man looking happy at phoneWith email inboxes getting ever more crowded, you must snag the attention of your reader – and quickly. First, they look at who sent them the email, and then, they look at the email subject line.

Here are 5 attention-getting tactics for email subject lines.

1. The Numbered List

It’s no secret that people absolutely love lists. It’s why magazines and blogs constantly use headlines like “10 Ways To Organize your Inbox Fast.” (Don’t I wish?) We like it when things are quickly broken down for us to scan.

When you present content in a list format, your reader can easily scan the list and dig deeper into the points that interest him.  You can take advantage of this by using list format subject lines.

  • The 3 best email marketing tools
  • 7 ways to beat depression today
  • 10 ways to quickly build your subscriber list
  • 9 methods for saving money at the grocery store
  • 5 steps to overcoming negative thoughts

Note that we have a preference for odd numbered lists, until we get to 10 and 12. Put in too many tips, and the reader will move your email to the dreaded “read later” folder.

List subject lines also tap into our desire to gain information. We know that because things are presented in list format, we’ll be able to quickly get information.


2. The Curiosity Gap

Websites like Buzzfeed constantly create curiosity with their email subject lines. They’ll write something strange in their headline and then answer it in the body of the article.

For example, they might say something like “Eat a 5-course meal and I’ll reveal what kind of cat you are.” Of course, this makes you want to know about your cat type. You thought you were a person, right? You have to read the article to find the answer. (Tip – guaranteed to make you salivate.)

You can use this same tactic with the subject lines of your emails.

For example:

  • A little-known trick to improve your ability to remember names
  • She asked me a question that I couldn’t answer
  • Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting this knock on the door
  • Most people get this completely wrong
  • I don’t understand why this keeps happening

The subject line should create a question in the reader’s mind. What is the little-known trick to improve memory? What exactly weren’t you expecting? What do most people get wrong?

Then, in the email, you actually answer the question. It’s essential that you actually answer the question in the email. Otherwise, your readers could feel like they were duped by the subject line.

3. The How To

People love to learn new things that are especially relevant to their lives. This is why DIY videos are so popular on YouTube. People have questions and they want answers. Using a how to subject line piques people’s interest, especially if it’s relevant to them.

For example:

  • How to quickly get 1,000 email subscribers
  • How to get that annoying neighbor to leave you alone
  • How to make 10 sales every single day
  • How to lose weight fast without hurting your health

Again, these subject lines interrupt the reader as they peruse their inbox.

They cause the reader to think, “Is this something that I want or need to learn?”

If it is, they’ll click on the email.

It’s important to note that for the how to email to actually work, you must know your audience. In other words, you need to know what they want to know how to do. What are the problems they are trying to solve?

As noted earlier, you need to be able to get inside the minds of your readers. If you don’t, your emails won’t be relevant.

surprised man4. Scarcity

People are always afraid of missing out on something good. In fact, there’s even a term for this fear: FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). You can capitalize on this fear in your subject lines. If you can create a sense of scarcity with your subject line, there’s a greater chance that people will click on your email.

What does scarcity look like in a subject line?

  • Only 2 days left!
  • Going, going, gone!
  • Only three hours left to register
  • This will be gone very soon
  • You’re almost out of time!
  • Only 4 spots left for a consultation

Your goal is to make the reader feel like if they don’t take action, they’ll seriously miss out on something. The more you can make your reader feel like things are urgent, the more likely it is that they’ll open your email.

5.  Personalized

We all love to hear our own names. In fact, in his hugely popular book How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says that there is nothing sweeter to a person than hearing their own name. I’ve used this phrase in slides when I teach about the importance of spelling a name correctly.

You can use this to your advantage in your email subject lines. A recent study on subject lines found that including a person’s name increases the open rate by a whopping 14.68%!

Consider combining using a person’s name with other tactics on this list. For example:

  • Carla, Elvis Presley can teach you about email marketing (I thought he was dead)
  • Juan, most people get this question wrong
  • I don’t understand why this keeps happening, Marcella
  • Have you ever had this happen to you, Taylor?

It’s hard for a person to ignore something with their name on it. When you use a person’s name in the subject line (and the rest of the email), you compel them to open the email and read it. Inserting a firstname code will do the trick. It is best to add the name at the beginning of the subject line.

Pat IyerOrganize your material into a numbered list and use curiosity to get the reader to open your email. The how-to subject line can be very effective for people seeking the solutions you offer. Emphasize scarcity to encourage action, and add a personalized subject line to increase open rates.

And last tip – set up a folder in your email system and save the emails that capture your attention. Return to that folder for inspiration when you are writing email subject lines.

Pat Iyer started her email journey with, and has likely read hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of emails since.