Five Email Subject Lines to Avoid

As a graphic design and marketing professional, I know it’s essential to capture people’s attention immediately when I am helping a client to promote a product or service. I need to tell people what my client has to offer and/or present an intriguing idea to get the reader to dig deeper and find out more. This is true for printed materials and electronic collateral, such as Web sites. It’s also true for email.

In a crowded marketplace—such as the average email inbox—it’s easy for messages to get lost or to be ignored as unimportant. Think of an email subject line as a headline; if you hook readers early, you’ll get them to open your mail. The recipient should be able to scan the subject line to determine the gist of the message.

Good headlines, as any writer will tell you, are not easy to create. They are hardworking little sentence fragments that have to both introduce the topic that follows and entice the reader to continue. People scan headlines all the time when they are making their read/ignore decisions. They do the same thing with email subject lines. So a headline must encapsulate a lot of information in a clever way.

Unfortunately, many people don’t regard subject lines as headlines, so they are sometimes horribly misguided, misused, and misleading.

For your review are my Top Five Email Subject Line Gripes:

#5:Intentional misspellings to get past spam filters

Thankfully, this has all but disappeared for me since Google Mail does such a bang-up job at filtering spam. But occasionally I see random mentions of “V1agra.”


Not entering a subject line implies that you believe that your message is so important that of course it will be opened and read! As someone who receives scores of emails every day, I can guarantee you that it’s very irritating to have to open the mail to find out if it’s a personal message, a business inquiry, or some hot-button item that needs my immediate attention.

#3: Casual greeting subject lines

“Hi,” “Hello,” and “Whuzaaaaaaaap!” are fine when I’m meeting someone in person. Not so much for an email. It requires me to open the email, which could be on any number of topics from “just catching up” to “essential piece of information you need to complete this project.” It’s not so bad if the email’s from a friend, but it bugs me when a business associate does it.

#2: “Enticing” subject lines

A headline has two jobs: to introduce the topic that follows and to be interesting enough to make the reader want to continue. Enticing subject lines purport to give you a reason to click without revealing anything about the topic of the email. Subject lines like “Wait until you see this!” “Open this email right now!” and “You have made $30” make me want to delete the email, not read it.

#1: Misleading subject lines

If I receive an email whose subject is “Work,” I think “Great, a new project!” Oftentimes, though, the body of the email will be about workplace issues, workplace statistics, or something other than a future paying gig. Way to break my heart, people!


Your turn—what do you think?

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