Let’s face it—your inbox is flooded; so is mine. And taking our smart phones to the toilet doesn’t make it any easier to keep up. Because we cannot fully digest every email that makes its way to the inbox, most of us have learned what to watch for, what to block, and what to simply ignore.
But what if you’re trying to get your message through to people?
Whether you run an email campaign for your business, seek funding for your nonprofit, or simply want to see your employees actually read your emails, you need to avoid six failed characteristics of email subject lines that frankly WON’T DO.
- Over-the-top / Obscure
- Never Arrive
- Time Insensitive
- Demanding (bossy)
- Ordinary and Impersonal
Concise titles that accurately summarize the email will get more clicks than titles that run on and on. You’re better off to be simple and straight-forward. Lengthy sentences might work for academic writing and certain genres of creative writing, but they won’t get you far in the punchy, fast-paced world of online content and marketing.
Over-the-top / Obscure
Outrageous, exaggerated, obscure, vague—subject lines that match these descriptors will ruin you. Don’t sacrifice honest clarity in an attempt to be clever.
People know that if it looks too good to be true, it usually is. So keep your subject simple and don’t inflate it. Avoid overusing special characters like exclamation points; they often carry a loud or abrasive tone. Use dashes or colons instead.
Weber Communications completed a case study showing that a clear subject line gets 541% more clicks than one that tries to be clever. Ensure that your email recipients can clearly understand the message. A clever line like, “It’s what you’ve been waiting for!” or “You won’t want to miss this!” tells the recipient nothing. Think of the subject line as a title or headline, letting your readers know a little bit of what’s to come.
It’s also a good idea to use numbers for further specificity. For example, “10 Must-Haves for Your New Baby,” or “5 Ways to Improve Your Lawn,” give your audience a clear and direct heads-up as to what they can expect in the body of your message.
If you aren’t careful, your emails might not even make it to the inbox at all. A subject line that looks or smells like greasy spam will be sent to the trash automatically or by the user. Amanda MacArther provides a list of words that could land your carefully constructed email in someone else’s spam folder. Here are just a few from that list to avoid:
- From home
Deadlines and a sense of urgency are great marketing tools, but email subject lines are not the best place to employ very urgent deadlines. Like Goldilocks, you need to be aware of how soon is too soon and how late is too late when placing a deadline in the subject of your emails.
Why? Well, no one likes to be rushed to make a decision—particularly when busy or stressed (and we usually are busy and/or stressed when sifting through email). That’s not to say that deadlines should never be employed; your subject line should give your recipients a sense of urgency while also leaving them with enough time to actually look at your selection. If the task of browsing through your website is too urgent, they’ll read your subject line and conclude that they don’t have time to make a purchasing decision before the offer ends.
So, instead of, “Hurry! Only 2 hours left!” try something like, “There’s still time—Get 50% off before tomorrow.” Help your audience know that they should act soon, but that they’re OK to wait until they get off work or take a break.
For other basic communication (not product sales), you may use an urgent subject line that clearly tells recipients what is needed from them. For instance, “Requires a response by Friday”—rather than stating the purpose of the email—makes it clear that your email should be opened and digested before the weekend.
Marketers know that a CTA (call to action) is good. But you also have to avoid sounding too bossy in email subject lines. The subject should be informative and inviting. If you aren’t sure if it sounds too bossy, save the CTA for the body of your email and simply inform in your subject line.
For example, take a look at these two subject lines: “Newest selection just arrived” vs. “OPEN NOW TO VIEW OUR NEWEST SELECTION!” In the first place, all caps is a big no-no. Studies show that the human brain processes this as loud yelling and no one likes being hollered at. Secondly, the “OPEN NOW” makes a reader think he or she is being told what to do. Most people prefer an invitation to a demand, so don’t push too hard.
Ordinary and Impersonal
People like to feel known. Though we all know most emails aren’t actually written for us personally, we expect to be contacted only with information, offers, or requests that are of interest to us. You’re not going to get a lot of reads if your subject is generic and distant.
Figure out how to show that you know who your audience is in your subject line. For example, “Action Figure Discounts for Star Wars Fans,” or “Ten Quick Tips for Busy Moms.” Many emails already use a recipient’s first name in the body of the email, but it’s a good idea to start showing some awareness of the people you’re targeting even in the subject.
Here’s the point
People are accustomed to receiving a myriad of unsolicited emails, so steer clear of these six email subject lines that just WON’T DO. Staying direct and genuine will help your messages to stand out—and get your audience reading.