The Secret To Making Your Autoresponder Subject Lines "Pop"

When I was kid, I once received a Christmas gift called Tipovers …

These makeshift dominoes were specially weighted in one end. So when you lined them up on their edges and toppled them over, they made a neat looking "wave" motion.

I can still remember spending hours at the kitchen table, holding my breath while carefully placing hundreds of these colorful plastic pieces, one by one, next to each other (and hoping that the dog wouldn't shake the table and ruin my masterpiece).

Then finally, when the last Tipover was in place, I would gently push that first one to start the action. A lot of work for a few seconds of delight, but pretty cool nonetheless – especially for a 10-year-old.

Recently, I was reminded of this while Christmas shopping for my own children. And it hit me: The subject line of your autoresponder does the exact same thing as that first Tipover.

Let me explain …

An autoresponder email is basically a series of steps. Each step must lead the reader to the next in a natural, smooth-flowing motion.

The subject line is the first of those steps. Once it's clicked on (or "tipped over") it starts the reader on a forward journey through the autoresponder, with each piece of the copy moving seamlessly along until they take some sort of action – usually a click-through.

But without this initial push to get everything started, the message is never opened and consumed. Which means the subject line is obviously a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Now, I can hear what you're thinking: "So Jay, that means we should always write the subject line first before we get into the autoresponder copy, right?"

It would certainly seem that way. But to be honest, that's exactly what you should NOT do. And I'll tell you why …

In my experience, the best subject lines are those which sort of "spring" from the copy – not the other way around. I've found that writing the bulk of the autoresponder copy FIRST will usually produce a really good subject line without me even knowing it.

It all happens something like this: I start the process by coming up with a theme for the message, usually sparked by a story that ties in with a specific want/need/desire/problem that prospect is experiencing.

Then I just start writing, letting the copy take me wherever it leads. Sometimes it's a dead-end and I have to start over with another angle. Other times it's coming so fast and furious that my fingers can barely keep up with my brain.

But more often than not, I end up with the bones of a pretty good autoresponder – something I can really add some muscle to with some tweaking and editing.

THAT's when you the subject line comes in …

Once you've got the basic elements of your autoresponder copy down, go back through and look for those statements or phrases that "pop out" at you.

You'll know what I mean when you see them. These are those clever little idioms that really make the copy sizzle and stand out from the crowd. It might be a few words, a sentence (or maybe just an idea). But you should have at least a couple, if not several to choose from.

Now, simply take those words, phrases, or ideas and craft a subject line around them. Because if they "pop out" at you, they'll do the same for your readers – and generate a higher open rate for your clients.

See how easy that is?

I'll give you an example. Let's say this article is an autoresponder. As I go through it, here's some things that jumped out at me as possible subject line fodder:

The Domino Effect
Just One Push And It All Topples Over
Your Copy Is Balancing On One Thing …
The Secret To Making Your Autoresponder Subject Lines "Pop"
Do You Make This Mistake With Your Autoresponders?

That's just a few. As you can see, one of them seemed to jump at me a little more than the rest.

Here's 3 more tips that will help you write more effective autoresponder subject lines …

  1. Pose your subject line as a question. When we're asked a question, our basic human response is to answer – either verbally or mentally. It's what we've been trained to do since toddler age, and it still pertains today. So asking a question in a subject line subconsciously moves the reader to find the answer – which lies inside the email. The result? More opens.
  2. Initial caps only – if any. Subject lines in all-caps only shout at the reader. And who wants to be yelled at? Statements in initial caps (where the first letter of each word is capitalized) are more standard and acceptable. Some email marketers have even found that no capitalization results in slightly higher opens as well. The best thing to do is test several versions and see what type your client's list responds to best.
  3. Use quotes from your autoresponder copy. A great quote can garner a lot of email opens. Why? Because we're curious people. And if we see a stand-along quote that generates interest, it's almost an automatic that we'll search for the who, what, when, where, or why attached to it – which of course lies inside the email. But one thing to keep in mind: make sure the quote (and all the information regarding it) is actually INSIDE the email. Nothing more frustrating than to get hooked by an interesting quote only to be disappointed because the message didn't deliver a pay-off.

Follow these simple principles and watch your client's open rates shoot through the roof!

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: December 13, 2010

3 Responses to “The Secret To Making Your Autoresponder Subject Lines "Pop"”

  1. Thanks Jay, This is really helpful.

    JeanDecember 13, 2010 at 6:28 am

  2. Thank you for a very helpful article Jay! This gives me a systematic and fun approach to crafting subject lines.

    Violet MeuterDecember 17, 2010 at 10:05 pm

  3. Jay your advice sizzles as always! You never disappoint me.

    Guest (Webwriter777)March 23, 2011 at 12:09 pm


Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)


This name will appear next to your comment.


Your email is required but will not be displayed.


Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters


Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)