You can have the best offer in the world and more information on the prospect’s pain points than their family, and yet - it’s all moot unless your cold email subject line makes them click.
Fortunately, I’ve been in the cold outreach game for a while now and went through hundreds of sources to find the best subject lines for cold emails. What I’m about to show you aren’t just tested examples - it’s also the psychology behind the best subject lines for cold emails.
The Psychology Behind the Best Subject Lines for Cold Emails
There’s always that one nudge, the point where the prospect decides to click through or disregard your email.
For some, that surface-level impulse is curiosity. For others, it’s the fear of missing out. All tried and true, but are they enough?
In my experience, also correlating to the research about inbox-level cues that make people open an email, you get the best results when you use curiosity factors along with personalization.
Consider the difference between:
- “Don’t miss out on this offer.”
- “Don’t miss out on this offer to achieve [goal personal to the lead].”
The first is vague. The second explains why they should care and shows that you’ve done your research.
The First Principle of Writing a Winning Cold Email Subject Line: Information Gaps
Your subject line needs to present an information gap to stimulate curiosity. Don’t give it all away in the subject line. Make it clear that you’re sharing something valuable, but don’t say what it is just yet.
Consider this example from a cold outreach tool’s founder:
The OP offers tips and personalizes by using the company name. This combination of information gaps and personalization make a prospect click through to see what the email is about.
(Of course, then you’ll need a good icebreaker - but that’s a story for another article.)
The Second Principle: Current Utility
Your target buyer, say, an exhausted sales manager, doesn’t have time to sift through emails that aren’t closely related to the tasks at hand or overarching strategies that will boost their company’s bottom line or make their work-life easier.
Sometimes, you’ll need to be more specific to invoke curiosity and help with the problem they’re currently dealing with.
As an example, I like referencing Mawla’s cold email subject line:
Two questions immediately arise for the prospect who sees this subject line:
- Have I met this person somewhere?
- How did they know about my very specific goal?
You can’t replace prospect research. Make sure your data enrichment tool adds enough information to your lead lists to understand what your prospects are dealing with. You could also keep track of company news through Sales Navigator to time your email ideally.
(The example above kept an eye on recent sales leadership hires in an industry, then sent them a cold email.)
The Third Principle: Get Creative with Personalization
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you should just add the first-name merge tag and call it a day.
Instead, get creative with your cold email subject line personalization:
- Goals, challenges, and seasonality.
- Example: “Are you ending the quarter strong with [goal] achieved?”
- Example: “Are you tired of [specific pain point] yet?”
- Keep an eye out for company news and projects so that you can reference them in your cold email subject line.
- Example: “Update on [project name]?”
- Get data on all the stakeholders. Who else is typically on your ICP’s buying committee?
- Example: “I bet [another stakeholder on the committee] will love [the type of solution].”
- Reference their team members and their bosses.
- Example: “Help [team member 1] and [team member 2] achieve [goal] in half the time!”
- Example: “Is [boss’s name] worried about [challenges] this quarter?”
- Stay updated on industry trends and challenges.
- Example: “A plan for how [company] can adapt to [industry trend].”
- Example: “Afraid of what [industry change] will bring to [company]’s results?”
- Reference their tasks and activities.
- Example: “Get [activity] done in half the time!”
- Example: “Stuck with [activity]?”
Use every bit of data you have on your ideal customer profiles. The more you understand them, the easier it will be to write the best subject line for cold emails - the one that speaks to them so much it feels like you were just in their head.
The Fourth Principle: Urgency and FOMO Work, but Avoid Clickbait
The good old “Are we still on for a meeting at [imaginary time]?” subject line could sometimes work. Heck, it might even grant you an open.
But if it’s followed by a sub-par offer and makes the prospect feel manipulated, your chances of landing in the spam folder increase. You’ll see reduced click-through and response rates.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use urgency…
- “Increase your revenue [Let’s talk Tue @ 12 pm]”
… or play into the fear of missing out…
- “[Competitor1] and [Competitor2] use [specific tactics or tools], but you don’t.”
… but don’t resort to clickbait.
The Ultimate List: 67+ Best Subject Lines for Cold Emails
Now that we’ve covered the principles, it’s time to look at some of the best subject lines for cold emails! Keep your ICP glasses on; not all of these will work for you and your specific targets, but you can customize them to become exactly what your leads will want to hear.
A) Simple Subject Lines
If you don’t have a lot of data on your prospects, you may have to resort to more information gap tricks to make them open your email.
Fortunately, the following subject lines usually get 20%+ open rates.
- Quick request
- Can I help?
- It’s so simple
- I’ll keep this brief.
- You’ll want to check this out
- Thanks for your time, [name]!
- X tips for [company name]
- Idea for [company name]
- X minutes for a call?
- Question about [company name/goal]
- The most important thing you’ll read about [industry] this month!
- Get ahead of [industry change or challenge].
- A proposal for [industry] services.
- A solution for your little [problem] problem.
- A personalized [product] offer for [company name].
- Can we schedule a call to discuss [challenge]?
- [Their company name] x [your company name] = [Benefit]
B) Subject Lines that Resolve Challenges and Help Achieve Goals
There’s nothing like finding a pesky pain point that your prospect is struggling with and then “sliding into their DMs” to help them solve it. Remember, you’ll need to focus on the more specific nuances of those pain points, not just generic ones.
For example, instead of “Can we help you increase sales?” focus on a specific pain point instead: “Let’s increase your MQLs this quarter!”
Similarly, show customers that you can help them achieve specific goals. Bonus points if you can reference a big customer you’ve worked with that they’re familiar with (as social proof).
You can also reference their competitors for an added dose of FOMO.
- Struggling with [challenge or goal]?
- [Challenge] sucks. Let's solve it!
- The way out of [challenge] that you've been looking for.
- Feeling [emotion related to their challenges]? This will help.
- Get rid of guesswork in [topic] quickly!
- Tired of [specific pain point]?
- Save time. Take [pain point] off your plate.
- [Big customer] also struggled with [challenge].
- [Referral or brand you work with] got [improvement thanks to your product]. Can I help you too?
- [Their goal].
- How to achieve [goal] faster.
- A smarter way to achieve [goal].
- 10x [company's key metric] quickly!
- Is [goal, challenge, or industry change] still top of mind?
- [Existing customer in their industry] struggled with [challenge], too.
- Tips to increase your [metric].
- Increase your [business-critical metric] with [solution].
- Get [avg ROI] for every [avg amount your customers spend] you spend.
- How [existing customer/big logo using your product] grew their [metric] by [amount] with [solution].
- [One-liner testimonial] - [Well-known brand that's your customer]
- Don't let [specific competitor] steal your market share.
- Don't let your competitors get ahead: I can help you [desired outcome].
- Before you [perform an activity], read this.
- How [competitor] [achieved a goal].
- Wondering how [competitor] does it?
C) Referral Subject Lines for Cold Emails
Congrats, you won the sales referral! But just because you have an in doesn’t mean you can get sloppy with your subject line.
P.S. Feel free to modify these when you’ve found common ground with the prospect, such as being an alumnus of the same college.
- [Referral name] recommended getting in touch with you.
- Fellow [college] alumnus here to help with [challenge]!
- Connecting on behalf of [referrer's name].
- Next steps, as suggested by [referrer's name].
- [Referrer] mentioned you might be struggling with [problem].
D) Showing Personal Interest in the Lead
Leads often feel like they don’t matter because it’s ultimately their company you’re reaching for. If you have the time - or if you have a big kahuna account that you’re targeting with ABM or smarketing, it’s worth taking the time to truly personalize your emails.
- Loved your [the post, comment, speech, etc. that you found on social media]!
- Excellent work with [project/award/recognition]!
- Congratulations on [achievement]!
- Hello, fellow [hobby] lover.
- Let me help you [achieve a personal outcome or get more time]!
- What do [hobby] and [industry] have in common?
- The best place to grab a bite in [prospect’s city]?
- Can we discuss [challenge] over coffee in [prospect’s city]?
- Better teamwork than [prospect’s favorite sports team].
- Grab a cup of coffee before you open this email!
- Re: [Event] follow-up.
+ Bonus: Resources, Funny Cold Email Subject Lines, and More!
Funny cold email subject lines are worth testing if your audience can take a joke.
From memes about their industry to laughing at your own expense, there’s plenty you can work with!
5 Funny Cold Email Subject Line Templates
- WTF is [your product name]?
- X weird ways to [achieve a specific outcome]
- Not today, [challenge]!
- [Challenge] is a weird flex, but okay.
- I see you’re not [using a product like yours]. I, too, like to live dangerously.
Send the Lead a Useful Resource
This is great for cold email follow-ups, as you’ll add something new and valuable to the conversation without parroting your initial pitch.
- Helpful resources on [topic or challenge].
- I personally picked out this case study for you, [name] - [case study].
- Learn how [competitor] does it in a simple [format; e.g., article, whitepaper].
- How [existing customer] improved [shared objective]: a case study.
- How [company] succeeds at [challenge] - get their playbook!
Best Practices for Writing Cold Email Subject Lines
- Use numbers and try emojis. With most of the subject lines in your prospects’ inboxes containing only words, using numbers or emojis could make you stand out.
- Use FOMO and urgency but be careful with spam-trigger words. Some words are universally used in spam emails, including the ones you may be using, including “amazing” and “free preview.”
- Keep it simple. If you have 5+ words in your subject line, ensure the most enticing parts are at the front before they get cut off.
- Remove friction. If you ask questions, make them simple. If the leads feel they need to set time aside to read your email judging from the subject line alone, they won’t do it.
- Practice cold outreach hygiene: pre-verify email addresses, use email warmup for new inboxes and vary your email content with spintax.
- Remember to follow up! Especially if the lead has opened your email or clicked on the link.
Is There Such a Thing as the Best Cold Email Subject Line?
What works for my customers may not work for yours. However, the basic principles I shared in this article will guide you in the right direction:
- Get your lead gen research right
- Personalize the subject line
- Experiment with humor
- Send resources and reference social proof
And remember to have some fun with it. Your leads will feel it! 😉