The 5 Most Common Subject Line Mistakes to Avoid
Advertising legend David Ogilvy once said, “Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
Like a headline for a blog post or news article, the subject line for your email needs to capture people’s attention and convince them to open your message. A subject line can make or break the performance of your email, so it’s important to spend extra time crafting one that’s memorable and effective.
Good subject lines get to the point, create a sense of urgency and are relevant to the subscriber, but it’s easy to make mistakes when writing them. Committing these subject line sins can drastically reduce your open rates, but avoiding them is easy if you know what to look for.
Here are five of the most common mistakes people make when writing email subject lines, as well as tips to improve them and boost your open rates.
1. Using ALL CAPS or too much punctuation(!!)
Imagine receiving an email with a subject line like this in your inbox: GET 40% OFF YOUR NEXT PURCHASE RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Chances are you would take one of three actions: ignore it, delete it, or mark it as spam.
Before pressing send, keep in mind that USING EXCESSIVE CAPITALIZATION AND PUNCTUATION SCARES AWAY SUBSCRIBERS AND KILLS OPEN RATES!!!!! 🙂 It can come across as though you are yelling, which can have a negative impact on your email performance. So you should use capitalization and punctuation cautiously.
Occasionally adding phrases like “Free” or “Act Now” have been shown to improve open rates, but I recommend using them sparingly to avoid diluting their impact.
On a similar note, be sure to avoid using too much punctuation. You have limited real estate for your subject line, and multiple exclamation marks can come across as spammy. Special characters such as * % & # and ^, have been known to trigger spam filters, so be sure to use them sparingly as well.
Do this, not that:
Now that we’ve gone over the punctuation mistakes to avoid in your subject line, you may be wondering which characters leads to more open rates.
The answer? Question marks, exclamation points and periods.
According to Touchstone, two to four percent of email subject lines should end with a full stop or a period. They also found that subject lines with exclamation points can expect an open rate that’s one to 20 percent higher than average – just as long as you don’t use them in every message.
While this can vary depending on your industry, your audience, and the content of your messages, I recommend testing multiple subject lines to see which forms of punctuation your subscribers are more likely to respond to.
Here’s an example of a subject line from Enchanting Marketing:
By using simple language, asking a question, and using proper punctuation in her subject line, founder Henneke is able to pique the reader’s interest and entice them to read the message.
Exclamation points, periods, and question marks are all part of a healthy email marketing strategy, so don’t be afraid to mix up the punctuation you use in your subject lines.
2. Using Spammy Words
Adding certain trigger words to your subject line can activate a recipient’s spam filter, even if the message you’re sending is legitimate.
To prevent this from happening, Mequoda recommends avoiding certain words, phrases, and symbols like “$$$,” “100% free,” “cash off,” “cheap,” “weight loss,” and “serious cash”. Even if your email makes it into the inbox, it can come across as spammy to your subscribers.
Do this, not that:
To ensure your readers take your emails seriously, choose the language of your subject line carefully by avoiding some of the trigger words and symbols listed above.
Finding the right verbiage for your subject line can be tough, especially with the sophisticated spam filters out today. Luckily, HubSpot put together an exhaustive list of email trigger words to avoid when composing your subject line, so reference it before sending your next message.
While there are plenty of recommendations for words to avoid in subject lines, there’s no hard and fast rule for ones to include; what works for one industry may not work for another. Be sure to try different variations of words to see what resonates best.
I also recommend focusing on specific words that tie back to the content in your email. Check out this example from our friends at Social Media Examiner:
The subject line tells you exactly what you’ll get by opening up the email. And by focusing on that, it eliminates the risk of including words that might appear spammy.
3. Making It Too Long
Consider the environment in which your subscribers are reading your emails. Chances are, they’re on-the-go or quickly scanning their inboxes between work meetings.
Since you have only seconds to capture their attention, you want to make sure your subject lines aren’t wordy or redundant.
Long subject lines look spammy and get lost in cluttered inboxes, especially if readers are using mobile devices.
Do this, not that:
Our favorite rule of thumb is one recommended by our friends at Litmus, who say to keep subject lines no longer than 50 characters. To do so, aim to get your message across as quickly as possible and cut any unnecessary terms or phrases.
As important as it is to get your message across quickly and clearly, make sure it expresses a complete thought and offers value to the reader – you don’t want to write a subject line that’s too short, either. Avoid one-word subject lines and strive to be helpful and relevant to your subscriber.
Professional photography blogger Courtney Slazinik conveys her message concisely with the following subject line:
By building a message around a numbered list and including the word “secrets,” Courtney offers value and creates a sense of mystery around her content. As a result, this subject line is easily skimmable and irresistibly clickable.
4. Writing misleading content
Let’s say you send an email with the following subject: Get an exclusive 50% discount on our entire inventory!
But when the reader opens the email, it’s a pitch to sign up for a webinar or free online class.
Not only is this tactic dishonest, it also tends to backfire. No one likes to be deceived, especially when they receive an email that promises one thing and delivers another. You might get people to open your email initially, but this alienates subscribers and can hurt your open rates and spam rates in the long run. If your subscribers lose trust in your emails, they’re more inclined to ignore future emails and mark you as spam.
To build and maintain trust between you and your subscriber, make sure to align the content of your email and your subject line.
Email Overload Solutions also recommends avoiding subject lines that include RE: or FW:.
These tend to trick the reader into thinking the email was part of another conversation, which doesn’t leave a positive feeling with subscribers.
Not including this text also gives you more room to work with in your subject line, which can be used to convey helpful and relevant information instead.
5. Including spelling or grammar errors
Subject lines (or any other content in your email) with typos, misspelled words, and misplaced punctuation look unprofessional and can hurt your open rates.
Emails are an opportunity to establish your brand as a helpful source of information. Subject lines with spelling or syntax errors make a bad first impression, and undermine your ability to establish trust with your subscribers.
Do this, not that:
To optimize your email open rates, be sure to review your emails for grammar and spelling prior to hitting send. No one will take the time to read your email if the subject line is loaded with grammar mistakes, but basic copy editing can prevent these errors from slipping through the cracks.
Crafting subject lines that sweep subscribers off their feet
The subject line is one of email’s most important components, so it’s important to get it right before you send your emails. And by avoiding the mistakes above, you’ll be well on your way towards improving your email engagement.
Do you have any subject line best practices that weren’t listed in this article? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!