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Four things email marketers are getting wrong in their subject lines

Writing effective email subject lines is an art form.

It takes a steady hand, a sharp mind, and often a lot of time.

But for email marketers, it is all worth it. A good subject line can, and often does, mean the difference between a successful campaign which generates revenue and an unsuccessful one which generates nothing but ire.

Some people are really good at writing email subject lines (like us!).

Others, not so much.

For those who aren’t, we’d like to give you a hand and show you a few things to avoid.

Four things email marketers are getting wrong in their subject lines

1) Off brand

Off brand email marketing

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: if your email subject lines are not in line with your overarching branding/marketing strategy, they are probably doing damage to your brand. What’s the point in investing countless hours on building a brand voice and an audience that responds to that voice, only to toss it away on off-brand subject lines that don’t align with what you’ve built?

It’s silly.

In many cases, the subject lines attached to an unopened email may well be the only interaction someone on your mailing list has with your brand today. This person may never open the email, but they will see the subject line. If the subject line is in alignment with the brand voice that made said person join your mailing list in the first place, it is a safe bet that the interaction will be viewed positively (best case) or with indifference (worst case). But if he or she winds up asking why this spam is in his/her inbox, that is bad.

2) Dishonest (open bait)


What’s worse than click bait? Open bait.

When email marketers value opens above all else, open bait is the result. It’s great to be able to cite high open rates as evidence that your marketing emails are effective. In fact, open rates are one of the most important metrics for measuring email marketing campaign success.

However, open rates, in a vacuum, can be a deceptive metric. There are plenty of ways to get people to open marketing emails in large numbers which will, in the end, accomplish nothing, and can even harm your brand, damage the relationship between your brand and the recipient, or even spell the end of your ability to email that person in the future entirely.

Open Bait Email Subject Line


click bait

Nobody likes being tricked into doing something, and that includes opening a marketing email. It is always better to be honest with people and let them make their own choice as to whether or not to open.

People who open your email because they are genuinely interested in what you are offering are far, far more likely to become conversions and generate revenue anyway.

And, as we’ve said many times before, isn’t that really the whole point?

3) Too extreme

Image credit: IFC


Going over the top is unbecoming.

This is true both in terms of email frequency:

And tone of voice:
Bad email subject lines
Sending the same person the same email 10 times in 2 months? That’s just sloppy. And going over the top with CAPS is not a good look.

In both cases, such subject lines run the risk of crossing over into the much-maligned territory of plain old spam, which is never a good thing. It’s best to avoid such tactics altogether, lest you damage the relationship, close the dialogue, or cost yourself an unsubscribe.

Calm down and get creative.

4) Boring

Image credit: 20th Century Fox


While going extreme and being dishonest are bad things, being interesting is still important.

Standing out from the crowd and getting your emails noticed is key.

Boring email subject lines will never accomplish this.

The most interesting of the bunch is the one from TJ Maxx, since it is in a human’s voice.

The least interesting? Gotta be Target.com’s “Hello, new Weekly Ad.”

It reminded us a bit of this:

Image credit: NBC


If your subject lines are boring, it is a safe bet that your email is probably boring as well. So guess what? Nobody is going to read them.

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