that the person on the other end of the line is a real human being and we can talk business from here on.
Don’t be afraid to sound informal
I often read Product Hunt’s daily newsletter. Their quick, funny and informal subject lines always make me want to open their emails:
(Source: Product Hunt)
A subject line like this sounds at once enthusiastic and fun, and we all want more positive emotions in our lives. Tapping into that feeling for your sales emails will surely win you some new customers.
Back to business
Some of the most successful subject lines I’ve written weren’t personalized or well-researched. They were simple. Primitive, even.
Like this one:
You can use a subject line like that if your business already has some traction behind it and you feel confident enough to ‘ignore’ your subject line.
Ask for a prospect’s opinion
We all want to feel special. You can utilize that for your cold emails by asking for a prospect’s ideas about your business niche, product, etc:
This way you can start the conversation by showing that you care about your users. That on its own is going to win you some points with your prospects.
As we’ve said, a cold email subject line is such a huge topic that we could easily write a book about it. You probably have a lot of tips and experiences of your own — make sure to leave them in the comments section below!