Crafting Perfect Subject Lines

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Email subject lines are a gateway to connection. If you want to connect with the people on your email list, the best place to start is with a captivating & engaging subject line.

It’s often underestimated how important your subject line is when it comes to email marketing but a subject line can make or break whether or not someone scrolls pass or clicks your email.

In this episode, we share some of our favorite email subject line formulas and how you can craft subject lines worth clicking. 

The transcript

Talia: A while ago, I sent an email to my list and it had a typo in it with the wrong link. And that led me to sending an email with the subject line or something about me making a huge mistake.

Ross: Right.

Talia: And that was probably one of the emails that I got the most open rate ever.

Ross: Oh interesting.

Talia: Because I was admitting to a mistake. And in that email, I just have like a funny GIF and I said like, “Oh, this is really embarrassing and here’s the new link,” it was nothing really interesting about the email but the subject line itself, I think people just really liked the idea of someone saying like, “Oh, I f’d up and now I’m sending another email,” and people are so curious that they opened it.

And this led me down the path of testing hundreds of subject lines. And I’m talking my subject line as where it’s just being exclamation marks and question marks and also some really weird stuff like just emojis and constantly testing them. And that’s what I want to talk about during this really lightning round short episode today.

Ross: I’m down, subject lines are one of my favorite topics. It’s a, in my opinion, one of the gateways to connecting with your audience when it comes to their inbox. Nobody ignores the subject line when it comes into your inbox but for some reason, so many people spend very little time trying to optimize and improve it. So let’s jump in, let’s discuss some subject lines and give people some tips that they can use in their business and in their life.

Why subject lines matter (and why they don’t)

Talia: Yeah, for sure. So first I want to say a couple of things, and I think we need to understand that while subject lines really do matter, because obviously they determine whether people are going to open and read your email or not, there’s also a couple of other factors that determine if people are going to open them. For example, the sent name. So if they don’t know you in the inbox, that is also going to affect them. So you can write the best and most amazing and high converting subject line that you want but if they don’t know you or it feels a bit fishy, they’re not going to open that. But it is important to establish your relationship.

And the other thing that I want to remind that they want is that the goal of a subject line isn’t just to get open rates. If that was the ultimate goal, then you could just write, “Hey, we’re giving away $1,000,” in every single subject line and you reach your goal, right? At the end of the day, I mean, that would get people to open that email. What I want to say about this is that it’s not just about getting people to open your email, what matters is getting people to open the email and read through that email and it essentially is the beginning of this communication and relationship.

Treat your subject line as part of the funnel, as part of something that you want to measure, not just by open rate but also by how many people then clicked through and actually converted.

So I want you to treat your subject line as part of the funnel, as part of something that you want to measure, not just by open rate but also by how many people then clicked through and actually converted. So that’s what I wanted to say before we start this lightning round because we’re going to go through eight of my favorite subject lines. Some of the subject lines that Ross uses, some of the subject lines that I use that I think would be amazing for everyone here to start using immediately.

8 subject lines you should AB test

#1 Urgency

Talia: So I’ll start with urgency. So urgency is probably one of the most common ones. It uses the loss aversion trigger, which is a psychological trigger and that is essentially us human beings wanting to avoid loss at any cost. So any type of subject line like, “Last call for this solution,” or “This amazing offer is about to end,” or, “There are only X amount left.” All and any subject lines that include an amount or a time or a deadline are really high converting. And I do want to make sure that you know when to use this.

So it’s important to use this type of subject line when people are ready for it. So it’s not going to be something that you’re just going to show up in your inbox and just say out of the blue, “Hey, there’s only like 24 hours left,” when they haven’t seen your previous emails. But if it’s used at the right time, this could be a great subject line for you to test.

Ross: I love it. Yeah, getting folks to click because there’s some urgency is an amazing way, especially if you have an offer and it’s actually going to go away very soon, amazing technique. I think it works extremely well.

#2 Relatability and personalization

Ross: So the one I’m going to share is being relatable and sharing a little bit about yourself. So giving folks a little bit of a glimpse behind the curtain as to who it is that your brand is and the people behind it. So if you’ve ever felt a pain that your readers have felt, if you’ve ever been able to go through something that was a struggle and overcome it, if you can peak the curiosity by referencing that, folks are more likely to click.

Whether it’s saying, “What happened when I wasted X number of dollars on PPC campaigns,” or “How I lost a $100,000 client,” or “How I broke my website,” or “What happened when I sent the wrong email to my list,” all of those things show folks a little bit of transparency and they’re more likely to click because people connect with people and if you are able to show that you are human and that you too make mistakes and that you can learn from them, folks will resonate with that. People love to hear the struggle and people love to resonate with folks who have gone through things that they have as well.

#3 The list formula

Talia: I love it. Then the next one is the list formula. So this is something that’s most commonly used in blog posts like, “The 25 cheats you didn’t know about Sims,” or email subject lines that you should test. And you could do this in your subject line itself so we’ve used this countless times. For example, 100 psychological triggers you can start using immediately. So anything that you can use a number with and kind of in a list format and bullet points as a great way to, and I guess, peak interest and get people to open your emails.

Ross: Yes, I love it. Lists are amazing just to kind of connect with people. People when it comes to lists, realize that their time is limited to that list. So if you only are telling me that there’s 25 cheats, then I know that I have to make time to read 25 cheats. So it just gives people context that makes it easier for them to consume that content.

#4 The freebie

Ross: So here’s another one that is great and it’s the freebie style email. It’s when you are giving something away for free because who doesn’t want anything for free? I’ve gone to a restaurant and they’ve offered me free things and I will give my email, my name, my phone number, my address, et cetera. You can get my social insurance number if you tell me I can get something for free. And I think that is why-

Talia: Especially if it’s food.

Ross: Exactly, especially if it’s food. And I think this is why these types of emails work so well. When people are told like, “If you open this, you’re going to get these free workshops,” or “You’re going to get a free training,” or “You’re going to get a free research,” people click that content and it’s an opportunity for you to deliver value on the end of it.

Ross: So you do have to be careful with this because there can be an ability to dilute your brand if you’re always saying the words free, free, free, free, free, and on top of that, some of the email providers do kind of look at the word “free” as being something that is used by spammers so you have to be careful that you’re not always yelling at the top of the rooftops free, free, free, free, free. So that’s another technique that you can leverage and embrace.

Talia: 100% and a great way to bypass that is instead of using the word “free” is describing the value that people are going to get. So for example, for us, one of our most high converting subject lines is, “These four worksheets are ready for you to use now.” So you’re essentially saying that you have four worksheets and they’re here and that you can use them right now and you don’t actually have to use the word “free” in the subject line, you can mention that in the email itself. So it peaks peoples interests, they understand what’s inside and they want to read more.

#5 Ask a question

Talia: Now this next subject line is about asking a question. So you can essentially challenge anything. We had an entire episode about dead channels. So for example, you could ask, “Is marketing dead? Is SEO dead?” Or, “Are you making these mistakes with your funnels, with your landing page, with your PPC campaigns?” These type of questions are a way to not only increase interest and get people thinking, “Oh, wait, what’s going on? Do I know the answer to this question?” But it also kind of gets people to question the way they do things. And I love that because it really is important.

A great subject line that we used was conversion optimization art or science. And it’s a great way to just ask, “Okay, great. What is your opinion? Where do you stand on things?” So you can either challenge a way that people are doing things or just peak their interest with a question.

#6 Answer a question

Ross: I love it. And once you see those questions, another option is to of course, rather than just ask them, to answer them. So answer a question in your actual subject or at least tell people that you’re going to answer a question. This is most commonly done through how-to materials and things of that nature. So what you can do is you can think about, “What are the questions that our readers, our subscribers are always asking?” And then provide content that answers that question.

So if somebody is trying to figure out how they can make an amazing apple pie, your subject could be, “How to make your dad’s apple pie,” or if somebody’s asking how to remove a background of an image in Photoshop, that’s the subject of your email where you say, “How to remove the background of your image in Photoshop.” It tells people exactly what they’re going to get and as a result, you’re going to get that click and people are going to be satisfied as long as on the inside of that email, you deliver the answer to that question.

#7 The What is subject line

Talia: Then we have the what if subject line. So this is you painting a picture or the truth they haven’t considered. Something that you are again, challenging. For example, “What if I told you, you could become a Jedi master?” So I’d definitely open that email. Or, “What have you’ve been doing Facebook ads wrong this whole time?” These are questions that make people, I guess, rethink the way their truths, rethink the way they’re doing things and again, challenging a type of process or a real truth that they had considered until now. Maybe they thought until today that they could not make wine, that would just never happen. But here you go and tell them that they could actually make wine or beer at home and it would be fantastic. So just by kind of challenging that belief is a great way to go about with a subject line.

#8 <Authority figure> said X

Ross: I love it. So the last one that I think folks need to embrace is the idea that an authority figure is doing something or has said something and as a result, we all need to pay attention to what they’ve done and what they’ve said. This is a great hack and it’s a technique that organizations from around the world have leveraged for a very long time in direct mail but it can also be used in your email subject line. For example, let’s say you run a blog or a website that is dedicated to finance professionals. You can create a subject line that just says something along the lines of, “Warren Buffet just made an optimistic bet by putting, going all in with these different stocks,” or, “Warren Buffet just said this on the current state of the market today.” When you put content out there that use in authority to kind of elevate and tell a story that is interesting, folks are going to be more likely to click it.

Everyone’s going to click on that article who are active in the market and they’re definitely going to open that email. In the marketing lens, imagine if Rand Fishkin says that, “SEO is dead,” are you going to open that email? Definitely. So that’s the type of approach that you’re going to take and that’s the approach that I believe can definitely be utilized when it comes to coming up with unique ways to use your subject line even further.

So to wrap all of this up, I think to summarize, we’ve got a handful of different formulas that folks should leverage. There’s urgency, there’s relatability, there’s the list formula, there’s leveraging the freebie email, asking a question, answering a question, the what if subject line and finally that authority figure just said or just did this certain thing.

Ross: Before we wrap this up, is there anything else that folks should know about their subject line before we call this one a wrap?

How to test these subject lines

Talia: Don’t forget to test them. Don’t be afraid to test subject lines. Don’t be afraid of that. I mean, it’s fun, it’s easy, it’s a good way to kind of just start out and see what happens. And also, a really cool hack is send a subject line and program that email to be sent again four days later to anyone who hasn’t opened that email with a different subject line and see if it works better this time. You’re actually testing the same email on the same exact audience. They didn’t open email number one with that subject line, maybe they’re going to open the same email with a different one and that will tell you a ton about your audience and what works on them.

Ross: Amazing. I love that. I think it’s a great insight that we can wrap this entire episode up with. Don’t be afraid to test it folks and be sure to subscribe because we will have an episode dedicated to testing things like emotional triggers, et cetera, in the weeks to come so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss that episode. And in the meantime, also don’t forget to join the Facebook group, we’d love to get to know you and learn what more episodes we can bring to your favorite podcasting platform that you use to listen to folks like us on a regular basis. So as always, thank you so much for listening and we will see you next time.

Hosted by
Ross & Talia
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