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5 Horrible Subject Lines and Why They Fail So Spectacularly

This is a guest post from Zach Watson of TechnologyAdvice.

When it comes to marketing emails, consumers actually don’t mind them much. Some 60% of consumers say they read marketing emails, but only 16% do so with any kind of regularity.

Why the huge dropoff? Because in their haste to send off the next email blast, marketers too often employ terrible subject lines.

This surreptitiously undermines the remaining email marketers who understand the importance of the subject line and spend time constructing a clear, relevant 40-character phrase.

What follows are five of the most egregious examples of subject line gibberish taken directly from my inbox:

1. “Ready to mash it up in two days?” or “Forget candy, here’s a trick and a treat!”

The singular purpose of a subject line is to promise value so that the recipient opens the email. Can you identify what awaits the brave soul who opens either of these?

The first was a reminder of an upcoming event, while the second was an unsuccessful attempt at a Halloween metaphor. Both are guilty of sacrificing clarity for cleverness.

Modern life is busy: do your readers a favor and make the value of your emails obvious. Don’t hide behind attempts at clever wordplay.

2. “[Virtual Event] Time is Running Out!”

This subject line does make the content of the email more apparent, but it still suffers from unnecessary vagueness. Rather than try to be clever, the marketer has opted for creating urgency, but the urgency isn’t targeted, or even explained.

I’m no more informed than before, but now I’m uncomfortable and a little anxious.

Empathy is an important skill when writing copy, so consider the position of your readership when writing, well anything, and make sure you make a promise that’s applicable to someone who may not be familiar with your upcoming conference.

3. “New Research Article: Now That Wifi is done, it’s time for WiBo (Body Networking)”

Specificity is important for subject lines, but there’s a balance to be struck between industry-targeted language and complete jargon. Using industry-specific or esoteric terms will exclude a lot of potential recipients, so be specific in your terminology, but broad in your value.

Also, it’s debatable whether the world is ready for WiBo just yet.

4. “Unlimited Free Doctor Visits”

Clickbait is the enemy of serious content marketers who are trying to adhere to high journalistic standards and create media that helps and informs people. Unfortunately, clickbait is everywhere, and email is one of its favorite habitats.

If a subject line sounds too good to be true, then the contents of the email will always disappoint the readers naive enough to open it. This qualifies an email as clickbait. Communicating benefits must be done with at least some restraint, or else readers begin to automatically dismiss your value propositions.

Plus, doctors deserve to be paid for their work, so I’m against this subject line on principle.

5. “Re: you were chosen as a potential candidate”

If clickbait is annoying, then these types of email subject lines are blatantly deceptive and unethical. Even if the reader does open this email out of pure curiosity, the nature of the lie will become exceedingly obvious as soon as the first sentences of copy are read.

Surprisingly, this tactic isn’t isolated to the faceless denizens of the Internet void; I’ve received similar emails from reputable brands. As a general rule, you should never use prefixes such as “re” or “fwd” in order to trick your subscribers into thinking your message is part of an ongoing conversation.

Subjecting Your Emails to Success

These subject lines and the motivations that encourage their creation hold back the email marketing community. They damage the reliability of the inbox and make consumers associate all email marketing with spam.

If you’re using marketing automation software, such tactics could negatively impact your entire brand or correspondence efforts. Even if these correspondences drive opens and clicks, they’ll do far more damage to a brand in the long run. Avoid them.