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I've been called the OG of copywriters for creatives, wink—I hook up women with words as a launch copywriter & brand strategist. Even while raking in more than 7-figures since I've been at it, I believe working from a place of rest (not hustle) IS possible—and I want the same for you.
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March 2, 2018

How to Write Better Email Subject Lines: 4 Types That Get Opened

Reading time: 5 min.

Like the “you had one job” meme, your email subject line only has one job: to get people to open your emails.

No pressure … right?

Right. 😉

No matter where you are in email marketing, whether you’re just starting your newsletter or have a list of 60K, your subject line is STILL the most important part of the whole email. Like the headlines on your website, you may spend more time writing them than you do the entire body copy in your email, and that’s a-okay.

According to Campaign Monitor, email marketing beats social media marketing by 40x. FORTY TIMES!

That makes it high-time #worthit to spend an extra 20 minutes writing a bang-up email subject line before you blast a bunch of people with an inbox love letter.

So, in today’s video and blog, let’s break into 4 ways to spruce up your subject line copywriting so people will open your emails.

Don’t forget to grab my freebie email marketing toolkit, too! ????

First up, the classic open loop.

Ah, open loop.

Think about this copywriting technique as a way to open up the door to whatever topic you’ll be closing the loop on when they start reading.

That’s the rule—the copy HAS to close the loop, okay?

Don’t bait and switch your readers with clickbait-y copy, but go for the curiosity factor a la (many) BuzzFeed article headlines.

“[The best copywriters] know BuzzFeed writers are alchemists. Able to make something out of nothing.

They possess an exceptional ability to use mystery, shock, intrigue and humor to get you to click… even when you know exactly what’s in store. The content might be rubbish, but the headlines are pure gold.”

-Brad Smith, Codeless

Can I get an amen? It’s easily why when I can’t sleep at 2 a.m., it’s to BuzzFeed I go.

An open loop subject line piques interest in and leaves your email subscriber or reader wanting to find out the rest of the story … which you answer inside the body of the email.

Think of this as a cliffhanger. Use this kind of subject line it anytime you open the door for things people may want to keep reading to find out.

Here are seven quick examples of what that subject line could look like:

  • “This is how you XYZ.”
  • “I do this every single week.”
  • “This changed everything”
  • “Watch THIS today!”
  • “Did you do this?”
  • “Can you help me?”
  • “Use this or you’ll die.”


And here are 2 examples in action from my inbox:

Open loop-style subject lines may be a copywriting technique that seems *pretty* obvious … but you’d be surprised how often it’s really, sneakily well by people who study email marketing copy! Be on the lookout for open loop subject lines in your inbox … aaand on BuzzFeed.

Next up: The “No-Surprise Inside” subject line.

Unlike an open loop subject line, this email subject line lets you know EXACTLY what you’re going to get when you open the email.

This “No-Surprise Inside” subject line can be a blatant mention of something you’re selling or offering, or just the quick skinny on what your latest blog post is.

Now, you wanna be careful with this email—because of its specificity, you may REPEL some readers to open it if the content doesn’t sound like something they want or need.

This is when knowing your reader—or just sending to a very specific segment of your email list—comes in handy.

You want to go ahead and prequalify your readers with this subject line: Let them know exactly what’s in the email by speaking directly to a certain reader, letting them know what inside will benefit them.

Here are 5 examples for you to see what this sneak-peek, run-down subject line looks like in action:

  • Join me LIVE for Day 3 of the Challenge!
  • [$100 off!] Early Bird Enrollment now open!
  • You’re going to LOVE these 6 productivity tips!
  • Looking for SEO tips? I’ve got you covered.
  • How to cleanse your makeup drawer of toxins.


Again, a couple of winner-winner-chicken-dinners from my inbox:

Third subject line type: The Challenger

Now this subject line goes a leeetle bit more for the “shock and awe” factor—nothing TOO crazy … but we are going challenge whatever’s going on in your reader’s head with this one.

Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean.

I don’t know about you, but last Black Friday weekend, I got a few emails in my inbox that said something to the tune of “this has NOTHING to do with Black Friday sales.”

Well, of course I opened them … right?

Moth to the flame, I fell for the bait.

“What could possibly be more important than telling me about a half-off sale on a weekend,” I thought as I clicked.

See what I mean? A challenging subject line takes the thought process your reader has and speaks directly to it, contesting that notion.

Here are some samples I pulled for you:

  • “Don’t buy XYZ.”
  • “Yeah, but will any of XYQ help you?”
  • “You don’t have all the answers.”
  • “Is there a better way to XYZ?”
  • “Are you charging enough for your photography business?”
  • “It’s not your fault—until it is.”


So good, Amy. So good.

Finally, the “Framily Lead.”

For this one, you’ll go get good ol’ inspiration from your own personal inbox.

Look at recent emails you’ve gotten from your friends or your family. Notice what’s different about the subject lines of those—they’re often times all lower case, and they’re usually a few small words.

I got one from my dad recently that just said “Driving” in the subject line (and yes, he was telling me to drive safely). It definitely stood out in my noisy inbox.

Here are 4 quick examples of the Framily Lead in action.

  • “Appointment with Will”
  • “Bikes?”
  • “#goals”
  • “Supper club”


Bottom line: This blog list of 4 types of subject lines isn’t an exhaustive list of email marketing subject lines … and I also kinda believe there’s no such thing as true blue best practices when it comes to subject lines.

You see, what works for my list or one of my client’s lists may not work for your email list. You need to A/B split test EVERYTHING to see what works on your list.

For example, I’ve heard the “rule” before not to start subject lines with a how-to phrase. But when I do, that subject line typically wins A/B campaigns.

If you’re a ConvertKit user, testing your email subject lines is pretty easy. Here’s what you need to do:

How to Split Test Subject Lines in ConvertKit Ashlyn Carter of Ashlyn Writes copywriting tips

Play around with character count, test long subject lines against short subject lines.

And just for fun, let me know below the subject line of an email you’ve gotten from friends & family lately.

Happy emailing!

Freshly sharpened pencil bouquet ready, I'm here to make sure your words sell. I help women like you steward your story well, so you can work from a place of rest—not hustle.

free mentoring? yes, please

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