Seven deadly subject line sins

Think it’s hard to contain your ideas in a 140-character tweet? Consider the e-mail subject line. In its best form, it’s only about 40 characters long–and yet this tiny assembly of words has the power to make or break your e-mail campaign. Craft it well, and you’ll greatly increase your open rates. Make one of the following Sins, and your message will be deleted into e-blivion with a single click.

  1. Verbosity–Most email clients cut off subject lines at 60 characters. If folks can’t even read your subject line, what’s the likelihood that they’ll actually open the email? Aim for a max of 40-50 characters.
  2. Banality–Those dull little subject lines don’t usually inspire a frenzy of clicks, do they? To add in the oomph, be compelling without trying too hard to be overly clever. Make sure your line speaks to your audience’s interests and inspires them to act.
  3. Pride–Nothing kills a campaign like organizational chest beating. And for a truly quick and painful death, tout your organization’s “leadership” and “innovation” in the subject line of an email. To avoid this fatal sin, just remember this: It’s not about what you do. It’s about what you’re making possible for your audience.
  4. Spaminess–If it hints of spam, it hits the trash. Check your subject lines against common spam trigger words, use punctuation properly and sparingly, and avoid open-rate killers like $$$ and !!!
  5. Ambiguity–Your readers don’t have time to de-code cryptic subject lines. So don’t play games. Write a compelling line that’s also clear and direct.
  6. Redundancy–You can’t build your brand simply by repeating your organization’s name. If it’s in the “from” line, don’t regurgitate it in the subject line. Instead, focus your precious few characters on crafting a strong, meaningful message.
  7. Deceitfulness–Never trick your readers to get them to open an email. It’s so rude! Plus, they’ll mark you as spam without thinking twice. Intrigue them, sure. Inspire them, yes. But always focus your subject line on the actual content of your email. Set the right expectations from the get-go, then make sure to deliver the goods in your email.

What have you seen work well–or fail miserably? Please add to our list of Sins, share examples, and offer up any tips for subject line redemption. Leave a reply below.

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One Response to “Seven deadly subject line sins”

  1. Lack of strategy.

    It’s so interesting how many organizations, more specifically the startups and small ones I’ve worked with, just send email or a newsletter just for the sake of doing it. “Oh, we’ve seen X do it like this.” My response, “Ok, and how has this worked for them?” Their response, “I’m not sure. It seemed like a good idea though.” What?!?!?!

    Don’t get me wrong. I encourage viewing the emails and newsletters of other organizations to get a feel for one’s own writing style and to see what and how others are doing things. However, there needs to be some logic behind it all. It’s like don’t just do things for the hell of it. I can tell just by reading the first few lines how much thought and energy you put into crafting the piece. I don’t want to waste you time, and I certainly am not going to let you waste mine.

    If you want results, have a strategy, have a plan, and stop doing things just because others are doing it. It doesn’t make you look cool.


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