How To Write a Winning Holiday Subject Line

  • November 29, 2022

By Kayleigh Tanner

Fairy lights and star decorations
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Ding dong merrily on high – winter is upon us, and for most retailers, that can only mean one thing… the holidays are just weeks away! This is THE shopping period of the year, and if you’re hoping to match your customers with their perfect gift-giving opportunities, you’re in luck.

We sent our data elves into their workshop to rummage through thousands upon thousands of seasonal subject lines. They made a list, they checked it twice, and now we’ve wrapped up the secret to writing the very best holiday subject lines for you. We’ve had a word with the big man in red, and you have his blessing to open this gift early.

1. YOU are the star of the show

Literally! ‘Tis the season to think about ourselves – “you” is far and away the most common word found in high-performing email subject lines in November and December. In the festive season, customers love that personal touch, so keep your subject lines conversational and experiment with directly addressing the customer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the word “help” is another high performer. The sheer number of abandoned baskets in the run-up to the holidays suggest that customers need a little assistance with finding the perfect gifts, and trying to weigh up the pros and cons of lavender bath salts vs. a tasteful scarf for Aunt Edith quickly leads to decision fatigue. Let your customers know you’re there for them by making it clear that help is at hand.

Graph showing top performing words (November - December)

2. A message to you, Rudolph

Next up, we looked at emojis. Physical holiday cards may be less popular than they used to be, but the envelope emoji ✉️ is still holding its own at the top of the list in the holiday period. It’s closely followed by the gift ????, showing that it pays to make it crystal clear that you’ve got the gifts your customers want.

Beyond the overtly festive emojis, we also see a strong performance from our old friend, the ever-popular blue circle ????. Why do customers love it so much? Who knows! We just know that it works, and that’s good enough for us. We also see the pointing finger ???? and the “slightly smiling face” ???? – in other words, be merry, but not TOO merry.

Graph showing top performing emojis (November - December)

3. Shop ‘til you drop

Those who say the holidays are too commercialized and driven by capitalism are, it turns out, absolutely right. Annoying! But “shop” and “order” are the two most common words across all email subject lines in the holiday period. This suggests that it might pay to be direct in your holiday messages – your customers are doing their holiday shopping, and there’s no need to pretend otherwise!

We also see that words like “gifts,” “find,” and “holidays” are popular, so don’t forget to tap into that holiday magic. In fact, in our 2022 retail peak guide, we revealed that fun and whimsical brand messages are back and stronger than ever before, so ditch your inner Grinch and channel Buddy the Elf to ensure your emails resonate with your customers.

Graph showing most common words (November - December)

4. Sparkle and shine … kinda

The good news is that there’s some good overlap between the most common emojis and the highest-performing emojis used in holiday subject lines. The pointing finger ????, the gift ????, and the mysterious blue circle ???? (seriously! What is WITH that?!) are all popular choices, and they feature in the list of high performers, so if you’re using these emojis, great job!

We also see that the Christmas tree ???? and the sparkles ✨ are common choices for brands trying to spread the holiday magic. Why not have a play around with some other festive favorites, like the snowflake ❄️ or the jolly little snowman ☃️ to see if you can inspire some holiday cheer in your customers?

Graph showing most common emojis (November - December)

5. Hey you! Yeah, you! Buy our stuff!

You know … it’s almost like we’re experts at this, or something. Above, we mentioned that directness works in holiday messages (using “you” and specifically talking about shopping and ordering) … and it turns out our hunch was exactly right! The best-performing subject line variants use a direct tone. Customers are looking to buy holiday gifts, and you’re looking to sell to them. Everyone knows the score – just make it clear that you’ve got the goods they’re looking for.

What doesn’t seem to resonate around the holidays is being too wacky or surprising. Just cut to the chase and just remind them that you, a retailer, have holiday gifts available for them, a customer, to buy. Give it a go! Maybe throw in a blue circle emoji! See what happens!

Graph showing average sentiment scores for high-performing variants

Looking for more inspo in the run-up to the holidays?

Grab yourself a copy of our new retail peak guide, all about how brands are bouncing back in the post-pandemic holiday season.

Gimme that guide