You have read a literal mountain of articles, whitepapers, and eBooks on how to craft the perfect email subject line. You’ve taken great strides in mastering this art, creating that one line that captures your reader’s attention in the fraction of a second.
But in order to fully understand how the email subject line works, you can’t just focus on the best. You also have to explore the worst.
Email subject lines are a delicate touch point. You can create a brand advocate with a great one, but you can also lose a subscriber, get marked as spam, and lose all credibility with your audience with a poor one. Oftentimes, there’s a fine line between what is considered “good” and what is just outright “bad”. Where is the line? How do you avoid crossing it?
Well, we’ve already covered Amazingly Effective Email Subject Lines, so let’s check the other side of the coin and draw the line between what works and what tends to backfire. Here are eight ugly, horrible, no good, terrible subject lines:
1. “Chris, you won’t believe what we have in store for you!!!”
Let’s start out with one that we can easily identify as junk. This combination of vague wording and an obviously lazy personalization combine to create a subject line that will immediately get deleted when it shows up in my inbox. “Clickbait” subject lines are just a cheap parlor trick. They may work the first time they’re seen, but consistent use will leave your audience initially bored, and eventually angry. And think about context: your recipients are probably getting hundreds of email a day. Clickbait fatigue probably sets in at about email number 10.
2. “See What’s New this November”
(See also, “Happy New Year’s!”)
Most companies getting their feet wet in email marketing will start out with the bar set at “monthly newsletter”. Unfortunately, this leads quickly to a rut filled with repetitive and inherently boring information.
Filler words, generic copy, and underwhelming content are the quickest way to kill your open rates. Yes, sometimes you and your staff will do something interesting. But when your readers see the same subject line (or even something remotely similar) each month, they will assume the content within is also the same.
3. “We Know You’ll Love This”
This line is so close to being decent that it physically hurts me to write it. For marketers with a solid database and automated tracking, identifying the individual needs of your demographic and segmenting them appropriately is an insanely effective course of action. There are two reasons why this subject line sucks:
It’s vague (seeing a theme here?) As the recipient of this email, I have no idea what to expect upon opening it, which typically means I’m deleting it and moving on. I can normally infer the content based on the company sending the email, but if companies offer multiple products, I will want to know exactly what I’m getting into before jumping into an email like this one.
Will I actually love it? Yes, they think I will, but how accurate is their segmentation? If the content of this email isn’t something I immediately identify as something I need, then I’m unsubscribing. It’s a gamble to run email subject lines like this unless you are a master of segmentation and of identifying your customers’ needs, as well as the degree of emotion they might attach to having that need filled.
4. “We Did a Study and Now We Want You to Read the Whole Thing Right Now So That We Can Get Feedback and Sell You Something”
I like to call this sort of subject line the “Terms and Conditions,” because it’s long, boring, takes forever to get to the point, and I end up just moving on with my life before finishing it.
The absurd length guarantees it will be cut off by most email platforms (no way I’m getting that monster to fit on my iPhone) and the initial wording doesn’t have enough detail to really draw me in. You have to front load your subject line (important keywords first), and keep it short! Brevity is the soul of wit, and the heart of email marketing.
The only exception to this rule is the weekly digest I get from Invision, which I can never seem to resist opening regardless of the fact that I can’t see the full subject line. This length issue can be overcome with top-shelf content, and only after you’ve proven value to your readers with shorter introduction emails.
5. “You Have to Act Now”
Oh, I do?
I really have to act right now, dropping everything to buy your eBook, or score tickets to an event that is still 97% unsold?
This is another one of those “right place, right time” sort of subject lines, and should be used with caution. If you’re honestly communicating something so urgent that it warrants a borderline rude opening statement, then by all means dive right in. But for most of us, this subject line will cause a bit of bad blood and a “boy who cried wolf” relationship dynamic moving forward.
6. “THIS EBOOK WILL CHANGE YOUR BUSINESS FOREVER!!!”
Please stop yelling, you’re going to scream your way right into the trash.
Caps can be used sparingly, but never in a manner that could be conveyed as someone yelling at the reader. Typically, the caps lock button should be reserved for angry YouTube comments and sweet emails from your grandma on your birthday.
7. “Our Service is So Great, Let Me Tell You About It”
Are you only ever talking about yourself in your email subject lines? That’s too bad, since you’re creating a massive rift between you and your readers. A constant focus on “ME, ME, MEEE” doesn’t help connect your product or service to your potential or existing customers. It’s the equivalent of the friend in the group who always has to top every story with their own “much better” tale in turn:
“Oh, you went to Hawaii for 10 days on your honeymoon? Well, I went to Fiji on mine for three whole weeks, and the locals named a sandwich after me. So…”
Please, don’t be this person. (Focus on the benefit of your product or service, and what problems it solves for your readers, rather than how inherently great it is.)
8. “Marketers are raving about a new tool that…”
This is a trick that I like to call “using the force,” since it places an incomplete sentence in the subject line, in an effort to force the reader to open it just to find out if it is worth reading.
Not only will this dance dangerously close to the outright clickbait category, you will likely lose a fair number of subscribers if the content of your email isn’t a perfect match. No one likes to be tricked into anything, and a single open is never worth losing a subscriber for.
So what did we learn? Let’s move away from the cesspool that I just placed before us, and look to a few positive takeaways:
Be quick and get to the point. (Hemingway should be a solid reference for this point)
Be specific. No email that your readers open should be a surprise. Set a clear expectation, and fulfill whatever expectation you set.
Make sure there is a clear benefit to the reader. (This goes for every campaign, and every reader)
Ready to wash the clickbait taste out of your mouth? Learn better ways to write email subject lines that convey immediate value, garner higher open rates, and improve customer engagement with our eBook, 12 Tips for Amazingly Effective Email Subject Lines.
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