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What if I told you that you can optimize your email subject lines,

That you could drastically change their tone and increase open rates,

Without changing a single word?

Because while words are crucial, one other key player affects how your subscribers “hear” your words:

Punctuation. Periods, commas, ellipses…

They can change the meaning of a subject line by changing its tone of voice.

The punctuation you use in your subject lines can make your subscriber eagerly open your email or completely ignore you.

Let’s take a look at some examples.

What difference can one tiny change really make?

Joanna Wiebe from CopyHackers sent this email to promote a blog post.

Here’s the exact same copy with different punctuation:

  • So yeah. The 72-hr work-work week is a thing.
  • So yeah!! The 72-hr work-week is a thing!!!
  • So yeah: the 72-hr work week is a thing

And so on…

In the original headline, the ellipses tap into the same emotion as a powerful story-telling technique stand-up comedians, presenters and actual story-tellers use all the time:

The soft pause.

This is the breath you take before you share something you (and your audience) have suspected for a long time.

The gap in the narrative pulls you in by giving you just enough time to digest the information. This creates a sense of shared discovery: you and your reader are now figuring this out together.

Let’s look at another subject line. This one is from the last sales email I got from CopyBlogger for their Authority Academy.

This time the ellipsis is used to create a sense of movement. The gap between the word “closing” and the ellipsis makes you feel the gates shutting, the opportunity fading away…

But what happens when we change the punctuation?

  • The doors are closing.
  • The doors are closing!
  • the doors are closing

The period makes the statement feel final. It doesn’t pull you in. It says, The doors are closing, whether you are there or not. And that’s a very different type of emotion.

The exclamation mark adds a level of excitement, changing the tone of the sentence. Should we be happy that the doors are closing?

the lack of punctuation makes its own statement

Emojis, capitalization and question marks: REALLY???

Let’s take a look at email headlines that use some of the other punctuation tricks to grab our attention.

Here’s a subscriber re-engagement email from Danny Iny, founder of Mirasee.

This headline uses four different types of punctuation: Emojis, capitalization, a comma and question marks.

This subject line has one purpose: to get an unengaged subscriber – someone who’s been ignoring all the emails up to this point – to open up.

Are these words as effective with different punctuation?

  • are you okay sophia
  • Are you OKAY sophia!?
  • Are you okay, SOPHIA
  • Are you okay Sophia???

Given the context of this email – a last ditch effort to re-engage a subscriber – which headline stands the best chance of meeting that goal?

Let’s take a look at this email from Demio sent as a last call to register to an event. It uses 3 different types of punctuation to support the copy.

The clock emojis highlight that the email is time sensitive. Capitalizing “LAST CHANCE” works with the emojis to create urgency. The ellipsis softly implies that the opportunity is about to disappear…

Would this exact same copy be as impactful with different punctuation?

  • This is your last chance to register.
  • This is your last chance to register!!!
  • This is your LAST CHANGE to register.

The emojis add a softness to the otherwise stark capitalization. The ellipsis soften whereas using exclamation marks may heighten the emotion a bit too much.

And with minimum punctuation, this subject line may go unnoticed in a crowded inbox.

Too much, too little or juuuust right

There’s a fine line between using punctuation the right way and overdoing it.

And when it comes to writing a successful email subject line there’s a very simple way to define “the right way”.

All you need to do is answer this question:

Will this subject line make my subscribers open this email?

That’s it.

That’s the only job your subject line has.

It’s not there to sound good or win the approval of your old English teacher or get people to read the actual email.

It’s there to get the reader to open the email. 

Would you say this on a first date?

This email is the first in a sequence designed to get the reader to sign up for BombBomb‘s trial.

It’s the third email I’ve ever gotten from the company and the first one landed in my inbox just five days before.

Would you really shout the words “Put it in action” at someone just five days after saying “Hey” for the first time?

Let’s see how changing the punctuation can transform the tone of this subject line:

  • You’ve seen it in action, now put it in action 😃
  • You’ve seen it in action! Now put it in action 💪 🦸
  • 📹✉️You’ve seen it in action. Now put it in action.

Adding a few emojis can soften the tone and add clarity to your subject line.

BombBomb helps users send video emails so adding a video and email emoji to the start of the subject line immediately reminds the reader who this company is and what it is they should be putting in action in the first place.

If you only just started sending someone emails, they may not remember what you do. And because the relationship is so fresh, you may not have the trust equity you’ll need for a “Let’s get real” style of headline like this.

Use punctuation to evoke the right emotion in your subject lines without changing a word

Go back to an important email and look at the subject line.

Read it from your customer’s perspective.

How do they been getting emails from you?

How do they feel about you, your brand and your products?

And what do they need to feel to open your email?

Once you’ve got your answers, use punctuation to tap into that emotion.

To make this really easy, I’ve put together a quick email subject line optimization checklist so that next time you are getting your email sequence ready, you can just run through it and make some quick (but powerful) changes.