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Category: Digital · 4 min read

What Makes a Good Subject Line?

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on March 12, 2020

author profile photo

on March 12, 2020

Professional man on his laptop, thinking

“Open this for a surprise!”  

“Don’t Open This Email” 

“3 Things You Need to Know About Annuities” 

Which one of these email subject lines would get you to open the email and read the rest? Would any of them?  

Creating subject lines is no easy task. In fact, a lot of the time, the subject line can be the hardest part of an email to write. And for good reason: the subject line of your email can make it or break it. People open or don’t open emails based on the subject line. If it doesn’t interest them or catch their attention, they’ll move on to their 30 other unread emails. It’s worth it to spend a good chunk of time to get your subject line right.

There are a lot of different techniques to crafting a good subject line. Let’s talk through five of the most common.  


Keep It Short 

This needs to be said again and again: the subject line doesn’t have to tell the reader everything they need to know, it just needs to get them to open the email. It can be really easy to write a long subject line, or not even think about subject line length at all. But here’s the deal: 82% of email experts use subject lines that are 60 characters or less.1 Why? Because most email platforms, like Gmail, cut the subject line off after 60 characters on desktop.

Let’s dive even deeper. More and more, people are opening emails on their phones. That means your subject lines may need to be even shorter. Most subject lines stop displaying on mobile anywhere after 33 to 43 characters. So, shorter can be better.

Writing short subject lines is not as simple as it sounds. It can take a lot of thought and effort to craft a subject line that is clever and engaging, and also is within the character limits. Challenging yourself to create a short subject line can be worth it, and even lead to more people opening your email. 

The subject line doesn’t have to tell the reader everything they need to know, it just needs to get them to open the email.

Add Emojis 

Emojis have been around for a while, but they’re fairly new to the email subject line world. They aren’t used very frequently, which means there’s an opportunity to stand out. Obviously, you shouldn’t use an emoji every time, but look for ways to include a smiley face or a heart emoji. Test it out, and see how it does.  


Make Them Click-Worthy 

The best subject lines make you click on them. They spark your curiosity. They create intrigue.  

Think along the lines of these subject lines: “The Solution to Bad Leads,” “The #1 Efficiency Booster,” “It’s Time for a Change.” Say something that will catch the reader’s attention and make them curious about what’s inside. Make them want to click on your email.

Here are some other things to keep in mind: 

  1. Try capitalizing an important word or phrase 
  2. Use action words, like REQUIRED, REGISTER, SIGN UP, JOIN US 
  3. Remember, a good subject line that doesn’t relate to the content inside the email will get you nowhere, and will just confuse your audience 
  4. Subject lines that are misleading can be considered misleading advertising, so make sure your subject line reflects the rest of the email.

There are also words you should avoid in your subject line. Certain words or phrases can trigger a spam filter, and get your email sent right to the junk folder. The most offensive words are congratulations, free, guarantee, click here, and anything that has to do with money. Stay away from those, and you’ll be better off.

Think of it this way: you likely know your target audience pretty well. What do you think would make them open your email? What would intrigue them? Start there.  


Ask a Question 

Another solid approach to effective subject lines is to ask a question. This plants that intrigue and curiosity, and leaves it to the rest of your email to answer it.

“What’s Holding You Back?” 

“Are You Doing This Business Growth Method?” 

“How Does This Sound?” 

If you go this route, the only requirement is that you close the loop. Make sure whatever question you ask is actually answered in your email. Don’t leave it unresolved. This is one type of subject line that’s easier to write after you’ve written the rest of the email. Write the email first and the subject line last.  


Solve a Problem 

Whether we realize it or not, we all have some type of problem. And that includes your prospects and clients. An effective way to get email responses and replies is to set up a problem and solution. Think about what problems your target audience deals with on a daily basis. How do you solve that problem? What can you offer them?

Your subject line can start to do some of that problem-solving. Try introducing the problem and the solution in it. “Bad Leads are Now a Thing of the Past,” “Ever Feel Like You Should be Doing More?,” “You Don’t Have to Work Extra Hours Anymore.” This not only creates intrigue, but it cuts right to the problem and offers an antidote.

Subject lines can be difficult to get right. The only way to get better at them is to keep trying. One way to try out different subject lines is to run A/B testing, if your email platform has that functionality. This allows you to send multiple subject lines of the same email to a small section of your email list. The better performing subject line from the small section of your list gets automatically send to the rest of the list. Consider it a subject line test!

Which subject line type are you going to try first?  



1. Willits, Liz. "2019 Email Marketing Statistics: We Analyzed 1,000 Emails from Today’s Top Experts." AWeber. Jan. 9, 2019.


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Written By

Mark Williams

President and CEO

Mark Williams is the President/CEO of Brokers International. Over his more than 25 years of financial services experience, Mark has been both a producing independent agent in the field and a home office leader consulting to agencies and field marketing organizations. Currently, Mark is focused on the future of the insurance industry, from the disruptions of InsurTech and robo-advisors to the changing demographics and needs of customers. He also is an avid mentor, helping financial professionals navigate the industry.

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