5 Email Subject Line Formulas That Actually Work (From a Guy Who Writes Them for a Living)

5 Email Subject Line Formulas That Actually Work (From a Guy Who Writes Them for a Living)

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more information.

Today we have a great guest post from our good friend Chris Orzechowski. He’s been a guest on our podcast a few times, and he’s helped us increase our email open rates and write amazing sales pages. Chris is also living the Laptop Empires dream, going from teacher to full-time freelance copywriter.

For the past six years, I’ve made my living writing email campaigns that have been read by hundreds of millions of people all across the world.

During that time, I’ve written a lot of emails. I stopped counting, but it’s well over 4,000 for myself and for my clients. Because I usually write multiple variations for each email, I’m estimating that I’ve written well over 10,000 different email subject lines in that time as well.

(Yes, my fingers are tired.)

I wanted to share with you a few email subject line formulas I’ve picked up along the way. These five subject lines are some of my favorites because they always seem to work well – no matter what market they’re applied in.

These email subject line formulas work because no matter what you’re selling, all humans are the same. We all get curious and our brains are all hardwired the same way. And as marketers, it’s our job to use this to our advantage.

Here’s my promise to you: If you start using these five email subject line formulas, your email open rates are going to increase substantially.

So, let’s get into it…

Subject Line Formula #1: “How to…”

This is probably the easiest subject line formula to write, and that’s because it’s got a ton of curiosity baked right in. You know what I mean – anytime you read the words “How to” there’s usually a nice benefit that follows.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • How to legally pay no taxes next year
  • How to double your watch collection in three seconds flat
  • How to melt fat while sitting on the couch
  • How to become an instant authority

Basically, you just choose a benefit that your subscribers would really want in their lives. Then you cloak it with a layer of curiosity by adding the “How to” part at the beginning.

Subject Line Formula #2: “Why ____”

One of the common themes with all of these email subject line formulas is that they invoke a lot of curiosity in the reader. That’s the thing… you need to grab people’s attention with your email subject lines. And, nothing grabs attention like curiosity.

Most other email subject lines in people’s inboxes come from companies that focus on product-centric subject lines. They’ll offer discounts and scream about sales, but your job is to turn your email into a Trojan Horse.

You will want to lead with an entertaining and educational approach, and you can slip in your pitch after you have that buy-in from your reader.

One great way to do that is with this subject line. I call it the “Why ____” subject line. You basically just cause people to stop and think for a moment, getting them curious enough to read the answer to the doubt you’ve raised in their mind.

Here are a few examples of this email subject line formula:

  • Why starving yourself will make you gain weight
  • Why pampering yourself can help millions of women
  • Why you should never pressure wash your lawn furniture
  • Why you should always wash your hands after chopping onions

Simply raise a question in your reader’s mind. Plant a seed of doubt. Make them wonder. This is an easy one to do, and it provides a natural segment into the body copy.

Love Chris already? Hear more from him on Day in the Life of a Professional Copywriter.

Subject Line Formula #3: The question

It’s kind of hard not to answer a question when someone asks. Your brain might explode if you try to hold it in…

pasted image 0

When we read questions, we have this intense desire to find out the answer. It’s very hard to resist the allure of a thought-provoking question. And, when you start raising questions that your prospects are thinking… your email open rates should soar.

Here are some examples:

  • Is this chocolatey snack really a superfood?
  • Will this world record be broken?
  • Can your appearance affect your salary?
  • Is this the best Cyber Monday deal on the internet today?

All of these subject lines make you really wanna know the answer.

They’re not clickbaity type questions, like: “Did you know these 17 celebrities were abducted by aliens?” Please don’t engage in that kind of fuckery. None of us are in the business of bullshitting people. You just wanna ask interesting questions that get people to think “You know what… I’m not so sure. And I’d really like to know the answer to that…”

Do that and you got ‘em.

Related content:

Subject Line Formula #4: The crazy story…

This one is my absolute favorite. It reads just like an email from a friend, and that makes these email subject lines deceptively simple. But, they get people SUPER curious.

Let’s look at some examples of this email subject line formula before breaking down why they work so well:

  • This Sangria gave me a great idea…
  • I partied a little too hard last night…
  • Got some good news…
  • This must be what Chinese water torture feels like…

When you read these subject lines, they almost look like they could be coming from a close friend. They kind of hint that there’s a crazy/fun story or experience waiting inside this email. So, you click it just to see what it’s all about.

I’ll give you a second to re-read all four of those examples…

It’s incredibly hard to ignore a subject line like that. You need to know why I might have partied a little too hard last night. What happened? What’s the story? You wanna know.

Obviously, you will have to create a pay off in the body copy. You don’t want to bait and switch people – treat your readers right. But if you do have a funny or cool story, this email subject line formula provides a great framework to lead into your email copy.

Subject Line Formula #5: Numbers

People love lists. I mean, look at you. Remember the headline for this article? Had a number in it. You clicked on it, and here you are.

Think to yourself why that happened…

Lists always make us curious. Buzzfeed practically built their business with the “listicle.” They started doing that years ago, and people still can’t get enough.

Anytime you can provide a list or include a hint that there’s a number of different ways to solve a problem, you should expect some decent readership. Here are a few examples:

  • 4 ways to become an expert copywriter in 90 days (or less)
  • Two common foods that are worse than crack-cocaine
  • 3 daily habits that grew my business 236% in 2 years
  • The 8 biggest confidence killers

Every one of these subject lines includes a nice benefit, but the number adds another dimension to that benefit. It makes you think “If I just followed ONE of these tips…” or “Am I making any of these mistakes, I hope not…”

These email subject lines are super powerful and will grab a lot more attention than the usual “20% off, buy my stuff!” subject lines that you see most companies pushing day after day after day.

What To Do Now

Now, your mission is to immediately start treating your subscribers a lot better, and that all starts with your email subject line.

Being on your email list should be an interesting and fun experience. That means you shouldn’t treat your list like an ATM machine – you should treat your readers like valued members of your tribe.

The goal of your emails is building a bond and helping your readers solve their problems. It doesn’t mean you ONLY provide value and never sell. It doesn’t mean you hard sell every day and never provides any value at all.

There’s a happy medium between the two, where you’re emailing at a consistent frequency, helping people with your emails, and pitching offers that will allow them to take the next step when they are ready.

It all starts with the subject line because those hooks instruct the email copy and the content of your emails is going to keep people coming back for more.

Try some of these email subject line formulas out on your own list and let me know how they go. If you have questions, leave a comment below for me.

Chris Orzechowski is an email marketing strategist and copywriter who helps B2C brands make more sales through automated email campaigns. He’s also a speaker and author of the book Make It Rain: The Secret to Generating Massive Paydays From Your Email List. Each week, he publishes brand new articles that will turn you into a better email marketer. You can join his list and get a free copy of his book by going to www.TheMakeItRainBook.com 

Posted in


  1. Giorgio on April 29, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    Copywriting is definitely an important skill to master. Using a good subject line can really improve your email marketing immensely. I noticed that myself as well. This article was a good read. Thanks!

    • Laptop Empires on May 1, 2019 at 1:00 pm

      Glad you liked it!

Leave a Comment