Email can have incredible return on investment: it’s a low-cost means of getting your products and services in front of the people that could benefit from your products and services. And unlike more traditional marketing techniques, such as direct mail, you can measure its impact in real-time, letting you know what’s working and what isn’t immediately.

So why isn’t everyone on your email list acting on your calls-to-action?

Maybe because your subject lines aren’t demanding that they pay attention to you! Maybe nothing about them is tempting recipients to read them!

Do your emails stand out in a crowd?

As more businesses get on the email marketing bandwagon, you need to work harder to stay ahead of your competitors. That means your emails must stand out in an inbox. Think about your own inbox review process. Do you read all emails from newest to oldest? Scan everything looking for mail from friends, family, the boss? Look at the subject lines that mention you by name? That flag the email as urgent in some way?

Now ask your coworkers, family and friends how they choose what emails to read and which to ignore.

Chances are that they’re looking for different things – maybe emojis, maybe capital letters, maybe exclamation marks – and reviewing what they see in a different way – scanning oldest first, checking the stuff that gets caught up in their filtering rules, looking at unfocused messages or conversational threads.

The subject line needs to grab my attention immediately

We all view our inbox in different ways and have different ways to process what we see. We increase the likelihood of someone seeing and processing our marketing emails if we do things to make them stand out from the sea of messages demanding our attention. And subject lines are critical to that process.

To draw the eye and focus, use one the following techniques to encourage your audience to read your message:

  • Personalization: Marie, have you seen this?
  • Emojis: ❄️Winter sale starts today! ❄️
  • Urgency: Ending today!
  • Incentive: Win a free coaching call from me!
  • Question: Do you want to make life better?
  • FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out): Last call for savings
  • Capitalization: Get it before it’s GONE FOREVER
  • Numbers: Save $185 when you act now
  • Seasonality: This email is NOT about Halloween
  • Unexpected & intriguing: Uh oh…
  • Abbreviations: This is too legit to miss!
  • Punctuation: [Order now… =)]

There are endless variations and combinations to help your message stand out (make sure your subject line choices align with your brand, business and audience, of course!).

When it works, it’s a thing of beauty

As an email marketer, I see a lot of marketing emails. A LOT. And it takes a really interesting hook to grab my attention long enough to make me stop scrolling and start reading.Here’s a recent great example that popped up in my inbox:

Note the techniques at play here: seasonality, capitalization, numbers, emojis and a variation of an abbreviation (Yo-self) and a great preview (more on that in a moment). Most importantly, it all hangs together well, jumping off the screen at me, thus accomplishing its sole task: getting my attention!

Your subject line needs to grow elbows to shove the competition aside! The attention your audience can devote to checking email is limited – make sure you’re grabbing your share of it! If you don’t, your message will absolutely get swept up in a delete purge, and your chance is lost.

No matter how great your email copy is, how fantastic your offer is, how awesome your business is, if your audience doesn’t notice the message, they’ll miss all of it.

Subject line & teaser: a one-two punch!

A strong subject line can be enhanced and complimented by great preview text, giving your audience just a tiny bit more info about what awaits them in the email. Make use of that space to more tightly grab the reader’s interest.

Here’s a recent email that caught my attention instantly – the timing of the message corresponded beautifully with the preview text:

The sales message wasn’t particularly unusual for my inbox (nor is it particularly unique), but the seasonality of the preview text made it instantly eye-catching. Who wouldn’t like a final Halloween treat? 🎃 Remember: if you don’t specify the preview text to use, your email platform may just use the first line of your email, which may not be up to the task! Always better to specify what you want that preview to be.

Sometimes, you’re just not the right offer at the right time

Email marketing is like any other kind of marketing: the elements may all be there, but still fail to inspire the desired reaction (in this case, to open and act on the message).

Here’s an example of an email that just misses what it intends to do. We see capitalization, numbers (including a code, which is itself an enticement to buy) and repetition of the deal: 20% appears twice, reinforcing your reason to open the message. And yet: blah. Notice that the message is bolded in my inbox: unread and unloved. Despite their best efforts, I didn’t use the code or save 20%. Better luck next time, retailer!

Scan your own inbox and pay close attention to what caught your eye and what didn’t.Could the sender have improved their subject line and preview to better persuade you to act? Or is the offer just not interesting, relevant or appealing right now?

In future blogs, I’ll talk about other key components to a good email campaign, such as the tone to use, segmenting your audience, open rates (aka “what is good?”), testing your email campaign, elements that engage and more.

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Gary Pitcher

Web Developer

Gary has forgotten more about technology than most of us will ever know. He’s worked in dozens of industries in a wide variety of roles and solves difficult problems recreationally. By the time you’ve formulated your question, Gary already has an answer, which would be annoying except he’s so darned nice about it.

Adrian Proctor

Web Developer

When you put Adrian behind a keyboard, magic happens. On stage, that means he’s making music. At work, he’s bringing website designs to life. Adrian is probably the quietest member of the Unrivald Digital team, but when he speaks, we all listen because we know he’s got something important to say.

Shaheen Bhimani


Shaheen is the guy you want in your corner when you’ve got a complex problem to solve in the next 15 minutes. He’s part MacGyver, part Tony Stark and part while still being the nicest guy in the room, hands down. His soft-spoken, down-to-earth vibe and ability to deliver makes him a client favourite.

Blair Shunk


Whether leading a meeting, riding his motorcycle, or running in the Banff Jasper Relay (for which he was Race Director for many years), Blair connects with the world around him. He inspires his team to work hard while never forgetting the value of the relationships he builds with clients.