7 fixes for terrible subject lines

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Email's prime real estate

Think fast: How much time did you spend on the subject line of your last email campaign message? This critical element too often is the last thing you consider before hitting "send." Yet, it's the first thing your recipients see in the inbox.

Sending an email message with a lackluster subject line is like building a house without a front door. Maybe your recipients will walk around the house to find a back door, or try to crawl through a window. More likely, they'll just shrug and walk away.

Social networking puts the heat on the inbox
The competition for your readers' attention is fierce, and your subject headline is prime real estate. Besides personal email, opt-in messages, and the usual spam, every social network consumers belong to sends email notifications -- Facebook wall notes, Twitter follows, and LinkedIn invites, for example.

These emails probably have become your main competition, which means your subject lines have to work even harder now to get your customers' attention.

In this article, we'll take a look at seven of the most common blunders marketers make when crafting their subject lines, as well as how to fix them. But first, let's look at a few general subject-line best practices.



Jon Roberts
Jon Roberts November 3, 2009 at 9:39 PM


Aaron Savage
Aaron Savage October 20, 2009 at 6:32 AM

I understand completely what you are saying on personalisation but part of it is criticising bad mailmerge software rather than saying that mailmerge software is bad. Mailmerge isn't new and was around in print for decades before it was implemented for Email. The issues were the same then as they are now. Yes definitely capture a firstname field as well as the email address, but also have a default entry so that the logic goes something like this.

If a first name is supplied, personalise it with that.


Use a default salutation which makes sense in the context of the letter.

So if I have filled in the firstname field when I subscribed I get emails which begin "Hi Aaron". If I haven't then I get emails which begin "Hi there".

It's a simple thing to implement and does look better as well as perform better.

Aaron Savage
Managing Director
Interactive Mix Limited

Dale Beach
Dale Beach October 17, 2009 at 6:57 AM

This Is a skill that transfers well from printed publications. Writing a good headline for an article or a news story is much the same thing as writing a good subject line for mass e-mails.

Jan Riley
Jan Riley October 15, 2009 at 11:13 AM

Great post!
I wonder why it is so much easier to fix other peoples bad headlines that to write a juicy on myself!
My mind goes blank when I look at those 60 characters!
thank you so much for breaking this down into usable chunks

Vickie Smith-Siculiano, PMP
Vickie Smith-Siculiano, PMP October 14, 2009 at 11:32 AM

Terrific post! Working with clients in social media, the e-mail subject tips you give are very relevant to ANY quick post you want to shoot out - whether it's twitter, or getting someone to read a blog post - sharing value up front and putting thought into making the machine work is KEY. What good is content if no one is even interested enough to read it in this distracted world! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.