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The Ultimate Guide to Email Copywriting — Part 5

Subject lines that always get opened (with proven templates & copy you can swipe)

Subject lines that always get opened (with proven templates & copy you can swipe)
Download the free PDF: 'The Ultimate Guide to Email Copywriting' and learn the exact strategies to get 1,000 email subscribers in the next 4 weeks, and the copywriting secrets behind emails that readers can’t wait to open.

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What was the subject line for the highest opened and highest earning email in history?


Yep. It was that casual and straightforward.

How’s that possible?

For starters, it came from Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America. So that explains a huge piece of its success.

I mean, honestly...

How often do you get an email from the President, just saying “Hey.”? And the better question is, would you open it?

Compare that all those coupons you get from LOFT or Macy’s.

How many of those do you open? 1 out of every 10? Or worse, do they just sit in your spam folder?

What’s the difference? And how can you write emails that always get opened? That’s what we’re covering in this section.

The slippery slope that gets your readers to open and keep reading

One of the most famous copywriters of all time, Joseph Sugarman, said your copy should be “a slippery slope.” What he meant was, your reader should read the first line of your copy and then immediately slip down to the next line, slipping to the next line and so on.

And your subject line is the top of the slippery slope, like this:

The Slippery Slope of Email: How to get your audience hooked and keep them reading

Needless to say, a great subject line can have a huge impact on your business.

We know this to be true. We’re always testing to see what words resonate with our readers. One of the ways we do this is to write different subject lines for the SAME emails and see which get opened.

Here are a few of the email subject lines we've tested against each other. See if you can guess which ones performed best:

In every instance above, subject line A was opened by at least 3,000 more people than subject line B. Imagine the impact on the number of buyers, the number of shares, or the number of replies that leads to.

You can engage far more people simply by tweaking a few words.

The words in your subject line matter. Use the right ones and more people will listen to what you have to say, buy the products or services you're selling, and even refer their friends and family to you.

Now how do you find the exact words to use in your subject lines?

Let me show you.

Personal sounding subject lines dominate

The emails I write to my readers are extremely personal. For example, I’ve written emails where I talk about listening to Whitney Houston in the gym or jamming to Miley Cyrus on Pandora.

It’s casual and it’s fun.

Even though my emails go out to more than 600,000 people, I always write them like I would if I were writing directly to ONE person.

That’s why I use personal subject lines. Rather than using marketing words and strange language, I write the subject lines just like I would to a close friend.

Take a look at 3 of our top 30 performing subject lines of all time and their open rates:

Subject Line Open Rate
We're launching a new site 20.01%
Lol, thanks for the advice 19.24%
Ahh, god this question 18.52%

What do you notice?

They’re all super casual — just like how you’d write to a friend.

One of my greatest joys is when I hear people say “Ramit, sometimes I’ll be reading your emails and think ‘Did he write this to just ME?’”

So — why does this work?

Nobody likes to be sold to.

When’s the last time you willingly and excitedly watched a commercial selling you something?

But when’s the last time you opened a text or an email from a friend?

All the time.

So the question is: How do you cut through the noise, get noticed, and, eventually, sell to your readers?

And the answer is: Don't try to sell them. Just get your message read.

The only way to do that is to be more personal.

This is the opposite of most marketers’ emails, whose writing screams of desperation.

Think of the emails you LOVE reading. Are they overt sales pitches? Or are they something else?

Treat your readers accordingly.

The exact process we use to write subject lines that get 20%+ open rates and generate millions of dollars in sales

For every subject line that gets sent to our readers, hundreds never see the light of day. Even with years of experience under your belt, you can’t expect to sit down, write one polished subject line and send it to your list.

You have to dig through mountains of dirt (bad subject lines) to find that one nugget of gold (a great subject line).

We always start with at least 3 blank spaces to write subject lines for every email we create.

So we’ll start with a blank template like this:


Then the brainstorming begins. We’ll just start writing out as many subject lines as we can think of, without stopping ourselves. When we start writing, it’s a stream-of-consciousness.

For example, I might brainstorm up to 15 possible subject lines for an email about earning more money like this:

Earn more money
Earn more money - right now
Want to make more money?
Cool new way to earn money on the side
You gotta see this trick for earning money on the side
Legit or a scam? You tell me if you think you could make money with this
How to make money fast - without getting caught in a scam
I can't believe people pay him to do this...

And on and on.

See why coming up with so many options is important? The first couple of subject lines sucked. But as I kept brainstorming — near the bottom of the list — some of these subject lines turned out strong.

For example, I like this last one: I can’t believe people pay him to do this…

It’s intriguing. And I could see myself sending that to a friend.

Most of the time that’s all you need for a great subject line.

Having said that, sometimes it’s tough to know what to say. You can sit around racking your brain all day long...but nothing seems to stick.

If that happens to you, don’t worry. There are some proven copywriting formulas you can fall back on.

Timeless subject line templates you can steal

Lots of people have written about headline formulas before (see here and here). As a general rule, I’m not a fan of them. They can come across as generic — if you’re not careful.

I mean how many times have you seen “7 productivity secrets” or “10 ways to reduce stress.”

Headlines like this work a few times, but after awhile of seeing the same old recycled headline formulas, it gets old.

And it trains your readers not to engage with them.

Not to mention, how robotic it is when every email starts the same way: “10 ways to…”, “9 things you…”?

That’s why I try to avoid formulaic headlines and subject lines when I can.

But let’s get real. Sometimes you need a template to fall back on. They can help you if you get stuck, or help you get you started with some fresh ideas.

For that, I have 3 timeless templates I recommend. These templates have stood the test of time. They don’t rely on tricky structures or cheap listicle clickbait. They present the most desirable things to your reader in a way that’s (1) compelling and (2) overcomes a key objection.

Timeless Headline Formula #1 | The Ultimate Guide to Email Copywriting

And from that template you can mix things up. For example, you might put a twist on the first subject line to say this:

"So you wanna wake up productive, huh?"

Or since our original desirable thing was “wake up productive,” we could make the subject line even more powerful by using a real example of what waking up productive means. Like:

"Get more done by noon than most people do all day"

Now that’s powerful. That’s how this template can help you refine and tweak your idea for a great subject line.

Timeless Headline Formula #2 | The Ultimate Guide to Email Copywriting>
Timeless Headline Formula #3 | The Ultimate Guide to Email Copywriting

These are all pretty good subject lines. They speak to your reader’s needs in a clear, crisp way.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you write. But if you can come up with a memorable subject line, your readers will never forget it.

Consider this memorable subject line:

This burger costs $250. WTF?>

It breaks all the rules and doesn’t follow any template. It got hundreds of comments and my readers LOVED it.

Compare that to this subject line, which anybody could write:


You can use the templates as a guide, but you should let your OWN voice shine through in your subject lines.

The subject lines we used to grow our email list to 600,000+ people:

One of the best ways to write great subject lines is to look at what other successful people are doing.

So we put together a list of our top 30 subject lines of all time. Some of these emails have directly led to millions of dollars in sales, while others have gotten our content featured in major media, like Business Insider, Huffington Post, and even The New York Times.

If you’re interested, I’d love to send you a copy of the full list. You can use them as inspiration for your own emails or simply add them to your personal swipe file.

Just enter your name and email below and I’ll send you the full list of our top 30 best subject lines of all time.

Download the free report: 'IWT’s 30 Most Successful Subject Lines of All Time' and learn from the emails that have directly led to millions of dollars in sales.

Download IWT’s 30 Most Successful Subject Lines of All Time

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Subject lines that always get opened (with proven templates & copy you can swipe)