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Do Your Marketing Emails Prompt 'Inbox Blindness'? Here are three techniques to recapture the eyes of your subscribers and boost your 'open' rate.

By Josh Earl Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Ever heard of "banner blindness"? It's your email subscribers' brains' natural defense against the ads plastered over every website they visit.

Related: 3 Ways to Strengthen Your Email Marketing Impact

Think about it: Most websites position their ads in similar places -- such as across the top and down the right-hand side of the page

And after your subscribers visit hundreds of sites and see thousands of ads, those spots on the screen become black holes. They don't even register in people's consciousness anymore.

The 'inbox blindness' your email subscribers develop

The average adult gets 121 emails per day, according to a report by the Radicati group -- and that's more than most people can afford the time to pay attention to. So, even though your subscribers did opt-in for your emails, they're likely numb from the sheer volume of commercial emails they have to wade through overall. Your emails simply no longer register (your competitors' don't either).

Instead, your subscribers just scroll right on past them.

So, how do you beat this inbox blindness and grab your subscribers' attention? The key is to use pattern interrupts -- subject lines that stand out and jolt your dozing subscribers back to life.

Here are three pattern-interrupt subject lines you can use to snap your subscribers out of their inbox comas and get your emails opened.

1. The 'faux-personal' subject line

What's the one kind of email that everyone always opens? It's the quick note from a friend or a family member.

And if you take a look at the subject lines people naturally use when they communicate with those they know and love, you'll notice that they don't look anything like the long headline-style subject lines most marketers write. Instead, friends use subject lines that are short, playful, informal. Like these:

  • hey =)
  • quick question
  • Can I ask a favor?

Short subject lines like these work especially well for cold email outreach, for that first "welcome" email you send to new subscribers, and for when you want to wake up a list of folks you haven't mailed in a while.

Related: 7 Statistics That Prove Email Marketing Isn't Dead

2. The 'quirky characters' subject line

Another way to make your subject line stand out: Give it a little extra visual "pop," with unusual symbols and emoji characters. Those special characters come installed on all popular mobile and desktop devices, so you can use them with confidence that they'll show up when your subscribers view your emails.

In a typical overstuffed inbox, subject lines run together into a wall of gray -- but emoji characters seem to leap from the screen.

Online marketing expert Ryan Deiss, who tests his emails relentlessly, makes heavy use of emoji in his subject lines. Deiss has said that he used an alarm clock in the subject line of a recent email campaign to emphasize to customers that "your time is running out."

I myself recently sent an email newsletter with the "?" character in the subject line. That particular email snagged me an open rate that was 80 percent higher than normal for that particular email list.

3. The "Uncle Sam" subject line

Remember those iconic world wars I and II posters with the guy in the star-spangled top hat? In those posters, Uncle Sam points straight at the viewer and says, "I want YOU for the U.S. Army." Remember?

There's a reason this became the most famous poster in the world. It's that that image stops you cold in your tracks -- there's no doubt in your mind that Uncle Sam is calling you out.

In the same way, an "Uncle Sam" subject line can grab your subscribers' attention, addressing them directly.

So, for this particular subject line, start off with the words "You" or "You're," followed by a blunt, hard-hitting statement, such as the following:

  • You're a fraud.
  • You had ONE job.
  • Your account has been suspended.

A word of warning: This technique can come across as aggressive or even shocking to some subscribers. There may be repercussions.

But if you do use it, the copy of your email should quickly hook the reader and "pay off" the subject line -- helping the viewer see the connection between the subject line and the content of your company's email.

For example, software development coach John Sonmez recently sent an email with the alarming subject line "You're fired!" And at the top of the email, he proceeded to pay off the subject line by showing how he himself had once made a bad assumption -- a mistake shared by many in his audience -- and how that assumption had cost him his job.

But, Sonmez' unhappy memories aside, this subject line worked, spiking his open rate by 39 percent; Sonmez also received a flurry of replies from customers wanting to learn more about the program he was selling.

A little goes a long way . . .

Used sparingly, these three techniques can grab the attention of subscribers who habitually turn a blind eye to your emails.

You'll get noticed -- which is tougher and tougher to do these days.

Related: 3 Reasons Your Small Business Should Use Email Marketing

And you'll have an opening to win back your subscribers' attention with your captivating content.

Josh Earl writes at JoshuaEarl.com, where he shows entrepreneurs how to write entertaining, authentic and persuasive copy that grows sales and turns customers into lifelong fans. To get his best marketing and copywriting tips, join his free daily newsletter today

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