9 subject lines people will actually open

Ever been to an exclusive nightclub?

It’s not really my scene.

But I’m hip enough to know there’s a big, bad bouncer standing at the door to let people in. (Though the use of “hip” probably just cost me about 5 cool points.)

If you’re a club owner whose goal is to be so hot, nobody can get in, you want that bouncer to make it uber difficult to get behind that velvet rope.

But you’re not a club owner. (At least, I don’t think.)

You’re a business owner.

And when it comes to your emails…

Your goal isn’t to keep people out…it’s to make it as easy as possible for them to come rushing in — to devour your content, grow your relationship, and/or give you a chance to promote your offers.

That’s where subject lines are huge, huge HYOODGE.

And unless you’re careful, your subject lines could be unintentional bouncers, keeping readers from daring to enter your emails.

As always, I know you want actionable, tangible proof, not just subject line theory here.

So let’s dig inside my email vault and look at 9 subject lines that have worked really well in my biz (to the tune of 40-70%+ open rates).

You’ll also learn the psychology behind WHY they work, so you can apply the blueprint as a jumping-off point for your next email…because nobody likes staring at a blinking cursor.

This applies to ALL subject lines…

These 9 subject lines formulas are quite different but I wanted to point out one thing they all have in common…

None of them are in Super Stiff and So-Obvious-It’s-a-Marketing-Email Title Case.

You know what that is, right?

It’s a dead giveaway that the email is coming from a boring corporation rather than someone you know. Because none of us sends emails to our friends that read:

Check Out This Interesting Story I Found!

You’d say:

check out this interesting story I found!

Or better yet:

HOLY SH*T this is cray

When you’re next working on subject lines, please please please don’t use title case! Capitalize only the first word of your subject line or just use all lowercase, like I usually do.

And before sending any email, run your subject line through the Bud-ject Line Test:

Is this a subject line you’d send to a friend?

If so, send it. If not, how could you reword your subject line so a reader will feel like this email came from a close human contact, rather than a distant company?

1. Secrets, secrets are SO fun

We all love a good scoop. Inside access. Stuff nobody else knows.

And when your subject line teases that it’s not available to everyone, it majorly piques reader interest.

Use words like “insider”, “exclusive”, “trick”, “secret”, “behind-the-scenes”, and “sneak peek” when you want to hint at exclusivity and little-known info.

The “psst” and “secret” from my subject line above told readers they’d learn something covert by clicking. (It also incorporates another subject line hack that you’ll see in trick #6.)

2. Clear benefits

Sometimes you want to vague or elusive to get readers to open (and we’ll get to that in a minute). But other times, you just want to tell ‘em what’s inside the tin.

Clear subject lines that get to the point work really well.

When I used the subject line of “Want my blogging help? [Videos inside]” — readers could clearly tell that if they opened that email, they’d get videos to help them with blogging. (And based on the open rates, that’s obvi something they wanted.)

To apply this treatment to your subject lines, try these formulas:
– Want [[benefit]]? Open me.
– Get [[benefit]]…without [[pain]] – If you want [[benefit]], do more of THIS.

3. Drop that name

This is one of my favoritey faves because it’s clever and sneaky and strategic all wrapped up into one…

Have you seen the Evan Carmichael YouTube channel?

It has 1.8 million subscribers and millions upon millions of video views.

And you want to know something kooky? This guy’s never actually interviewed those famous people in his videos. He just borrowed their fame (and clipped together past interviews) to create videos that would attract viewers.

I teach a similar strategy inside Welcome Sequence Wonderful to borrow credibility by aligning yourself with someone your audience already knows and likes.

And you can use it in your subject lines, too!

Referencing a celebrity in your subject line will stand out to eyeballs as they’re scanning inboxes.

I don’t mean “celebrity” like the Kardashians. (Although if your audience has strong feelings about Kim or Kylie, by all means!) You can also use writers, political figures, athletes, artists, local heroes…whoever is “famous” to your readers.

Inside your email, weave in a quote, a story, or book/movie/show/song/reference from this person…then drop that name in your subject line.

4. Be specific

“I can help you get skinny”

“I can help you lose 26 lbs in two months”

Which of those two claims feels more believable?

Totally the second one, right?

That’s because it’s specific.

Specificity feels like authenticity. When someone makes a detailed claim, it feels legit. Whereas vague or general claims feel less like truth and more like baloney. (Bologna?)

Here are a few examples showing how specificity makes for more powerful subject lines:
7 ways to keep flowers looking fresh
– Knit 2x as fast with this trick
– I read 8 books this month. Here’s how.
5 meals with 500 calories or less

My subject line, “The tool I use for 50% open rates” is way more compelling than “The tool I use for email marketing”…right?

Think of specific details you can share (numbers, figures, stats, the words “this”, “these”, “that”, or “those”) to make your next subject line feel more REAL…and more enticing.

Related Post: How to Use Numbers to Convince Your Readers

5. Rouse curiosity

Up until now, we’ve kept our subject lines pretty straightforward. But occasionally, you can also get a lil’ feisty and use curiosity to get people to open your emails.

Play with your readers. Give them a subject line that’s totally out of left field and makes them say, “Wait, what?!”

Ask yourself: What’s the tease-iest way I could possibly get someone to read this email? Make it salacious! Make it scandalous! Make it so enticing your readers HAVE to click and open because if they don’t, it will bug them to no end not knowing what you’re talking about.

A few examples to get your motor running:
– [[FIRSTNAME]], you ARE the father! 😳
– I thought I died. (The reality was even wilder.)
– running naked in NYC
– what your teenage crush really wanted you to say
– my “come to Jesus” moment
– size matters
– this changed everything.

When I used the subject line “16 and pregnant” for my weekly newsletter, almost half of my audience opened it. They wanted to know what the heck I was talking about…so they clicked to find out.

Important note: I wouldn’t make more than ¼ of your subject lines curiosity-inducing. If every subject line you send out is saucy and scandalous, they’ll lose their effect fast. (Think: you, when you see the headline “You’ll never believe what this toddler did with a peanut butter jar!” Clickbait kills engagement fast.)

6. First or last

If you’re used to launching, you’ve probably noticed this pattern:

The most activity happens at the beginning and end of the launch.

People are mesmerized by the idea of something brandy new. And they feel major FOMO when faced with the possibility of something ending.

Take advantage of this trend with your subject lines.

To share something new, use words like “introducing”, “now live”, “new”, “fresh today:” or “first look”. And to wrap up a promotion, add phrases like “last chance”, “don’t miss out”, or “closing now” to your subject lines.

My simple subject line of “LAST CHANCE: Videos coming down tomorrow” saw 76.4% open rates. So suffice it to say…this one works pretty dang well.

7. How to

I wasn’t sure if I should include this subject line formula because it’s like, “No duh, Whit. Obviously.”

But sometimes we forget the simplest, most obvious solutions to our problems, right?

The how-to subject line formula is very effective. It’s one of the oldest in the book, but it still gets crazy opens, in my experience.

So make sure to include super simple “how to” subject lines in your rotation. And the next time you’re struggling to come up with something snazzy or hilarious, ask yourself: Am I trying too hard when an easy how-to would work just as well?

8. Topical twist

The media world runs on topical stories.

Consider these topical twists on the same content idea of kitchen cleaning:
– 17 ways to spring clean your kitchen
– Make your kitchen sparkle for summertime houseguests
– Give Mom a clean kitchen this Mother’s Day
– How to Thanksgiving-proof your kitchen
– Keep your kitchen tidy when the back-to-school rush hits

See? Same basic story…but the topical element makes it feel fresh and new…which makes people want to click and read the email.

Make your subject lines feel hyper-relevant by making them topical.

Brainstorm a way you can tie in a news headline (“Don’t let your customers pull a Brexit!”), something seasonal (“4 ways to stay energized this winter”), or pop culture (“thank u, next…tips for getting over your ex”).

The email for my subject line above was talking about an evergreen topic — drawing business inspiration from outside your industry. I included a line in my email about Taylor Swift…which allowed me to reference her hit song…

Which made it feel of-the-moment and gave people an intriguing reason to click and open.

9. Surprise and delight

How many free gifts have I accepted…even when I didn’t need them…solely because they were free?

Answer: five bajillion.

Everybody loves an unexpected treat, right? We all love to get a little somethin’ somethin’ extra.

Use that to your advantage in your subject lines.

Inside Welcome Sequence Wonderful, we talk about adding moments of delight into your emails to encourage readers to keep opening.

Peppering in little surprises is a great way to develop your real-ationship with subscribers AND train them to open your emails. It’s a one-two punch.

Say things like “gift”, “surprise”, “just for you”, “treat”, “bonus”, or “something extra” to add delight and encourage your readers to open.

And then, obviously, make sure you share something valuable inside your email. Don’t call it a treat unless it really is one!

And one last tip?

These are the subject lines that have worked for me (and I’ve seen similar ones work for my clients) but yours may be different.

Testing is the only way to know for sure what works for you.

Whenever possible, I recommend split-testing your subject lines. Many popular email providers (like my personal fave ConvertKit) let you test two subject lines against one another to see which works best.

You pop in your two favorites and your email provider sends those two subject lines to a small portion of your audience.

After a few hours, the software declares a “winner” that has shown higher open rates…

Then sends THAT subject line out to the rest of your list.

Magic, right?

So the next time you’re doing your 6-Minute Subject Line Brainstorm sesh (click here and scroll to Tip #3 for more on how to do this!), make sure to add one or more of these 9 subject lines into the mix.

And in the meantime, let me know…

What subject lines work best for you? Drop me a comment with one of your tried-and-true subject line champs so we can all learn from one another!

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How do you currently keep track of your blog posts? Do you have another method?

How often do you interlink to your content? All the time, sometimes, or never?

What other methods do you see popular blogs using to make it easy for readers to visit their pages/posts?

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