Want to lure in your readers from the moment they open your email?
Get ’em to ignore everything else piling up in their inbox and ACTUALLY READ your message?
Rather than instantly saying…
Then you need a powerful email opening line.
Marketers spend loads of time and energy optimizing the email envelope copy: A/B testing subject lines, pre-header text and sender names. And that’s all important stuff.
But there’s much less attention given to the first line in text emails. That initial, all-powerful hook.
This is part of the reason why long emails get a bad rap. People think “oh, my audience will never read all that copy.” That might be true for some lists. But in a lot of cases, it’s simply that the marketer hasn’t given his or her subscribers a reason to read on.
And that’s where a killer opening line can help.
This crucial first sentence needs to serve as a bridge that takes readers from your subject line, draws them into the meat of your copy and drives them toward the one goal for your email.
I’ve written and tested hundreds of text emails for both broadcast and autoresponder campaigns. And ultimately, the approach you take depends on the goal of your email. But before you start writing your e-mail copy, there are a few things you need to consider.
Your email opening line should…
1) Mesh with your subject line
In other words, deliver on your promise. If your subject line hinted about ‘how to boost your IQ’, make sure your first sentence matches their expectations. Otherwise, it’s deletesville.
2) Support the main goal of your email
I can be flexible on this one, but generally your email should be focused on one main goal. This might be getting the reader to click to a blog post, fill out a survey or reply with a comment.
3) Sound human
If your writing is stiff and formal, you might as well send your list a fancy design email instead with loads of pics but zero text (and there is a place for those). But the beauty of sending text emails is that you’re connecting with readers in a way that feels far more human and authentic. Sound like robo-marketer and that goes out the window.
With these three points in mind, here are some ideas you can use to write that crucial first sentence:
Jump Right Into A Story
You probably already know that stories sell. When told well, they can immediately suck the reader in. So if you can connect a story to the main goal of your email, go ahead and do it right off the bat.
Try opening your email with phrases like:
Let me tell you a story.
Here’s how it went down.
You won’t believe this one.
Those lines set up your story nicely. You could also take more of an in media res approach, by jumping straight into the middle of the narrative.
Here’s how ‘The Autoresponder Guy’ John McIntyre leaps right into a personal story in his email promoting a webinar:
The first line feels authentic and real. You want to keep reading after that first line to find out what he was daydreaming about.
Make ’em go Whaa???
Ah, the power of surprise. Research shows that the pleasure centers in our minds are “more turned on” when we experience unpredictable pleasant things, compared to expected pleasant events.
And hitting your email readers with something ultra-unexpected is a great way to keep them reading. Here are three ways to do it:
1) Share an (almost) unbelievable fact
This type of line sucks readers by snatching their attention and piquing their curiosity enough to make them read on. For example:
Stephen King spent years perfecting the opening lines for his books.
This is true, by the way.
2) Connect two seemingly unrelated things
For example: Let’s talk about the late actor Steve McQueen and your emails.
This is a great opener from controversial email slinger Ben Settle. What could “The King Of Cool” Steve McQueen possibly have to do with email marketing? You gotta read on to find out.
3) Say something totally bonkers
Use this one with caution. Here’s an example from copywriter Neville Medhora.
Whoa? You’re gonna show how to scam people! WTF?
Actually, no. This email is actually promoting a tongue-in-cheek blog post about scammy tactics marketers should avoid.
But the opening line certainly snatches your attention because it’s the exact opposite of what people are expecting to see.
“Put on your Evil Hat, because today I’m teaching you how to scam people for money!”
Who would publicly invite others to be evil? It doesn’t add up, so you read on to find out more.
Use a super-short open loop
I’m sure you’ve seen loads of open-loop blog headlines and tweets. Stuff like:
Do you make these career-crushing mistakes?
These type of headlines are designed to get clicks by generating curiosity (ie. opening a ‘loop’ in the readers mind). In the above example, the brain wants to close this loop by discovering what these career-crushings mistakes are. So that drives the click.
And although these type of headlines still work for certain audiences, they’re crazy overused as blog titles. But not so much in email copy.
One tactic you may wanna try is opening an email with a short open loop that’s easy for readers to scan. For example, take a look at the first line of this email I wrote a few years back for online suds retailer Bring On The Beer.
The line “I finally got ’em for you” is short, sweet and intriguing. It enticed the beer-fanatic audience to read on to find out more about the suds and the story behind them — which was explained in thorough detail.
The beer featured in this email sold out two hours after we hit send.
Mirror their dominant pain point
I love the problem-agitate-solve (PAS) framework for email copy. It’s a concise little formula that can get a wicked response when delivered to an audience you know is hurtin’.
But the trick to get these emails read is to really nail down the dominant problem in the first line. Get right to what’s causing them so much pain. Of course, you really need to know what their most pressing pain is — and that’s where customer research is essential.
Here’s an example of PAS in an email from About Meditation;
Make a big, bold promise
This is a great way to kick-off an email when you have a clear and compelling offer. Just shout the benefits loud and clear.
AppSumo’s sales emails are fantastic at this. They often use an opening line that spells out a big ‘ol promise in an engaging way, like this one for an Excel course:
Lots of juicy benefits listed in that opening line. They’re not just selling a boring-ass Excel course — AppSumo wants you to invest in a promotion or dream job.
Just one piece of the puzzle
Sure, your email opening line is important. But it’s just one tactic that can help you get the results you want.
An effective email campaign — whether it’s a 12-part autoresponder series or a single sales blast — really comes down to strategy. You need to understand the audience you’re emailing and connect with them in a deep and memorable way.
So while a killer hook certainly helps you do that, it’s really just one piece of a much bigger puzzle you’ve got to solve.