Create a subject line that can’t be ignored

We're on WEEK 3 of Open Rate Month.

So far, we've covered what open rates really mean about the your email program, the health of your email list and NOW (trumpet noises) we're gonna talk about juicy subject lines.

Yes, they make a difference on how many people open your emails.

I've tested and tested and tested subject lines for a wide variety of industries (ecommerce, retail, b2b, salons, health coaches). You name it, I've tried it.

Are there generalized strategies that get more opens? Yes, there are a few.

BUT mostly, methods for developing subject lines depend on your brand and the experience you want your customers to have.

Like anything in the marketing world, it's important to TEST your content to hone in on EXACTLY what resonates with your ideal customers.

But here's a tried and true place to start that will set you lightyears ahead of your competition.


1. Subject lines that have nothing to do with the content of the email (i.e. click bait).

Your order information inside.
»»» Important updates to your account

I have seen these subject lines used for a weekly promotional email. I fell for it, opened the email and was immediately miffed (do people still say miffed?)

I have also worked on campaigns that tried this method and tested it against a more content appropriate subject line.

The click bait type of subject line got way more opens.

Guess what else the click bait type of subject line got way more of? UNSUBSCRIBES.

Yeah, people don't like being tricked. It's almost like they're normal humans who appreciate respectful communication. Weird, right?

2. Sender names that are not immediately recognizable as your brand.

Taylor Borgenstein
Billeremy Smithwisen

I can't tell you how many times I have gotten an email from some random name.

The subject line doesn't tell me much about how I know them either.

Is it SPAM? Is it someone I met a long time ago and forgot their name? Is it my potential new best friend?

Who knows?!

I open. I see who it's actually from and then guess what I do? I UNSUBSCRIBE.

Again, I'm not alone here. I've tested and the same results happen.

Try this instead:
Taylor Borgenstein | Corporation Inc.
Billeremy Smithwisen from Do-Gooder 501(c)(3)
Sammabelle of ​Really Cool Company Name


1. Think customer first.

When developing a subject line, always remember, WHAT'S IN IT FOR THEM?

That should be at the core of your content strategy to begin with. BUT we all need a starting point.

Here are some examples of subject lines I've gotten in my inbox.

See DTE Energy's email? They sent out a survey, which good for them for wanting to improve.

The subject line is “DTE Energy would like your opinion.”

My first thought, Well isn't that nice.

What's in it for me?

Why would I want to take precious time out of my day to fill out their survey, especially when I have at least 20 other emails in my inbox begging for my attention?

DTE didn't think from their customers' perspective.

We need to give them an incentive to open the email, read it, click it, then complete the requested action.

Here are some better, customer focused examples:

XX-minutes of your time to shape the future of energy.
Giveaway time! Give us 2 minutes of your time and enter a chance to win _______.


 2. The formula for creating a subject line that connects


BENEFIT + YOU/YOUR + WHEN = ↑ Open %%% 

Lemme break that down.

What benefit are you promoting in your email?
Special offer
Products/Services/Content that's gonna change their world

Include this word to bring home that this life changing offer IS JUST FOR THEM.

Including a personal qualifier like “YOU/YOUR” has been proven to increase opens.

See these examples of subject lines?

They know the importance of including the word “you” or “your”.

Why now?

Is there limited time pricing/quantities?

Is space limited?

Is there a deadline?

Don't expect your audience to know:

  • You only have a certain number of items
  • Your services are only available for a certain number of clients
  • Your offer ends on a certain date
    The price goes up at a certain time

Tell them why they need to take action right now.

3. Appropriate Emojis/Characters

People love throwing emojis and characters into subject lines.

If used appropriately, they can boost your opens.

But don't just throw them in willy-nilly.

Genuine marketing always gets the long-term results. It connects with your audience and creates a feel-good experience.

So if your audience is the type that would appreciate an emoji/character here and there, then spend some time familiarizing yourself with what might work with your content.


A couple of really useful resources on emojis:

Includes directories of thematic emojis (holidays, seasons, events)
Shows how an emoji will appear on different devices (android and iphone emojis are different!)

There are more options than emojis!
Characters display differently than emojis (unicode is more universal)
See if you can find anything that resonates differently with your content.


Now, what can you do to play with your emails this week?

Boost your open rates on the very next email you send


Week 2 into Open Rate August and we're ready for the least sexy email hacks you've come across.

Last week, we talked about what an email open actually means.


Brands tend to have a reactive approach to open rates.

They're the first line of measurement we look at to figure out what's going wrong in an email program.

Are people opening our emails?

Well, our open rate is under 15% so that must mean we're not doing enough to get our list to open.

Write a better subject line!

Get more people on the list!

Sprinkle a few emojis in there!

Don't get me wrong.

Those are all essential email strategy tactics. They work if deployed well.

But they're a waste of effort if you're not looking at the QUALITY of your list.

Ooph. I just brought up something new here.


    What does that have to do with open rates?

    Well, kids, gather round for story time.

    I was talking to someone about a lead generation campaign they were running and they weren't getting very good results. They wanted to know why.

    When I hear this kind of problem, my first question is, Where did your leads come from?

    They bought a list.

    (AH! So many sad tears!!!!!)

    Why do we keep thinking this kind of short cut will work!?!?

    If people have never heard of you before and they get an email in their inbox (if it makes it past the SPAM folder), WHY would they open it?

    And if they open it, why would they engage with it?

    Paid/rented lists are the worst on so many levels.

    Email marketing is the highest revenue-generating marketing channel for a reason.

    People give you permission to send them emails.

    They encountered our brand and said, Yes, I would please like more information.

    If you provide them the opportunity to opt-in and then give them value, they will keep opening over and over.

    BUT I know you aren't the type of person who would take this kind of short cut.

    SO let's say all of your contacts have given you permission to email them. (HOORAY! ?)

    Does that mean they are opening all or even any of your emails?


    Sorry to say this, but people either get bored with your brand, they move on, or they never opened an email to begin with.

    I know you're churning out the good stuff week after week. To have someone just say they don't want it anymore is a real bummer.

    Hopefully, they'll be the grown-up and unsubscribe from your list.

    Most of the time, they just ignore you and keep deleting until it's New Year's and they're ready to do some inbox cleaning because all of the deco-organizing blogs out there are saying CLEAN UP YOUR LIFE AND YOU WILL BE IMMEDIATELY HAPPY.

    So why does it matter if people stop opening your emails and don't unsubscribe?

    (Ready to come full circle?)


    Let me ask you this. When's the last time you cleaned your list?

    Was it around the same time you scrubbed out the vegetable drawer in your refrigerator?

    (Don't be embarrassed. We've all done it.)

    So here's the real deal about list cleaning.

    Removing aged contacts will not only take out the dead weight from your email list (and increase your open rates), but it will show that email clients like gmail, outlook, hotmail (does anyone still use hotmail?) will see that you have a higher percentage of open rates which makes them happy.

    They'll be less likely to serve your emails to the SPAM folder.

    Also, smaller list sizes might keep your contact down enough to avoid a price increase from your email service provider.

    It's a win Win WIN.


    Check your list to see who isn't opening. Have they ever opened an email from you? Have they not opened an email in the last 3 months?

    Once you find those folks, make the hard choice to unsubscribe.

    Some people hate unsubscribing.

    But every relationship needs boundaries. Set yours now and move on with your big, beautiful open rate.

    How to increase your open rates this month

    I'm officially calling August the month of Open Rates!

    Yes! Yes! YES!

    What makes me qualified to declare a whole month dedicated to one small part of email strategy?

    I declared it. So it is so.

    Marketing secret UNLOCKED.

    Since open rates are the first metric most people look at on how their audience is engaging with their brand, we're gonna go for it all month long.

    4 parts to increasing your open rates.

    These aren't gimmicks (well, most of them aren't.) 😉

    These are methods I have tested with other brands and seen with my own eyeballs, their success.

    So here's what we'll be covering this month:
    1. What open rates really mean for your overall strategy.
    2. How to boost your open rates on the next email you send.
    3. Write a subject line that will make your subscribers open your emails.
    4. This one change has been tested and proven to DRAMATICALLY increase open rates.



      Let's break it down.

      The open rate on your email is calculated by taking the number of people you sent your emails to divided by the unique number of contacts who opened your email.


      So what does that mean for your email?

      It means you put A LOT of hard work into creating a content/offer rich email with lots of pretty words and graphics. And guess how many people opened it? Some of them. Very specific, no?

      So what's a good open rate on an email?

      You're gonna hate this answer. Ready?

      It depends.

      Averages range across industries.

      From what I see in email, a HEY-I-AM-KIND-OF-KILLING-THIS-EMAIL-THING rate is over 20%.

      But that can always be improved on.

      An open rate that makes me raise a couple of eyebrows and wonder what you're doing with your email program is anything under 10%.


      When an email program isn't performing as well as people hope, the first thing they look at is the open rate.

      Why? Well, it's the most readily available metric for email.

      We also make the assumption that the more people who open our emails, the more likely we are to make a sale. (More on that assumption in a later post).

      So there tends to be reactive approach to dwindling marketing efforts on this ONE metric.

      Is it a useful piece of info?

      For sure.

      Is it going to be a game changer for your email marketing if opens increase?

      Yes, but not the immediate bump that most people hope for.


      Let's say you have a list of about 5,000 (aspirational for some of you, I know).

      Your average open rate is somewhere around 15%.

      That means for every email you are sending out, 750 people are opening.

      The next week (or a few days or months later), you send out your next email.

      Again, 15% open rate and 750 open.

      That means 4,250 people did not read your emails.

      That can be very discouraging for some people.

      BUT! There is hope!

      That also means that 4,250 did not see the content in your last email.

      Awesome, right!?
      Ha. Yes, let explain.

      That means that you do not have to re-invent the wheel for every email you send out.

      You can send the SAME email out AGAIN with a different subject line and maybe a few copy tweaks here or there.

      Yes, the same people who read your first email may open the next one again. BUT they also may have not read everything in the first email.


      It should be.

      RECYCLE YOUR EMAILS! It's good for the earth…or something.


      Not necessarily. There is a lot that goes into the percentage of people who open your emails.

      We're gonna take a look at that next week.

      Never lose a lead with an email campaign you’re missing

      Engagement through email is golden. Not just golden. It's sparkly. Really really sparkly.

      You know this from Marketing Strategy 101.

      Hook your audience in. Engage them. Convert them. Keep them engaged. And let them keep coming back and referring business your way.

      That's your sales cycle laid out for you right there. (You're welcome).

      Our problem usually lies with that initial engagement. Someone's curious about us but not 100% sure.

      So they browse our website checking out our content and if there is something for them they'd like to purchase or book us for.

      How do we contact them if they're browsing?

      Spoiler alert: It's email!

      Shocking, I know.

      There's a secret powerhouse campaign in email marketing not a lot of people take advantage of. It can be used in most industries.

      It's called the Abandoned Browse email.

      Someone is on your email list, and they browse your site for more information on your products or services.

      But they get distracted and abandon their browsing session.

      Boom! Send them an email.

      Here's a great product-based example from Harley Davidson.

      It's short and to the point with a CTA button that gets them back in the saddle. The motorcycle saddle. Is that a thing? I'm gonna guess it is.

      Sell services? No problem. If you have your services listed on your page, you can invite someone to a schedule a call or a meeting if they browse some of your services.

      You don't have to mention it in the email. No sense in creeping everyone out, but you can trigger an invitation based on that browse.

      Here's the Harely Davidson email to get your juices flowing.





      1. Triggered off of website behavior

      Someone is interested in their product, so they're following up to make sure they didn't forget about it.

      They don't need a lot of other content because they know the contact is already warmed to buying.

      2. SUPER simple design

      You don't have to have a fancy designer to pull this type of content off.

      The main thing to focus on with the design is to give them the information about what they browsed with a clear call-to-action.

      Look at that beautiful orange button and how it contrasts off of the black background!

      My eye goes straight to it.

      I know how to complete the action they're requesting I do in the email.

      KEEP SHOPPING? OK. Don't mind if I do!

      3. Simple and fun copy.

      I love the headline on this email.

      Thank you so much for the compliment, Harley Davidson!

      I am a very good online shopper. Side note: Should I add that to my LinkedIn skills?

      Don't distract with a triggered email.

      Get right to the point to capitalize on the timing.

      They told you exactly what they want by looking at it on your website. Now give them a little reminder about it.

      Your job = done.

      Got it? Now. What can you do to play with your emails this week?