The Poison Pen: Email Subject Lines To Avoid

Want to drive opens and click-throughs to your email? Avoid anything that smacks of the classroom. That’s one of the takeaways from Jay Schwedelson’s Webinar last Friday for the Data & Marketing Association, titled “Do This, Don’t Do That.”

The word “Training” has a negative impact of 8% when used in a subject line, said Schwedelson, the CEO of Worldata, quoting research based on over five billion emails transmitted per year. But it’s not the only -- or even the worst -- response depressant. Here are more:

  • Remember – 12%
  • Chat — 11%
  • Might – 11%
  • Meeting – 10%
  • Quick – 9%
  • Training – 8 
  • Learn – 7 
  • Featured – 6%

Worse, here are some actual lines that you should never use, which we quote with their negative impacts:

Schwedelson warned listeners never to use these actual lines, which we show here with their negative impacts:

  • This is long, but – 37%
  • No Response Needed – 31%
  • I’ll Keep It Short – 28%
  • You’re Probably Too Busy – 19%

He’s right -- you might as well tell the recipient “don’t read this.”

In contrast, the word “urgent” will drive a 37% upward tick, Schwedelson said. As an example of how to use it, he cited an email subject line from Old Navy: Re: urgent that dress you wanted.” Or this one from Best Buy: “Urgent: You Can Only Get These Deals Today.” And From Sirius: “Urgent: We’re Not Kidding.”

Question subject lines also drive higher open rates — 11% on average. For example: “Sweet Potato Toast – What Is It All About?,” from Clean. And, “What’s the One shirt You NEED This fall?” from Old Navy.  

And don’t forget these surefire response getters:  Free, Winner, Exclusive, Preview, First, Complimentary, Limited, Special, Shhh/Pssst, Select, Today, Private, Insider, Reserved, Top, Secret.

Hmnn: Can you really get someone to open an email titled “”Shhh?”

Aeropostale apparently does. The subject line reads: “Shh! It’s a surprise!” And there, with the image, is the headline: “Ahh-Mazing!”

Of course, this raises an issue that only a copy editor can answer: How many “h’s” does it take to make a “Shhh?” 

Never mind. Moving on, here are some other facts that emerged from the Webinar. Please memorize them by the next session. We quote:   

  • Triggered emails sent as a reaction to an action taken had an average open rate of 57% in Q1 2017.
  • First communication emails received more than three hours later initial signup lead to a 22% lower customer lifetime value via online tools.
  • Additional offers on a Registration’s “Thank You” page pulled an average click rate of 9%.
  • Landing page forms that take longer than 45 seconds to fill out have a 42% lower completion rate. For every additional “Must Fill,” you will lose 7% of registrants.
  • Removing the navigation bar from your landing page can result in 52% higher conversion rates.
  • Clicks from mobile version emails to a landing page that have more than four viewable fields to fill out have a 48% lower overall conversion rate.
  • Non-offer links get 52% of clicks when three-plus destinations exist.
  • Logos that link to the homepage generate a 17% lower click rate (22% in B2B).  
  • Emails that have all the primary links going to an “Offer” page have a 55% higher overall conversion rate.

Say this for Schwedelson: The man knows his business.



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