5 subject line steroids that WILL get opens

Subject lines are  a bone fo contention for me. On the one hand, they can increase the number of people who open your emails in general.

For example, I’ve just made £3000 and I’m sharing it with you will get opens. But recently, I’ve been looking at WHO opens my emails.

I’m not sure I want all my emails to be opened by everyone. When they open that email and the content is all about WordPress themes, only the people who open it AND who are interested in WordPress themes are going to click.

However, if my subject line was This WordPress theme made me £3000 and here’s your share. That would get FEWER clicks, but I’m more likely to get clicks from those who open.

Email open rates are like revenue. They’re pure vanity unless they actually do something. I could get near 100% open rates (and I have) but only to see the clicks PLUMMET because the subject line didn’t deliver on what was in the email.

email subject line open rate steroids

“But it was only sent to 94 people…”
Don’t worry about that, the important thing is that I’m great.

So, if you think you need more opens, then use the email subject line steroids below. But be warned, open rates are only useful if you can prove people convert on the other side.

1. Use Re: in the subject

I like to use this one in automation series’ and after I’ve already sent a few emails.

Subject: Re: Your login details

For example, if I’m sending login details on automation, but I have a up-sell or one-time-offer, I might send another email a few days later. I’ll use the subject line Re: Your login details to make sure they’re likely to open it.

Re: really only works if your subscriber is aware of what they’re being sent or will know what you’re talking about.

If I put Re: Your Grandmother died…that might not work so well.


Re: subject lines based increase open rate

Live example – Matt sent me an email with this software based sales letter. Got me to open AND buy


2. Use their name in the subject

This is by far the easiest and “least spammy” of all the email subject steroids. It’s easily recognised by your subscribers, clearly shows that they’re on your list with their name (less likely to be bought data) and makes people WANT to open it.

The only drawback is when people put the wrong name in the field (Hello Mrs. I don’t give my name to anyone – a real name I collected from a campaign). We have a data cleaning service on our lists that connects social accounts and gets the right name. But sometimes we’ll still send subject lines with first and last names.

Subject: Olivia, have I shown you this email hack?


Use names increase email open rates

3. Direct subject lines

Direct subject lines are designed to show exactly what’s inside the email. It’s a qualifier, showing the reader what will be inside the email if they open. They’re REALLY useful for segmenting your list or if you’re sending certain emails to a segment.

A direct subject line could contain an industry, a content type, a known company or anything specific that will speak to your audience.

News items are typically direct subject lines.

Subject: UK investment banks struggle with Trump and Brexit

Who wouldn’t want to read that?! Just me? Cool…

The idea is that we separate out people who aren’t interested in a subject and people know what they’re getting.


Direct subject line email open rate investment banks

The fast-paced, exciting world of Michael Killen’s personal finance ladies and gentlemen


Another example would be mentioning a piece of content or action.

Subject: [Case study] 1 in 5 e-commerce stores fail with payment gateways

I know, reading that, that I could get a piece of content that I can download and read.

Direct subject lines have lower open rates, but typically higher clicks per open IF the content delivers on what the subject line promises.


Content based direct subject line

Some guy called Jeff Walker seems to know about emails. I’ve never heard of him though.


4. Indirect subjects lines

Indirect subject lines are closer to, for lack of a better term, click bait.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with click bait. But usually the content you click through to is awful (why do you need a new page for EVERY image of penguins dressed as fancy butlers?)

Indirect lines often have the highest open rates because they’re designed to be exciting, intriguing or controversial.

Subject: If you use this plugin, your site IS vulnerable

It’s like the news saying “a well-known soft drink brand has been poisoned with strychnine. We’ll tell you which one…at 11”

It doesn’t always have to be fear based though.

Subject: I have GOT to share this with you! I love it!

Indirect subject lines get opens because people are curious. However they get lower clicks per open (on average) because the content then qualifies them out.


Jeff walker investment indirect subject lines open

Two for the price of one here


5. Conversational

Finally, conversation based email subject lines work GREAT after you’ve got to know your list a little.

I tend to try and send a conversation based subject line/email quite early on. It sets the tone for the kind of marketing and tone of voice that I have.

Subject line: Hey, can I get your opinion on this?

It’s more relaxed, doesn’t come across as marketing-y.

I have mixed responses with conversation based subject lines. Some are clicked really well, others seem to fall flat.

I use them because I get bored more than anything, of sending the same marketing based subject lines. Sometimes it’s nice just to “write an email”. I’ll usually skip the HTML email too, focusing on a plain text email to be sent with a converation subject line.


Oren Klaff subject line open rate

I like this because it also shows a little vulnerability


There’s no magic key to email subject lines that are going to get you 100% open rates. I’d rather have one person open each email, but guarantee a sale over high open rates.

I know a lot of people talk about subject lines and complain about copying these types. “I don’t want to be seen as spam though!” I totally get what you’re saying, a lot of my customers feel the same way. But the truth is that if you’re worried about being seen as spam, you’re probably sending spam.

You should be so confident that each email is useful and will HELP people, that the idea of spamming people doesn’t come into question.

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Mike Killen

Mike is the world's #1 sales coach for marketing funnel builders. He helps funnel builders sell marketing funnels to their customers. He is the author of From Single To Scale; How single-person, small and micro-businesses can scale their business to profit. You can find him on Twitter @mike_killen.