How to write newsletter subject lines like your favorite creators (with real world examples)

13 min read
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The subject line is one of the first things a subscriber looks at in their inbox, and yet many writers save this task for last.

Or perhaps you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum: you know how important newsletter subject lines are, but that perceived pressure makes you want to avoid writing them.

If you’ve ever treated your subject lines as an afterthought, don’t sweat it. There are a lot of moving parts for creators to manage, and newsletter subject lines can seem small in the grand scheme of things.

Whether fear of getting your writing wrong has frozen you, or you simply forget about them until the very end, we’re here to help. ConvertKit sent over 1.3 billion messages in October 2020 alone, so we’ve seen our fair share of snappy subject lines (along with many we’d rather forget!).

Now, we’ve found the best newsletter subject lines across seven styles to transform you from reluctant subject line writer to an enticing copy extraordinaire.

How to write newsletter subject lines

Why your newsletter subject lines should be a top priority

Take a moment to imagine you’re in your inbox, scrolling through unread messages. What makes you decide whether to click or not?

Besides your long-term reputation, your subject line is on the front line of driving high open rates. In the split second that people spend on deciding whether to open your email or not, your subject line is your advocate.

A simple poll on Twitter revealed that a third of people open newsletters because of the subject lines, which means you shouldn’t overlook them. Similarly, DMA’s 2020 Consumer Email Tracker report revealed that the most important element in opening an email is recognizing the brand (55%) followed by the subject line (48%).

Poll from Steph Knapp that shows your reputation and relationship with subscribers is vital
Your reputation and relationship with subscribers is vital, and is what drives most people to click. Don’t underestimate subject lines, though, since they’re the reason 1/3rd of subscribers click. Image via Steph Knapp.

Sure, who the newsletter is from was the most popular response, but building the relationship takes time—especially when you’re just starting out, a catchy subject line is essential.

Keep in mind that when writing newsletter subject lines you have a duty to be interesting, but truthful. More than half of people have felt cheated, tricked, or deceived by an email subject line. The potential to diminish a subscriber’s trust is reason enough to steer clear of blatant clickbait. But there’s something else at stake if you send bad subject lines—spam reports.

If a subscriber feels like your subject line is deceiving, they could mark your email as spam. It’s also possible that the words you use could set off spam filters within email providers like Gmail. ConvertKit’s complaint rate in October 2020 was only 0.008%, so this isn’t a huge problem in our creator community. It is something to keep in mind as you begin writing, though.

If you want to start moving the needle on your open rates today without jeopardizing your subscriber relationship, try out a few of the subject line styles we’re about to outline.

What you need to keep in mind when writing a newsletter subject line

Before jumping into the best newsletter subject lines from ConvertKit creators, we need to talk about purpose. No, not your life’s purpose. We don’t have enough time to open that existential can of worms.

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We’re talking about your subject line’s purpose. There are three things to keep in mind when writing subject lines that’ll help you stick the landing:

  1. Who is this email for? Brand new subscribers will have a different perspective than veteran readers. Consider which segment of readers your newsletter will go to: how can you cater to each?
  2. What action do you want readers to take? Will your newsletter promote a new blog post to read, pitch your new course, or announce your next ebook?
  3. What’s your change driver? Every reader is hoping to achieve or change something. What is it, and how can you pull that into the subject line? You can also incorporate your unique perspective in the subject line.

By taking a moment to think about what your subject line needs to accomplish, it’s easier to find a subject line style to match. Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: bring in the subject line examples!

7 newsletter subject line styles the pros use

There are two benefits to starting your newsletter subject line writing with a template or go-to style. First, you save time so that you can quickly check that off your pre-send checklist. Second, basing your work off tried-and-true efforts means better results on the first try.

Here are seven subject line styles, why they work, and examples from creators like you.

Ask a question

If you take a look at your inbox right now, you’d probably see your fair share of subject lines asking a question. This newsletter subject line formula is one of the most popular, and for a good reason. First, it can make people curious about your answer to a unique inquiry. Some question subject lines might prompt a reader to respond in their mind, and then open to see if you had the same answer.

Email subject line example by Jenell Stewart
Posing a question that readers may have asked themselves might catch their attention. Image via Jenell Stewart.

Share a how-to guide

Repeat after me—clickbait is bad. While a little intrigue does wonders for your open rates, you should never mislead readers. “How to” subject lines work well because they set very clear expectations about what’s inside. Use this type of newsletter subject line if you’re sending content that responds to a question you often receive or solves a problem you know is prevalent in your audience.

Superpath descriptive subject line
Superpath’s descriptive subject line about managing large teams had a 56.7% open rate. Image via Superpath.

Pique their curiosity

Newsletter subject lines that pique a reader’s curiosity are powerful because they seem to hold a secret, and the opportunity to crack that code is just too tempting. This type of subject line is particularly useful if you're covering a random mix of topics in an email or want to build anticipation for something new.

  • Spiced pumpkin pudding, goat landscaping, and false pregnancy – Thrifty Homesteader
  • Hot Faucets and Polaroids – Kimberly Brooks
  • Been itching to tell you about this… – Chris Craft
  • Why You Should Never Read This Article Again – Srini Rao
  • Practically all writing niches are lucrative if you know this one thing – Elna Cain
  • Imposter Syndrome (and details about what’s coming next Tuesday…) – Ryan Baustert

Elna Cain uses curiosity or the “fear of missing out” (FOMO) in many of her subject lines.

Add emojis to your email subject lines
Combining emojis with your subject line can amplify the emotional impact. Image via Elna Cain.

She explained her thought process behind her most successful newsletter subject line:

The subject line, “I Still Can't Find My Freelance Writing Client!!!! Ahh!” used emojis to boost the emotional feeling this headline evokes. But, the underlying thought is curiosity. Is this email a personal story of mine? Did I suddenly have trouble finding clients? Elna Cain profile Or, is this a saying I hear most new freelance writers make when they message me? That email received 707 clicks and had one of my highest open rates of 38.2% when sent to over 17,000 subscribers.

Elna Cain

Include a relatable statement

Newsletters are a great way to build relationships with your audience. Relatable statement subject lines are useful if you’re going to tell a personal story or let readers know you understand their challenges. You can also use this subject line style to share an opinion that goes against the status quo.

Email subject line Jessica Abel
People might feel guilty for being overwhelmed when they have a lot of opportunity, but Jessica Abel lets readers know it’s okay. Image via Jessica Abel.

Preview the desired outcome

A desired outcome newsletter subject line is all about the daydream that readers keep coming back to, or the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Use these statements to get a reader excited about what they could achieve, and then follow it up with a tactical solution. These subject lines are perfect for introducing a new training video or promoting a step-by-step article.

Email subject line by Chaitra PinkPot Studio
Chaitra’s subject line highlights the outcome of your work, not the tactic to get there. Image via PinkPot Studio.

Tell the time limits

When the pressure is on, people might be more likely to act. Some creators use time limits in their newsletter subject lines for the same reason retailers launch “limited time offers” and special collaborations—scarcity drives decisions.

Don’t overuse time limit subject lines, or you’ll be the creator who cried wolf, or worse, use a word that triggers spam filters. Most often, these subject lines are associated with promotions, pre-sales, discounts, and contests.

  • Last Chance to Get 30% off Same Side Discipline – Nina Garcia
  • Just 2 days left to enter my October Anniversary Giveaway! – Angela Fehr
  • Free access to Smart from Scratch ends Monday! – Pat Flynn
Email subject line by Pat Flynn
Your “time limit” subject line should include the product name and deadline. Image via Smart Passive Income.

State it plainly

Sometimes simple is best. You don’t need all the bells and whistles when you’re welcoming new subscribers, confirming downloads, or giving an update. Plus, including your newsletter name in your subject lines could help readers recognize your content.

If you find that straightforward subject lines resonate with your audience, embrace it.

Jimmy Daly from Superpath shared:

Jimmy Daily profileWhen we have new job postings, I always include those in the subject line. People seem to love looking at job listings (even if they aren’t looking for a new job).

Jimmy Daly

Email subject line example by Superpath
A simple list of what’s inside is useful when you have a lot of ground to cover. Image via Superpath.

How to improve your newsletter subject lines over time

While subject lines matter, don’t stress about hitting it out of the park every single time. Your goal is to improve open rates by learning what resonates with your audience.

That means the ones that flop stand to teach you just as much as the ones that fly.

Check your subject lines before you hit send

Testing helps you make the most of every ounce of subject line writing effort you put into your business. Before you hit send, test your subject lines for length and content. CoSchedule is a useful reference tool, and an email subject line score over 70 is ideal.

CoSchedule Subject Line Tester
Subject line testers like the one from CoSchedule help you edit your copy before sending. Image via CoSchedule.

Run an A/B test

Another way to perfect your subject line right out of the gate is with A/B testing on ConvertKit. Normally, running an A/B test of any kind requires some planning and calculating.

Email subject line AB test ConvertKit

ConvertKit helps you find top-performing subject lines, and then automatically send the winner to your list. Image via ConvertKit.

With ConvertKit, though, all you need to do is enter two subject line options and hit send. A small section of your list will receive one or the other, and ConvertKit finds which one is performing best. Then, it automatically sends the winner to the rest of your list.

Examples of variations to make in your A/B subject line tests include:

Learn from past performance

Analyzing your past performance is a great way to improve your future writing. Look for recurring trends between your highest and lowest performing subject lines. Example insights could be:

  • Time-based subject lines work better with long-term subscribers than new readers
  • Subject lines with emojis consistently outperform plain ones
  • Readers who sign up from a particular ebook prefer “how to” statements subject lines

As you send more newsletters and try new subject lines, you’ll have more data to compare what a “good” open rate is for your list. An open rate of 20-30% is a good benchmark, but the best comparison of performance over time is always to yourself, not others.

Everyone starts somewhere…why not start today?

Subject lines are part of the first impression each message you send gives off, so you should give them the attention they deserve. The best way to get better? Practice. Nobody starts off as an expert, and even your favorite creators have had to invest time in being better writers for their audience.

You might not become a perfect writer overnight, but taking time to experiment, test, and learn helps make your effort on all of your other content worth it.

If you’re ready to put these newfound ideas to work for your business, start a free ConvertKit account now.

Build a loyal community with newsletters

With a ConvertKit Free account you can share what you love on a consistent basis with your newsletter to connect with your followers and grow your business.

Create your free newsletter

Steph Knapp

Steph Knapp is a freelance B2B + SaaS content marketer that loves educating and empowering curious humans. When she's not typing away, you'll find her volunteering at the animal shelter and obsessing over a new hobby every week. She shares marketing, freelance, and cat content on Twitter @ hellostephknapp.

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