Ever notice how it's so much quicker to ruin a good thing than it is to nurture something to the point that it's good?
For instance, it takes a whole summer to grow a tomato plant that bears fruit, but in less than a day the entire plant can be annihilated by intense heat, under-watering, over-watering, insects, hail, bunny rabbits, or the Golden Retriever from next door.
The same principle applies to your emails. A bad subject line can ruin your perfectly good email in a matter of seconds.
In less time than the neighbor's dog takes to dig up your months of labor, your carefully crafted email can be deleted, just because the subject line didn't grab the reader's attention.
People make decisions about email quickly--or else they decide not to decide anything, which essentially amounts to moving on with their life and never opening your email.
With that in mind, here are five quick and easy ways to screw up your email subject line and ruin all the hard work you put into writing the message:
1) Keeping it Vague
Maybe you think a vague or uninformative subject line will create an air of mystery surrounding your email, intriguing the recipient. Perhaps you're hoping to make the reader so curious they can't help but open your enigmatic message.
Sorry, but remember, you're dealing with goldfish brains here: "Hmmm...I wonder what that's about...oh, hey, I got a text!" And, it's all over, just like that. So if you want people to open your important email, the subject line should reveal what the subject is. Keep it simple, direct and concise.
Wrong: “It’s almost here!”
Right: “Your upgrade starts Friday”
2) Making Sure It's All About You, You, You
When you run a business, it's easy to forget that everyone else isn't as obsessed with what you're doing as you are. As it turns out, everyone else is obsessed with their own stuff.
So even if your email is all about the value you provide the recipient, if the subject line doesn't reflect that, you'll never hook them. If you want these folks to bite, you have to find a way to make it all about them. And it starts with the subject line.
Wrong: “We can’t believe how great this is!”
Right: “You will love the new level you just earned.”
3) Helpful Reminder! This Special Tip is 95 Percent Off!
Would you believe that a full 80 percent of email sent today is spam? Some of these emails get caught by a spam filter, but plenty of them sneak into inboxes, annoying your precious readers for at least 8 seconds...until they move on to something else. The point is, if your subject line resembles spam, guess whose hard work is headed straight for the trash?
There are certain words, such as "free," that you probably already know you should avoid in order to steer clear of the spam filters. But according to a study by MailChimp, other seemingly innocent words such as "help," "reminder," "special" and "percent off" can greatly reduce open rates.
Also, the exclamation point is not your friend! Finally, anything that sounds too good to be true will probably go straight into the trash. Short attention span or not, people these days are just too sharp to fall for that nonsense.
Wrong: “A free special, today only!!!”
Right: “Here’s a way for [FIRSTNAME] to save money”
If you have some flexibility, however, then there’s some pretty clear evidence that a subject line around 20 characters performs better than average, and emails with a subject line of 30 characters performs worse than average.
Longer than 30 characters, the data gets a little screwy, with really long subject lines performing poorly in open rates, but very well in clicks when the emails are opened, so it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on with those odd-ball long ones.
In short, keep it short.
Wrong: “Here’s a subject that’s 33 characters.”
Right: “20 characters is better”
5) Goofing up the Grammar or Spelling
You undoubtedly have a pretty good system for checking the language usage in your email. Do you use the same scrutiny for your subject lines? Whatever tricks you use to check your text, be doubly sure you use those tricks on your subject line.
The best trick of all is to simply read your text out loud. This doesn’t mean out loud just by moving your lips silently, you have to really read it out loud.
Wrong: “Your going too be amazed about you’re account.”
Right: “You’re going to be amazed about your account."
So, keep your subject line to the point, make it all about the recipient, and don't fall into spammy territory. You work hard and spend your precious time composing useful emails, so don't let them be instantly destroyed simply because of a bad subject line.
Originally published Apr 30, 2014 2:00:00 PM, updated January 18 2023