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?
No matter where you are in email marketing, whether you’re just starting your newsletter or have a list of 60K, your email subject line is STILL the most important part of the whole email. Like the headlines on your website, you may spend more time writing your email subject line than you do the entire body copy in your email, and that’s a-okay.
Today, I’m taking you through seven email newsletter subject line formulas that *REALLY* work.
Get your screenshot trigger finger ready, because I’m gonna show you lots of different swipes along the way that you can feel free to snag and use in your own email marketing.
Ok, I’m gonna go ahead and come out of the gate right now with a big secret—your goal is to make your subject lines obsolete.
Here’s the thing—you wanna build that know-like-trust factor with your audience in your email marketing, just like you’re working so hard to do in every other facet of your marketing. So much so that when you send an email, they see your name and click OPEN immediately.
That is the chef’s kiss goal that you’re after with your email marketing strategy—when they see your name in that field, you want them to say “heck yes!” and click and open.
BUT being able to write those subject lines is critical. And I’m gonna tell you allllll about the reasons why here in these seven formulas.
Let’s jump in!
⬇️ Don’t forget to click here or down below to grab your freebie: 42 Email Subject Lines Swipe File! ⬇️
No. 1| The Curiosity + Benefit
This is the classic little black dress of subject lines. You’ve gotten it in your email inbox already today, I guarantee you. This one’s the classic, ’cause you’re not gonna tick people off with it—more on that in a minute— the subject line is so relevant and tied to exactly what is inside that email in the body copy. The email is a perfect fit to the subject line, there’s no bait and switch or even semblance of bait and switch.
Essentially, I want you to think of something intriguing or curiosity invoking. Usually, you need to start it with HOW—”how-tos” always do well here. Plus the benefit that your audience wants.
Some examples for you:
BASIC TEMPLATE: How I Went From [Bad Situation] To [Desirable Situation]
- I was getting it wrong at first—how to get time blocking to FINALLY work
- Do you sit WAY too much? This little known secret will fix your posture
- How 4 80s trends your Instagram and reel batching
- <2 hours a week of Lightroom editing with a FULL client load??
Now, not always, but sometimes I see a headline that prompts what I wanna say in the body copy. I tend to work the reverse, even for my clients that tend to work that opposite way. I wanted to throw that out there because some of these may trigger an idea and you think, oh, I have an entire email body copy idea that I could use based on that subject line. Go for it.
Before I get into formula number two, I wanna go ahead and talk about the weirdest quirk about email marketing that I know of. I remember exactly where I was sitting when I learned this.
I was looking at the data and I thought, there’s something wrong with my eyes. I’m not looking at this, I need more coffee. What is going on?!! This is a weird reason why your subject lines matter… it can greatly affect your click-through rate.
Open rates are extremely inaccurate. Just think about how many emails you open, and the minute you open it, you decide to trash it, you’re not gonna read it, or you may use a tool like Unroll.Me, which I actually love using. That messes with this. Email services are embedding an invisible image into an email when it’s sending it out in a marketing campaign, and then it’s gonna track and see if that little image was downloaded. Great in theory, not super accurate. It can be absolutely skewed.
What you need to worry about way more than your open rate is your click-through rate, or the sales conversions from that email, or the engagement rate from that email—that is more important. Now, you would think that your email subject line has way more of an effect on that open rate, but it actually has more of an effect on the click-through rate. This is as weird as it sounds.
Here’s what this may mean for you. Whenever I’m going into my email marketing platform and gonna test two different subject lines, I’m going to test for the metric of the click-through rate. I’m not gonna worry so much about testing it for the open rate, because that typical subject line difference will be somewhere between one and 15% usually, but the click-through rate can change drastically. Even if the body copy doesn’t change at all. The bottom line here: start worrying way more about your click-through rate than you do your open rate. But still split test your subject lines. Most email platforms make it pretty easy to at least plug in two different subject lines and see which one works.
Here’s what this looks like in action⬇️⬇️
No. 2 | The 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.
No. 3| Make up a branded phrase
If you’re inside Copywriting for Creatives™, you’ve heard me say this before—I want you to come up with a sweet name for your process, your topic, your method, your curriculum point, the way you do things.
Then I want you to go ahead and brand it by capitalizing the letters of it, or putting quotation marks around it, or somehow showing that this is now a thing.
If you’ve been on my email list at all, you’ve seen me do this all the time with bullet copy. I definitely do this on long-form services, pages, sales letters, so on and so forth. It’s a great tactic to have in your back pocket. Essentially, no one is the name police and gonna get mad at you for making a phrase out of your own insight. So go ahead and do it.
Technically, this is called a neologism, you’re making up a word.
Again, here are some examples to show you what I mean:
- The 88% Rule of Content changes EVERYTHING
- The “Champagne Campaign” – how to strategize your annual launches in a day
- The “Work-to-Rest-Winddown” Drill (Video #2)
- How the A.R.T.I.S.T About Page Template brings more clients to the yard
Once you come up with some of these and you can bake them into that curiosity plus benefit formula that we talked about in number one.
No. 4| 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.
No. 5| Call Out Subject Lines
These are the qualifiers. We want your readers to self-select and raise their hand if this is one that pertains to them. 🙋
This is a great one to have in your back pocket if you’re thinking of segmenting out your list or seeing how many people would be interested in a certain thing.
Here are a few examples:
- Read this if you…
- Open this if…
- Watch this if…
- Only open this if…
I used this technique back in early 2020 when I was trying to discern how much of my email list was interested in being the copywriter, and I was absolutely ~amazed~ at the engagement from the email. I had NO clue. Great for ideas like that.
No. 6| 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:
No. 7 | “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 oftentimes 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”
- “Supper club”
See if you can put a link in your email that actually matches the same copy that you’re using in your email subject line. So take that, pop it down, put it in your body copy and make that a hyperlink. That can help with that click-through rate we were talking about earlier. And like anything we talk about over here, test it.
Copywriting is an art and a science.
Bottom line: This blog list of 7 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:
Play around with character count, test long subject lines against short subject lines.
And like I said, if you’re like me you may be worse at predicting subject lines than you think you are. If you want even more ideas for your subject line swipe file, then look down below and you can get your hands on my freebie of 37 different subject line swipe file ideas for your copy bank. Yes, you can reverse-engineer any subject line that comes into your inbox. But if you don’t understand the principles and the psychology that is behind it, it can be a little bit hard to apply those and see the result that you want, so I hope this helps you out!
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