100 top performing email subject lines to inspire yours

Love a higher open rate for your emails? Here are the 100 top performing email subject lines to inspire you.

Want better results from your email marketing? If so, your subject line is the place to start. Because if you can’t get your email opened, nothing else you do matters, does it?

Below is a list of my 100 best-performing subject lines by open rate, out of thousands sent to my own opt-in email list over a five year period.

Trethowans
Trethowans

A few important points before we dive in.

1) This is based on REAL data

The ‘top 100’ claim is based on actual empirical data, from permission-based email sends.

For cold email to businesses, you will likely get best results with a slightly different approach, though some of the same lessons apply.

2) You don’t have to like them

It doesn’t matter whether you ‘like’ these subject lines, or not. I shared a bunch of these once and got a snide comment from someone who said he’d never use these because he didn’t ‘like’ them. 

Unfortunately this kind of wrong-headedness is all too common. 

People confuse what they like with what works.

You don’t have to like them. You just have to use them… or better still, understand what makes them tick… so you can use those insights to create your own.

3) You can and should adapt them

Naturally, the subject matter in these reflect the particular interests and concerns of our subscribers, and often the topical interests of the time (hint, hint). 

But the point is you can ADAPT these proven formulas…

For instance, ‘The Secret of Effective Marketing?’ could just as easily be ‘The Secret of Effective Rose Pruning?’ or ‘The Secret of Effective Time Management?’ The possibilities are endless.

The top nine best performing email subject lines

I’m going to begin by focusing in on the mechanics of the top nine subject lines, and then give you a list of the rest.

1) SUBJECT: You’re scaring me [First name]

This one knocked it out of the park.

Using personalisation in the subject line will usually give you a bump in opens – indeed I see some senders do it every single email. 

We use it sparingly, partly because we stopped collecting first names a while back which puts a limit on the number of ways you can insert personalisation and still have the email make sense for everyone who gets it. 

But also because I have a theory that over-use tends to remind us we’re getting commercial email. 

After all, would a good friend use our name in the subject line? Rarely in my experience.

Anyway, this is a pure curiosity subject and when using these you have to have a very strong tie-in with the content or people feel cheated. (This particular email was about the way in which prospects feel very scared about potential new suppliers, so the tie-in was absolute.) 

We email most days and I’d only drop a subject like this once or twice a month; otherwise it becomes a bit schlocky and loses the impact.

2) SUBJECT: 6 Heinous Email Marketing Crimes That Kill Response

List-type subjects like this will always tend to do well because they create almost irresistible curiosity. 

People wonder both ‘am I making mistakes?’ and ‘I wonder if the mistakes I have in mind are the same as the ones he’s thinking of?’.

So this general format is a bit of a staple, elevated here by word choice: ‘heinous’, ‘crimes’, ‘kill’. 

All very emotive, and tend to stick out in the inbox… especially an unusual word like  ‘heinous’.

3) SUBJECT: 8 Tragic Website Mistakes To Avoid (#1 Is An SEO No-No!) 

Another list-type subject. Note again ‘mistakes’ – sadly people are generally insecure and worry they’re making mistakes, no matter the aspect of their life.

The addendum of “(#1 Is An SEO No-No!)” is a hint to heighten curiosity, while bringing in promised insights into another area of great interest for our audience, SEO.

And ‘tragic’ is a good word that implies these are really bad – or maybe better, really bad and easily fixable– errors.

4) SUBJECT: The Jeremy Corbyn School of Marketing

As the late, great copywriter Clayton Makepeace said, ‘tying your major theme, headline and opening copy to an event that’s at the top of the news is one of the nuclear weapons of the marketing world.’

Back in 2015, this email went out the day before Jeremy Corbyn won the UK Labour Party leadership, when interest in him was arguably at it’s peak.

Plus – most of us (in the UK at least) have an idea what Jez stands for and it ain’t marketing… so there’s an interesting contradiction in this which generates curiosity.

Anyone can do this kind of ‘The X School of Y’ subject line. We’ve used it several times in the past (The Jeremy Clarkson School of Marketing, The Guns N Roses School of List Building).

Just pick a celebrity that’s somehow relevant or in the news, and ensure you’re able to link between what they’re up to and what you have to say. 

You’re pretty much guaranteed a good open rate.

5) SUBJECT: “Will a new website hurt my SEO?”

I know this to be a recurring question in our market. 

Plus – everyone in our market will want a new website at some point.

Picking these kinds of broad interest topics is a simple way to improve readership. 

Any time you hear a question repeatedly from your market, it’s a sign you should create a piece of content around it.

6) SUBJECT: Revealed: Charlie Sheen’s $100k Twitter strategy

The lifestyles of the rich and famous, huh?!

Charlie Sheen’s probably had his 15 minutes of fame now but it doesn’t matter. People love gawking at celebrities and admiring/ envying/loving/hating them for the money and fame they have.

This was inspired by a story I read about Sheen in a book… and he was certainly ‘box office’.

Opening with ‘Revealed’ is a well-established newspaper-style trick that never seems to grow old.

7) SUBJECT: My not-so-secret weapon

A surprise hit that relies mainly on curiosity.

But it also scores, I think, because a ‘not-so-secret’ weapon is one that suggests availability to everyone, and is maybe overlooked.

8) SUBJECT: THIS is why Mark Zuckerberg is worth $17.5bn

The twin attractions of celebrity, and cash, strike again.

This subject line talks big, specific numbers, and it had the added element of being topical, since I very deliberately created it around the time there was a ton of media coverage of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook floating on the stock market.

Finally, a definitive answer is implied by the capitalisation of ‘THIS’.

In effect this says, ‘I’m narrowing down his amazing success to just this one surprising thing, and I’ll tell you what it is if you open the email’.

9) SUBJECT: I’ve been testing you [First name]

Clearly, this gets opens because it’s uber-personal… but to pull that off, your actual message needs to maintain the thread of the subject line.

The context: I sent a split-test email to my list the day before, and this email was about split-testing and how to do it.

You could easily adapt this by split-testing two product offers, and then following up with an email along the lines of ‘I asked you, and my other readers, if you liked our GT100 or GT500 motor oil best. 75% of you said GT100, so here’s an offer for you…’

The full list of the top 100 performing email subject lines

Here’s the full list of the top 100 email subject lines by open rates.

  1. You’re scaring me [First name]
  2. 6 Heinous Email Marketing Crimes That Kill Response
  3. 8 Tragic Website Mistakes To Avoid (#1 Is An SEO No-No!) 
  4. The Jeremy Corbyn School of Marketing
  5. “Will a new website hurt my SEO?”
  6. Revealed: Charlie Sheen’s $100k Twitter strategy
  7. My not-so-secret weapon
  8. THIS is why Mark Zuckerberg is worth $17.5bn
  9. I’ve been testing you [First name]
  10. The Secret of Effective Marketing?
  11. The Ugly Rugby Website Rule
  12. Could I have your opinion on something?
  13. [First name] – help!
  14. I’ve made you a short video [First name]
  15. 3 Quick Tips to Improve Your Homepage
  16. Social media’s inconvenient truth
  17. This is Pure Gold {First Name}
  18. My Favourite Word Press Theme
  19. This Line’s On Lord Coke
  20. The Secret of Amazon’s Marketing Success
  21. Are You a 20 or 80 Percenter?
  22. Oops!
  23. The Traffic Myth – Busted
  24. My Top Tool for More Website Conversions
  25. The Psychopath Will See You Now
  26. The Overstuffed Carry-On Website
  27. There’s a Hole in Your Bucket {First Name}
  28. Definitely Maybe Marketing
  29. Why I Went Psycho – And You Should Too {First Name}
  30. The First 6 Steps to Marketing Any Website
  31. How to “Trick” Google
  32. Pass the Sick Bag
  33. Kylie’s Fat Baldie Website
  34. How to Stop AdWords Draining Your Marketing Budget
  35. Social Marketing with a Fine Titcomb
  36. Just Balls?
  37. Ed or Dave? Who Will Really Help Your Business?
  38. What The Best Websites Do…And The Poor Performers Don’t
  39. Final Call…
  40. The Next Big Trend?
  41. Done For You: The 24/7 ‘Marketing Machine’
  42. The Reason Most People Fail with Google AdWords
  43. The Top 5 Copywriting Mistakes
  44. Why Your Homepage Stinks
  45. Mobilegeddon – Is Your Website At Risk?
  46. Steve Jobs on Copy
  47. Adios
  48. Thank you {First Name}
  49. Ever Think of This?
  50. WTF Is TMI?
  51. The “Killer App” No One Is Talking About
  52. The World’s Second Largest Search Engine?
  53. The Great Website Switch Off
  54. The Jeremy Clarkson School of Email Marketing
  55. Why I Don’t Bother With SEO
  56. The Top Marketing Trend for 2015?
  57. Too Many Tweets Make a T**t?
  58. FOMO Fightback
  59. Your Final Warning
  60. No, I Am NOT Going to Apologize
  61. Well… 
  62. Your Facebook Photo Shocker
  63. A Wunch of Bankers
  64. Ronaldo’s Revenge
  65. The “F**k Off” Marketing Strategy
  66. Simply Bananas
  67. Ugly as Hell? It’ll Probably Sell
  68. Where Most Websites Go Wrong
  69. Copywriting Catastrophe #4
  70. Hate This…
  71. This Scares Prospects Off Double-Quick
  72. Do You Make These Copywriting Mistakes
  73. By popular demand…
  74. Death by HiPPO
  75. This Surprised Me (In A Good Way)
  76. SEO is Dead…Or Long Live SEO?
  77. Just want the fish?
  78. The Next Big Trend?
  79. 3rdDead Duck I’m Ditching in 2015
  80. You can do better {First Name}
  81. Open an Italian with Me?
  82. You Need Help {First Name}
  83. The Axe Falls
  84. Aaarrrggghhh!!!
  85. Embarrassed? You Should Be
  86. Business Model Secrets of the Super Rich
  87. Facebook Ads: An Introduction
  88. Bernard Matthews Turkey App-ocalypse
  89. Humming? Hawing?
  90. Google v Granny
  91. #1 SEO Myth Busted 
  92. Facebook IS A Goldmine – But Not How You Think
  93. Apprentice Idiots’ Big Sales Lies
  94. 6 Heinous Email Marketing Crimes That Kill Response
  95. Your Homepage Horrorshow
  96. This is not A Strategy – It’s THE Strategy
  97. RE: Pinterest
  98. How I Grew My Network By 3,413,356 Since Friday – And You Can Do The Same {!Firstname_fix}
  99. Favour
  100. Goodbye Facebook?

Rob Tyson helps business growth authorities create successful online training businesses with his Revenue Logic™ Process. Get his free sales copy ‘acid test’ here to start improving your sales copy in minutes.

Photo by Chad Madden