The Subject Line Secret Formula For Out Of This World Email Open Rates


Why is it that some companies send email every day and it’s a welcome sight in the customer’s inbox, while other companies who send daily email are accused of Spam?

Perception is reality. The sad truth is if a customer views your email as a nuisance, then yes, you are a “Spammer.”

But if you are giving your customer what she wants to receive, then you are probably a “friend.”

When you check your email do you open each and every email in the order you received it? Probably not. If you’re like most people, you scroll through your list of unopened mail, scanning first the address of the sender and then the subject lines. What you choose to open usually hinges on familiarity, urgency and a “need to know.”

Subject lines and sender addresses are actually the second line of defense of your mailbox. The first is your email client itself, which is increasingly adept at filtering out ‘junk” from the good stuff. Companies that have a history of Spam complaints against them won’t even pass through this first barrier. Nor will many senders whose email addresses are unknown, meaning you have neither sent nor received email from that address before. (Think of the times a new acquaintance sends you something and you find it in your junk folder. You can thank the smart mailbox for that.)

However once you are safely past the spam filter, how do you increase your chances of passing your reader’s personal spam filter?

The subjective criteria you must meet to “get opened” really depends on the relationship you have established in advance. Your reader makes a decision based on what she’s received in the past and its value to her. I call it “sender address intuition.” And it’s pretty powerful.

The second part of the choice “To Open or Not To Open” is something you have much more control over: The Subject Line.

Refer to these pulling points — Familiarity, Urgency, and Need-to-know — and write as if you are writing to a friend. Which one do you think would get a better open rate in each of the following cases?


  • RE: your attendance at last week’s meeting
  • I hope you took notes.
  • What’s it going to take?
  • I’m walking on clouds today.


  • You’ll be locked out in the cold tonight.
  • When will I ever learn?
  • Last chance to save today.
  • I need you to stop what you’re doing and open this.

Need to know:

  • You might be interested in this
  • Why don’t they teach this in school?
  • If you do nothing else today…
  • Ten things I wish you knew about ___

A few of these wouldn’t even slow down my delete swipe, but some are irresistible.

If you remember to write as if you are writing to a friend AND you try to be irresistible in your email subject lines, you are sure to get your reader’s attention.

Which one is the least effective? We could take a vote.

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