6 Mistakes to Avoid on Email Subject Lines

By Daniel Scocco

If you are a blogger, website owner or online worker, you probably need to contact people via email all the time. On some occasions you will also be the one starting the conversation and looking for a reply. For example, you might want to offer a guest article for a particular blog, or you might want to propose a business partnership to someone. Unless you craft your email messages smartly, though, there are good chances that the other person won’t even read them. Spam filters are the first obstacle, but even if your message goes though the other person might just delete it.

The subject line is probably the most important part of your message, and in this post I wanted to cover six mistakes that I see people making:

1. Creating one word subject lines

Have you ever received an email with the subject line “Hi”? If you have, you know how annoying it is. One word subject lines are terrible because they fail to communicate what the email is about, where it is coming from and the like (more on that later). Additionally, they might also reveal laziness or carelessness from the sender’s part, which might lead the receiver to ignore the email.

2. Making requests

People want to receive, not to give. If your subject line makes a request right away, the receiver will be less likely to open it. Examples include link exchange requests, voting requests and so on. A better approach to get the conversation going is to start by offering something.

3. Using spammy keywords

Using spammy keywords in your subject line is a no-no. Even if you get lucky and the spam filter does not block your message, there are good chances that the receiver will tag your message as spam as soon as he reads the subject line. Here is a short list of words to give you an idea of what should be avoided:

  • free
  • money
  • win
  • degree
  • gift
  • deal
  • sign-up
  • survey

4. Begging for attention

Using “Please Read This” as your subject line will not help convincing the receiver to open your email. Quite the opposite. The same is true for using words like “urgent,” “important” and similar.

5. Making it sound too good to be true

Real business or joint venture opportunities usually come from people you already have a relationship with. If you are going to email someone for the first time, therefore, avoiding using these terms, else you might be seen as a scammer.

6. Making it look like an automated message

If your subject like looks like an automated message from a website or online service, well, people will assume it indeed is. Just take a look at the automated messages you receive and avoid crafting your subject lines in the same fashion. One example is the “Invitation to…” subject line. Usually those come from social networks, and people tend to ignore them.

By now you might be asking yourself: “OK I understand the mistakes I need to avoid, but how should I craft a good subject line then?” In my opinion a good email subject line should have two elements: a relevancy hook (i.e., a keyword that will assure the receiver that the email message is indeed for him, like his name or the name of his website) and a brief description of the content of the email (because even if the receiver knows your message is a legitimate one, he might not read it immediately or at all unless he knows what it is about).



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32 Responses to “6 Mistakes to Avoid on Email Subject Lines”

  • Marte Cliff

    The subject line in an email is like the headline in a letter. If it grabs readers, wonderful. If it turns them away, not so wonderful!

    It really does deserve as much time and thought as the message below.

    I think one of the biggest “sins” is to be misleading. There are few things so annoying as to open an email on the promise it contains, only to find that you won’t get the answer unless you send $39.95!

  • Jeff Sabo

    This is a very informative post and lots of key information is presented in it. Leaving out words that are considered to be “spammy” is key. Sometimes those words leave the impression the person opening it is still going to be hit up for money or going to be led to a site in which they will be solicited.

    A lot of the information in this article could be utilized for job searching and networking as well. During my professional career, I have interned or worked for people who have complained and refused to open e-mails that contain one word subject lines, subjects that beg for attention, or ones that look like an automated message. With the amount of e-mails some professionals and high executives receive per day, skipping over ones that come across as Spam or money solicitations becomes a lot easier if the subject lines are not clear. Sending out the same e-mail to multiple people (e.g. sending it out the same e-mail to 30 people) will often end up in Spam folders and will never be opened.

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