How to Write Captivating Cold Email Subject Lines

By Patricia Saya

Deflating, isn’t it?

You spend hours crafting cold email subject lines. Wrack your brain. Write tons of variations.

Yet despite all that hard work, your open rates are dismal. So of course, you can’t stop wondering…

Is there anything else I can do to entice my prospect to click?

Well, yes, there is.

Let me explain.

The psychology behind clickable cold emails

You may have guessed I’m talking about using curiosity.

Psychologists have long understood that curiosity comes about due to a gap in knowledge.

In other words, the space between “what we know and what we want to know.”

Think of a knowledge gap as a missing piece to a puzzle. If we don’t find what we’re missing, we feel lost. Disappointed.

Downright anxious.

On the other hand, if we believe we’ll learn what we want to know immediately, we feel excited. Even happy.

But our curiosity doesn’t increase indefinitely. And it decreases if left unsatisfied for too long.

Makes sense to capitalize on curiosity when reaching out to a stranger, right?

Here’s how.

Let me introduce you to Ian Leslie...

Ian Leslie is a journalist, speaker, and author of renowned books on human behavior.

In his book Curious: The Desire to Know & Why Your Future Depends On It, Leslie explains the mysterious human drive to discover.

“Whoever you are and whatever start you get in life, knowing stuff makes the world more abundant with possibilities and gleams of light more likely to illuminate the darkness. It opens the universe a little.”

Do you feel the flicker of hope?

Day in and day out, our curiosity keeps us going. We’ve simply got to see what’s around the next bend.

An intriguing subject line shines like a beacon in an overflowing inbox. Help has arrived. Problem solved.

Unfortunately, cold emails have a bad reputation. Misleading subject lines are rampant.

Let’s look at three ways to write sincere cold email subject lines. The type that appeal to people’s desire to learn valuable knowledge.

Combine curiosity and benefit

Good subject lines communicate a big benefit.

A benefit is simply what your product or service will do for your prospect.

For instance:

  • Have more energy
  • Reduce stress
  • Get high-quality leads

The key is to forget about your desired end result. Put your prospect’s desires front and center.

Let’s look at how master copywriters write alluring cold email subject lines.

“The magic word that builds sales” (Ivan Levison)

In the body of this email, Levison relates seeing a long line of people waiting for free ice cream at a ritzy shopping center. His point? The word “free” attracts people of all income levels.

“Is hard work really necessary?” (Bob Bly)

Bly’s words invite you to ponder the work ethic, hinting you’ll find out how to work less. Caution: Writing a question subject line can be tricky. Avoid writing one that’s easily answered “yes” or “no,” unless you open another door.

For example:

“No bites yet? Do this instead”… (Jay White)

White opens the door to an alternative solution. What struggling business owner wouldn’t click this subject line? And the ellipsis helps to build even more curiosity.

Curiosity Tip: Tease your prospect with the promise of an improved life – without giving everything away.

Combine curiosity and personalization

If you’re going to stimulate curiosity in your prospects, you must be curious about them.

Find out what challenges they’re dealing with right now. What’s the conversation that’s going on in their head?

Look for clues on social media and their website.

  • Age and size of their company
  • Their target group
  • Biggest competitors
  • Number of customers
  • Blog topics
  • Awards and prizes

Curiosity works best with relevant information. Think about what success means to them.  Then craft a meaningful subject line.

  • “The white paper that tripled leads for Strategix”
  • “An idea for your next GenSys video”
  • “The case studies on your website”

Go beyond the obvious to uncover your prospect’s core values.

  • “So glad you’re supporting The Bike Project”
  • “Loved your blog post on the Feed America Website”
  • “Your Remote Energy Campaign looks great”

Remember, all you’re trying to do is start a conversation.

Curiosity Tip: Communicate your message without sounding pushy. Focus on making your prospect feel special.

Combine curiosity and power words

A Yesware analysis of 115 million emails found that one of the best ways to connect with recipients is to appeal to emotions.

Power words are descriptive words that make us feel something. They stimulate the part of the brain associated with learning.

Research from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business showed that the mere promise of information activates dopamine, the brain’s “feel-good” chemical.

In a nutshell, the right power word may well influence your reader’s thinking.

Here are some power words that arouse curiosity:

  • Now
  • Introducing
  • Easy
  • Quick
  • Join
  • Proven
  • Improve
  • Backdoor
  • Behind the scenes
  • Elusive
  • Sneak peek
  • Little-known
  • Unconventional
  • Alert
  • Brilliant
  • Invitation only
  • Myths

Curiosity is piqued when people have some knowledge of a subject but are faced with a gap in their understanding.

Try combining a power word with industry-specific terminology. What’s the real benefit? Make that your subject line.

Of course, some audiences respond to negative words, such as “abandon” or “boycott.”

Experiment and test. You may be surprised at what works and what doesn’t.

As Ian Leslie says, “It (curiosity) doesn’t like rules.”

Curiosity Tip: Notice which power words stir curiosity in you. Did the word change your thinking? Why?

Get more leads with enticing cold email subject lines

It’s time to take your subject lines from blah to brilliant. 

Time to turn cold prospects into warm leads.

You now know why subject lines that spark curiosity get clicked.

You know how to combine curiosity with benefit, personalization, and power words to motivate your prospect to act.

Plus, you have some examples to use as templates. So pick one, and write a cold email subject line that fills your prospect with wonder.

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