How to Write Better Headlines and Subject Lines

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Written By Natalie S

Think back to the last time you were on your favourite social media platform. What did you do?

You probably scrolled through dozens of messages before stopping at one that interested you. The thing that made you stop and read more was the headline.

If you think you’re picky about what you choose to read, you’re not alone. Turns out, 8 out of 10 people will read a headline, but only 2 out of 10 will continue reading.

Email subject lines are similar to headlines. They announce what the content of the email is about and carry the burden of motivating opens. While factors like the ‘from’ field play a part, 47% of recipients open email based on the subject line alone.

In a digital environment over-saturated with information, headlines and subject lines must work hard to cut through the noise.

Let’s look at some techniques to strengthen your headlines and subject lines to increase those click-through and open rates.

Ask questions

Ask a question that your audience really wants to know the answer to.

By presenting a question-based headline or subject line, you use the same language your audience uses and clearly signal what your post, article, or email is about.


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Exploit scarcity and urgency

As cynical as it may sound, people tend to respond to the risk of losing something more than the chance to gain something.

Tap into these fears by highlighting scarcity or urgency. Describe what your audience could miss out on or how their time is running out.


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Make announcements

Current and topical news grabs attention. By using certain phrases, such as “announcing” and “new”, you can make people feel that they’re about to read something they haven’t heard before.


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Surprise them

The element of surprise is powerful because it entertains and intrigues. For example, a play on words (pun) or something that makes your reader pause can be appealing.


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Personalise email subject lines by using the recipient’s first name. According to HubSpot, personalised subject lines are 22.2% more likely to be opened.


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Use power words

Use power words to evoke a strong reaction from your reader. Power words include superlatives, often ending in ‘-est’.

Positive superlatives include best, always, fastest, easiest, most, greatest, largest, funniest, hottest, strongest, biggest, ever, perfect, top.

Negative power words include ever, worst, no way, by no means, no one, none, stop, avoid, don’t.

As with scarcity and urgency mentioned above, negative power words tend to work better than the positive ones.


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Sprinkle in emojis

Emojis can be very effective in subject lines – if used well. They can help grab attention and visually represent the content of your email. They’re also fun, friendly and show that you have a playful side.

On the other hand, emojis may not work properly on some devices. Be careful not to offend anyone or use too many.

Test with tools

Practise writing excellent headlines and subject lines with an online tool. A tool can give you a grade and pinpoint areas for improvement.

For headlines, try CoShedule’s headline analyser or Sharethrough.

For subject lines, use CoSchedule’s subject line tester or Zurb.

Writing great headlines and subject lines

While headlines and subject lines are not the only factor that determine whether your content gets read, they are one of the most important.

Use these techniques to improve your headlines and subject lines and watch your click-through and open rates increase.