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Solopreneurs Use These 10+ Types of Tested Email Subject Lines to Get More Attention and Higher Open Rates

Screenshot OptinMonster article 150 tested email subject lines for more opens

You've heard and seen me teach and preach on the power of email marketing to drive business success for budget-minded small businesses and solopreneurs. Email marketing is far, far from dead!

But sometimes our stats look sad and we worry we aren't reaching our mighty peeps on our carefully crafted lists. Look, there are a lot of reasons open rates may be down/off (and are a poor measure of overall success), but there ARE also ways we can work on getting more attention in crowded inboxes. I'm not talking about anything spammy! More like using some consumer psychology and knowledge of how human brains work – regardless of niche or industry or business size.

Now, I don't have hundreds of thousands of emails I can use as data to test everything about email writing or email subjects. At least not YET I don’t! But as I keep building my business through email marketing, I’ll keep sharing what I've learned on email writing.  But in the meantime, you need to dive in and get writing! 😁

What Makes a Good Email Subject

Good email subjects are like good blog post headlines, attention-getting social media posts, headlines on sales pages – something that grabs your reader and makes them keep going. If a subject isn’t interesting, relevant and on-topic – it gets skipped or deleted right out of the inbox. We HAVE to get that first open so we can have a relationship with our email community.

How do we do that without acting spammy or feeling icky?

That’s where that consumer psychology research and years of copy-writing ‘hacks’ come in – that we can learn and borrow from. Using data says is proven to work isn't icky – it's actually pretty smart and saves you tons of time!

There are lots of places that talk about email marketing tips and in particular, how to write attention-getting, open-and-read email subjects.

There are some common points across the various sources, pointing to tried-n-true copywriting techniques on what gets people to open and read your marketing emails. Use these core types of email subjects to your advantage!

I'm a researcher and a teacher, so I'm trained to the core to share resources I've used.  It's about time I shared some of my ‘secret' tools with you too!

Email Subjects Derived from Consumer Psychology – aka Why Our Brains Say CLICK

One well-researched, well-crafted, and frequently updated post with more than 150 tested email subject lines from OptinMonster. [It’s been updated AGAIN – now 164 subjects!]

This mega guide to email subjects that get attention is broken down by type or category of subject line – you should be aware of all 10 human-behavior types of emails.

They read like a primer on the human psyche or even the 7 deadly sins!  Check out a few, see what might work in your industry or niche – not all will be a clear fit for every type pf business, but don't write them off! Then mix, match, and test variations out for yourself!

The Core 10 Types of Human-Behavior-Driven Email Subjects

1) FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – also known as ‘scarcity' or ‘urgency'
e.g. ” your 6-figure content plan goes bye-bye at midnight”

2) Curiosity – humans don't like gaps or open loops in their brains
e.g. “9 disgusting facts about Thanksgiving”

3) Funny/Humor– a fine line and requires creativity but can pay off (could also be a spot where you use pop culture references
e.g. ” As You Wish” (a reference to the Princess Bride)

4) Vanity/Ego – we all want to be liked and accepted
e.g. “Your butt will look great in these workout pants”

5) Greed – it's tough to pass up a really good deal
e.g. “Flash. Sale. Alert”

6) Sloth – we humans are a lazy lot! talk shortcuts or time-savers
e.g. “steal these email templates”

7) Pain Points – where are your customers on their customer journey? note the problems you solve
e.g. “stop wasting money on ink”

8) Retargeting subject lines (works if you have data about a subscriber – such as they failed to finish a purchase online, clicked your FB ad, didn't purchase after a trial, etc)
e.g. “hey, forget something? Here's 20% off”

9) Personal – personalization in subject lines (using a contact's name)
e.g. “happy birthday Mary – surprise inside!”

10) Straightforward – when in doubt, keep it simple and clear
e.g.” Happy Holidays from [Company Name]”
e.g. “The 2021 state of social media report”


10 types of email subjects baed on human behavior psychology

Other Smart Sources Agree on Key Email Subjects That Can Work for Many Businesses

Neil Patel agrees on many of these core, psychology-drive email subject types in his mega round-up of clickable email subjects.

He mentions:

  • Curiosity
  • Scarcity – aka urgency, FOMO; he suggests using deadlines for your CTA as well as the word “tomorrow” in your subject (boosted open rates by 10%).
  • Free – we all love free things. Send your subscribers little extra bonuses from time to time – no extra steps required (I teach this in both my welcome series coaching program and my Write Your Damn Emails Challenge).

NOTE: Neil shares research here that says we should NOT fear using the word “free” in our email subjects – data that says you won’t immediately end up in spam. So test it out!

  • Personalization – data shows it improves clicks and conversions. So go use your subscribers’ names! (and we better hope they gave us REAL names!)
  • News – give your people the breaking news they want – just stay relevant to your business and niche.
  • Social proof – we like knowing that something is popular, that others like us, like that thing too. “Join our 3000 active subscribers” or using a testimonial, a quote, a link to an ‘influencer’ in your niche.
  • Announcements, events – if you are speaking somewhere, have a masterclass, are attending an event – let people know. And invite your readers to join you when possible.


More common types of emails – and subjects – mix in with the psychology-driven tips

Other types of emails, that you can mix in or use with the psych and copy-writing tips are those shown to be effective in research on subject lines from Instapage:

  • How-To – classics can work! You’re telling your reader you’re about to help them. It can also have aspects of curiosity at work – people want to know HOW you’re going to deliver on what you’re teaching
    g.  “how to grow your business in 15 minutes”
  • Self-interest – we all want to improve something about ourselves, so tap into that.
    g. Mint’s “Can you guess your top spending categories last week?”
    E.g. CoSchedule’s “21 social media templates to help you execute a strategy for 10x growth”
  • Quick Fixes – tap into human behavior #6 from above, “Sloth.” Humans are lazy. We are wired to look for quick fixes. Why things like “secrets”, “insider’s tips” or “just 15 minutes” can work so well.
    g. Salesforce “36 enterprise apps you could build and deploy today”
    e.g. IMPACT blog “ 4 simple tweaks to convert more subscribers on your blog”
  • Comparisons –  we’re constantly comparing ourselves (and our businesses) to others to see how we stack up. Play in to your reader’s inner competitiveness.
    g.  Experian “see how you measure up”
    e.g. Formstack “12 problems all digital marketers understand – do you relate?”
  • Ask Questions – I’ve personally tested this one multiple times through A/b or split testing and question versions of subjects usually win. Easy to pair with the other suggestions.
    g. “Will this be your defining moment?”
    e.g. “Sally, want to quit your job and get paid to write?”

List of more key email subject types for business

Still want to see even MORE examples of email subjects that have worked for businesses across industries and niches? Ok!

Check out this roundup of 180+ proven email subjects – sortable by category!- from Sleeknote.

The categories Sleeknote has are echoed by the earlier lists -using a mix of consumer psychology and copy-writing 101.

E.g. Funny, Curiosity, Social Proof, Last Chance (aka scarcity)

Plus use-case or event types of emails like: cart abandonment, follow-ups, promotions.


Some of the examples I liked include:

  • Personalized: “We’d love your feedback, Seray!” from Joybird
  • Funny: “Great, another email” from Studio Neat
  • Scarcity/Last Chance: “bye bye bye” from Proven


Of course the content marketing experts at HubSpot have their own round-up of email subjects. See their 150+ best email subjects.  How many follow the Psych 101 tips or categories mentioned above? 😉

Note: You have to scroll a bit to find out the brand, product, or industry of some of the emails. But many of the subjects are general enough to tweak and use in any business I suspect.

Some of my favorites from the HubSpot list:

  • “*Don’t open this email*” – ohhh some reverse psychology!
  • “As you wish” – ahh a pop culture reference – and one of my favorite
  • “Do not commit these Instagram atrocities”


I’ve talked about these email writing tips in several of my live video chats – so if you don’t want to keep clicking and reading – you can watch the videos below. Then go write some mighty email subjects to test.

Email Marketing – Improving Your Subjects – Better Subjects for More Opens

Is anyone listening?  How to make an impact with the ONE thing you truly control in open rates – your email subject. I share some of my split test results on email subjects plus a favorite tool for writing better headlines (and email subjects).



Don't over think things, don't try to use ALL of these all of the time, do pick 2 or 3 types of subject to try out with your list and see what the data shows is working. Keep testing and learning. When in doubt, always be clear and give value to your people – align the subject with what's inside your email – no ‘bait-n-switch'!

To avoid landing in the spam folder, the dreaded ‘promotions' tab, or just being deleted  – take a little time to use natural human tendencies to craft a subject line that gets attention, gets opened, and gets read.

About the author 

Jennifer Burke

I want all of my solopreneur pals to feel confident and mighty in their marketing - sharing what makes their work special and so vital to their clients. No B.S. or fluff here. I do the digging and research for you, translate "marketing-ese" into simpler terms, and help you avoid marketing headaches.

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