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9 Tips for Writing Email Subject Lines

email icons coming from computer laptop

9 Tips for Writing Email Subject Lines

Social media marketing is a wonderful thing, but I will continue to beat the drum that email marketing is where the money lives. Why? Because it’s true. Social is fantastic for building an audience, connecting with new people who you may not see in person, and BALLER for brand awareness. But, my friends, conversions happen in email. Plus, emails are what you own. Followers are owned by the platform you are on and should social media go away (as it did recently when it crashed) then you need to have another way to reach the customers, prospects, referral partners, brand advocates and everyone else in your network who helps your business run and grow.

Reaching them is only have the battle though. Once you get inside their inbox, you need them to open the golden solutions to their problems that you are delivering in said email. That requires having a GREAT subject line that entices them to read what’s inside. Keeping in mind that your email is competing against all other ones in their inbox AND whatever distractions are around when they are checking email.

So I give you: 9 tips for writing killer subject lines. These are my top takeaways from a session by Jay Schwedelson, CEO of Worldata, at HubSpot’s INBOUND conference last week. All data credits go to him and his company’s research of millions of emails.

TIP 1: The Fake Mistake

This type of subject line includes words like “oops” and “yikes!” and “we forgot…” that make it seem like you, as the sender, made an error. Worldata research shows this increases B2B emails by 29%!! That’s huge.

Why is it so effective? Well, we are humans and we like to see that companies are humans too. The thought of an error or mistake on someone else’s part intrigues us and kicks in the “Oh, so it’s not just me who makes mistakes” thoughts. It humanizes your brand.

TIP 2: Compare two things with the use of “vs.”

We humans love a competition! We also love to get answers as quickly as possible and the vs. inherently tells us we are going to get two arguments in one email. Boom! Hello Efficiency, our name is Overwhelmed.


– “Hubspot vs. Dubsado: What You Need to Know…”

– “DJ vs. Band: What’s Better for Your Event?”

– “Hourly vs. Project Rates: How to Choose Your Pricing Model”

And how does this perform you wonder? Well, we’re still int he 20s with a 21% increase in open rates for B2B emails.

TIP 3: Pretend you’re texting and use “…”

What annoys us in texting (that ever-mysterious “they’re typing” bubble) can 100% work in your favor with email marketing. Why? Because in both instances it builds anticipation for what comes next, which is precisely what you WANT to do in email marketing. Anticipation spurs open rates. Just always be sure to deliver and immediately inside the email and give the reader the rest of that sentence.


– My top tip for booking a DJ is…

– The ONE thing that will sink your home value is…

– The [EVENT NAME GOES HERE] Keynote speaker is…

This one really sets your data on fire with a 31% increase in opens.

TIP 4: Bookend your subject line in emojis

Even the most professional and corporate of businesses can benefit from using emojis in email and the reason is super simple: the person opening the email is still a PERSON. We aren’t talking to textbooks and balance sheets here friend. We are talking to people and people buy from people (not logos) they know, like, and trust. And if you can make that person laugh, even a little, they may start to like you a little faster.

This also doesn’t mean you need a wacky face (?) or a strong arm emoji (??) in order to capitalize on this tip. Just like your potential market, the world of emojis is vast.



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Here’s what Schwedelson showcased as the top 5 emojis for subject lines in the last 30 days:

top emojis to use in email subject lines to increase open rates

TIP 5: Utilize lists, lists and more lists

We are naturally inquisitive as people. We are also very short on time (or so it seems) so we want to learn things, but we also want to do it quickly. Enter: The listicle. This style of writing has become more popular in journalism and content marketing throughout the last 10+ years for its ease of reading, SEO benefits, and effectiveness in delivering a lot of content in an easily digestable way. Example? This very article!

One added tip: keep the number of items in your lists odd. Even numbers are easier to be processed by the brain and could be skimmed over. Odd numbers stand out.


– 5 Ways to Get Your Home Ready for Winter

– 3 Tips for Choosing a Caterer

– 7 Tactics for Remaining Calm in the Storm (of Life)

TIP 6: Forget being cute. Get to the point.

Ok I LOVE a pun. However, you will NOT find them in my email subject lines. Why? Because that’s not the point! They are meant to get you to open them for all the information inside that can benefit YOUR business. My puns may amuse me but they will not help your business.

The same is true for your email marketing. Schwedelson gave the example of an email from Fanatics, a sports apparel brand, that sent a subject line of “Most Valuable Pants” then inside the email housed a special percentage off sale. Ummm, what? Yes a nice play on the sports term MVP to refer to your pants, except that:

  1. Inside the email it didn’t talk about pants (Big no??‍♀️) 
  2. No one cares about the Most Valuable Pants. 

Instead of cute, I’d recommend they use a subject line that’s direct to what is inside like: “40% off Sale on Athletic Pants” or “10% off Best-Reviewed Running Pants”


Specificity may not get you as many opens, but the ones who DO open will have a higher chance of clicking through and that’s really what we want. Opening is just the start but the click is where the money exchanges hands.

TIP 7: Know the words creating urgency now.

We all know that creating urgency and intrigue in your email subject line will increase it’s open rate, particularly if what you are sending is time-sensitive content. It could be a sale, forecast, special offer, bonus, etc that is going to be irrelevant after a given time.

The words and phrases that have been known to work historically include “Don’t Miss”, “Last Chance”, “Almost Over” “Final Day(s)”, and the like. There are NEW words that are resonating now though. Partially because it’s Q4 and that means we need to start planning for next year while we’re closing out this year.

Partially because this pandemic has thrown everything up in the air and marketers must adapt to the way people behave now vs. pre-pandemic. (See what I did there??)

Here’s what is getting more open rates now:

Words spurring open rates in email subject lines

TIP 8: Change your “From” to match the message content.

A trend the past few years has been to change the “From” address on email marketing to be a person’s name. It seems more personal and tends to generate higher open rates than a business name in the From field. However, if someone does NOT know the person emailing, they will open, see it’s marketing and then unsubscribe because they feel duped. So this approach really only works if you are sending small batches of emails to people actually familiar with the senders name.

However, you take a page from Apple, Salesforce, and Walmart’s playbooks and update the From to the various departments within your company such as marketing, events, sales, etc.

This gives you a leg up in a few ways:


  1. You get to capitalize on the extra space in the From field to tie directly into your subject line message. 
  2. Opens opportunity to send more emails in a given week to your lists (albeit your segmented list – no spamming!) because they will be coming from different departments and therefore tailored messages on various topics. 
  3. You can keep your emails simple to a single topic and see what your list resonated with the most rather than the newsletter approach where you must evaluate clicks to see what content is of most interest to your subscribers. 


TIP 9: Adjust the time you send that email.

Ok technically this is a tip on sending that baller subject line rather than writing it, but it’s important nonetheless. Even if you’ve followed all the above advice, sending that email at the wrong time of someone’s day can get you deleted rather than opened. This is why it is SO important to know your target clientele and the type of schedules they keep.


That being said, a lot of things have changed since March 2020 and our schedules are at the top of that list. That means the peak time to reach your audience has also probably changed along with it.

Schwedelson’s data showed the NEW best time is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

That being said, testing is still even more important than knowing those hours. Send out an email to half of your list in that window and the other half at an oddball time like 4:13 or 9:20 p.m. and see what gets more opens. Same subject line, same content, just a different send time. This will help you get more info on what works best for YOUR audience as these best practices can only be a guide.

Channing Muller is an award winning marketing & public relations consultant and the principal of DCM Communications. She works with event professionals and business owners to grow and scale their businesses with refined marketing strategies developed through one-on-one and group consulting, customized marketing programs and public relations. She has been named a "25 Young Event Pro to Watch" by Special Events magazine and "40 Under 40" by Connect Meetings. Channing is an avid runner, lover of labrador retrievers, good food, delicious drinks, and an advocate for the American Heart Association. Follow her on Instagram @ChanningMuller.

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