I’ve spent years studying the best subject lines for cold emails (not just studying, but testing. I’ve sent 15 million emails). I know how to write a cold email that gets a fast response.

This post lays out the neuroscience behind the very best email subject lines.

Not only do I send a lot, I get a lot of emails. My inbox is overflowing, I currently have 28,288 unread messages. Factually speaking, some people have retired or died waiting for a response (sorry!).

My inbox. I have over 28,000 unread emails. Here's how to write a cold email that will get a response from someone like me.

Look, I know how frustrating it is to write to someone and not receive the courtesy of a reply. So when you emailed me … should I have replied to you? Yeah, sure.

Am I sorry I didn’t?

I had no choice:

if I ignored your email, the subject must have been LAME Click to Tweet

My inbox is a kill zone. Almost everything gets deleted or ignored.

(And pestering me on Twitter and Facebook because you sent an email a few minutes ago does not increase survival rates.)

If I have ignored an email (or multiple emails) from you, here’s why:

HOW YOUR BRAIN EVALUATES EMAIL SUBJECTS

It’s not just me that’s ignoring you. It’s everybody.

Studies show that when we scan the messages in our inbox, our brains immediately assess each one on a few characteristics to determine if it is worth investing mental effort on.

First, we look to see if the message appears to have been written by a real person or if it seems like a mass sales email. MOST emails fail this test and are immediately ignored.

When we do this we are looking for cues that it was sent by a person, sort of a mental version of the common “I’M NOT A ROBOT” box.

One of the most important skills for email outreach in today’s business world is learning how to write a cold email that passes the real person test.

The best email subject lines are ones that immediately make it clear you are a real person and not a robot.

The best subject lines for cold emails are ones that instantly pass this test. It needs to be clear that an email was written by an actual living human being to a specific someone (me!).

EMAILS HAVE TO PASS THIS TEST:

Neuropsychiatrist Antonio Damasio explains how this works in his classic book Descartes’ Error. It involves something that neuroscientists call a somatic marker.

Over time, our brain is trained to associate certain cues with positive or negative emotional responses.

For instance, looking at a picture of our lover makes us feel tingly inside, while looking at a picture of our mortal enemy makes us flame with rage.

Both pictures are essentially the same thing: ink on paper. But over time we have attached a positive somatic marker to one and a negative somatic marker to the other.

This happens for emails too.

The best subject lines for cold emails are ones that automatically trigger positive emotions.

Think about it.

Do you have to carefully consider each subject line and try to reason logically about whether or not it was written by a real person?

No. You can tell from a glance. Certain emails just immediately jump out as written by a real person (positive somatic marker) while others scream “Friendly Sounding But Really a Sales Email” or “Official Looking but reallly .. sales.” (negative somatic markers).

It is critical to learn how to write a cold email subject line that triggers positive somatic markers.

Important cues are already embedded in every email subject line you write. Your readers are subconsciously picking up on them, and are immediately feeling either good or bad about your email.

The best subject lines for cold emails are ones that take advantage of these pre-existing cues.

THE BEST EMAIL SUBJECT LINES DO THIS

OK, so after your email passes the first test and is deemed as having been written by a real person, the second set of tests begins.

In the second set of tests, your reader looks a bit more closely at the subject line of each email that passed the first test. He then makes a series of decisions including whether it needs to be opened right away, whether he can put it off to be dealt with later, or whether it can be completely ignored.

These evaluations rely on two different brain areas.

First, the subject line is quickly evaluated by the most primitive part of your brain. The only thing the oldbrain wants to do is eat and procreate. So this brain region just asks: will this message help me make money or get in bed with someone attractive?

Next, the midbrain is looking to see whether the message seems to be coming from someone with high social status.

The three levels of the brain. Understanding this will help you write a better cold email subject line.

The best email subject lines convey that not only are you  real, you are also important (high status), and you are writing about something that will benefit the recipient.

Only then will the rational neocortex kick in to think logically about what your email is saying.

We accomplish all of this using cues that trigger positive somatic markers in the mind of the reader. The best subject lines for cold emails contain these important cues in as few words as possible.

This might sound complicated but in practice it is actually very subtle.

Let’s look at how to write a cold email subject that contains these cues.

THE BEST SUBJECT LINES FOR COLD EMAILS

OK the first thing we need to talk about is how to write a cold email subject line that passes the first test. You want your recipient to think you are a real person.

Ori Manor, a good friend of mine, says the key is to include “context.” He would know. Ori founded a company called Unomy that is used by thousands of top brands like Google and Microsoft to identify and reach out to new leads.

According to Ori, the best subject lines for cold emails contain a word that your recipient will immediately recognize as being specific to them. Maybe it is the name of a conference they recently attended (glean this from social media). Or the name of someone they know or do business with (also can be found on social media or the company website).

So what about passing the second test? How do you get people to see you as high status and your email as time-sensitive and important?

This might sound crazy but I have found that the best email subject lines for elevating your status are ones that contain no capital letters or punctuation.

I know this is hard to do. If you are reading this long blog post about how to write cold emails then you clearly aren’t the kind of person who just dashes things off quickly without really thinking about it.

However, having worked with many very high status individuals, from CEO’s to billionaire investors, even with triple-AAA types like Tony Robbins, I can promise you this.

Powerful people are moving very fast and don’t worry for ½ a second about dotting all their “i’s” and capitalizing sentence structure correctly. They are too busy and have assistants to do that for them, or they just fire off an email while walking up a staircase …

The best subject lines for cold emails are ones that appear to have just been dashed off quickly between all of the other very important things you are doing.

 

You want the vibe to be that you just remembered someone had thrown this individual’s name around the other day as someone you should reach out to. So you shot them an email in the 30 free seconds you had.

Again, the first few times you do this it will feel wrong. Your inner editor will scream out to at least capitalize the proper nouns FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

But don’t give in.

The results will astound you.

If they don’t, it’s user error and something has gone wrong on your end. Yes, I am literally that confident in this approach because I have seen it work so many times. And it checks out scientifically.

Below is an example of an email I recently sent to a huge potential client using these strategies. It got an immediate response and we are now working together on a large deal. This two-word subject is one of the best email subject lines I have ever used.

Also, for more on my methods, check out my free webinar on how to write a cold email and book a hard-to-get meeting (see below).

I include this specific example because John has since told me that he received dozens of other unsolicited emails on the same day and he ignored all of them. Mine was the only one he opened.

This is exactly how the email was written:

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Subject: via jeff

Message: John, by way of introduction, the guys at Smith Company thought we should connect about our XL-series products.  If I send through a 2-page summary, can you spend 2 mins with it, give a quick no thanks or yes interested. – Oren

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write better subject lines to make more $$$ Click to Tweet

MORE ON HOW TO WRITE A COLD EMAIL

I recently filmed a 60-minute webinar about how to write a cold email that will get a response from your prospect and how to turn that response into a meeting. You can find that here.

After you use these techniques to book a big meeting, you will want some techniques for writing a follow-up email that gets a fast response. See my post on The 1-Word Follow-Up Email that Generated $57K in 24 Hours.

And of course, to learn more about the science behind my email techniques and the best email subject lines for getting through to decision makers, read my book Pitch Anything.

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