Email Marketing: Writing Your Subject Lines to Increase Open Rates

Notes from HubSpot’s Virtual Inbound Marketing Conference: Email Myths Busted by Jay Schwedelson

At the end of October, I attended HubSpot’s virtual InBound Marketing Conference. One of my favorite sessions was by Jay Schwedelson from World Data, Email Myths Busted. Not only did I bust a gut laughing out loud in my home office, but I learned a thing or two about what’s going on in email marketing right now, what to avoid, and what’s working. 

According to Jay, it’s like the Wild West in email marketing right now — anything goes. But this doesn’t mean you should hitch your wagon to every trend. Read on to find out what I learned.

The Top 3 Email Marketing Trends to Avoid

1. Bait & Switch Naming

One questionable tactic is Bait and Switch Naming. For example, let’s say I get an email from John Smith, but when I look at from address, it’s actually from “”. Companies are using personal names instead of their brand name. 

Bait and Switch works for open rates, but it increases your unsubscribe rate for B2B by 68% and B2C by 52%, and once you lose your contact, it’s hard to get them back again. Just check out my spooky unsubscribes post.

2. Faking a RE: Reply or an FWD: Forward Email

This one tricked me before I even attended Jay’s session. I immediately sent it to the Junk box since I thought it was a phishing scam. 

Simply put, don’t pretend to reply or be a forwarded message. This spammy behavior will also destroy your inbox deliverability and increase your unsubscribe rates by 135%. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

3. Don’t Be Punny

I love a good pun as much as anyone else. But in email marketing it won’t win you new customers. Be direct, don’t try to be clever or funny. People are busy and don’t have time to decipher it. 

Here are some examples of awful subject lines.

  • Trust Your Gut
  • Most Valuable Shoes
  • Smell My Feet

What’s Working Now…

Characters Count

Use special characters to highlight your subject line and help it stand out in a crowded inbox. Using this tactic won’t put you in the Junk folder (myth busted). That’s because if you have a good sending reputation linked to your domain and IP address already, you’ll get more engagement. The more engagement you have, the more likely you’ll be able to stay in the inbox. 

Why does it work? Special characters are, well, special. They’re something out of the ordinary that grabs your attention. Try a few of these special characters in your next email to see what happens. 

  • Asterisks: Preparing for a *BIG* Week
  • Parentheses: (Special Offer) Save this Fall at Aulani Resort
  • Brackets: [10% off] Get a Sleepytime Tea Coupon

Fake Mistakes

Oops! Or admitting you goofed in the subject line. Why it works — we delight in other people’s mistakes. It’s like rubbernecking in a traffic jam. We want to see what happened. For B2B, open rates increased by 29%, and for B2C, they increased by 37% according to Jay. Use this sparingly with your audience because, in six months, it may not work if you’ve overused it.

  • Oops, you almost scrolled past this.
  • Oops, we forget to put in the link.
  • Oops, you almost missed this.
  • Uh oh, extra 40% off ends tonight!
  • Oh no! Free shipping ends tonight.


Like an excellent football match-up, we want to know who wins and how the game ends. Try pitting one subject against another—

  • Clubhouse vs. Podcasts Which is Better?
  • Back to School: Tile vs. Apple Air Tag
  • Email vs. Social Media, which should you do first?

The Ellipse

These three dots…or an ellipse, are equivalent to a “To Be Continued…” line at the end of a movie. It leaves you hanging and wanting more. What happens next? It adds suspense and tells the reader there’s more to the story.

  • Have you seen…
  • For Brand Managers Only…
  • The Winner Is…

Bookend Emojis

If you think emojis aren’t for you because you’re a serious brand, think again. The person at the end of your email is human too. Even if you’re in healthcare, this can work for you. Emojis work because they catch your attention. Although beware this may not work in the Spring if it becomes a tired trend.

Myth busted: You won’t get filtered for this. That’s old school way of thinking. Just be careful not to use the peach or other emojis since they have a double meaning. Only 7% of people use the peach emoji as a fruit. Ways you can take advantage of this trend —

  • 🎁Gift the gift of Health this year 🎁 
  • 🙏 A HUGE Thank You! 🙏 
  • 🔥 Steps you can take to prevent fundraiser burnout 🔥 
Writing the Perfect Subject Line Bookend Emojis Crayola


People love lists. We know what we’re getting, and we don’t want to miss out. Is something on the list that I need? Or how many things on the list do I already have? 

Plus, lists are scannable, making them easy to read quickly.

  • The top 3 teas for relaxing this weekend
  • Our 5 most energizing teas
  • Our top 10 tips for engaging donors
Jon Acuff Lists Email Subject Line Example

A Word on Words: Words that Increase Open Rates

What’s trending in words that trigger an open in email marketing directly reflects the state of the world we live in today. Trending in the last 60 days are words looking forward to what 2022. Is it going back to normal? What’s coming up? 

The other story being told is perceived scarcity caused by supply chain issues. Words like back, available, limited, or in-stock are popular and getting emails opened.

Here are a few words that will help you increase your open rates if you include them in the subject line.

  • Free
  • 2022
  • Limited
  • In-Stock
  • Outlook
  • Last Chance
  • Expires
  • Available
  • Only
  • Today
  • Back
  • Exclusive
  • Just For 
  • Update

Ways to work these words into your subject line:

  • Guess What’s Back?
  • Order Big Stretch, While Supplies Last…
  • In-stock and Ready to Ship Transformation Stain
  • Cold Brewed Iced Teas Available Now

Myth busted: I’ve heard the argument for and against the word free. But what Jay says makes sense to me. “Don’t be afraid to use the word free.” It’s an old-school way of doing things because nowadays, it’s all about your email reputation. Are you being spammy? And did you know you can check your email health right in HubSpot?

How Design Live It's Back

A Note About Friendly Froms

Another tactic you can try is setting the friendly from or the alias to match what the email is about. You can change this in HubSpot, see the video below.


For example, if you’re Celestial Seasonings, you could try the following —

From: Celestial Seasonings, The Tea People

Subject line: Get 15% Off of Relaxing Teas Today

From: Celestial Seasonings, Join our communiTEA

Subject: Sleepytime Bear: What’s the tea?

From: The Gap, Winter Essentials

Subject: Cozy Socks are Back!

And that about sums it up. Is there anything you would add or take away from the list? What’s working for you? Leave a comment below.

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