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Cold Email Keywords for Higher Open Rates: Best Attention-Grabbing Phrases

March 12, 2024 | by Jim Couzens

  • Crafting an irresistible subject line is critical for high open rates.
  • Personalization in subject lines can lead to a significant increase in engagement.
  • Using questions, numbers, and curiosity-inducing phrases can grab attention.
  • Subject lines that create a sense of urgency or offer value tend to perform well.
  • Testing different subject lines is essential to find out what resonates with your audience.

Unlock the Power of Cold Email Subject Lines

Let’s face it, the inbox is a battlefield, and your email is the infantry trying to capture the attention of a busy commander. The subject line is your first line of defense, and it needs to be strong enough to get noticed. But how do you craft a subject line that doesn’t just tap on the shoulder but practically demands to be read?

Why Your Subject Line Makes or Breaks Your Email

Think of your subject line as the headline of a news article. If it doesn’t immediately catch interest, the rest of the content might as well not exist. The subject line decides whether your email is opened or sent straight to the digital bin. It’s that simple.

Most importantly, the subject line is your first (and sometimes only) chance to make a good impression. If you miss the mark, you’ve lost a potential connection. That’s why nailing it is crucial for any successful cold email campaign.

The Psychology Behind a Click-Worthy Phrase

Curiosity is a powerful motivator. When you spark someone’s interest, they feel compelled to find out more. It’s like when you hear the first few notes of a catchy song – you just have to listen to the rest. That’s the kind of reaction you want from your subject line.

Mastering the Art of the First Impression

First impressions are everything. Within a few seconds, the recipient has judged your email based on the subject line alone. It’s your handshake, smile, and pitch all rolled into one.

Questions that Spark Intrigue

Questions are a smart way to pique interest. They naturally prompt a mental response. For instance, “Are you making these SEO mistakes?” directly addresses the reader and suggests immediate value inside. It’s like someone whispering a secret – you lean in to listen.

But the question must be relevant. It should touch on a common concern or curiosity that your reader has. Otherwise, it’s just noise.

Personalization: Your Secret Weapon

Now, let’s talk personalization. We all like to feel special, right? Using the recipient’s name or referencing something specific to them can make all the difference. “John, your personalized marketing report is inside” is far more engaging than a generic greeting. It shows you’ve done your homework.

Personalization is not just about flattery; it’s about relevance. When someone feels an email was crafted just for them, they’re much more likely to engage.

The Top Performers: Keywords that Win Opens

Some words have the magic touch. They’ve been tested and proven to boost open rates. Words like “exclusive,” “limited,” “new,” or “alert” can work wonders. But there’s a catch – they must align with the content of your email. Misleading subject lines might get opens, but they won’t win you any fans. For more insights, check out these techniques and examples for effective email hooks that can help you craft winning emails.

Here are a few examples:

Exclusive invitation: Unlock premium features today!
Limited offer: Get 50% off your first purchase!
Alert: Your subscription is about to expire!

The Role of Urgency and Scarcity

Creating a sense of urgency or scarcity can compel action. If people think they might miss out, they’re more likely to open the email to see what the fuss is about. Phrases like “Last chance” or “While supplies last” can create a sense of urgency that’s hard to ignore.

But remember, the urgency must be genuine. If every email you send is an “urgent” message, you’ll lose trust and credibility.

Numbers and Lists: The Attention Grabbers

Numbers and lists in subject lines are like visual candy. They stand out in a sea of text and promise quick, digestible information. “7 Proven Strategies to Increase Sales” suggests that the reader will gain multiple insights in an organized manner. Plus, it’s easy on the eyes, and who doesn’t love a good list?

Using numbers also sets clear expectations. It tells the reader exactly what they’re getting into – no more, no less. It’s straightforward, and in today’s fast-paced world, that’s gold.

Emotional Triggers that Drive Action

Emotions are powerful motivators. Whether it’s excitement, fear, or curiosity, if you can tap into what your reader feels, you’ve got a winning subject line. Words like “Discover,” “Triumph,” and “Conquer” can evoke strong emotional responses.

Here’s the thing: people make decisions based on emotions. So, if your subject line can stir up feelings, you’re more likely to see those open rates climb.

Practical Tips for Crafting Compelling Subjects

Now that we’ve explored the psychology and the winning words, let’s get down to brass tacks. How do you actually write these subject lines? It’s a mix of art and science, and I’m here to give you a practical toolkit to get started.

First up, know your audience. This can’t be overstated. Understand their needs, their pain points, and what makes them tick. Your subject line should speak directly to them, as if you’re continuing a conversation. For more on crafting compelling content that resonates with your audience, consider exploring our insights on marketing hooks.

Keeping it Short and Sweet

Subject lines need to be concise. You’ve got limited space to make your pitch, so every word counts. Aim for around 50 characters or less. This not only ensures that the full subject line is visible on most devices, but it also forces you to get to the point.

Being succinct doesn’t mean being vague. Be specific about the value you’re offering. Instead of “Tips for better marketing,” try “Boost traffic with these 3 SEO tips.”

Preview Text: The Untapped Resource

Besides the subject line, there’s the preview text – the snippet of content that appears next to or below the subject line in many email clients. This is prime real estate, yet it’s often overlooked.

Use this space to complement your subject line, to add a bit of context or to tease the content of the email. It’s like the trailer to your movie – make it compelling, and they’ll want to see the whole thing.

Testing and Iteration: A/B Testing Your Way to Success

What works for one audience may not work for another. That’s why A/B testing your subject lines is essential. Try different approaches and measure the results. Keep what works, toss what doesn’t, and always be testing.

With A/B testing, small changes can lead to big insights. Changing a single word or the structure of your subject line can significantly affect open rates. So, experiment and learn from the data.


How can I personalize cold email subject lines at scale?

Use email automation tools that allow you to insert personalized fields like the recipient’s name, company, or industry. Combine this with segmentation to tailor your messages to different groups within your audience.

What are some common mistakes to avoid in a cold email subject line?

Avoid using spammy words, making false promises, and being too generic. Also, steer clear of all caps and excessive punctuation. These can trigger spam filters and turn off readers.

Is it better to use fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) or positive reinforcement in email subjects?

It depends on your audience and the context of your email. Both strategies can be effective, but they should be used judiciously and genuinely reflect the content of your email.

How important is the length of the cold email subject line?

Very. If it’s too long, it might get cut off, especially on mobile devices. If it’s too short, it might not convey enough value. The sweet spot is typically between 30 and 50 characters.

Can emojis in subject lines increase open rates?

Emojis can make your email stand out and convey emotion or urgency. However, they should be used sparingly and only when they make sense for your brand and message.

Let’s wrap this up with a set of frequently asked questions that might be dancing in your head. After all, the devil is in the details, and I want to make sure you’re armed with all the knowledge you need to conquer the inbox realm.


How can I personalize cold email subject lines at scale?

Personalization doesn’t have to be a manual, time-consuming process. With the right tools, you can automate personalization even when you’re sending emails by the hundreds. Look for email marketing software that allows you to use merge tags. These tags pull information from your contact database and insert it into your emails. For example, using a tag like {{FirstName}} in your subject line template will automatically replace it with the recipient’s actual first name when the email is sent out.

Remember, though, personalization goes beyond just names. Consider referencing a recent event in the recipient’s city or industry, or mention a mutual connection if you have one. The more you can make the email feel like it’s been written just for them, the better your chances of getting that coveted click.

What are some common mistakes to avoid in a cold email subject line?

One of the biggest blunders is writing a subject line that screams “spam”. This usually happens when you use all caps, excessive exclamation points, or over-the-top promotional language. Another misstep is making your subject line too vague or generic – if it’s not clear what the email is about, people won’t be interested in opening it. Also, avoid misleading subject lines that don’t match the email’s content. Not only is this a quick way to lose trust, but it can also get you in trouble with anti-spam laws.

Is it better to use fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) or positive reinforcement in email subjects?

Both FOMO and positive reinforcement have their place in the email marketer’s toolkit, but the key is to use them appropriately. FOMO can be powerful when you’re promoting a time-sensitive offer or event, as it taps into the human instinct to not want to miss out on something potentially beneficial. On the other hand, positive reinforcement can be effective when you’re recognizing a customer’s loyalty or sharing good news. Gauge your audience’s preferences and test to see which approach gets better results.

How important is the length of the cold email subject line?

The length of your subject line is more important than you might think. If it’s too long, it will get cut off, especially on mobile devices, where over half of all emails are now read. If it’s too short, it might fail to convey enough information to be compelling. The sweet spot tends to be between 30 and 50 characters, giving you enough space to be descriptive while still fitting within the display limits of most email clients.

Can emojis in subject lines increase open rates?

Emojis can indeed make your email stand out in a crowded inbox and add a touch of personality or urgency. However, they’re not appropriate for every brand or message. When used thoughtfully, emojis can increase open rates, particularly with a younger audience. But it’s important to use them sparingly and only when they add real value to the message you’re trying to convey. Test them in your subject lines to see if they resonate with your particular audience.

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Want more writing tips? Read our blog to learn more.

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Want more writing tips? Here’s another infographic on 10 newsworthy article angles & intro templates for your next big story.

When done right, it can help to get traffic from the biggest traffic source–Google.

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When done right, it can help to get traffic from the biggest traffic source–Google.

By creating impactful and optimized content that encourages clicks, you can drive organic traffic and skyrocket your site’s online visibility.

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By creating impactful and optimized content that encourages clicks (instead of mindless link building championed by SEOs), you can drive organic traffic and skyrocket your site’s online visibility.

Notice how links from a relevant source provided is naturally included in the article, so that a potential reader can click and learn more about that particular topic. Notice how the rewritten element is naturally embedded into the article.


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