red line

RE:😲 OMG! OPEN THIS and other things we'd never say in a subject line

The subject line in an email is the equivalent of a thumbnail to a video on YouTube. 

The ability to capture your audience’s attention and compel them to open the email is an art form. It should be something that your email marketing strategy seriously considers when building out your campaigns.

For example, when we plan our editorial calendar, we start by listing out topic ideas we think might resonate with our audience (yes, I know… this one fell through the cracks somehow).  From there, we start brainstorming subject ideas, and then, based on what we come up with, we take the most compelling ones and prioritize them—leaving others in the backlog to be improved upon later.  In other words, we start with the subject line, and then write the content.  It’s that important to us.

So let’s dig into some thoughts I have about subject lines…

First off: Think about your audience!

For us, it’s marketers.  And we believe you respond to us being a little salesy and cheeky (or cheesy).  But, for our clients, we will want to understand what their audience expects from their brand.  How professional should they be, what pain points do they resonate with, and ultimately, who can we personify as the reader?  Are we speaking to them like we would speak to a prospect or partner?

That said… I do believe you should still try to push the envelope a bit when it comes to your subject line.  We’re all humans, and we will all appreciate something a little more profound.  If you have a position on a recent industry change, make it stronger.  If you think a new technology is overhyped, be a little more adamant about it than you may be in reality.  And, of course, try to add some humor.  Although, don’t use this email and subject line as an example of effectively providing comic relief.

Keep it short – and start off strong.  Remember, the key to enticing your reader is not giving everything away.  Try to capture their attention by starting off with something bold (not really bold because you can’t do that with subject lines),  Then leave them wanting…  

Personally, I’m done with personalized subject lines (+1 pun point).  I don’t need to know that you have successfully saved my first name in your CRM.  It’s overdone at this point, and I’m ready for that trend to move on.

I will admit that I do enjoy adding emojis.  Obviously, the subject line of this email was tongue-in-cheek, but the truth is it catches the eye, adds emotion, and has proven to be a driver for improving open rates.


Be aware of words that might trigger spam filters.  I like this tool to use to test the score of my subject lines: 

Here’s the outcome of the subject line for this email 😬 :


Side note: it’s quite fun to try and come up with subject lines that score really, really poorly.   

We used to A/B test subject lines a lot.  And, when you’re just getting started, it might be a good idea to test the water with your audience.  However, I think once you start to see what opens and what doesn’t, you’ll have a good idea of what’s going to work for future comms.

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