The email subject line you should never use

“…emails with no subject line were opened 8% more than those with a subject line,” according to “The one sales email subject line you’ve never thought to try.” That’s a provocative statistic offered by Anum Hussain of HubSpot, a respected provider of content marketing software. Reading that statistic might make you wonder if you should start sending emails without subject lines.

“No!” That’s what I screamed when I read the introduction to Hussain’s post. Emails without a subject line scream that they are spam. I typically delete no-subject-line emails without opening them or even looking at the preview text. I don’t want my computers contaminated by their malware and ridiculous advertisements. I am fussy about email subject lines. I’ve even rejected a legitimate email sent by my husband.

However, even Hussain admits that you shouldn’t start omitting subject lines in every email.

That said, my personal opinion is that it’s highly unlikely that a cold email or first-time prospecting email will be opened with no subject line included. But once you’ve made a connection and are in a cadence of communication … the subject line may become unnecessary.

I agree that I may open an email from someone I know when there’s no subject line. But I won’t like it. I’ll feel annoyed that the writer didn’t value me enough to write an informative subject line.

My opinion? You should never send an email without a well crafted subject line.

Email lesson from a PayPal co-founder

I found an interesting email productivity suggestion in “The Way I Work,” an Inc. article by Max Levchin of HVF, a co-founder of what became PayPal.

Email tip from Levchin: Keep it short and focused

If you want your email to win a response from Levchin, keep it short and focused, especially if you want a speedy reply.

“Emails that require immediate responses need to be about one topic only,” writes Levchin. He pushes his employees to keep all emails short, his article says, because he receives about 800 emails daily.

My email tip: Complement short email with short, action-oriented subject line

In my opinion, keeping the body of your email short isn’t enough. To boost your email’s effectiveness, I suggest that you also use a short subject line that starts with an action verb and includes a deadline, if appropriate. For example, “Please approve by Aug. 5.”

Interested in more email tips? I’ve presented on “Writing Effective Emails” to chapters of the Financial Planning Association and corporate clients. Contact me to learn about hiring me to present to your group. You can also search my blog’s archives for more email tips.

What YOU say about highlighting text in emails

What’s the best way to highlight text in emails? That’s the question I posed in a poll earlier this year. I took away three main lessons from your responses. Thank you very much, respondents, for answering and generously sharing your email tips!

Lesson 1. Bold wins for highlightingPoll results for email highlighting

Use bold to emphasize text in your emails. That was by far the most popular answer to my poll asking, “What technique do you use for emphasizing text—for example, an appointment date—in an email?” This squares with my instinct to bold for emphasis, as in the example below:

May I call you on Mon., Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. Eastern?

However, with 45.71% selecting bold, it failed to win a majority. The next most popular answer, at 28.57%, was “More than one of these techniques.” I sometimes use bold plus larger font size or capital letters. You suggested other options, including some that are mainly useful in plain-text emails.

Lesson 2. Text-only email limits your highlighting options

Your poll responses provided a valuable reminder to me. Unlike me, some people force incoming emails into a plain-text format. This strips out fancy formatting—such as bold, italics, and colors—that relies on HTML code. People do this for reasons such as reducing the risk of computer viruses or cutting the email’s size once it’s stored on their computer.

Take note if you have an important correspondent who only reads emails in plain text. You’ll need to adapt your formatting for them.

How can you learn about your correspondent’s email-reading capabilities? If their emails to you look as if they were created on a typewriter, they’re plain text. Also, often when you reply to their emails, you’re not able to apply fancy formatting using HTML.

Some experts suggest that you send emails in both HTML and plain-text formats. But who has the time? The only exception is if you use an email newsletter program such as Constant Contact. Constant Contact automatically generates plain-text versions of my newsletters, which I could edit for formatting that’s easier for plain-text readers to absorb. Even better, it provides a link that a plain-text recipient can click on to see the nicely formatted version.

If you send plain-text emails, my poll respondents suggest using asterisks, underscores, or capital letters to highlight text. Here are some of their comments:

  • Unless I know for certain the recipient can read HTML e-mail I’ll use *asterisks* to set off the text. If the recipient is getting the mail in HTML.
  • Most of my email accounts don’t allow for [HTML]. The only thing I can do to bullet something important to place it between asterisks.

I particularly like the idea of using capital letters because they’ll seem less strange and old-fashioned if some of the readers of a group email use HTML.

Lesson 3. Remember other highlighting techniques

I agree with the respondent who said, “I think the more important point is to make sure writers are getting to the point quickly in their email messages. They need to keep the reader’s needs for information in mind and get every message off to a fast start.”

Your comments reminded me of other techniques for highlighting content in your emails, including

  • Strong subject lines, summaries at the top of your emails, and headings, an approach that I emphasize in my presentations on “Writing Effective Emails“—as one respondent said, “I place important information first in the subject line, then there’s no need to emphasize it in the email.”
  • White space to set off important information—as one respondent said, “I often isolate the information on its own line, surrounded by an empty line above and below (this is called using ‘white space’).” Indenting the information can be part of this technique.
  • Good writing techniques in general—as one respondent said, “It may be an old-fashioned notion these days, but I thought that formatting doesn’t always work in email, so I have always tried to use my writing to draw attention. I use very brief sentences, bullets, one line standing alone with a piece of important information, repeat major point again at the end – things like that. Some people use the email’s subject line, i.e., Deadline is tomorrow! I also adhere to the short and sweet method of writing, because people tend to read emails on their phone. So I’ll jump right to point – hey, my deadline is tomorrow.”

A funny HTML story

Here’s a reminder from a respondent that what you see in your email program isn’t always what appears on the recipient’s screen:

I use a Mac and one of my editors uses a PC. She kept putting what looked like little J’s after sentences in her mails to me. I finally asked what those were – turns out, that’s how her smiley emoticons were being interpreted by Mac Mail. (Not sure what she saw with my Mac smileys – I think something weird, too.) I know this isn’t about emphasizing text per se, but it does show some cross-platform problems still exist within email. 🙂

What will YOU do differently now when you write emails?

After reading your poll responses, I may use capital letters more often for emphasis since they appear the same in both HTML and plain-text emails. Is there something you’ll do differently after reading my poll results?

4 reasons your emails don’t get results

Emails are essential to your marketing and client communications, but bad emails sap your effectiveness. I see four main reasons why emails fail. Once you recognize these weaknesses, you can fix them. By the way, you can jump-start your email effectiveness by asking your company or professional association to hire me to present “Writing Effective Emails.”

1. Your subject lines stink

A good subject line is like an airplane landing strip. Without landing strips, the pilot must survey the entire landscape, wondering “Is that a dangerous obstacle here? A gully there?” It’s exhausting when pilots don’t know where to head. The same is true for your email recipients when your subject lines don’t offer guidance. An example of a bad subject line is a simple “Hello.”

Good subject lines also appeal to readers’ interest in WIIFM (what’s in it for me), as  I discussed in “Focus on benefits, not features, in your marketing.” Readers decide whether or not to open emails based partly on WIIFM.

What else do readers look for?

  • Action items with deadlines, such as “Enroll by March 3 to save $400”
  • Personal connections, as in “Referred by Allan Loomis,” which I discussed in “Top four email mistakes to avoid when you have a referral.”
  • Entertainment—for example, my e-newsletter with the subject line, “Ssh, don’t tell my husband,” got an above-average number of opens

2. Your email doesn’t get to the point quickly

For the best results, start the body of your email with a summary sentence or paragraph. This may be all your recipient reads before deciding what to do with your email.

If you write a long, meandering email, you’re likely to lose your reader. Even if they skim the entire message, they’re unlikely to respond as you’d like.

Getting to the point quickly is one of the kindest things you can do for your readers. Why? Because you don’t make them work to figure out “What is the point of this message?” Getting to the point quickly also boosts the odds that you’ll achieve the results you desire.

3. Your email lacks a “call to action”

Almost every email needs a “call to action” suggesting the next step that recipients can take for their personal benefit. It could be something like “Click to receive a free e-book when you subscribe to my e-newsletter” or “Sign and mail your beneficiary form to Charles Schwab.”

4. Your email suffers from common writing problems

The best written communications achieve the three Cs. They are compelling, clear, and concise. Emails that lack these characteristics are likely to disappoint.

If you’d like to write better emails

Want help boosting your emails’ effectiveness? Your company or professional association can hire me to present “Writing Effective Emails.” I also offer email and e-newsletter critiques for a fee.

 Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

How to highlight text in emails

When you write emails, plain text sometimes isn’t enough. You want to visually emphasize one piece of information, such as the proposed date and time of your phone call with the recipient. While I discuss options below, I’m interested in your ideas. Please answer my poll on this topic. I’ll report on the results in a future issue of my e-newsletter.

Text choices

Let’s examine some options for tackling your challenge in the sentence “May I call you on Mon., Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. Eastern?”

  1. Use bold

May I call you on Mon., Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. Eastern?

  1. Underline

May I call you on Mon., Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. Eastern?

  1. Change font color

May I call you on Mon., Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. Eastern?

  1. Use highlighting

    Highlighting in yellow seems a little too showy to me.

    By the way, the text in the example below (and in number 5)  is extra-large because it’s a screenshot. I couldn’t figure out how to produce my example directly in WordPress.




  1. Combine multiple techniques

    I like bold, but I feel as if my email program’s bold doesn’t stand out enough. I often increase the font size of my bolded text, as in the example below. 

    You can try your own combinations. I suggest that you avoid two techniques that are associated with hyperlinks: underlining and blue text.


Plain-text email limitations

Your options are limited if you must use plain-text emails. However, you can capitalize the text that you want to emphasize:

May I call you on MON., FEB. 16, at 2 p.m. Eastern?

Bonus tips

Changing your fonts isn’t only for emphasizing a specific piece of information. You can also put the key information in your subject line, as in “2 p.m. call on Mon., Feb. 16?” If confirming that time is your email’s main goal, then repeat this in your email’s first sentence. Repeat the information in a heading, if you cover multiple topics in your email. For example, one heading could be “2 p.m. call on Mon., Feb. 16?” and the other one might be “401(k) plan next steps.”

What do YOU think?

Please take my poll on this topic. I’d like to learn about the techniques that you use. I’m also interested in what techniques annoy you. For example, one of my friends says she doesn’t like multiple font sizes because it throws off the alignment of the email’s lines.

Polls like this can influence my email practices. Before I ran the poll in “To ‘dear’ or not to ‘dear’ in your email,” I always started my emails with the recipient’s name, followed by a comma. My poll made me realize that starting emails with “Hi” and then the recipient’s name and a comma is widespread. While I still prefer the simplicity of “Susan,” now I try to notice other people’s preference for “Hi.” I reciprocate whenever I’m aware of their preference.

If you’d like to write better emails

I’m available to give presentations and workshops on “Writing Effective Emails.” I’ve spoken on this topic to the Financial Planning Association’s FPA Experience conference, FPA chapters, and corporate clients.

Email subject lines: How to handle boring disclosures

What subject line should you use when you send clients a disclosure via email? This question came up came up when I spoke to the Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts in 2013.

The problem: Losing your clients’ attention

You send some emails because you need to move clients to action. Others, such as disclosures required by regulators, are less compelling.Choose your subject lines carefully, if you don’t want these emails to discourage your clients from reading your emails.

Here’s a list of disclosures that advisors told me might be sent via email:

  • Client agreement
  • Fee disclosure
  • Form ADV, Part 2
  • ERISA-related disclosure, such as a Rule 408(b)(2) disclosure
  • Privacy policy

Sure, it’s important for clients to understand the legal nature of your relationship. However, most of them won’t read boilerplate disclosures. Even worse, when they receive one boring email from you, they become less likely to open your future emails.

Solutions: Label clearly or bundle

The worst thing you can do is to send the disclosure with a vague or misleading subject line—something like “update from XYZ Advisors.”

Instead, label the email clearly, making it easy for your clients to decide whether to open it. You could write something like “annual disclosure of _____,” dropping the key topic in my blank.

Another possibility is to avoid sending the disclosure as a standalone email, assuming that’s okay with your compliance experts. For example, you could include the disclosure with your quarterly client email or monthly client e-newsletter.

YOUR solution?

I’m curious to learn how you handle this challenge. Please comment.

Email attachment tip: Do as I say, not as I do

If you’ve ever received an email that’s missing the promised attachment, you know how annoying that can be. Now imagine, it’s your client or prospect who receives that email minus the attachment. Your email may arrive at a time when they’re ready to download and act on your attachment. If it’s not there, you risk losing whatever momentum you had with them.

Here’s a tip that will help you cut your rate of attachments gone AWOL:

Make adding your attachments the first step in your email composition process.

I’m writing this blog post to remind myself of this important tip. Because I recently sent an email minus the essential attachment.

Please do as I say, not as I do.

Email lessons adapted from Hootsuite’s CEO

Email overload bothers everybody, but some people go too far in their efforts to manage their inboxes. For example, there are the “5 Hacks to Combat Email Overload” proposed by Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite. However, you can adapt some of his suggestions. Holmes’ suggestions are to:

  • Limit your emails to three sentences in length
  • Use the Sanebox service to filter out less important emails
  • Shift conversations to social media
  • Use autoresponders
  • Use Gmail’s Canned Responses feature

Here’s my take on Holmes’ suggestions:

1. Keep your emails short

If you focus each email on only one topic, it’ll be easy to keep it short. But don’t make it so short—as in limited to three sentences—that you omit essential information. If you use email tips I’ve shared in other posts, your emails will be easy to skim and absorb.

2. Filter your emails using some system

It helps to have a system that filters out less important emails. It doesn’t have to be Sanebox, which I’ve never tried.

For example, I use rules in Microsoft Outlook to make many notifications go directly into folders. I target some of those folders for review daily or weekly. Others are simply for potential reference.

If you use Gmail, you can take advantage of its filtering emails in three categories: primary, social, and promotions.

3. Use the appropriate medium

Holmes likes to communicate via social media instead of email. That works sometimes. However, sometimes a phone call, a face-to-face meeting or even email is even better. It depends on your target’s preference and the nature of your message.

4. Make it easy for people to find the information they need

Holmes uses an autoresponder to connect the senders of incoming emails to the right individuals or departments. I wonder if he’d need that if the contact information was easy to find on the firm’s website. This use of an autoresponder sounds cold and impersonal. However, it would be helpful to provide this information as part of a standard response to relevant inbox messages.

5. Create standard responses

Holmes uses the Canned Responses feature of Gmail. Other email programs have similar features, or you can create standard messages in your word-processing software and then copy-paste them into your emails.


How do YOU manage your inbox clutter? I’m always interested in your tips.


NOTE: On Jan. 31, 2020, I updated the link to Canned Responses on Gmail.

Make your email links pop or lose clicks

I wanted to watch the video. I really did. But I couldn’t find the link to the video in the email. To get the most benefit from your emails, you need to make your links prominent.

Color and underline

My online experiences have conditioned me to click on links that are underlined, with text colored blue. Here’s a sample of what I mean: Email Writing.

Instead, I saw text in a color only slightly different from the rest of the email. Plus, that text wasn’t underlined. It looked something like the following:

click to view video

The text saying “click to view video” was a link. Do you see why I was confused? I thought the sender forgot to insert the link. Simply underlining the link text probably would be enough to communicate the link to me. Increasing the color contrast between the link text and the other text would also have helped.

Another option: Embed video

You can embed videos in most e-newsletters. For example, here are Constant Contact’s instructions on how to embed video. Then I would have seen something like what you see below.

I imagine that some e-newsletter senders skip video embedding because they want to track how many people click on each link in their e-newsletters. I have a solution for them. You can provide a visual cue that also involves a trackable e-newsletter link. Here’s what you do:

  1. Take a screenshot of your video.
  2. Insert the screenshot into your e-newsletter as clickable link leading to the video.
  3. Add a caption to the image in your e-newsletter. Something like, “Click on this image to reach the video.”

I imagine it would look something like what you see below.


Blog of the week

Click this image to reach the video


Your thoughts?

If you link to video in your e-newsletters, I’m interested in learning how you make it work for you. Please comment.

Financial advisor email tip: Fit it in your subject line EOM

Your email recipients are busy, so they’ll thank you for saving them time by summarizing your message in your subject line.

It could be something like “Need to meet; pls reply by Friday” or “4 ways to save on taxes.”

Informative subject lines let your readers quickly assess whether they should open your email. They can even create a sense of urgency in those readers when you include deadlines or potential benefits to the readers.

If you regularly exchange messages that can be communicated completely in the subject line, consider using EOM at the end of such subject lines with people who know what EOM means. EOM stands for “end of message.” It means that your message is contained in your subject line, so there’s no need to click to read more. If recipients open the email, they’ll find it’s empty. For example, a message might consist solely of “Confirming 4 p.m. meeting at your office today EOM.”

However, EOM will confuse people who haven’t learned about it. That’s why I used EOM only in messages to my employees when I ran an asset management firm’s investment communications group. You may also find it helpful for your firm’s internal communications. Today I use EOM with my husband because both of us like saving the time it takes to click open an email.

I’d like to thank the participants in my Accelus Partners’ Expert Series Interview about email on June 25. Our Q&A session prompted this blog post.