Last week SubscriberMail released "The Seven Dirty Words you can't say in subject lines; plus 100 others you shouldn't use either," a list
of words you "should avoid" using in your subject lines because they are likely to get you blocked by spam filters.
Looking at this list, I knew that major online retailers used at least some of these words -- and some of them quite frequently.
So I searched the subject lines of more than 1,200
emails from 103 major online retailers sent over the last two months. What I found was that retailers had used at least 27 of the 100 dirty words.
Now, of course, these were just the
words that appeared in the subject lines of the emails that were delivered to the accounts that I use to track retailers' campaigns for RetailEmail.Blogspot. It's possible that a few retailers tried
to use other dirty words and had their emails blocked by at least one major ISP.
Two of the most often-used dirty words were "Free" and (categorized as a separate word by SubscriberMail)
"FREE." Most of the appearances were followed by the word "shipping." In my Retail Email Subject Line Study, which I released in June, I revealed that 14% of subject lines include the words "free
shipping" and that more than 54% of retailers had used the phrase in at least one subject line during the 3-month period examined. Offering free shipping is still a powerful tactic and dropping the
words from your subject lines would surely reduce open rates.
"50% off," "Offer," "Buy," and "limited time" are other top dirty words that are likely to hurt retailers' open rates if
they were to stop using them.
However, there are definitely some words that retailers can probably avoid without hurting themselves. For example, Overstock.com routinely sends emails with
screaming subject lines, which is one of the dirty "words." And J. Crew could have easily not used "Hello" in a July 12 email with the subject line "Hello sale..." Retailers could also easily wean
themselves off using "Click here," which is already implied anyway and about as helpful as saying "Details inside," which some retailers also do.
The takeaway from this is that it's not
one strike and you're out. ISPs take into account your reputation and the rest of the content of the email, among other factors. So just because these dirty words are likely to get your emails blocked
doesn't mean that they definitely will. You may be hurting your email program unnecessarily by avoiding them entirely. Also, the list of words to avoid is constantly changing based on which words
spammers are using, so words that may be problematic for your deliverability today may not always be.