Recently, I heard about an entrepreneur who had to process about 4,000 emails in one afternoon. You can imagine that he didn't read all of them. As he was flagging important messages and archiving others, his only contact with an incoming message was the subject line. That first point of contact is critical, and I've seen (and used) many good lines that attract attention. (By the way, I've previously written about the increasing importance of making sure your email is searchable.)
Try these subject lines to get your email noticed. (Test them on me, if you want.)
1. "Quick question ... "
This is my true gem, the one that always seems to work. You are setting the stage for the message by saying it will be an easy email to read. And you are encouraging the person (in a good way) to read the body of the message and find out more, by tapping into his or her curiosity. Just be sure if you use this one that you actually only ask a quick question, not present five pages of material. That will get you a quick delete.
2. "Can we set up a meeting?"
I like this one because its clear what the email will be about. There's a call to action right in the subject; the recipient knows exactly what the sender wants. Follow this one with a clear explanation about why you want to meet and whether by phone or in person. One reason this subject line works is that we all like to be loved, right? The recipient will think, "Oh, someone wants to meet with me. Cool!"
3. "This has the attention of 30 million users ... "
You would not want to use this one verbatim, but catch the idea here. This subject line's email--which led to an actual article--made a promise about my investment in time. It seemed to be worth it, because the recipient already knew this was something that led to massive interest. Numbers always catch someone's attention, because we already know the variables. Plus, they tap into our FOMO. If you can use a number that is a dollar amount, try that as well.
4. "Quick CES idea + See you there?"
This is a variation from an actual email from a PR firm. Here's what I like about the subject line. First, it is offering an idea related to an upcoming conference, and we all like to hear those. And that plus sign is important, because it's saying this email will have two topics and they will both be quick and painless. (Otherwise, the person would not have put them both in the subject line like that.) If you know someone is going to a conference, it makes it even easier.
5. "Zirtual alternative ... "
This one is a bit odd, but let me explain the idea and why it works. I wrote an article criticizing the Zirtual assistance service. The sender of this email was basically saying, in only two words, that she knew about my article and had an alternative. It got my attention because it was already on my radar. Use that idea: Find out what the recipient is thinking about, and tap into that. Just use the term and add the word alternative.