Subject Line Tips to Increase Your Email Open Rates

How to revamp your email subject line strategy

Today I’m talking about the importance of your email subject line because no series on email is complete without talking about the gatekeeper – subject lines.

With industry average, open rates around 20% or so making better subject lines is the first thing you can focus on to boost that number. And well 20% is a league better than the 1% viewership, on average social media posts get, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. So if you’re not an email person, this is going to be all perfectly applicable to social media posts, hooks, headlines, and more. The tactics we’re gonna be talking about here are 100% relevant for anyone creating content.

Now first, I’m going to go over some basic subject line rules. Then I’ll cover a few of my best subject lines as referenced by spikes in my open rates. Reminder, of course, knowing your benchmarks means that even if your open rate reporting isn’t all that accurate, as most of ours isn’t at this point, you can still see trends and note your values and spikes. For more on this, you’re gonna want to flip back to episode 183 on benchmarks

There are basic subject line rules that seem to be universal across all email service providers:

  • No spam words or phrases
  • The entire thing is not all caps
  • Capitalize the first letter

Don’t use spam words or phrases like: earn more money, lowest price, or all supplies last or anything that includes scam, gimmick investment, luxury, or income, those entire phrases, and words are just not going to be doing well as your subject lines, because your email service provider is probably going to block them.

You don’t want to put them in all caps. You do want to capitalize the first letter, sometimes the first letter of each one of the words. 

Guide To Writing Better Email Subject Lines

There are generally good subject line guidelines here. These are not going to be email service providers defined, but they’re really just good marketing applied to subject lines. If you follow any one of these, however, too often it’s gonna feel gimmicky. And then we go back to that feeling of gimmicks and spam.

The key here is going to be mixing it up and having a variety of engaging subject lines that hook the reader in and give them a reason to want to read more.

Most of what I’m doing here, I learned, I originally learned from other people, people like Ben Settle, though I’ve definitely heard several of these taught by others along the way, as well.

  • Invoke curiosity. Give them a reason to keep reading, even if it’s just to see how Britney can possibly tie this line into a marketing email.
  • Using the word “you” in the subject line. Alternatively, use their actual first name if appropriate.
  • Mention a celebrity’s name, especially if they’re currently in the news. Be sure there is relevance here to your message!
    • You can also play on TV characters’ names, movie titles, song lyrics, etc.
  • Something shocking (but not just for the sake of saying something shocking–we’re not playing the hyperbolic news media game).
  • Listicle style. 3 reasons to this, 7 ways to that.
  • Alliteration. Feeling feisty anyone? It’s an age-old writing technique not taught very well anymore and that’s why it works.
  • Puns–yep, another writing technique. Playing on popular cliches goes along with puns. (I’ll use “hook, line, and thinker” as the subject line for this podcast announcement email.)
  • Sum up your authority arguments. (Episode 63, way back in the archives on authority opinions!)

So if I had to sum all of the subject line ideas up, it’s all about personality, inject some include cultural references that you enjoy, even if your best client will like maybe not get them all the time.

And if you send me an email with a Game of Thrones reference, I’m not going to get it, but I’m also not going to hold it against you, it will work for a lot of people in your audience. And that is key. If it’s not going to work for a lot of your audience, then maybe don’t do it.

Case in point yesterday, I was at a family spin class with my 10-year-old and the spin instructor who I love dearly, he’s a wonderful man, my son was sitting right next to him, because of my son’s kind of competitive like that. And Herb, the instructor was like, “Goose do this”, and Finn didn’t understand why he was calling him goose, you know, like the Top Gun copilot. My son’s 10. And he just totally missed that entire cultural reference. So when you do those things, all these personality type things, know your audience, know your best client, it’s really important for that as a whole. 

Best-Performing Subject Lines

Now, as promised, I’m going to go over a few of my best-performing subject lines. So as I have already referenced, you know, not everything is being reported perfectly well, in terms of such clients these days after the Apple iOS 15 drops, ie, you have gotten even less accurate than you were before. So that said, I am referencing these as my best-performing ones by spikes in my open rate related to like surrounding time periods. And as I am doing that, I’m giving you as accurate of an open rate, shall we say, as I can, knowing that these are not foolproof and all that. So I’m going to go over a handful of my own best-performing email subject lines here. And while you could technically copy them outright, most of them wouldn’t make sense for your audience or for you, as they kind of reference my life. So knowing that my lived experience is different than your lived experience, my hope is that you can learn from these and a case study kind of way. 

my 5 best-performing subject lines

1. The RGLBRGL license plate.

This was the first subject line from a nontransactional email at least, that got me more than a 35% open rate. I mean, as far as I know, I didn’t always actually measure open rates, I didn’t always pay attention to this kind of stuff. But in this email I referenced, a coach asked a question in her Facebook group about your first email address, and mine was It no longer exists, don’t try to reach out to me. That was my first one when I was like, you know, 13, or 14 or something. And in the email, I tell a very quick version of why that was my first email address. And then that story led to a very soft pitch for my business, GPS marketing intensive.

The subject line is kind of bizarre, it’s a little shocking. It’s definitely using curiosity to hook the reader into the story. 

2. How many vitamins do you take exactly?

The subject line is from my welcome sequence. And last year, it averaged a 62% open rate. And yes, you heard that a whopping 62%. Why did I do that? Well, I both asked a question. And humans are hardwired to want to answer questions. And I also use the word ‘you’ in that subject line, so people are automatically attracted. 

3. The 9:28 pm message.

This one had a 59% open rate in the last three months–I first sent it at the end of last year or the beginning of this and then later put it into my nurture sequence.

In this email, I talked about getting a client message at 9:28 pm and then a complaint from the client that I hadn’t responded yet by 10 am on a Friday. The email talked about boundaries. I have very clear boundaries and my clients know I don’t work on Fridays since it’s my big homeschool day with my 10-year-old.

The open rate was so high because it invoked a ton of curiosity–who could be messaging her so late in the evening? And while the subject line didn’t do this, the email content subtly reinforced my clear boundaries with potential clients, too.

4. Can we talk about Elizabeth Holmes?

can we talk about Elizabeth Holmes?

This email was sent out the same week that her trial verdicts came in, and it saw a 33% open rate. It was a good one for me, it gave me plenty of opportunities to give people an insight into the similarities between Elizabeth Holmes’s trial and what was going on in the marketing world at the time, because of that had a decent, good, open rate. And if I were going to, like do a redo of that one at all, I could probably throw Amanda Seyfried’s name in there since the drop out on Elizabeth Holmes trail is now on Hulu. And I could probably pick up even more cultural references right there by doing that, which should be kind of fun, right? 

5. That orgasm looks good on you.

I know, I totally went with it.

Yes, friends, I used the word orgasm in a subject line. I’ve used this same email for coming up on two years now. I keep it early in my nurture sequence because it does two things for me. It gets the prudes to unsubscribe early (therefore keeping my email deliverability up) and it delivers a very memorable message about why knowing your best client matters in every element of your marketing.

In this email, I tell a quick story of buying a friend makeup–blush in this case–without even looking at the color of her skin. I was able to do this because this makeup shade, Nars’ Orgasm, looks good on everyone. It’s a de facto product, just like you’ll be the de facto solution for your best clients when you nail your marketing by being relevant to them AND meeting their needs.

This email had an average 51% open rate last year. And if you noticed I went for the shock factor in this line, you’re right!

Now, all of these, these five emails plus the email rules, as I said earlier, should help you as you move forward to think a little more strategically about your email subject lines.

If you need more help with us, I do help clients write email sequences frequently. I’d love to help you as well. And as I mentioned at the beginning, if you are not into writing regular emails, I think it’s time to address that in your business, but also everything we talked about here is 100% applicable to any content that you write.

Everyone needs headlines, everyone needs hooks.

Without them, nobody is going to be doing a great job for their content strategy as a whole.

If you need help measuring your email campaigns if you don’t have a way to easily see what’s going on with them, that is a whole nother issue that we can talk about. We can set up a dashboard to see which emails are resonating well with your audience, which ones are not, and which ones are racking up a few too many spam complaints or unsubscribes. Unsubscribes are good but you know too many on any one piece of content, it is a calling card for you to pay attention to. 

All right. I hope that helps you guys. If you have any questions about your email marketing strategy, please do reach out is something that we can handle as part of the Biz GPS marketing intensive, as well as writing really good nurturing emails for your business. Alright, bye guys.

Are you ready to create a measurable content plan?

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