Win the Inbox: Subject Lines Dos and Don’ts Part 2


How to Write Better Subject Lines for Better Open Rates

As I’ve mentioned before in other Win the Inbox episodes, maintaining open rates is essential. But what if your open rate is stuck? Even if you’re around or beating industry averages, which are 20% or so, you know there are some lists that are absolutely crushing those numbers. How do they do it?

Welcome to the second episode of Win the Inbox’s “Subject Line Series” – a five part exploration of the dos and don’ts of improving your open rate by crafting compelling email marketing subjects lines.

Why? Because the key to getting that all-important open is the subject line.

The show transcript includes everything I cover here, and you can find it all at

Hi, I’m Phil Hollows, CEO of email service provider, and this is “Win the Inbox” where I cover one email marketing question in about three minutes or less.

Before I dive in, remember to make the email – and so the subject line – about the recipient, not about you. You need to connect with the reader, and then deliver what you promise in the email itself. A snappy subject line is worth nothing if the recipient feels disappointed once they open the email itself.


Do be human.

Sometimes an authentic “I need your help” or an earnest apology can work wonders. For example, one of my best mailings had the subject line of “Well, this is awkward” – which I sent ten minutes after accidentally mailing the entire company’s list with a test email which had the potential to be badly misinterpreted.

Do emphasize time, deadlines and urgency.

Fear of missing out can be extremely powerful, especially if you can get the reader to think that everyone else is getting in on the act. So talk about things that are available, starting or ending. Now, today, midnight or 8 o’clock.

Add proof if you have it (fifty tickets already sold!). Finally, if you have genuine scarcity – only three left! – then use that, too. In the same vein, countdowns also work very well.

Do make the reader feel special.

Can they beat the rush, get advanced access, a privilege, a custom discount, be the first to know, or even the only? Subject lines like these are proven winners, especially when used with targeting to pick out your best customers.

Do have fun!

It’s important to be predictable – there’s a “Win the Inbox” episode about email timing, I’ll link to it in the show notes – but being predictable doesn’t mean being boring.

One of my favorite client campaigns was a countdown for a sale. What made it fun was that each day the list owner put the number of days to go in a different language. Not only did that make me aware of the date, I found myself anticipating the next email – what language was going to be next? And to find out which language it was, I had to open the next email. Brilliant.

Do use CAPS and emojis.

They can help you stand out in a crowded inbox. They can also be wearing and make subject lines harder to read, so for most email marketers my advice is to use them sparingly. That way they have much greater IMPACT when you do use them. That said, emojis in particular can be powerful when used in pre-headers.

Do use numbers – even if you hate math!

Numbers, combined with lists and “how-tos” are classics, because they are short (the numeral “7” is one character, whereas the word “seven” is five), speak to growth goals and often to personal empowerment.

For example: “9 common copywriting mistakes you can fix right now” is a great subject line. Remember, keeping subject lines short and sweet is essential, so using numerals instead of words is a great technique.

And that’s a wrap for part two of the “Subject Line Series.” If you found this helpful, please like, share and subscribe. And you can watch all the “Win the Inbox” episodes at I’m Phil Hollows, and I’ll see you next time with part three of my subject line tips.

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