Non-Spammy Subject Lines

Dear E-mail Diva,

We do pro-bono work for a nonprofit organization, the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation. As we prepare for our next e-mail, we are wondering about the rules for subject lines. If we use "New partner offers discount" would that be seen as spam because of the "sales" type words that are included? Is there some list of "don't use" words that you could point me to?

Interactive Agency President

Dear Prez,

You are thinking of SpamAssassin, an open source filter that calculates the likelihood that a message is spam, based on copy, layout and many other factors. Unlike on "Project Runway," there is no one word that will get you "in" or "out" (read with Heidi Klum German accent.)

A score of 5 means your message is classified as spam. You get positive points for using words that indicate a high likelihood of spam, such as "generic Viagra." You get negative points for factors that indicate a legitimate e-mail, such as certification with a deliverability vendor like Return Path or Habeas, or presence on the user's whitelist (Address Book or Safelist). You can see a list of factors to beware of, but unless you're a network administrator or a tech geek (which I say with the utmost respect), it won't mean much to you or give you a practical answer. Instead, go to Lyris' site, where you can enter your content and calculate your spam score.



I tried this for your e-mail and got a score of 0, so you should be good to go.

One issue I would be concerned about is that this will show up as a box with a red X in the corner for those with images blocked, who are becoming a majority of e-mail readers. You may want to have some HTML text in the top left corner with your most compelling reason to read the e-mail, e.g., "A new drink for diabetics, a lifetime coupon for you, and a portion of proceeds to Diabetes Research."

Also, your subject line, "New Partner Offers Discount" is not your strongest message. The organization is excited about this new partner, but the reader just wants to know WIIFM (What's In It For Me?) Consider instead:

Delicious drink for diabetics at a discount benefits DRIF
Save on new fruit drink that contributes to DRIF
A discount for you = a donation to our research Good luck with this important work.

The E-mail Diva

Send your questions or submit your e-mail for critique to Melinda Krueger, the E-mail Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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