But what exactly is a bad subject line? Hundreds of marketing blogs have sounded off on what they think is a good subject line, but it can get confusing to navigate everyone's varying opinions. To emoji or not to emoji? Is it better to be cute or better to be direct? Does the "RE:" strategy actually work?
It might be easier to look first at what not to do. Let's define a good subject line by what it is not. Here are some subject line worst practices to heed as you navigate the ever changing world of contemporary email marketing.
1. Slap any old emoji at the start of your subject line and call it a day 😍
Emoji use in subject lines continues to be a hot topic among digital marketers. While some preach that adding the colorful images helps messages stand out, others fear inadvertently offending their audience by using emojis haphazardly.
Nevertheless, it’s obvious that emoji use in subject lines has become common, and EmailMonks has corroborated their success by reporting 56% higher open rates from subject lines with emojis as compared to emoji-less ones. Considering their popularity among millennials, this probably won’t change anytime soon.
That being said, the emoji naysayers do have a point when noting the danger of choosing the wrong one. A wrong emoji could be any one of the following:
- An emoji that could potentially be misinterpreted by a segment of your audience. While the “OK” hand emoji can mean one thing to Americans, it might mean something much more vulgar in other communities.
- An overused emoji. As emoji use grows more common, this might work counterproductively to helping your message stand out.
- An emoji that will not load properly on every browser. You should test your email on several different programs before sending.
If you don’t care 🐲 about your open rate, ☂️don’t give a second thought to your emoji use 🍎 or avoid it altogether.
2. Overuse these phrases to trigger spam-filters
Spam-filters today are more sophisticated than ever or, as some marketers might say, touchy. If you want your email to get dumped into the junk folder, consider using any one of these phrases or symbols identified by Prospect.io.
3. Don't rush your audience
If you’d like your email to go unopened, make sure your audience never experiences FOMO. Our instincts often lead us to jump on offerings before it’s too late, which has been a powerful tool for marketers. Without occasionally provoking a sense of urgency or importance, your emails can live happily ignored in your audience’s inbox for an undisclosed amount of time.
For example, inviting your mailing list to an online workshop with a simple “Join our online session!” is one thing. “⚠️ Your private invitation expires tomorrow night” is completely different. If click through rate doesn’t matter to you, opt for the former.
4. Use round numbers
Uncommonly used values can be attention-grabbing, so use round numbers in your subject lines to stay under the radar. For example, “63-Point Checklist for Creating the Ultimate Optin Form” might end up standing out more effectively than “50-Point Checklist for Creating the Ultimate Optin Form.”
As they are a quick way to add specific details to your text, the presence of numbers in subject lines is often encouraged, so consider opting out of number usage entirely to ensure your campaign’s failure.
5. Ignore preview text
If you simply avoid adding any preview text to your campaign, the email client will use the start of the email body instead, which can be an effective way to look unorganized and messy. Developing a short, focused sentence for the preview text is an opportunity to back up your subject line with helpful information and engage your audience, but only if you want a truly successful campaign.
6. Get wordy
The future is mobile. An increasing percentage of email opens take place on mobile apps (77% to be exact), where short and sweet subject lines thrive. Guaranteeing that your subject line gets cut-off on mobile apps—i.e. 50+ characters—is a great way to keep messages outside of your audience’s focus.
A prime example: “CELEBRATE THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF YEAR WITH OUR HOLIDAY AND WINTER INVITA…” We’d share the characters hidden beyond the ellipses provided by the email browser, but what do they even matter? Not that we opened the message to figure that out anyway.
7. Be cliché rather than direct
Nothing says falling by the wayside like being the 30th brand in your audience’s inbox to promote “sizzling summer sales” in July while offering no specific information about how those sales are actually sizzling. Successful subject lines may find a way to incorporate picturesque language and descriptive details about the content they’re pushing, but the unsuccessful line will be tired and vague.
There is, however, a fine line between being vague and provoking curiosity. Let’s use Groupon as an example. One of their most famous subject lines to promote their available discounts was “Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve),” which begs a few questions – why are they so proud? Who is Steve and what did he do? They could have easily used a more generic line like “Fall into Savings this September!” and seen their open rates drop.
8. Favor click rate over authenticity
Kitschy subject lines like “Frankly my dear, I don’t Instagram” (from DigitalMarketer) can be engaging, but also run the risk of agitating readers if the catchy phrase you pulled them in with does not align with the message they received.
Also consider the latest trend in subject lines: using “RE” and “FW” to grab a reader’s attention. Maybe they were intrigued enough to click, some readers may feel slighted by the move and unsubscribe out of spite. They may not even make it to readers’ eyes, as these misleading lines could also set-off spam-filters.
Consider Yourselves Warned!
We hope you take our terrible advice to heart. Subject lines may seem small in the grand scheme of your marketing strategies, but they have the power to make a world of difference, one way or another.
Whatever your desired results are, it can be difficult to choose just the right message to inspire the reaction you have in mind. Trust us, we’ve been there. If you ever find yourself stuck between a 💎 and a hard place with your email marketing strategy, let’s chat. We’re fluent in emoji.
- Megan O'Keefe
- Social Media & Content Specalist