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Email Subject Lines

email subject headersI recently wrote an article about email strategies for bloggers.  I’ve had a fair number of people contact me with questions about the email subject lines, which I had kind of glossed over.

So, I thought I’d put together a quick review of the whole business of writing subject lines that are effective at getting your emails opened.

Well, actually, let me change that.

You know, just about everybody that asks me about this topic, wants to know how to get their emails opened.

I was even going to name this article “Email Subject Lines That Will Boost Your Open Rates”.

But I changed it to simply “Email Subject Lines”.

It’s a bit troubling for me to work with people on their email series and they get all worked up about their open rates… even when they’re getting really good conversions on click-throughs and sales.


You Don’t Get Paid For “Opens”

You see, if your email list is designed to deliver buyers and clients, the open rate is not really what you should focus on.

Sure, it’s important to get your emails opened, and there’s lots of “tricks” to make that happen.  But I’ve seen many a great “open rate” crash and burn in the ROI department.

That’s because you don’t get paid for “opens”.  You only get paid when someone actually buys a product or hires you to perform a service.  That’s what I call and end-game conversion.  And it’s the only one that effects your ROI, or baseline profit.


Would You Open These?

That said, it’s obviously a good idea to get lots of folks to open your emails.

BUT… only if they want what you’re offering.

Say I want you to buy my 4-week e-course about herbal health remedies.

If you’re on my herbal remedies list, would you open these emails?

  • Free herbal remedies
  • Your account is in jeopardy
  • Customer service request
  • is this your credit card?
  • I saw you on Facebook
  • Are you still up?

These are actual email subject lines that I’ve seen people touting as having great open rates.

Can you guess why?

Because people like free, they don’t want their accounts in jeopardy and want to take immediate action to fix things, they want to know what Customer Service has for them, they’re anxious about somebody having their credit card, they think it’s cool you saw them on Facebook, and they’re wondering why YOU are up so late and what you want to tell them.

These are all baited messages geared strictly to achieve an open.

And they do.

And I repeat: You don’t get paid for “opens”.


When “Opens” Convert Into “Unsubscribes”

You have an email list to build trust.

Tricking people into opening your emails with subject headings like the ones I listed will increase your opens, but will probably increase your “unsubscribes” and even “report as spams”.

People don’t like being tricked, and it certainly is not the way to build the trust factor between you and them.

Many will unsubscribe from your list or report your mail as spam, others will simply become conditioned to ignoring your emails altogether as being gimmicky and lacking substance or benefit.


So What DOES Work?

Now that I’ve gone on about what doesn’t work, I’ll tell you what I think does.

1. Be transparent.  Just let your readers know what you’re up to, and why you want them to open your message.  If they choose not to open today, they open another one down the road.

2. Offer value.  What will your reader benefit from opening your email?  Will they learn something, will they get a laugh?  Whatever it is, try to let them know what to expect in your subject line.

3. Be congruent.  Make your subject line congruent with the body of your email.  If your subject line says “get a free ebook”, then give them the link to it in the email.  Don’t get them to open the message only to find out they have to buy something or sign up for something in order to get the free ebook.

Those are really the 3 main rules I like to use.

Now there are other things that email marketers like to argue about.

Some say to use short subject lines, especially since mobile feeds won’t show long ones, only part of them.  Sounds like a good idea to me.

You always hear that you should avoid words like “free” “opportunity” “business” “profits” or “cash” among others.  That will supposedly get your message sent to the spam folder.  I think that’s changing, though, and if you’re a trusted sender with you list, those messages can get past the spam process.  And they’re great words to use, so try it out and see what happens.

Question marks are supposed to be good because they are engaging, you’re never supposed to use all caps because they’re insulting and you should try to paint incomplete pictures like “I can’t believe I said this…” because people are just so curious to have the idea completed.

My strongest advice to you is something that marketers hate to hear, but I’m going to say it anyway because I’ve built up such strong trust and likeability that I’m sure you won’t bounce 🙂

My advice is this.


Test everything and anything.

Are question marks compelling? Do your readers love the word free?  Do they respond to incomplete thoughts, personal stories, rants and raves?

All audiences are different.

Whirlwind Success VIP Club

Find out what yours is all about by testing with all sorts of headlines, assessing your various open rates, and MOSTLY… by seeing how many people actually click-through on your call to action, and complete the action… buy, sign-up or whatever.

Remember, you don’t win any prizes or earn any profits with opens.  But it’s a start.

David Merrill 101
I'm an Internet Marketer and Online Marketing Coach. My students learn no-nonsense, power strategies and techniques to build solid blogging and internet businesses. David Merrill+

28 Responses to Email Subject Lines

  1. Shelley Alexander April 21, 2014 at 12:30 am #

    David, You have provided some excellent suggestions for email subject lines! I do know that the emails I like to open are the ones that are truthful and not using any gimmicks to get me to open them. I like transparency and value in the emails that I read and I agree with you that it’s the best way to build trust with your email list too. Thanks for all the good tips.
    Shelley Alexander´s last blog post ..11 Wonder Herbs That Aid Hair Growth

  2. David Merrill 101 April 21, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

    I think we too often try to be clever, Shelley, and assume that if we can get folks to open our emails, we’ve won the battle.

    But, really, transparency, as you say… will really get you a much better and more loyal email list over the long haul.
    David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Email Marketing Strategies for Bloggers

  3. Sarah Arrow April 21, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    Yes, it’s so mice to see another marketer talking about tricking people leading to unsubscribes. All the clever headlines in the world will not stop someone from unsubscribing if they feel you took advantage of them!
    the money is when you train the reader to take an action, like click through!
    Sarah Arrow´s last blog post ..100 Quick Email Marketing Tips

    • David Merrill 101 April 22, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

      As you said, Sarah, you really need train your readers to take specific actions. You won’t be able to do this by playing games with them. Just be authentic and up front in your approach, and they’ll gladly comply with your requests for action.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post .. Email Subject Lines

  4. Dr. Erica Goodstone April 23, 2014 at 12:27 am #


    Very helpful article. My favorite is your statement that “You don’t’ get paid for opens.” I also love your reminder to build trust with your list instead of tricking. So many marketers use these trick techniques but they are accepted because their readers know they are marketers, In my case, when focusing on Relationship Healing, the last thing my audience would appreciate is being hyped and tricked.

    You have to know your market and your style that works for you.



    Dr. Erica
    Dr. Erica Goodstone´s last blog post ..Pain Relief – What is the BEST CHOICE for YOU?

  5. nick catricala April 26, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

    a pleasure and enjoyment to come and read your article today…

    I could sense your disappointment with some clients that do not clearly understand what you described as the main rules I like to use. “Be transparent”, “Be congruent”, and “Offer Value”..
    I am certain that people who clearly understand how this is important.., will never argue with you any more about what was the open rate of their emails.

    Thanks as always, for sharing your knowledge, wisdom and care to support others.

    nick catricala´s last blog post ..Follow Me….

    • David Merrill 101 May 5, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

      You’re so right, Nick.

      People don’t understand the importance of value because they get so caught up in the open rates. They’re just playing a numbers game. “x” percent of opens will convert to “x” number of dollars.

      What they don’t seem to understand is that hype results in quick dollars, then you have to do it again and again, always looking for folks to game.

      But value builds loyal followers and a real, continuing business that requires less and less time on your part, trying to build a list of followers, clientele or customer base.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Best Blogging Business Model

  6. Allen April 26, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    Hi David ,
    You are so right because i find myself deleting emails because of some of the reasons that you have mentioned. Trust is a major factor in business and it is hard to gain but easy to destroy .
    Allen´s last blog post ..Facebook Friend

  7. Sarupa Shah April 28, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    OMG David – you have made my heart sing – as I have not been able to put my finger on what is mostly said about email subject lines and you have hit the nail on the head and given me the missing piece. I always felt so uncomfortable when a coach would say to me try this headline – I think write with honesty and of course attraction as no one wants boring either …, thanks for the inspiration today!
    Sarupa Shah´s last blog post ..The heart centered truth about your net worth!

    • David Merrill 101 May 5, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

      So glad to hear you’ve found some value here, Sarupa.

      I’m sure I don’t have to tell you: weight what your coach says, then act from intuition. Never fails 🙂
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Best Blogging Business Model

  8. Marquita Herald April 28, 2014 at 7:52 am #

    Great advice David. Honestly I can’t imagine opening any email with any of the headlines you listed, but then I’m pretty suspicious by nature. I’ve only recently set up a split test and now I can’t believe I waited this long to experiment! I’ve also recently surveyed my “new” community for the first time. Quite a few of the subscribers from my previous blog joined the list for the new blog but there are also a lot of new members so i wanted to start getting a feel for their wants and needs early on. Having that connection and feedback makes a huge difference!
    Marquita Herald´s last blog post ..It’s Time We Redefine Our View of Late Bloomers

    • David Merrill 101 May 5, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

      I’d love to hear how your split tests pan out, Marty.

      It’s always interesting to test what you “think” will work, but then seeing what actually does.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Best Blogging Business Model

  9. Adrienne April 30, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    Hey David,

    Well we all know we don’t have a chance in hell of getting a good ROI if they don’t open those emails so while that is important I get what you’re saying and especially with the examples you’ve shared.

    I see a lot of those too and I’m surprised people fall for that stuff. But I was taught some time back about the headlines that would guarantee an open email but when you have a newbie pulling that trick you’ll get a ton of unsubscribes. When you have a reputable marketer that is offering value you’ll keep them around.

    I’ve learned over years of trial and error that honesty is always the best policy. Being so transparent with your list and only giving them what you know will benefit them will keep the right people around. I may not have a big list but I’ve got a loyal and trusting one. I get my stragglers that are only there for the free report but they soon give up or I delete them, whichever comes first.

    Thanks for this information, good stuff.

    Adrienne´s last blog post ..DoFollow or NoFollow: Heated Debate

    • David Merrill 101 May 5, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

      If you’ve got loyal and trusting followers on your list, then you’re obviously doing things the right way, Adrienne.

      Building loyalty and trust is the main objective. In the long run, it’s far more important than getting a few sales for some hit and run affiliate products.

      Thanks for your feedback, here, and keep up the great work!
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Best Blogging Business Model

  10. Leslie Denning May 3, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    Hi David. My spam folder is full of the kind of headlines you mentioned. Ugh! These are some very practical tips on getting opens, and I appreciate your sharing this information. This has been the focus of my study for several months, and I’m grabbing any information I can get.

    All the best,
    Leslie Denning´s last blog post ..You Can Weave Magic with Stories

    • David Merrill 101 May 5, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

      Another great way to improve your open rate, Leslie, since you’re looking deeply into it… is this.

      Download a .csv spreadsheet of your email list/s and create a “custom audience” on Facebook with it. Then, whether you run some newsfeed ads, run a “like” campaign, or just boost some posts… you can target that audience specifically, and solely.

      Do that a few times, and tie in your FB campaign with your email broadcasts to create congruence and peak interest.

      For instance, just think if one of your email subscribers gets a newsfeed post on FB that says something like… “Hope you got the idea of how to create a massive audience for your videos. If you missed it, check out your email under the subject line: ‘build a massive audience’. I’ll be sending out part 2 tomorrow.”
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Best Blogging Business Model

  11. Willena Flewelling May 5, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    Hi David,

    I don’t pay any attention to email headlines like those. I’m likely to label them spam without opening them. If they’re from a sender I recognize, I’m likely to unsubscribe from the list.

    Thank you for a helpful and balanced post on how we should go about it.
    Willena Flewelling´s last blog post ..May 1, 1882

  12. David Merrill 101 May 5, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

    I guess what we need to ask is just what kind of subject headlines ARE inviting and trustworthy.

    It’s good to pay attention to what we don’t think works well. Beyond that, we then we have to get down to the business of creating headlines that we think will work. Being transparent and offering good value are good things to do, but what does transparent and valuable look like?

    Once we’ve nailed that down, then we’re ready to build some good, deep followings.

    Thanks for offering your insights, here, Willena.

  13. Mark May 11, 2014 at 12:35 am #

    Yes indeed David!

    Tricking your subscribers on or offline is a fast lane to failure and total frustration! As you pointed out,

    if you’re building trust, (and hopefully you are) you don’t have to rely on any so called fancy email subject lines!

    In fact, the more down to earth, less convoluted and straight forward you are with your subscribers,the more they are inclined to open and read your emails and take your desired action.

    Especially if you provide value that helps better than lives. Great advice and thaks for sharing!
    Mark´s last blog post ..Where You Go Dreadfully Wrong When Marketing Products And Services!

    • David Merrill 101 May 16, 2014 at 11:24 pm #

      It’s all about delivering value, and doing it with your readers’ best interests always foremost in your mind.

      I know you deliver in this way, Mark, and that’s why you’ve built great trust from your followers. Keep it up!
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Best Blogging Business Model

  14. Nile May 12, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

    I’m not exactly certain if my weekly update list should be changed from “Blondish.net Weekly Newsletter.” I put in a message, and even list some of my recent posts.

    I think the only time I’ve had unsubscribes is from not updating my newsletter before it went out…lol
    Nile´s last blog post ..What Do You Do When a WordPress Plugin Breaks Your Site

    • David Merrill 101 May 16, 2014 at 11:26 pm #

      Got a lot to keep on top of, Nile.

      It’s important to deliver value above all other things. The form, the timing, the subject lines and all the rest could be less than stellar, as long as you keep building the trust you get from always delivering good value.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Best Blogging Business Model

  15. Rachel Lavern May 17, 2014 at 4:25 pm #

    Very informative post David! I think that we all value tips to create great email subject lines to get higher open rates (than industry average). Lord knows I am guilty of immediately unsubscribing from an email list when the writer resorts to email subject line tricks–no matter who they are.

    I especially love your advice to be transparent and to offer value. I do believe that it is important to make our subject line “pop” so the email will be opened with a benefit-driven question or statement.
    Rachel Lavern´s last blog post ..The Business Mindset Successful Entrepreneurs Share

    • David Merrill 101 May 26, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

      Making your subject lines enticing is important, but as you say, Rachel… it’s far more important to be transparent with your readers. This is the basis of sincere relationship building, and in the long run, that’s far more important than simply having someone open your email.

      Thanks for stopping by.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Get The Best Email Marketing Results

  16. Nathaniel Kidd September 8, 2014 at 10:11 pm #


    I love your point on you do not get paid for opens. So many people focus on open rates but what does that matter if they are not purchasing anything or taking the next step you want them to take. You can always trick people to open an email with deceiving subject lines but that does not build trust and most likely they will never open another email from you again.

    When I get those deceiving emails I immediately unsubscribe from their list because I do not trust them anymore. Testing is actually great advice. Their is no cooker cutter model that works for everyone. You have given us some great advice on what does work. Now we as marketers must test and make it work to fit our particular business/offer. Thanks for sharing.
    Nathaniel Kidd´s last blog post ..Frugal Tips to Save on Laundry Detergent

    • David Merrill 101 October 18, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

      You’ve got it, Nathaniel.

      Work tightly within your niche, bring people to your list to receive value… the GIVE them value, not a lot of hype.

      Of course, you need to make offers and sales, but integrate it into your bigger message, the one that made people want to subscribe to your list to begin with.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Building Relationships | First Niagara Bank Review

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