email-open-rateI got an email the other day, from a reader.  It was about the subject line of one of my emails.

He was curious about, “This is still the most valuable thing of mine you can read.”

He wanted to know what the open rate of that email was.  Presumably, he thought it would be high.

Now, I don’t normally make it a practice of revealing these numbers publicly — or to just anyone who asks.

And yet I will share what I shared with him…

It was mid to high, relative to other recent emails.  It wasn’t the best open rate recently.  Nor was it the worst.

(My best open rate in the last 50 emails was “This 20-Point Copywriting Outline Was Behind My First Million-Dollar Sales Letters!”)

But it got me thinking about subject lines — and why people really open emails.

And here’s a little secret…

People don’t open emails for the reasons you think!

If you’re an email marketer — or someone who writes email marketing copy for others — you must understand this one very important fact.

The best subject line will only have a marginal effect on your open rates.

The worst subject line won’t be that influential either!

Why?  Is it because copy doesn’t matter, and we should give up trying to write effective copy?


The reason is: there are other factors that are far more important — and powerful — than what you’re saying.

In fact, this is one of the most powerful subject line “hacks” when it comes to getting consistently higher email open rates…

And that’s: “Ignore the subject line!”

The blasphemy!

So…  What should you focus on instead?

An illustration.

Let’s say you get an email from your most important client or customer.  It doesn’t have a subject line.  Your email program has filled in the subject line with “(No Subject).”

Do you open it?  Of course you do!

Even more if they owe you money!


Another illustration.

You get an email from your spouse.  Or your lover.  Or your partner.  The subject line is, “ioewjhraoiwnfwoai.”  Meaning, they literally just hit keys on their keyboard.  It’s nonsense.

Do you open it?  Of course!


Same reason — but we’re not there yet!

One more illustration.

You get an email from your oldest friend.  You haven’t heard from them in years.  It wasn’t because you didn’t want to talk to them — or they didn’t want to talk to you.  They just kind of disappeared, and you’ve long wondered where they went.  The subject line?   “Hey.”

Again: of course you open it!


Why in these three illustrations can you tell me unequivocally that there is a 100% open rate?

It’s the relationship, stupid!

In getting any email opened, the “From” field is FAR MORE IMPORTANT than the subject line.

There are certain people in your life who could send you just about any email with any subject line, and it doesn’t matter much what it says.  You’re going to open it.

Because you have a relationship with them.  You care what they have to say.

You enjoy hearing from them.

You value their communication.

In that context, the subject line and the content of the email itself is secondary.

If you want to get consistently higher open rates, you shouldn’t focus on hacks and subject line trickery.

Rather, you should focus on building your relationship with your reader.

Making your emails something your readers want to open.

Adding value to their life with every email they get.

Will your marketing emails ever get 100% open rates?  Unlikely.

(Although I had an email that, for a long time, ran with a more-than-100% open rate — presumably because people were passing it along to their friends.  It was the first in an autoresponder series, sent immediately, with the subject line “{firstname}, your first lesson from”)

But the better relationship you have with your readers, the higher your open rates will consistently be.

There will be variation.  Some of it will be based on subject line.  Some of it will be based on day of the week it was sent.  Some of it will be based on time of day.  Some of it will be based on things totally outside of your control.

There are things you can put in your subject lines to improve your open rates. 

For example, make sure you include a benefit and some curiosity.  These are important to put up front in any marketing.

You can also use the 4-U test, created by Mark Ford (aka Michael Masterson) and Bill Bonner, taught first by AWAI, and now shared widely on copywriting websites everywhere.

Make it URGENT.  Make it UNIQUE.  Make it ULTRA-SPECIFIC.  Make it USEFUL.

You don’t have to include all 4 Us in every subject line.  But the more you have, the more likely you are to create an itch the recipient of your email must scratch by opening it.

For example, look at “This 20-Point Copywriting Outline Was Behind My First Million-Dollar Sales Letters!” — my best subject line from the last month an a half or so.

What’s the benefit?  Write million-dollar sales letters.  That’s juicy!

What’s the curiosity-builder?  What’s in this specific 20-point outline?  I want to know!

Is it urgent?  Maybe.  “First” does add a lot.  Makes it sound like something you can use right away.

Is it unique?  Presumably.  Not everyone is likely to have the same 20-point outline.

Is it ultra-specific?  Yes.  Both the fact that it’s a 20-point outline (not just any outline!) and that it led to million-dollar sales letters.

Is it useful?  If you want to write million-dollar sales copy, you bet it is!

Did it score super-high on each point?  Nah.  But it does hit them pretty well.  In hindsight, it doesn’t surprise me that the open rate was higher.

And yet, it wasn’t that much higher!

(As an aside, another trick that goes against all of this, and that can work devastatingly well, is to write your subject lines just like a personal email.  So “Hey” might be a perfect subject line.  This works especially well in the context of autoresponders and other lead follow up, as well as during launches and other campaigns.  I don’t like it as much for daily essays like this, because I want to telegraph to you what it’s about.  It’s a good way to maintain our relationship, which — if you don’t get it already — I feel is more important than open rates on any one email.)

Even my best open rates don’t beat my worst by that much — because my readers don’t just read for the subject lines…

If you’re writing click-bait articles to pull people out of their social media stupor…

If you’re writing web banner ads that have to get people to click away from what they’re doing…

If you’re writing copy for any media that has to go out and interrupt your prospect where they are otherwise occupied, and get them to pay attention to you…

Well, all of the little copy tricks and readership hacks become far more important.

But when it comes to emails written to your list, it’s way more important to nail your relationship with them, than it is to nail the subject line.

And that will get you the consistently higher readership that you want!

(Bonus: when you get the relationship right, it will also make them more likely to buy from you!)

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

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