The Ultimate Guide to Email Subject Lines (For Higher Open Rates)

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Do you want higher open rates? Do you want some proven and sneaky email subject line tricks that will engage your list and compel them to click through to the body of your emails? If so, you're reading the right article.

After all, you probably know that poor subject lines don't get an email opened, but great ones do. And this is going to be a deep dive into five of the most powerful subject lines to get your email opened, consistently. These "tricks" are grounded in well-documented psychological science and research. And they leverage hardwired human tendencies that give you an almost unfair advantage over other email marketers.

What Is A Subject Line, Really?

A subject line is actually just a headline in disguise.They both serve the same purpose and share characteristics: they attempt to convince your reader to click through to content (which they can't see yet). Really, the only difference is that with a subject line, it is in the context of an email instead of a "typical headline" which is a link to a blog post, article, sales letter, or ad. And if headlines are uber important, that means that subject lines are just as important.

In the words of the legendary "Father of Modern Advertising" David Ogilvy (the man Don Draper from Madmen wishes he could be): "When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar."

And that should really motivate you to get better at writing subject lines because if you truly have something of value to your audience in the body of your email, you essentially have a moral obligation to increase your open rates so that more people can benefit from it. These five sneaky email subject line tricks will help you do that better. (Quick note before moving into the juicy tricks: It is important that you use them ethically and responsibly).

News Interest

Put news in your headline. But why is news so important in a headline? Think about it. Every magazine cover you ever saw offers news value. They imply that valuable information lies just beyond your reach: whether it's on the next page of an article, further down in the blog post, or within the email body.

Humans are just hardwired to respond to news. That's because news is "novel." And novelty is something that a part of the brain called the "midbrain" is seeking out, all the time. In fact, research proves that the level of the "feel-good" chemical called dopamine increases when humans come across new information or experiences.

Therefore, use news in your headline as often as possible - it actually motivates your audience to click through and be rewarded with awesome info. Of course, be sure to follow through and actually provide value in your emails, or your readers will quickly learn to ignore your catchy headlines.

Examples of news headlines include:

"How I lost 5 inches from my waist in 6 weeks!"

"This Revolutionary Technique Will Triple Your Reading Speed!"

And how about the headline of this post, which you clicked on? ;)

"5 Sneaky Email Subject Line Tricks for Higher Open Rates"

Self Interest

"Me, me, me, me, me...oh look, a squirrel!, me, me, me, me..."

That's your prospect's internal dialogue all day long. Look, people care about one thing above all else: themselves! That's not a dark view of humankind or anything. It's just reality. "Nuh uh!" You say. "That's not always true. People do selfless things for others all the time! Like volunteering or giving to charity, without any expectation of anything in return!"

Because the scientific studies have been done, and the results are out: even altruistic actions, like giving to charity or sacrificing your safety for the good of others, are done for selfish reasons at the end of the day. Those happiness chemicals, like the dopamine that was talked about earlier, get released into your system when you get positive feedback from helping others. And there's nothing wrong with that! After all, if you weren't taking care of your own interests before anything else, you would starve, or get hit by a bus, and ultimately you wouldn't be able to help anyone else, would you?

You see, you gotta take care of yourself before anything else. And so do your readers! So give them what they want; appeal to their self-interest. When? As often as humanly possible. Every subject line, if you prefer. Here are some examples of self-interest subject lines for inspiration:

"They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But When I Started to Play!"

"I Never Thought I Could Feel This Healthy, And Now I'm Sharing How I Did It."

"How You Can Double Your Sales in 90 Days"


The key to a good curiosity subject line is to set a hook. A hook is some highly unusual or remarkable claim. Naturally, this piques the curiosity of your reader and makes them want to know more. Here is a great way to set a hook that creates curiosity: Juxtapose two seemingly opposite or contrasting concepts within the subject line.

The reason this works is due to a psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance. Essentially, when a person holds two opposing thoughts in their mind (ex: "the sky is blue" and "the sky is red") it makes them very uncomfortable.

In turn, they want to resolve this internal conflict and figure out which idea to believe, since they can't go on believing both at the same time.So craft a subject line that stops them in their tracks and makes them do a double-take. Here are some examples of curiosity headlines that use cognitive dissonance to set a hook and compel your readers to open the email:

"How This Homeless Man Started Making $50,000 a month...Accidentally!"

"Why Cutting Your Grass is the Worst Thing You Can Do For Your Lawn "

"Eating More Ice Cream Makes You Burn Fat? What We Found Will Shock You!"


Authority is an incredibly powerful device to use in your subject lines and it can absolutely boost your email open rates. But it is important to use this sneaky email trick in an ethical manner. Experiments have proven that people are more easily persuaded to change their behavior when the request comes from authority figures, even if it means committing morally questionable acts.

So assuming you are going to do the right thing here, it's time to talk about what using authority in your subject line looks like. An authority headline uses an important figure to build credibility around your message. People are more likely to trust authority figures in most contexts, but especially in matters like science and medicine.

Here are some examples of authority subject lines essentially involve a respected figure approving of something (and thus encouraging your prospect to be more interested):

"Medical doctor discovers an amazing new diet that burns fat fast!"

"Why the President of the United States Uses Our Mouthwash"

"Top Data Scientist Confirms: ACME Software Makes Your Computer Faster!"

Use these authority subject lines when you really want to build credibility right up front. You can even anchor yourself to an authority figure in another uber-sneaky way, like this following example:

"How Our Web Agency Uses the SAME Internal Hiring Process as Apple and Nike to Deliver You the Best Service!"

You're associating yourself with major, respected brands. No matter what your company is, your service, or your unique offering to your email list - you can find creative ways to add authority (and thus credibility) to your subject lines.


So far, all the subject line tricks mentioned imply that something interesting lies in the email. It is merely suggested, under the radar, that you'll learn something or get access to something cool if you click through. And in a way, any good subject line (just like a headline) will make a promise in one way or another. But a true "promise" subject line skips all the subtlety. When you use a promise subject line, you are directly making an offer right there upfront.

You're telling them exactly what you will give them. This plays on the hardwired motivation psychology. This can be incredibly powerful when your audience is in immense pain and they want immediate relief or you have an offer that is just super exciting. Examples of straightforward promise headlines:

"If You Give Me 10 Days, I Will Eliminate Your Back Pain For Good!"

"Order Our Premium Garden Hose for 50% Off Today!"

"You Are Going to Have the Time of Your Life at This Legendary Rock Concert!"

See? Straightforward and simple. Sometimes it's best to come right out and say what you have to offer.


You're probably ready to start implementing these techniques right away. But make sure you at least skim this post one more time. You might get a different insight each time. It will help you understand on a deeper level exactly why News, Self-Interest, Curiosity, Promise, and Authority subject lines are so powerful. Once you really internalize these, you'll never write another subject line without using at least one of these tricks ever again. Now go write some awesome subject lines and watch your open rates skyrocket!
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