How to Get Me to Open Your Email

This post isn’t for the spammers. They’ve got this down to an art, although most of us are so onto their game that we automatically skim every subject line with a world-weary eye. I can hear a little voice in my head muttering, “Yeah, sure. Uh huh. Nope, nope, nope. When pigs fly. Who cares…” as I read through what’s left of my inbox after the spam filter’s dumped the most obvious and egregious examples.

Some days, I just want to delete the contents of my inbox and start over.

Your mission: To get me to open your email.

If you really want to catch my attention, don’t be a tease. Don’t be coy. Jam all the important stuff into the Subject line so that I don’t even have to open the thing to know what you want. For example:

  • I’m hosting a party at 123 Reston Ave. Free beer. Call me at 555-9975.
  • I have the flu. Please ignore free beer party email. Get free flu shot instead.

If you are sending out a newsletter or notice to an email list, it’s best to keep the Subject shorter than 50 characters. But “highly targeted” emails (e.g., emails to friends or coworkers) are an exception – research has shown that those “readers seemed to appreciate the additional information in the subject line.” Assuming more explanation is needed, at least tell me – without being dishonest or misleading – why I want to open the email. Set my expectations realistically, then don’t disappoint me after I open the email. For example:

  • Lunch Tuesday? You pick the place. Open email for my suggestions.
  • Project XYZ on hold; MUST have your cost estimates by Tuesday. More questions in email.
  • How to Write Effective Subject Lines & Emails People Will Read

Think of email Subject lines not as “teasers” but as SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable/actionable, realistic, and time-bound. Try:

Do everyone a favor: Write positive subject lines. I don’t need more bad news and fear-mongering; I won’t invite it in. I don’t need cute kittens, either, but an upbeat and hopeful Subject works better than a depressing one.


  • How we win: laser focus on delighting customers
  • Ebola is almost impossible to catch
  • We need you in our corner! Please chip in $5
  • Staying fit after 40: healthy snacks and workday walk breaks!


  • Surviving financial wreck and ruin
  • Sale on HAZMAT gear – get your Level 4 Lab bunker plans before it’s too late!
  • We’ve already lost and it’s all your fault, Sally
  • Scientists say that no matter what you eat, you’re doomed to be fat if there’s a chair in your office

Avoid hyperbole and don’t oversell the email. Let’s face it, the contents of 98% of all emails are not all that and a bag of chips. You probably could have picked up the phone or opened an IM window – it would have been just as effective and everyone would’ve had more fun. Don’t “shout” (put tape over the caps lock key and never, ever use it). One exclamation mark will do; resist the temptation to add ten of them for emphasis. Seriously!!!!!!!!!!

Only cc: people who ought to be involved in the conversation. If that’s the case, remind them to hit Reply All so everyone gets their replies. If that’s not what you want, use BCC: or do not include all those extra people on the email in the first place. It seems impersonal and discourages the introverts from participating. Ask yourself: If someone uses Reply All, will everyone welcome it?

I Opened It: Now What?

Be sure that the body of your email contains the information promised, along with appropriate action items. If more than one recipient is specified, name individual owners of each action item, so they don’t all read it and think, “He must’ve meant Sally. I can safely ignore that question.”

Why should I care? I no longer respond to the “limited time only” and “while supplies last” approach. If there’s sufficient demand, supply is virtually unending.

So, what is it you want me to do when I read the email? Tell me quickly – and be clear. I only have another 147 unread emails to wade through this morning!

If you just want me to tuck in and read a nice, old-fashioned letter from a friend, over coffee, I’m down with that, too. The other 147 can wait.


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at For more information on her children's books, please visit
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5 thoughts on “How to Get Me to Open Your Email”

  1. I got one yesterday that I opened super fast, even though it was in my spam filter. It claimed to be from a county clerk and the subject line was “mandatory court appearance date.”

    It referenced details in an document that didn’t get attached (how convenient). Nice.

    It was still spam. I have no idea what would have happened if I had “clicked here” like the email requested. I DO know that the site it took me to is blacklisted.

    Next time, maybe they’ll try the “free sandwiches” approach. I can handle the idea of missing free sandwiches better than the nagging fear that I’m missing a mandatory court date.
    susan recently posted…#write31days #NaNoPrep I must be crazyMy Profile

      1. First clue: it was sorted to my spam filter. 🙂

        Even though I KNOW court appearances arrive by certified mail, I still couldn’t pass the thing up. I did a “whois” on the domain name and decided that a group of lawyers out of Eastern Europe couldn’t possibly make me show up for a court appearance.
        susan recently posted…#write31days #NaNoPrep I must be crazyMy Profile

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