How to Write Subject Lines that Work

If you’re struggling to think about these subject lines that will get your subscribers to click through and read your email, then keep reading. We’re going to go over my framework for how I create effective email subject lines apply to seven real-world examples by looking at Noah Kagan’s subject lines, and then wrap things up with some key tips that you can keep in mind when you start writing your next email subject line.

Remember PIE

When it comes to writing better email subject lines, I highly recommend that you remember the acronym PIE. Typically, I find that the best email subject lines incorporate at least one aspect of this acronym.

So let’s go over what each of these letters stand for. The letter P stands for personal. And typically this strategy is used by creators or by small brands. But the purpose behind this is that the creator or the small brand is trying to connect a human aspect of their own story or experience into their email subject line.

If it’s not a story or something related to them personally, it could also be them attempting to connect with their reader or their audience to relate to their interest or their personal experience. The key insight here is that by keeping things personal, we’re helping in creating a connection between us, the brand or the creator and our audience.

That’s the next letter I stands for insightful. So this relates to something in which the subject line is aimed at capturing the attention of the reader, because it’s revealing something new that the reader didn’t necessarily know. So this could come in the form of a data statistic and industry trend, a case study or something along those lines.

The last letter E stands for emotional and these types of subject lines are all about the shock factor. They’re all about generating some sort of visceral reaction from our subject line to prompt us and encourage us to click through and read that email.

Now that we understand the fundamentals behind the PIE acronym, let’s look at seven real-life examples of how this framework gets used in action.

Example #1: Adding Hot Sauce to Your Life

For the sake of these examples, I’m going to pull from another creator, Noah Kagan. I’m subscribed to him and I love his content. He’s essentially an early Facebook employee who also creates a ton of helpful business content and has created some successful businesses themselves. So if you haven’t already checked him out before, be sure to do so.

No one likes to use his email list to promote his latest YouTube videos. So oftentimes has subject lines will relate to something that he’s covering in his video of the week or the day. So as we go through this, keep that in mind, and let’s jump into it.

The first example is the subject line, “Adding hot sauce to your life.” This is an example in which we’re applying both personal as well as emotional language in our subject line. The reason why it’s personal is because it includes language like your life, which relates to me as a reader and tunes me into understand what’s in it for me. And the reason why it’s emotional is because it uses the phrase hot sauce, which naturally invokes a reaction to think about something red or just a certain feeling versus living life normally.

So this is a great example in which Noah is applying both personal as well as emotional languaging in his email subject line.

Example #2: What do you say, partner?

In this example, Noah is trying to be personal again by using phrasing like partner, which is something that relates to writing towards me as reader and also it potentially is covering something slightly insightful because what I want to know is after he’s asked this question, what is he trying to say? Or what is his proposition based off of this subject line?

So this is a potentially good example of using personal and a little bit of insightfulness in your email subject line to hook your readers attention.

Example #3: Old dog learning new software tricks

In this case, we have the subject line, “Old dog learning new software tricks” As I think about this subject line, I’m not quite sure that it’s covering as many of the points in the PIE framework as some of the earlier ones that we’ve covered. While he is being a little personal by referring to himself as an old dog, in this situation, it’s not necessarily as engaging as some of the earlier subject lines that we went over.

For example, this subject line could be repositioned in the much more powerful if there were oriented to not only include Noah, but also us as the reader. Thinking a little bit more, he might’ve come up with something like, “Three software tricks I learned that you can, too.” By looping in that second phrase, “you can too”, he’s looping us in and engaging us as the reader to make his personal experience something that he wants to connect with us on as well.

Example #4: “$100 Life Upgrades

So in this example, Noah is using the I in the PIE framework, insightful. He’s capturing our attention by potentially sharing something that we might not have thought of before we read his email.

This email subject line is pretty good, but that being said, I think it could potentially be even more powerful if knowing where to incorporate some personal aspects to a subject line. For example, it might be something like, ” A $100 life upgrades that changed my life”, or he could even reposition it to us as the reader and say something along the lines of, $100 Life Upgrades that Can Change Your Life.” By covering these sorts of topics and makes it a little bit easier for us to connect with him as the reader.

Example #5: How to get customers (no matter your business idea

Now this is a great email subject line. And the reason why is because it’s both insightful as well as personal. The reason why it’s insightful is because it’s covering a topic like how to get customers. And the reason why it’s personal is because it loops in about how it doesn’t matter what our business idea is.

Yet another reason why this email subject line is so effective is because it highlights a common objection and tackles it head on in the subject line in the case, in which a person might have doubts about their business idea, or think that this XYZ tip can’t be applied to their particular business. By addressing this in the subject line, Noah gives us even more reasons to click into the email.

It’s in this way that Noah actually hits on potentially all three points of the PIE framework. In that we’re hitting on this some level of an emotional response here when we think about those potential objections that we might face as the reader to his email.

Example #6: I Paid a Pro $2,142 to Upgrade My Setup

The reason why this subject line is so great is because it covers all three aspects of the PIE framework. It’s personal because Noah’s telling a story about how he paid this guy, XYZ dollars to upgrade his setup. And it’s insightful because we are actually going to get curious about what this pro did to actually upgrade the setup or what they did with the two grand.

And it’s emotional because whenever you typically see a comma number, so something in the thousands, we typically perk up a little bit more than usual. And so it’s creating some sort of visceral reaction to us because we have some general connotation as to whether or not that $2,142 is a lot of money.

Example #7: Best of the week, 8/19/20

The reason why, why to make sure to include this as, because it’s a good example of how some creators can get a little bit burnt out and drop the ball when it comes to creating a super effective subject line.

This might be a little bit insightful of a subject line because it’s covering the top picks for the week, but it pretty much misses the mark in terms of the framework of covering something personal or emotional in any regard. In fact, this subject line is probably the weakest of the seven we reviewed because it’s just something that follows the convention of a lot of other email’s newsletters.

And the reason why that’s not helpful is because at the end of the day, your email subscribers are probably getting 20 to twenty-five different newsletters every single week. Using a subject line like this is not super motivational to me as the reader in choosing your newsletter to give attention to as opposed to any of the other 19 or to 24 and newsletters that I’m subscribed to.

3 Subject line tips

1. The first tip I have for you is to make sure that you’re connecting your experiences with your readers. Something that you probably noticed as we went through Noah’s examples is that his best ones were ones that incorporated something personal about him that could connect to him, to his reader or vice versa. So it’s always helpful when you can incorporate this sort of strong connection between you and your reader and bridge the gap between the two of you.

To apply this, I would personally think about how you might tell a great story or experience of yours and relate that to a really good friend of yours. By thinking in that light, it could potentially be easier for you to then craft your email to your subscribers. Or if you’re a brand trying to sell a product, you could try to think about the successes and failures that your brand has had in creating the product as it is today.

By sharing more about your wins, your losses and your experiences, you’ll make it easier for your subscribers to connect with you or your brand tip.

2. Number two is to use numbers whenever possible. Notice how Noah had some great usage of some key types of numbers in his subject lines. He used things like a hundred dollars or $2,142. Oftentimes, including some form of a number will invoke a greater deal of interest with your reader, just because they’re going to see some sort of number and then the actual context of that number right after that. So it can be helpful to include some sort of number in your subject line.

A thing to keep in mind, if you’re going to promote something like a list article or something like a compilation is to include an odd number over an even number. I’ve tested this myself in the past, and I found that odd numbered sorts of subject lines will outperform, even numbered sorts of subject lines, nine times out of 10.

3. My last tip for you is to try to apply at least two aspects of the PIE acronym into your subject lines. This could mean that your subject line is both personal and insightful, insightful, and emotional or personal and emotional. Whatever the case may be, you’ll notice that as we went through those real-world examples that the best ones incorporated at least two aspects of the framework. So keep that in mind.

Big takeaways

There are two things I want you to remember from this article:

  1. The first one is to remember to use PIE all the time. This framework can really be applied for more than just email subject lines. You could apply it to email body copy, body text on a page, or just in general copywriting skills. So it’s really important for you to master these principles of covering things that are personal, insightful, and emotional, because that’s the sort of content that everybody likes to enjoy.
  2. The second big takeaway I have for you is to apply the PIE framework on people you follow. The best way to internalize this framework is to try to think about it from the lens of the creators or brands that you personally follow. Look and ask yourself whether or not they are using a subject line that’s covering the personal side of things, the insightful side of things, or the emotional side of things, or maybe they’re not covering them at all.

If you found this article helpful, be sure to check out my YouTube channel to get new videos every single week I’ll help take you from zero to self-starter as you grow your business, get more customers, and hone your business acumen. Also, feel free to share this with anybody that you know that might be struggling when it comes to writing effective subject lines.