The Real Secret to Email Subject Lines

Apple ComputerYou’ll hear lots of talk about subject lines when researching email marketing.

There are subject line best practices like:

  1. Keep subject lines short
  2. Use brand names in the subject line
  3. Use words like “New” and “Favorite” in your subject lines

These are all great tips, but there is really one simple rule to follow when it comes to creating subject lines. And you’re probably going to be disappointed when you read it because it’s something that’s not really a breakthrough idea at all.

Be interesting.

That’s it. That’s all there is to email subject lines. I think we tend to over think our email subject lines. We think about what will get people to open them, which is good, but we don’t give enough thought to what really makes people click. We ignore the psychology of email subject lines.

The Real Secret of Subject Lines

As mentioned above, the real secret to great email subject lines it to be interesting. It’s worth repeating even though it’s a very simple secret. Your customers and email readers want to know things that will make their lives better, more interesting, and more fulfilling. If you can fill those simple needs the subject lines will take care of themselves.

We ignore the psychology of email subject lines.

Now, the secret to creating great email subject lines may be as simple as being interesting, but creating products and emails that are interesting is not simple. If your company is positioned with a product or service that is truly interesting, your subject lines should be easy to create.

You just need to take a step back and think about what is really interesting to your customers. You have to think about the things that will change their lives for the better and really turn on their emotional triggers. By touching on emotions, you’ll be able to entice readers to open and click your emails.

Dr. Mercola

Mercola.comOne of the email lists I subscribe to is the newsletter of Dr. Mercola. He specializes in natural health information. His website is very informative and his email newsletter reflects the simple nature of his website.

Here are a few examples of recent email subject lines from Dr. Mercola’s Newsletter:

  • New Plan to Help You Take Back Your Health Freedoms
  • A Wholesale Treat So Delicious It Might Even Make You Euphoric
  • Stay Young And Sexy With This Ingredient that Reduces PMS
  • Eat This to Reduce Muscle Soreness after Exercise
  • Banned for Pets and Farm Animals, but Okay for You and Your Children?
  • The Dark Side of this Drug Taken by 1 in 4 Americans
  • This Popular Moisturizer Applied to Mice for 17 Weeks Got 69% More Tumors

How enticing are those email subject lines?

Each one of those made me open and click through to read the article. Each of the subject lines is different in a few ways. They are all about the same character length, but a few are longer than others. Some of the subject lines include numbers, but most do not. One of the subject lines includes the world “New” and none of the subject lines include a brand name of any kind.

Now, there are a few differences with Dr. Mercola’s emails compared to retail companies or business service companies. First, Dr. Mercola is a doctor so there is really no need to include brand names in his subject lines so it makes sense for him to leave those out of subject lines. He also doesn’t have a lot of new products to sell like an e-tailer.

There are some things to learn from Dr. Mercola’s emails, though. There is one basic principle you can use with your email program, no matter what industry you’re in, to help make your email subject lines incredibly enticing to readers.

Mercola EmailThe first thing to take away from the Mercola subject line strategy is to always leave your reader wanting more. It’s the first rule of being interesting. You have to leave your readers with no choice, but to click on the email subject line and open your email. Persuade readers to click through your email to visit your website and purchase your product or service.

Mercola focuses on the emotion of his readers. He does play a little to fear, which is an important emotion. People click on the subject line about mice and tumors because they’re afraid they might be taking the dangerous drug. It’s ok to focus on fear. It’s a strong emotion and as we’ve said before, buying is an emotional experience. Fear can move people to make a purchasing decision.

Mercola plays to emotions. He plays to fear. He plays to vanity. He plays to the emotions that are important to people. He focuses on the things that make people’s lives better. That’s the secret to Mercola and his email subject lines. He doesn’t tell the entire story in the subject line. He gives people just enough to garner their attention and then requires them to click through to his website where he can take them through the sales funnel to complete a purchase of his products.


There is one simple rule to creating the best subject lines in the world:

Apple ProductsBe interesting.

It’s that simple. There’s nothing secret about it. Be interesting and your subject lines will get people to open your emails and click through to your website.

Look at the Dr. Mercola example. There are a few basic things Mercola does with his emails that work extremely well:

  1. He solves people’s problems with his products. He doesn’t over think his email subject lines and simply uses his products and services to generate subject lines. He focuses on needs and the subject lines follow.
  2. He focuses on emotions. Buying is an emotional experience. Life is an emotional experience. People respond to emotion. If you focus on the emotions of people you’ll tap into their curiosity and force them to interact with your emails.
  3. He leaves people wanting more. None of the subject lines above tell the entire story. Think about the times you have watched commercials for your local news. Anchors will share just a bit of information with you about their upcoming newscast. They’ll give lead ins to their biggest stories. They’ll say things like, “Local girl falls from a bridge. Find out what happened tonight at 6…” You have to pay attention to find out what happens. It’s a great way to generate interest in your subject lines.

Subject lines are big in the email world. Everybody thinks about them. Some people over think the impact of subject lines. You really need to focus on the things that are the most interesting to your email readers and the subject lines should take care of themselves.

Focus on your readers’ needs. Focus on emotions. Leave people wanting more.

It’s really that simple.

Apple Computer image courtesy of Johan Larsson

Apple Products image courtesy of Johan Larsson

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