Subject Lines – The Gatekeeper Of Cold Email

Subject lines are the unspoken gatekeeper of an email marketing campaign. They are the first thing your reader sees in their inbox before they even decide to open your message. Choosing the wrong subject line can lead to disastrous open rates. Add in the fact that most cold emails are sent in mass and are rather impersonal, a poor subject line will compound your troubles.

Don’t get me wrong, cold email in mass yields short-term ROI. However, being more careful and personal in how we communicate is far better for our reputation. We should apply that to something as simple as a subject line. It is best to make our emails with a thoughtful personal approach if we want to see better results and build brands that we can be proud of.

3 Thoughtful Subject lines

With this frame in mind I am going to show you 3 subject line tips that have been tried and tested. I am proud of these tips. They may appear to be simple, but they are actually great examples of how a thoughtful, empathetic, data backed approach to cold emails can achieve great results.

Keep Your Subject Lines Short

So our research showed that open rates will drop by up to 50% if your subject line is greater than 5 words long. That’s crazy right? But come on, it actually makes total sense.

Try to put yourself in your prospects shoes, imagine getting an email from somebody you do not know – you wouldn’t reply or even look at it if the email had a long wordy subject line. Send that long weird email straight to the trash folder!

Always take into account your prospects perspective and put personal care into your subject lines. Make them concise, less than 5 words if possible and easy to understand.

Your Subject Lines Should Discuss Time

Make sure your subject lines mention time. The subject lines should include something in the present moment or in the near future. For example, “Today’s meeting, Yesterday’s announcement, Next Week’s Lunch, Referencing today’s meeting.”

This can lead to a 35% higher open rate or greater. Life is grand!

Keep this in mind when making your subject lines to give your prospect an impression that you care about their time. Not only that, when you address time in your subject line in this way it appeals to a prospect’s sense of urgency. This really drives replies.

What’s Next? The Next Steps

For follow up emails use the subject line, “Next Steps.” It can boost your open rate in your email series significantly. It also has shown to lead to about a 50% higher reply rate. The phrase really resonates with people in business who are driven by a constant need to have “to-dos”.

What are your “Next Steps?” Give these a try in your next cold email series. By using these tips you’ll prove that a more thoughtful and personal approach to something as simple as cold email subject lines is healthier and more effective in the long run for your business. You’ll get better open rates and better reply rates too.

Action Steps

  1. Rewrite your long subject lines to have 5 or less words.
  2. Make sure your subject lines reference time, when appropriate.
  3. When done, send a follow up cold email using “Next Steps” as a subject line. You have a higher chance of getting a reply.


Your Result

Better subject lines with higher open rates and reply rates on your cold email series.

Mentor: Matthew Bellows

Matthew Bellows is Founder and CEO of Yesware. Yesware serves almost 1 million salespeople at companies like IBM, Groupon, Salesforce, Twilio and Yelp.

This article is based on an EHQ interview with the mentor.