Transcript: How Your Subject Line Could Be Killing Your Emails

January 22, 2015

AMY PORTERFIELD: Hey there, Amy Porterfield here, and welcome to another episode of the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast. Now, as always, I am thrilled that you are here today. 

What’s we’re going to be discussing today is highly important. It’s all about the email subject line. Here’s the deal, the way I see it, your email marketing efforts are only as good as the emails that are getting opened. Am I right? 

Because of that I wanted to spend an entire episode on the email subject line. Last week in Episode #42 we talked about the three list-building foundational strategies that you need in order to build up your list-building efforts. So the strategies that I gave you in Episode #42 were truly to set the list-building foundation. 

This episode we’re going to dive in a little bit deeper and go into the email marketing strategies, specifically the subject lines, because if you’re going to grow that list I want to make sure that those emails are now going to get opened because you put all of this effort in to getting the leads. 

Because of that, I wanted to dive into actually five email subject line formulas. We’re going to do that in just a moment. But before I go any further, as promised in the last episode, I want to make you a PDF download for each episode I’m doing now so that you have extra support with what I’m teaching you. 

So I created a really cool email subject line formula cheat sheet. I don’t know about you, but I am a sucker for cheat sheets. All you need to do is go to http:// or you can text me. All you need to do is text 43download to the number 38470 and I will send you your PDF cheat sheet instantly. It’s really, really, really good. You can print it out, put it beside you when you’re crafting your email subject lines. It’s extremely useful. 

One more thing, this episode is brought to you by Lead Pages. Instead of creating a little ad for Lead Pages, what I did is actually create a mini training. That’s what I think I do best. So I actually created a mini training where I show you the three lead pages I use daily to grow my email list. Then I take you literally step by step through the process of creating a really valuable high-converting lead page. 

I take you behind the scenes with me and show you exactly everything I do to get the lead page up and running. If that sounds good to you you’ve got to go check it out. It’s brand new and you can find it at I think you’re going to love it. 

Okay, now it’s time for the meat of this episode where we’re going to get into the five email subject line formulas. Let’s do it. 

Essentially, this episode is all about copy writing. I don’t know about you but there have been times when I spent hours drafting the perfect email. This happens a lot when it’s linked to a big launch I’m doing or a webinar that’s going to eventually lead people to a sales funnel or anything I’m doing to lead people to a sales page. 

I spend a lot of time on that email content. But what I’ve learned over the last few years is I need to put equal energy into that email subject line  because,  as  I mentioned earlier, if your emails aren’t getting opened then no one is ever going to see all of the effort you put into the email copy. 

Definitely think of your email subject line as an extension of your copy writing efforts for that overall email. 

A few things about how I created this episode. I pulled from a few resources, the first resource being my own personal experience. Over the last five years I’ve been emailing my own email list and I’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t work in terms of getting that email opened. So I’m going to share some of my own personal experiences, in the form of different formulas I’ll share with you today, so that you can actually get a taste of what I’ve learned over the last few years. 

In addition to that, over the last few years, I’ve also kept a swipe file. What I mean by that is I have a Gmail address that I use for only the opt ins that I want to opt into. This email list is only emails coming from marketers that I trust, that I admire, that I think are pushing the limits doing some new things and I pay close attention to those email subject lines and how they relate to the content inside. 

I have become a student of email marketing by studying what other people are doing that is actually really working. I use this as my swipe file to get creativity  and inspiration. Of course, I don’t use it to copy but just to get some new ideas. 

Lastly, I have recently started to use a book called Advertising Headlines That Make You Rich. I know, it’s not the best title, but the book is really good. It’s not a book that you just read chapter by chapter and learn about the importance of email subject lines or anything like that. It’s actually a tool that you use. 

You can keep it by your computer and when you are going to draft a headline for a sales page or email or webinar or blog post you can grab this book and there are over 

240 different examples of really, really good headlines. Some are a little more aggressive than others but it will definitely give you inspiration. 

This book is by David Garfinkle, again, it is a really, really great resource. Michael Hyatt was the first one who introduced me to it and I know he uses it a lot as well. In that book David said something so simple but really powerful. It sets the stage for us today. He said, “With a good headline you stand a fighting chance of having anything from minimal to overwhelming success. But without a good headline your chances of success are next to zero.” 

I couldn’t agree more. That’s why it was so important for me to create this episode for you today. Let’s dive into strategy #1. 

Strategy #1 for email subject line writing is all about focusing on the benefit. When you draft your email subject line I want you to think of the end result that your reader wants. What does your reader want? Where are they living now? I don’t mean physically, but where are they spending their time mentally? What do they need, what do they want, what keeps them up at night? What are they worried about? 

Knowing your audience is key to that benefit-themed subject line. So what I want you to do is really start to question what will get your audience to pay attention and think they want or need “that” or that they can relate to “that”. 

Again, it’s all about the benefit. Here’s my test for a really good subject line no matter what type of formula you are using. But I want to say this early so you can think about this as I give you the other formulas. If someone read your email subject line and they were your perfect ideal audience and then somebody else read your subject line and 

they really weren’t your perfect ideal audience and weren’t really interested in what you are selling, the perfect audience that is reading it will think, “yes, I get it. I’m paying attention.” 

But what I want to happen with the people that are not in your perfect audience, I want them to think that you have written a meaningless headline, that it’s annoying and they don’t get it. They will question why you said what you said. 

I want that polarizing effect to happen for you because when that is happening you know you’ve struck gold with that subject line. 

Hopefully you are not emailing a bunch of people that are not in your target audience. But just use that as a frame of reference. If someone read your email subject line that was not your ideal audience would it be so general that they don’t have any reaction or would they look at it and think, “that’s silly,” “that’s annoying,” or “that’s meaningless”? That is what you actually want to happen. 

Just think about it in terms of the reaction and then it will help you be a little bit more creative in what you are putting together. 

I want to give you some examples of subject lines that have to do with benefits because that’s our first strategy we’re talking about. But it’s a little weird for me to use a podcast to give you examples because I have to do a blank in there. I want to show you how to use it for your own niche so this might be a little bit weird at first. But stay with me here. And that’s why I created the cheat sheet for you as well so you can get all of these examples in the cheat sheet and them some more. 

Here is the first example of a benefit-themed email subject line: Here’s a quick way to beat sugar cravings. So to break that up for you it might be: Here’s a quick way to 

{blank}, and you would fill it in with doing something you can teach them to do. Again, the example here is: Here’s a quick way to beat sugar cravings. The “beat sugar cravings” is the benefit that your audience wants. So it’s a simple subject line, you’re just filling in the blank where it makes sense. Again, the cheat sheet will help more. 

Here’s another one: Who else wants to have a clutter-free closet? So the formula there is: Who else wants to have {blank}, and the blank is a promise of something that you can give them or a solution you can solve. So, if you’re an organizer and you help people organize their closets the subject line would make more sense: Who else wants to have a clutter-free closet? 

Here’s is another benefit-based subject line: See how easily you can learn to paint. This, of course, is for someone who teaches others how to paint. But the formula here is: See how easily you can {blank}, and you’re filling in that blank with something that you can teach them how to do. So one I might create would be: See how easily you can create engagement on Facebook. You get very specific to your niche, of course, but what I’m trying to give you is formulas where you can fill in the blank to make it easier for you. 

Basically, in a nutshell, strategy number one is focusing on benefits. You are making them understand how they can get results and you are making sure you are meeting them where they are at right now, where their insecurities are, where their fears are, what will make them actually pay attention. 

The means you really need to understand your audience. But that is actually something you need to do for all online marketing, understand your audience. Know who your avatar is. The more you understand them the better your subject lines will be. 

Strategy #2 for email subject line writing is to be specific. I love this one because specificity actually allows you to paint a picture quickly in your email subject line. When you are being specific in your email subject line you are actually hinting at something super valuable to your reader and you are giving specific details to make it more real. 

I love this one. I love to be as specific as possible because it also goes back to the fact that when your ideal audience reads that subject line they get it and when the non- ideal audience member reads the subject line they just don’t get it at all. So this really plays a part when we’re talking about getting really specific. 

Let me give you examples to help you really understand how this works. 

Here’s one of my favorite subject lines, this one was from John Morrow and he was emailing about John Dumas’s experiences with his podcast. It says: How a 30-minute podcast makes over $200,000 per month. You can’t get more specific than that, right? I’ll read it one more time: How a 30-minute podcast makes over $200,000 per month. 

If you want to use this formula this is what you would do: How a {blank} does {blank}. That’s pretty simple, right? But, how a {whatever it is that you are going to be working on with your audience} does {however the results that you want to show}. 

You are showing results and showing them something that will hopefully blow their mind. But it’s really simple in terms of the formula: How a {blank} does {blank}. 

Here’s another one when we are talking about  getting  specific:  What  every accountant ought to know about the new tax laws. For you it’s: What every {whatever your ideal audience is} needs to know. So what every marketer needs to know, what every fitness instructor needs to know, you just fill in the blank with your niche. What every {blank} needs to know about {blank}. The second blank is what you’re going to teach them, your knowledge, what you have to offer. 

This formula is really easy but it calls out your ideal audience in the subject line. It’s very specific in that way. So, getting specific will actually make people want to open up because they want to know the details. 

Here are some more tips for specificity. The first tip is to use numbers. In that first example you saw a lot of numbers: How a 30-minute podcast makes over $200,000 a month. That is specific and we are using numbers. 

Numbers make it more real and in some cases numbers can actually ignite action. What I mean by ignite action is that if you use numbers in terms of a list people tend to want to open up that email because we are very curious about inclusion and exclusion. 

Here’s an example of that, if I say: Three list-building strategies to set your foundation, people are curious. What are those strategies and what am I not including? Especially when you have a list like: Ten sugar craving solutions. Does that make sense? You have ten tips to stop your sugar cravings, you get the point. 

What I am doing there is making a list so that people are  curious  about  what’s included and what’s not included. They are also looking at that as a very doable solution. It’s digestible. You have taken a really big problem they have, craving sugar, and have put it into a small list of action items that I can chip away with one by one. 

Numbers and lists make it more real, more actionable, and digestible as well. 

Lastly, when we are talking about getting specific in an email subject line, you can get practical too. By practical, I mean telling people specifically what this email is all about. I use this in conjunction with another formula. 

Here’s an example, I might put in brackets the words [New Webinar]. Then I will put the title of the webinar. Or I might put [New Podcast] or [Video]. I put that in brackets because it’s the title that people will see right away and then they might see the subtitle of what they are going to learn. 

I am making it more practical by showing them what they are going to get. That kind of specificity helps as well. So that’s the second formula for your email subject lines. 

Strategy #3 for email subject line writing is  to  get  relevant.  By getting relevant, I mean using useful information that is timely as well. When I give you these subject line formulas they will make perfect sense. 

Here’s an example: Feeling out of control? Your guide to family, food, and the holidays. As you can see, it’s useful and it is very timely as well. It mentions the holidays. Obviously you would send this one out in late November or sometime in December. 

Here’s another example: What’s new with Instagram? This one is really simple because for you: What’s new with {blank}, and you fill in the blank. This one is so valuable because it keeps people on trend. Everyone knows that Instagram is hot right now and you are going to give them new information to keep them in the know. 

If you teach a topic that people constantly want to be in the know about, you can really play off that in your subject lines. For me that’s a big one. Facebook changes all the time. Social media is confusing and changes a lot as well. Keeping people in the know is part of my job so using a subject line like this is really helpful to me. 

Again, what’s new with {blank} and you are going to fill in the blank with something your customer is interested in related to your business. 

Here are a few other relevant subject line formulas: Ten of the best summertime recipes. Mentioning seasons, holidays, big events that your ideal audience is aware of helps a lot. 

This one is a little bit more tricky in terms of the email service provider you use, but this one is really valuable because it’s specific and relevant. Here’s the subject line: I’ll be in San Diego next week. Join me? 

You are literally calling out a location. Studies have shown that when you use locations or locations in terms of city or the area or maybe even a state that the subscriber lives, they are more likely to pay attention and open that email. If this makes sense and you can actually make this work with your email service provider, letting people know where you are going to be is a really great way to get that email opened. 

What I’ve seen in a lot of marketers who are going to be around my area, when they are speaking, will send out an email and I know that they didn’t send it out to peer of mine because I have asked. So what happens is if someone is going to be speaking in San Francisco, which is a short plane ride from San Diego, I might see that email. But somebody in New York is not going to see the email. 

That’s another way you can use the relevancy in order to get in front of the people that actually will care about that topic. 

When it comes to being relevant you want to make reference to timing of an event or maybe a cart closing or an opportunity that’s going away such as a special bonus you created. That’s very specific to your business. 

But, in general, if you’re not promoting something but you want to get that email opened to send people to a blog post or a podcast you can reference current trends going on, items in the news, or anything that’s a pressing concern to your ideal audience. Getting relevant means you’re useful and really timely in your email subject line. 

Strategy #4 for email subject line writing is to make it personal. By personal I am actually talking about making it personal to you, which then translates into making it personal for your reader. 

Have you ever received one of those emails where you literally thought the email was written just for you? This happens a lot with my good friend David Siteman Garland, who I think I mentioned in the last episode as well. When he sends emails out I think they are specifically for me because there are other times that David just emails me because we do promotions together. 

I never know the difference between when he is personally emailing me versus when he is emailing his entire list. And that is a really, really cool strategy. You want people to feel like you have a relationship with them. So you can go to extremes with this or you can be a little bit more subtle. I think David goes to more extremes and I probably wouldn’t use those strategies for my own marketing but they work great for his. 

The last one he sent was, “Yo.” Then he actually said, “I spent 20 minutes sitting here trying to think of a subject line and I couldn’t think of one so I just went with ‘Yo.’” 

He has a lot of fun with it as well but when you see a subject line that says, “Yo,” you are thinking that is just for you, right? So he gets me every time. But I think that is a good thing as long as he is not trying to trick me or do something that isn’t out of integrity, which is never his intention. You’ve just got to use this one wisely and just be careful with it. 

But my point is that you want it to be personal. A lot of personal subject lines work really well when you’ve built some trust with your audience. So if you’re brand new to email marketing and your audience is brand new to you, you want to be a little bit careful with this strategy. 

For me, I’ve had people on my list for years now, so I can get away with this strategy and see more success with it. Let me give you an example so you understand what I mean. One example is: How I finally stopped skipping my workouts. 

You are making the subject line about you but skipping workouts is something you know your audience is struggling with. You are telling the story of how you accomplished a goal, overcame an obstacle, whatever it might be. But that obstacle is very specific to the needs of your audience. 

Again: How I finally stopped skipping my workouts. As you know, you can fill in the blanks where needed to make it more personal to your niche. 

Here’s another one: Has this ever happened to you? Usually when people ask if something has ever happened to you they are saying it because it has happened to them. Again, that’s how to make it personal but still about your reader. The question almost demands an open because it’s so open ended, right? I love that one. 

Here’s another one that is more specific to the online marketing  world  where marketers are teaching how to market: Here’s the tools I use daily to grow my email list. That is one I use in an email I send about a free PDF I have. 

For you, it would be: Here’s the {blank} I use to {blank}. It might not be tools, it might be here’s the logic, here’s the mindset, whatever it might mean to you in terms of “Here’s what I do to do this.” That’s another way you can use these subject lines. 

You are making it personal but you are also making it about them. Use the subject line to show readers that you are actually on their side, that they are not alone. People want to feel that connection with you. If you show that you empathize with the challenges they are having or the problems they might be facing you are going to get that email opened. 

Strategy #5 for email subject line writing: Speaking of emphasizing what their challenge is the next strategy is to call out challenges or problems. All of us want to make less mistakes. Even if you are speaking to risk takers they are still interested in finding ways that they can minimize the mistakes they are making. 

Again, you want to use this one with integrity. You are not looking to scare your audience. You are just looking to bring awareness to them. Let me give you a few examples: Do you make these coupon-saving mistakes? 

This is a person that’s speaking to people that are saving money and cutting coupons. Do you make these coupon-cutting mistakes? The example for you is: Do you make these {blank} mistakes. What is it in your niche that you know your audience is constantly struggling with? Fill in the blank with that. 

Here’s another one: The most common mistakes every {blank} makes. So, the most common mistakes every fitness instructor makes, the most common mistakes every fisherman makes, whatever your niche market is. And make sure you can back up these subject lines with the content. We’ll get into that in a moment but that’s important for me to bring up there. 

Again, you are calling out these mistakes because people don’t want to keep making them. So they are going to pay attention. 

Here’s another one: Here’s how goal-setting can hurt your business. For you: Here’s how {blank} can hurt your {blank}. It might be: Here’s how improper stretching can hurt your back, whatever it is that your niche is. That is one of mine that I recently used with a promotion I did and it is so powerful because goal-setting is a really popular thing amongst my niche. 

So I am saying a really good thing that is popular can hurt you. You can use this subject line a few different ways but one of the ways is to say here’s how something they think is good can actually be hurting them. That’s one way to go about the strategy where you are calling out a problem or a challenge. 

Here’s another one: You don’t need to master Facebook ads to make them profitable for your business. An example: You don’t need to {blank} (and you are going to add something your audience has a limiting belief around). 

My audience has a lot of limiting beliefs around the effectiveness of Facebook ads. So I tell them you don’t need to master Facebook ads to…and I am going to fill in the blank with an accomplishment of something I know I can help with; you don’t need to master Facebook ads (the place they struggle and have limiting beliefs) to make them profitable to your business (the “profitable to your business” is the part I can help with). 

I love that subject line. Again, I am going to put these all in a cheat sheet and then add some to that. I have actually already done this and it is waiting for you now. So, if some of these kind of sounded interesting to you but you need to see them on paper, don’t worry, they are in the cheat sheet. 

I told you five strategies and that was the five strategies. But I have one more for you and that one is to break the rules. I say that because you know in your gut what your audience is going to respond to. I know that I can’t send an email subject line that says, “Yo.” 

But I know that David probably got one of his biggest open rates with that. So you’ve got to go with your gut and know what’s going to work with your audience. And, of course, stay in integrity. Whatever it is that you put in that subject line you’ve got to deliver in the email. 

But, stay out of your comfort zone with your subject lines. I want to challenge you in the next 24 hours to create some subject lines that kind of push the limit for you and make you feel a little bit uncomfortable or think it’s not totally your style but your audience could really respond to it. 

Remember, the subject lines aren’t about you, your business, or your product. The subject lines are about your audience, meeting them where they are at, understanding their challenges and knowing what they want, their desires, their interests, the benefits to them. 

Make sure you are going about this the right way and you will start to see those open rates climb. 

The last thing I am going to tell you is I am going to give you a rapid breakdown of different things you can do with your email subject lines to help you move forward with this strategy quickly. But before I get there, one more time, I want to encourage you to download the cheat sheet. 

You can get it at Or you can just text the word 43download to 38470. So definitely check out the cheat sheet, it will make this entire episode so much more actionable for you. 

Are you ready for your rapid round of email subject line tips and tricks? 

  1. The first thing I want to say is to push yourself to write more than one email subject line for each email you’re going to send. If you can, ask for feedback. Ask your team, ask your peers, which subject line they like best and why they like it. Still, always go with your gut but that feedback can be really valuable. So write five subject lines per email. I know, it’s a stretch but you will be surprised what could come out of that. 
  2. Always ask yourself when you write an email subject line, “so what, who cares?” That is a little test you do. When you read the subject line ask yourself whether your audience is really going to care, is there something in there that people can say, “yes, I get it, I’m paying attention. That’s important to me.” 
  3. Don’t ever be too cute, clever, or too funny in your email subject lines. If you are you are going to get the open for the wrong reason. If it’s funny people might just open it because it’s funny but then they are not even attached to what’s to come. You want to just be careful. If you are too cute or too clever you are setting the wrong tone for your email. I just want you to stay away from that kind of danger area. 
  4. Does your headline mean everything to your business or everything to your prospect? That is something you’ve got to be really truthful and go with your gut on. Read your subject line and decide if it’s about your business, really truly? Or is it about helping, adding value, giving information  to  your prospect that they actually care about? Make it about them. 
  5. Always write as though you are writing to just one person. I am sure you already knew that but I wanted to throw that in there. That is so important. 
  6. Try to create a headline with only short words. This is something I learned from that book as well. One or two syllable words are important. When you make it punchy like that people are more likely to read it quickly, pay attention, and open it. So the fewer syllables the better. This is just one strategy. It might work for you if you use those bigger, longer words but this is something for you just to try. 
  7. Finally, a great headline can instantly undermine your goals when the headline does not deliver what it promises. 

I’ve said this a few times throughout this episode so I’m going to wrap it up here and just say to make sure that when you craft that email subject line that you are actually preparing your lead, the person reading it (the reader), for an invitation you are going to make. That invitation might be to click something to read on a blog or listen to your podcast or sign up for your webinar. 

You are setting the tone with that email subject line and you are being really careful that whatever you are promising you are actually delivering. That will add trust and will make sure that the next time you send out an email you are going to get an open and it will let people know that they are going to get something of great value from you every single time they open your email. This is something really important for you to remember. 

There you have it, I hope you found this session all about your email subject lines really, really valuable and the next time you write an email subject line make sure you use that cheat sheet to help you spark some creativity. And if you want to take things even further, grab the book that I talked about as well. 

You can find a link to that book and all of the other resources I mentioned here in my show notes at I cannot wait to talk to you again next week. I hope you have an outstanding week and you really get a lot done. Make it a productive week. Work on those email subject lines and I’ll talk to you again soon. Take care. 

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