Cold email is the best way to get in front of hard to reach decision-makers.

But you already know that. That’s why you’re here.

If you’re gearing up to launch your first cold email campaign, you need to make sure your campaigns have the highest chance of success possible.

After all, you don’t get two takes at the first email you send a prospect.

If you’ve already watched videos, listened to podcasts, and read blog posts on cold emails, you’re probably under the impression that your cold email subject line is one of the most critical parts of your campaign.

That’s why we’ve put this guide together.

I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know about cold email subject lines, including:

  • Does Your Cold Email Subject Line Matter?
  • What Open Rate Should You Aim For?
  • Eight Frameworks and Cold Email Subject Line Templates

By the end, you’ll be able to approach your cold email subject lines with confidence and be able to make the most impact without wasting hours trying to find the perfect wording.

Let’s dive in.

Does Your Cold Email Subject Line Matter?

Cold email subject lines do matter. But, they’re not that important.

Wait, what?

If you’ve just finished reading four other blog posts telling you that your subject line is the most important part of a cold email, then it’s time to dispel a common myth.

Truthfully, they don’t matter that much.

We looked at the data from millions of emails sent using QuickMail and found that subject lines don’t really don’t matter that much.

What matters most?

How qualified your prospects are.

How relevant your email is to them.

The value proposition you’re showcasing.

Most professionals will either:

  1. Open every email that lands in their inbox
  2. Delete obvious ‘spam’ and open everything else

That said, your subject line still matters.

After all, it’s the first impression that your prospect will get of you and your company.

It also helps frame the rest of your email and set your prospects’ expectations.

What Open Rate Should Your Cold Email Subject Line Get?

There are lots of great studies out there with data points on average email open rates.

For example:

However, despite these companies putting in some great work to create these studies, they aren’t cold email tools.

CampaignMonitor and GetResponse’s data would be sourced from marketing emails. These could include nurturing campaigns to people on free trials, emails to let customers know when a brand is running a promotion or has published a new blog post. Not cold outreach to someone who has never heard from you.

Therefore, those open rates aren’t relevant to your outbound campaigns.

In reality, you should be aiming for higher open rates than this.

Assuming you’ve done the required work building a qualified list of prospects who should be genuinely interested in your product/service, aim for an open rate of 40%+. I’m also going to assume you’ve found accurate email addresses and won’t see many bounces (this is another essential part of a successful outreach campaign).

But don’t get me wrong.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t track your subject line performance. You definitely should, if you have the capability in your cold email software.

But, rather than looking at industry benchmarks to make decisions, use your own data.

That said, after digging through our own data, we found that mentioning your prospect’s company name can improve your open rate by around 10%.

As Dale Carnegie says, “Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language”.

Use that to your advantage.

Eight Frameworks to Write Cold Email Subject Lines That Get Opened

Match The Subject Line to Your Body Copy

If you know your prospects are time-poor and your subject line isn’t going to get read anyway (most busy decision-makers will open your email, or bin it immediately – there’s no middle ground), then don’t waste your own time on it.

Your time would be better spent building a list of qualified prospects, not coming up with a unique subject line that checks all the boxes.

Here are a few options:

  • Help with {{pain point}}?
  • Interested in lead generation services?
  • Get 50% off our webinar software this week
  • Catching up at {{event}}
  • Can we talk about lead generation for {{}}?
  • Interested in improving social proof for {{}}?
  • Invite to {{event}}

Ask a Quick Question

A cold email is great for getting in front of people. But, just because someone opens your email, you can’t expect them to reply to it.

To help with open rates, frame your email in a way that makes people believe it’s only going to take 30 seconds to read and reply to.

Asking a ‘quick question’ will show people you’re not asking for much of their time, and they won’t need to invest much effort to reply.

Here are some subject line options that play on this idea:

  • Quick question
  • Quick question about {{}}
  • Quick question {{prospect.first_name}}
  • Question about growth/sales/retention at {{}}
  • Wondering about your sales goals for Q4?
  • Question after reading your post on eCommerce trends
  • Question about how you’re engaging with {{}}’s users

Show You’re Here to Build a Connection

If your sales cycle takes 3-6 months, you don’t need to push for a sale in your first cold email

Instead, consider reaching out simply to build a relationship.

This is effective if you’re early in your career and looking to grow your network, too. Most people will be happy that you’re reaching out in a genuine and human way.

  • Hello from {{your name/your company/your location)}}
  • Coffee maybe?
  • Founder to founder
  • {{prospect.first_name}} + {{your name}}
  • Follow up after {{event/conference}}
  • Listened to your podcast episode on {{subject they care about}}
  • Interested in collaborating on a blog post

Build Trust by Mentioning Mutual Connections

Referrals are one of the most powerful things you can use in your subject line.

If you have a mutual connection or something else in common with a prospect, mention it immediately.

55% of B2B buyers use referrals from people they know to make purchase decisions. You can use one in your subject line as a way to get your foot in the door with a prospect.

If you know someone in common, live in a similar area, or even went to the same university, they’ll instantly trust you more than they would someone they had nothing in common with.

You can also guarantee that mentioning a mutual connection will get your prospect’s attention, so there’s a very low chance they’ll skim over it.

  • {{mutual connection}} sent me
  • {{mutual connection}} told me to reach out
  • Saw {{}} at {{event}} last week
  • {{mutual connection name}}
  • Hi from another {{university/college}} alumni
  • Heard you on {{mutual connection’s}} podcast

Use Emojis to Stand Out

The downside is it may look too much like a marketing list email and not a personal template. Although it can definitely help you stand out

Emojis are fun and can make your email stand out in an inbox full of plain text. Depending on your brand, your relationship with a prospect, and your industry, it may be worth trying out an emoji.

  • Time to chat this week? 📞 
  • ⚡ Want more leads for {{}}?
  • 👋 Quick follow-up after seeing you talk at {{event}}
  • Need some help with growth? 📈 
  • 🤝 Chat about {{}}’s sales process?
  • 📆 Got 15 minutes on {{day}}?
  • Can I buy you a coffee? ☕

Tell Them Exactly What You’re Offering

People like honest people. No surprises there.

If you’ve qualified your prospects, likely, they’re already problem-aware. If you email them about your service, chances are, you’re going to agitate that pain point and get them genuinely interested in taking the next step (i.e., becoming your customer).

Subject lines using this formula work well because they’re so relevant. You can be almost certain that your email will get opened.

Here are a few examples:

  • Explainer video for your website/{{}}
  • SEO service to get you rank #1 for (valuable keyword in their industry)
  • Lead gen services for your real estate agency
  • Need help with landing page copy?
  • Tool to help increase {{}}’s retention
  • Helping {{}} with search ads
  • Help filling sales vacancy at {{}}

Keep It Simple and Serious

As soon as someone sees a cold email, they know you’re here to sell to them. No matter how you frame your email in the subject line, and no matter how small your ask is, your prospect will be wondering how and when you’ll make your pitch.

In many cases, it’s best to get it out of the way immediately. Busy decision-makers will appreciate that you value their time and aren’t trying to trick them into a meeting or get them to enter your complicated sales funnel.

Here are some examples of simple, serious, and to-the-point subject lines you can try:

  • 15 minutes available on {{day}}?
  • Meeting next {{day}}?
  • Time to talk about your Facebook ads strategy?
  • Can I get 15 minutes of your time at {{event}}?
  • Helping {{}} with sales – interested?
  • Improving remote collaboration at {{}}
  • Time to chat about lead gen for {{}} on {{day}}?

Aggravate a Known Pain Point

If you have an in-depth understanding of your ideal customer and their industry, you’ll know what their common pain points are likely to be.

A common copywriting rule is to focus on aggravating a pain point that your customer has, then offer a solution.

This works well for subject lines, too. If you can aggravate a pain point in your subject line, someone will immediately click open when they see your email arrive.

You’ll also make your prospect feel like they’re potentially missing out if they don’t reply to your email.

Here are some examples:

  • A few ideas to help your hair salon get more bookings
  • Help with increasing conversion on your FB ads 
  • Help collecting testimonials from {{}}’s customers
  • Help to manage capacity at your gym locations in {{city}}
  • Cutting churn in half at {{}}
  • Need more attendees at your webinar on {{day}}?
  • Improving lead to customer conversions for {{}}

Cold Email Subject Lines to Avoid

So, we’ve looked at some options for what works.

Now, let’s take a look at what to avoid.

You’ll often hear stories of people writing clickbait subject lines that get 80-90% open rates. For example, Steli Efti of Close received a cold email with the subject line “Really disappointed…”. At first, he thought it was a customer reaching out with a problem. As it turns out, it was a sales rep just trying to find a way to get him to open his email. He immediately hit “Delete” because he felt deceived (and rightfully so).

A successful outreach campaign will never rely on tricks to work. The only way to succeed is to offer something your prospect is truly interested in learning more about and establishing yourself as someone they can trust.

With that said, here are some subject line examples of what not to do.

Subject lines like:

  • Re: Your boss put me in touch
  • Just Sent You a Million Dollars
  • Disappointed in your service
  • {{prospect.first_name}}, I’m at your front door

Yes, you’ll likely see high open rates if you use any of these. But, that doesn’t matter. Once your recipient sees that you’re actually reaching out to sell to them, they won’t trust you and definitely won’t want to do business with you.

If you’re reaching out cold to a prospect, you need to show that you respect their time and attention.

Optimizing for high open rates by using subject lines that aren’t genuine and don’t reflect your email’s body will only lead to people hitting “Delete”, or worse, mark your email as spam.

A few other trends to avoid in a cold email are:

  1. Avoid using too much FOMO
  3. Don’t make bad jokes
  4. Don’t make someone look or feel bad
  5. Don’t use tricks like “Fwd:” or “Re:” to make someone think they know you 

Remember, just because you’re doing B2B sales, that doesn’t mean you should forget you’re emailing real people.

Reasons Your Open Rate Is Lower Than You Expected

Open rate is important, but it’s not everything.

It’ll be affected by other factors like:

Technical Issues With Your Email Address

If your emails are landing in someone’s primary inbox, you’ll get a higher open rate than if they were landing in the Gmail Promotions tab. 

Your email deliverability matters. Make sure to configure the technical aspect of your inbox accordingly. You can check if you’ve got everything set up using Google’s free Check MX tool.

Add the domain you’re using to send your sales emails, and Google will run a check on your domain. If there are technical issues that could affect deliverability they’ll get flagged so you can fix them.

If you’re worried about email deliverability affecting your open rates, you can use QuickMail’s deliverability report.

In the GMail Category tab you’ll see where your email ended up. 

If the report shows your emails are landing in the Promotions tab, you’ll know the answer to why your campaign isn’t performing as you hoped.

Your Prospects Block Images in Their Inbox

Your prospects might have chosen to block images in their inbox. They may also use an inbox from a service like Hey that completely blocks tracking pixels as a feature.

In these cases, your tracking pixel used to track open rates won’t work.

If you’re using open rates as a guide for campaigns, you’ll be missing data. Your prospect might have opened the email, or even replied. But because the open rate wasn’t tracked, you feel like the subject line you used failed.

You’re Not Using Your Own Name

The email address you send from matters, as does how it looks in your inbox.

Make sure you’re sending emails as yourself. Not as your company.

If your cold email looks like a marketing email, it won’t be a priority for your prospects’. If you’re lucky, they might still check it, but it won’t look as slick as if it was your own name.

Check out the example below:

Even though both emails are from the same company, one was sent from a personal email address, coming from Rand’s email. The other is from a generic company email address.

Guess which one will get opened by more people?

Your Subject Line Doesn’t Match The Email Body

Another reason that your emails aren’t working is that your subject line doesn’t match your email body copy.

The subject line is a promise. Your prospect will open the email expecting you to follow up on the statement or question you asked them.

If your email doesn’t reflect that, they’re going to be confused.

To avoid confusion, improve clarity, and improve your chances of a response, keep things simple.

For example, if your subject line mentions scheduling a 15-minute call, that needs to be your call-to-action in the email body.

Keep things simple and make sure you’re not confusing someone with your email. If you want to see some real examples of great cold outreach templates, click here to check out our gallery of tried and tested examples

Sending Cold Emails at Scale with QuickMail

Have a list of qualified prospects and ready to start testing your cold email subject lines?

QuickMail can help.

Our sales engagement platform lets your team send personalized cold emails and automate follow-ups at scale.

You can track all of the metrics you need to know including open rates, reply rates, bounce rates, and unsubscribe rates.

You can use QuickMail to manage your multiple inboxes and see how your entire team’s outreach campaigns are working.

Click here to learn more and start your free trial