In comes one of my favorite subject line stories that’s ever come across my desk:
If you regularly send emails to your list, then you know the importance of curiosity-provoking, value-centric, personal subject lines.
Or perhaps, the lack thereof.
Let’s dive into it:
If you google “how to write better subject lines” you get a load of shytty advice from email marketing behemoths — like Mailchimp, HubSpot, and all the other ESPs who wrote about this subject as an SEO play (instead of actually knowing how to write subject lines).
All these article repeat the same fluff:
Keep it “short.”
And of course, the most egregious “advice:”
Put a big, fat discount in your email because they get the highest opens!!!
While I *guess* these sorts of subject lines are an improvement over what NPCs send… they’re god awful if you have an inkling of direct response copywriting in your bones.
And this is a deeper problem infecting the entire world of email and digital marketing:
You get slap-happy SEO articles from multi-million and billion dollar companies where the advice is fluff at best and downright garbage at worst.
This is why you cannot rely on Google anymore to learn new skills.
Anyway, let’s tear summadis “advice” apart.
There are some general rules you want to follow when writing subject lines:
You want it to provoke your readers’ curiosity.
You want to add contrast if’n you can.
You want to add urgency — as long as it’s *real* urgency and not some half-baked deadline because you read a fluff-filled Mailchimp article. (And let me be clear again: these companies only know how to rig SEO, they don’t know squat about writing good subject lines.)
And there are a bunch of other “best practices” which I mention in my Bullet Dojo training (which you can find in the appendix section of the book I bribed you with to join this here list).
But you know what?
Some of the best subject lines written broke all these rules.
Let’s look at a few of my own examples and then one from the esteemed (and retired) Jim Clair.
Let’s start with an email you’ve already received on this list:
The subject line I’m about to share witcha got one of the highest open rates out of all my emails…
It commands a 66.7% open rate — making it the 5th highest open rate.
But keep this in mind:
The first 3 emails I send when someone signs up have a 92.9%, 88.9%, and 73.3% open rate. I send two of those emails (the 92.9% and 88.9% ones) on the same day as when someone signs up.
If you’ve been in this email game for a while, your first (and second) emails always do the best. Especially when you set up a welcome series like I have.
1. In the first email, I deliver the book you joined my list for. And since this goes out immediately after someone signs up, they’re still thinking about the book and wanna get their dirty hands on it.
2. In the second email — which I send a couple hours after the first — I send a quick email making sure they got it.
(This email has a “hidden” benefit. It helps me avoid the spam and promotions folder and talk to new people on my list.)
Then, the third email — the one with the 73.3% open rate — tells you how to sell out of a product every time you hit “send,” which is something my audience desperately wants to know.
Alright, back to the subject line that broke all the rules and still commands a 66.7% open rate:
That was the subject line (give or take a few “e’s”).
It doesn’t promise anything.
Provide no value.
Isn’t personal. (I suspect at least half the people opening it don’t even know what the word means before opening it.)
Doesn’t have any contrast, urgency, or any other ingredients which make for a good subject line.
It’s hardly even curiosity-provoking.
Yet, 66.7% of people who get it, open it.
Especially considering this is the 9th email in my series. And the surrounding emails only get 40% or 50% opens.
Here’s another example…
This one comes from my days before I started freelancing. Back when I worked for a design agency and had a bunch of other “marketing duties” in addition to writing and sending emails.
I don’t have the specific stats for this email because this happened over 3—maybe closer to 4—years ago. And if I did have the screenshots still on my computer, I’m not digging through them.
But I can tell you this:
This email got an insane amount of opens, replies, and yes, sales.
The subject line?
My dog got a hot spot this morning
Then, I told a story about how not worrying about graphic design helps you place your focus on other, more important parts of life. Like your dog.
‘twas a hoot. And, yes, based on a true story.
I sent this during a sales campaign where most of the other emails were “40% off act nOW or dIe!”
And again, it broke all the “rules” of writing subject lines.
Which brings me to my favorite story about subject lines from Jim Clair.
Jim Clair’s a (retired) direct response copywriter. He’s one of the best in the game and one of my favorite teachers.
Anyway, I’ve heard him tell this story a few times before:
He’s sent a bunch of emails over his career. And his highest opened email had the subject line which I “swiped” as my subject line for this email:
He’s sent way more emails to his list than I have to mine.
Yet, this was his highest opened email.
Again, it broke all the rules.
(I don’t even know what this email was about because this was before I came across Jim’s work.)
Moral of the story?
Find out what works.
Make sure you know (and use) all the subject lines “rules.”
But then break them.
As often as you can.
And remember this:
Rules are meant to be broken.
If they weren’t?
They wouldn’t be rules.
Need help breaking the rules (and breaking the ceiling of your bank account while you do)?
If you have a proven offer, we might just be able to dump kerosene onto your email marketing efforts.
But this won’t last forever.
*cue dramatic music*