October 18, 2017
The opening sentence has plagued all kinds of writers for centuries.
Letters, novels, pitches, marketing e-mails, and more – all need a solid opener that makes the audience not only lean in, but intrigues enough to keep them reading.
The opening line could mean the difference between continuing to read, or stopping cold.
It could help the book get more readers, the pitch get accepted, and the e-mail get attention – and subsequently, ROI and sales.
For e-mail in particular, the opening line is one of the most important pieces.
Why Does Good E-mail Depend So Much on the Opening Line?
E-mail is a powerful form of communication. It’s a direct connection with a person – far more direct, private, and personal than social media.
Its gravitas for marketing is proven, as it has the highest conversion rate for spurring purchases (in one study, 66 percent of consumers converted on e-mail over direct mail, social media, and other channels).
E-mail is a top tool for customer acquisition, too, according to McKinsey iConsumer:
To get great results with e-mail, though, you have to craft messages that make readers sit up and pay attention from the opening line onward.
Whatever your goal – growing your blog audience, increasing your company’s sales, making a connection, promoting your services, etc. – sending out e-mails can make or break you.
You, the writer, have to be like an expert fisherman. You have to craft the perfect lure that will make the audience bite.
It can’t just be about that first contact, though. After that initial bite, the flavor of the words has to make readers want to hang on and not let go.
It’s not easy. You have to compose an opening line with a seemingly impossible mix to get the results you want.
It has to be intriguing, clever, or provoking. It has to tug at some emotion lurking under the surface of your reader’s glazed-over eyes. It has to stand out, yet not be annoying or forceful.
If you’re feeling nervous about your e-mail-composing skills right about now, don’t be. You don’t have to be a prize-winning writer, or even a writer at all, to come up with some great openers. Simply use one of these techniques.
4 of the Most Tempting Opening Lines to Land In Readers’ Inboxes
Use these trusted techniques to make your opening line work like the most reliable lure in a fisherman’s tacklebox.
1. Create a Sense of Urgency
FOMO (fear of missing out) is real, and anybody plugged-in to social media in recent years can tell you how much it has heightened these days. Now, you can see what other people are doing all the time, in real-time.
As you read updates and watch live feeds, you get a front seat to others’ lives. That can make you start feeling anxious about what you’re not up to, comparatively. It may even inspire you to act to alleviate that feeling.
Similarly, your e-mail opener can hit on that anxiety, that urgency that tells the reader that if they don’t do something, they’ll miss out.
- “When is the last time you checked [XYZ]?”
- “Hurry – This offer expires at midnight.”
- “Have you tried [product/service] yet?”
The main element tying all of these together: They each reference time in some way with key words: “midnight,” “the last time,” and “yet.”
Specifically, each implies that time is short or running out. You’re behind the curve and need to catch up. These phrases make the reader go, “Oh, shoot!”— even if the line doesn’t apply to them!
Bargain book retailer Half Price Books effectively uses urgency in their promotional e-mails.
2. Hit Them with Emotions
Pulling on your reader’s emotions is a quick way to grab their attention. Once you stir up certain feelings within them, it can be enough to keep them reading.
For these openers, you don’t want to hedge. Draw up powerful emotions, or echo them. Don’t play with your audience’s feelings, but rather inspire them to think about deep truths.
- “Today’s the day”
- “We miss you!”
- “Those three little words…”
- “What are you waiting for?”
Each of these phrases pulls up associations with big emotions: Courage, love, longing, fear, hope, etc. In other words, it’s all about addressing that universal human element.
This warm, friendly e-mail is from a local coffee shop. The sincerity is compelling and makes you want to stop by.
3. Address the Reader Directly and Bluntly
One of the best, tried-and-true methods to get somebody’s attention is to be both direct and blunt. Say what you mean, and say it like you mean it.
In e-mails, you can make bold statements or come straight out of the gate with compelling statistics or straight-talk.
- “Welcome to the family!”
- “[Recipient’s name]: Have you heard the news?”
- “You’re gonna love this – a LOT.”
- “[Statistic]% of people believe [X] is true – WHY?”
All of the above are bold statements that handily trigger an emotion (see No. 3). Whether it’s surprise, curiosity, or shock, this is always a surefire way to compel a reader to keep reading.
Another example from Half Price Books. They just came out and said it, and it really, really made readers curious.
4. Be Wildly Transparent
When all else fails, honesty works.
Be up-front about whatever it is you’re communicating. Open with an honest statement, and lead from there.
- “Sorry about that…”
- “We want you to know…”
- “Listen up.”
This transparency builds trust with your readers AND makes them want to keep reading.
A recent e-mail from a beauty subscription service laid it all out about why they had to delay their launch. They launched later than initially promised, but still saw success:
E-mail Openers Are an Art, Not a Science
Struggling to craft e-mail opening lines that get your audience’s attention?
You don’t need an entirely new formula or strategy. Instead, go back to basics.
Emotion, urgency, directness, and transparency are some of your best tools for openers that do their job, and do it well.
However, don’t play with your readers. If you make a promise or statement in your opening line, make sure you can back it up. The surest way to lose trust (and lose readers) is to be disingenuous.
Speak to your reader’s hearts and minds. Be honest, direct, or bold, and give them a reason to keep reading. This is the best way to tap into e-mail’s power and potential from the get-go.
Julia McCoy is the founder of Express Writers, a serial content marketer, and bestselling author. A dedicated self-starter since an early age, by age 13, she'd written a 200-page book and taught herself Internet marketing. At 19, Julia dropped out of college and a nursing degree to follow her passion, teach herself online writing, and start her agency. Within two years, Express Writers grew by 400 percent, and today, Julia’s agency serves more than 5,000 clients. Julia is a bestselling author, the creator of The Practical Content Strategy Certification Course, host of the Write Podcast and Twitter Chat #ContentWritingChat. She just published her second bestseller, Practical Content Strategy & Marketing, November 2017.