The Psychology of Email Subject Lines: 7 Strategies for Maximum Engagement

Creating compelling subject lines is essential for email delivery. Learn seven strategies to increase email engagement.

Manali Kulkarni

Published on November 17, 2023

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The importance of quality email subject lines can’t be overstated. Not convinced? Here are some statistics that prove why you need to craft compelling email subject lines:

So, it’s safe to say email subject lines are important. But writing the best subject lines isn’t a walk in the park. On top of that, you’re going to face competition in capturing your email recipients’ attention. After all, the average person gets hundreds of emails every day.

In this guide, we’ll cover multiple ways you can use psychology to improve your subject lines. 

What is a Subject Line?

A subject line simply tells the recipient what an email is about. You can think of it as a headline for the body of your email. 

It’s the first thing people see when checking their inbox for new mail.

Example of an email subject line

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Regardless of the email provider you choose for your business email, you’ll have the option to customize your subject lines before sending newsletters or drip campaigns. 

To spice it up, you can add characters to subject lines, such as symbols and emojis. The goal of a successful subject line is to communicate what your email is about in as few characters as possible. 

Why are Subject Lines Important?

To put it simply, subject lines quickly grab the recipient’s attention. Email marketers count on subject lines to help their email marketing campaigns stand out in a crowded inbox. 

Here are some of the most common reasons subject lines are essential for email marketing:

There are many reasons you should employ effective subject-line techniques in your campaign. Doing so can boost your email’s open rate and reduce unsubscribes. 

What Makes a Good Subject Line?

Not all subject lines are created equal. However, the most successful ones follow a similar format. Let’s break down the anatomy of a great subject line.


Creating a sense of urgency is often the best way to get your target audience’s attention. Why? The fear of missing out (FOMO) on an opportunity. Yes, it’s a real thing. 

If you want to convey a sense of urgency in your cold emails, you can use power words (and phrases), such as:

Now, keep in mind. You should avoid flooding your recipients’ inboxes with dozens of “urgent” emails. Instead, send a series of emails that count down a window of opportunity. 


Great subject lines can convey a sense of thrill and mystery. Still, there’s a fine line between sending an intriguing email and an obscure one. 

For example, if you’re a marketing influencer, you might use the subject line “Wondering how I made $200K with YouTube?”. 

This subject line is brief and opens the door to curiosity for your audience when sending SEO outreach emails. However, a subject line that says “I wonder what’s inside” is probably too enigmatic and off-putting. 


Everyone loves a reward. It’s the basis of human psychology. You can use a subject line to highlight a new deal, incentive, or promotional offer. 

For example, the subject line “Free Shipping on [product]” entices recipients to place their order to save on shipping costs. 

Ultimately, people love discounted and free items, especially if their inbox contains hundreds of other useless or junk messages. 


Personalization is an integral component of any email marketing campaign. When you refer to your recipients personably, it makes them much more inclined to open your emails. 

Examples of email personalization include “Tracy, we missed you.” Calling someone by their first name is an excellent way to break down the barriers of corporate communications and get their attention.

Here’s an example email from Hilton Grand Vacation in action. Notice how the personalized email made it directly to Kelly’s inbox. 

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Timeliness and Relevance

Email subject lines must also be relevant to the recipient’s daily life. Otherwise, you’ll send irrelevant email content and have them end up in the spam folder.

Here’s an example of a timely email subject, “Outdoor lighting solutions for summer.” Outdoor lighting is a popular home improvement product for summertime to enjoy the outdoors in the warm weather (even after the sun has gone down).

This also works well as an email warmup strategy, where you segment your email list and send a timely email promotion to improve your sender reputation. 


Length is one of the most important aspects of a great subject line. A popular misconception is that short subject lines always perform better than longer ones. 

However, a 2021 Gartner study found that longer subject lines (70 characters) performed competitively with shorter ones. 

So, to find the best length for your campaign, you should run an A/B test to make a data-driven decision. 

Email Subject Lines: Best Practices

Now that you know the basics, let’s go over some ways you can improve your subject lines with some subject line examples. 

1. Leverage Your CRM Software

When analyzing the psychology of email subject lines, it’s essential to consider the unique needs of different industries. 

For example, agents and brokers often rely on sophisticated CRM software for real estate to manage their contacts and leads.

Integrating your existing CRM in your tech stack with your email marketing platform can provide a wealth of data insights. 

By tapping into this valuable resource, you can create subject lines that resonate with your audience on a personal level. Imagine sending an email with a subject line like, “Your Dream Home Awaits in [the_exact_location_they_expressed_interest_in], [Recipient’s Name]!”

Or this example from Redfin’s newsletter: “How much home can you afford?” You can use data from your CRM to offer personalized properties for each client, extracting their price range from your dataset.

Image of Redfin email newsletter

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This personalized approach can boost open rates and engagement, ultimately leading to more successful real estate transactions.

2. Add The Recipient’s Name

As we discussed earlier, adding the recipient’s name is a powerful psychological strategy for boosting engagement. 

Consider this subject line from Nlyte: “Ivana, ever thought about building your own DCIM tool?” Using the recipient’s name, ‘Ivana,’ instantly establishes a personal connection and captures attention. 

Example of a personalized email to Ivana.

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Beyond the personal touch, the subject line seamlessly weaves in the keyword “data center infrastructure management” (DCIM), a topic of significant interest to professionals in the tech and data center industry. 

It presents a thought-provoking question, sparking curiosity about the possibility of building a DCIM tool. 

However, Nlyte goes beyond mere curiosity and personalization. They address a common misconception in their email, emphasizing that building a DCIM tool isn’t as simple as it may seem and providing valuable insights into the challenges faced by tech-savvy companies. 

By combining personalization with a relevant keyword and addressing potential concerns head-on, this subject line exemplifies how psychology and strategic language choices can drive maximum engagement in email marketing campaigns.

3. Use Popular Cultural References

The psychology behind these subject lines revolves around enticing prospects to open the email and discover the valuable content within. 

One highly effective strategy is to tap into popular cultural references that people are excited about. Consider StudioSuits, a brand renowned for its custom suits and tweed jackets for men

In their email with the subject line, “Dress like a Peaky Blinder: Classic Style Awaits,” they brilliantly leverage the intrigue and fascination associated with the iconic Thomas Shelby from the hit series Peaky Blinders. 

By doing so, they instantly connect with fans of the show, evoking a sense of curiosity and a desire to explore what classic styles are on offer. 

The benefit is twofold: the email not only grabs the recipient’s attention but also effectively communicates the specific product. In this case, the Thomas Shelby Peaky Blinders Charcoal Tweed Suit awaits them inside, boosting open rates and overall engagement.

Studio Suits email example with pop culture reference

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4. Combine Elements to Work Together

A good subject line is concise, attention-grabbing, and relevant. It piques the recipient’s curiosity or offers a clear benefit, making them want to open the email. 

Effective subject lines often use action-oriented language, personalized elements, and a touch of creativity to stand out in a crowded inbox. 

This subject line by Tailor Brands: “Unlock your first sale: a beginner’s guide,” is a great example of one that’s concise but also eye-catching

Image of Tailor Brands’ email

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It starts with an engaging, action-oriented phrase, “unlock your first sale,” which immediately captures the reader’s attention and conveys a sense of accomplishment. 

By addressing the reader directly with “your,” it personalizes the message, making it more relatable. Adding “a beginner’s guide” clarifies the content’s target audience and sets clear expectations, ensuring that those new to the topic will find it valuable. 

Furthermore, it’s concise and to the point, avoiding unnecessary words or complexity, which is essential for an effective subject line. 

Overall, this subject line effectively communicates the content’s benefit, relevance, and appeal to beginners in a straightforward and engaging manner, making it likely to increase open rates and engagement.

5. Consider the Action You Want Them to Take

When crafting an email subject line, it’s essential to consider the desired action you want the recipient to take and how it’ll impact them. Illustrating this concept with an example can be pretty enlightening.

Take, for instance,, a community college. If prospective students haven’t completed their program applications, they’ll receive a follow-up email with a succinct yet impactful subject line: “Finishing Your Campus Application Made Simple.”

Snapshot of Campus’ email

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Since the reasons for incomplete applications vary, a clear and direct subject line followed by an email that provides actionable details can effectively motivate the recipient to complete their application.

6. Make It Mobile-Friendly

People receive hundreds of emails every day. That said, it’s understandable that many people are desensitized to email campaigns. Some emails are completely irrelevant and boring. 

Since 46% of emails are opened on mobile devices, email marketers need to create a subject line that recipients can read on their mobile phones. 

Simply put, communicate what you have to say in fewer than 50 characters. If you’re having trouble thinking of ways to shorten your email subject lines, then make sure to add words with the most meaning for your email. 

For example, “Order #548139385393 is being processed” takes up much more space than “Your order is being processed.” Then, you can add the order number in the body of the email.

Truncate useless words and characters from your subject lines to increase engagement and open rates. 

7. Stop Using No-Reply Emails

Traditionally, companies have used no-reply emails to avoid a massive influx in recipient replies. However, spam detectors can classify no-reply emails as junk. 


Anyone can create no-reply emails, and it doesn’t provide credibility in who sent the email in the first place. Also, people want to feel like they’re engaging with a real person. 

For this reason, avoid using no-reply emails and personalize the “From” field in each email you send. For example, “Ben Silas, Acme” is much more personable than “Acme Inc.”

Final Words

Crafting compelling email subject lines is a cornerstone of successful email marketing campaigns, as they serve as the gateway to capturing your audience’s attention. 

If your email subject line is too long and unspecific, you can alienate your target audience and reduce click-through rates (therefore, also hurt your conversion rates). 

So, when in doubt, run A/B tests to find the best combinations for your campaign. That way, you can find what works and deliver engaging email messages that resonate with your audience (every time). 

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