We are the change

5 email subject line no-nos

As a small business owner, email is one of the best tools that you can use to communicate with your customers and drive sales. This is because it’s fast, cheap, and puts your messages straight in front of their eyes.

Yes, I know that your customers get a LOT of email and it’s possible for yours to get lost in the confusion. However, that is not a reason to stop emailing, it’s a reason to revamp your email marketing and do it better.

I see a LOT of good marketing emails that won’t ever get opened because the subject lines are so terrible. Many people don’t realise that the email that they have lovingly crafted is destined for instant deletion because their readers take one look at the subject line and decide that the rest of the email is not worth bothering with.

Here are some of the worst so that you can avoid using them:

1. The Newsletter

These normally go something like this “Acme Newsletter – April 2011”. This type of subject line has NOTHING going for it. The reader knows who it’s from by the ‘from’ address, so you don’t need to use up the best bit of the subject line (the first bit) on your company name. They also know what date it is, so why waste space with that? Finally, think about how exciting ‘newsletter’ sounds. Does it fill you with joy? No? Me neither.

2. The Me, Me, Me!

Often in the form of “We are moving/expanding/having a sale”, this type of headline makes the mistake of not focusing on what’s in it for the reader. Your customers want to know that you have the answer to their desires or concerns, so focus on that. Give them a reason to open that email!

3.  The Cringer

A cringer email subject line is any subject line that is badly spelled, poorly punctuated, grammatically incorrect, erroneous, or plain stupid. When you use a subject line with any of these features, your readers perception of your intelligence, and professionalism plummets. You also run the risk of losing their trust. If you can’t manage to ensure that your own emails are correct and have good spelling or punctuation, your customers will assume that you have the same slap-dash approach to your products and services, and they simply won’t buy from you or recommend you to others.

4. The Hyper

You want to create interest with your subject lines, but ridiculous claims or cheesy overblown phrases are not the way to do it. If you’re using lines like “Make Millions With The Worlds Greatest Ever Widget”, people will assume that you are running some kind of scam (think “too good to be true”). Your email might get opened by the curious, but they will be reading it with a pinch of salt and likely assume that it’s spam.


Using all capital letters in email, text or on social media makes it look like you’re shouting. Capital are fine to add emphasis to the OCCASIONAL word (can you see what I did there? Smooth, huh!?), but if you use all caps all the time, it feels like being locked in a cupboard with a drill sergeant.

If you can avoid these types of subject line, you may actually get people to read that lovely email you’ve sent them, so steer clear of all of the above.


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  1. Julie Hall - Editor says

    LOL Tamsin, we ALWAYS use Newsletter in our title… However (though admittedly this is old…) MailChimp did a study of headlines and found this http://bit.ly/mNStS8, so I’m a little wary of changing it

    1. Tamsin says

      Interesting! Stats don’t lie – but they don’t tell you the full story of why something happens either.

      I would like to know how old this article is, because it could be from before a time when we all got innundated with ‘newsletters’.

      I’d also like to know what industries the companies involved are in, whether they’re market leaders, who their readers are etc. as I think that will all make a huge difference.

      For example: “Amazing Shoe Co. Newsletter” would get my attention because I love shoes and I’d hope there would be some special offers in there.

      However, “June Newsletter from Joe Bloggs Accounting” can (and does) make me hit delete quicker than I can stifle a yawn.

      The real lesson here is to test your headlines (I think that MailChimp has split testing built in) to see what really works for YOUR BUSINESS, even if a so-called ‘expert’ is telling you something different. 😉

  2. Julie Hall - Editor says

    They are definitely old stats and I agree about split testing! I sent out an email last week that had at 30% difference in conversion based on the newsletter headline!

    1. Tamsin says

      Wow! Would you mind sharing what your 2 subject lines were and which one did the best, Julie?

  3. Alicia Cowan says

    I am really surprised by those Mailchimp stats – I would have thought the list on the right would have higher conversions!

    What do you think of personalising your headline by adding the name of the recipient? They always gets my attention…

  4. Julie Hall - Editor says

    Hi Alicia! I think personalisation works really well, but it needs to be clever… I’ve seen it used really effectively in the body of an email… but in the split test I mentioned above – the personalised option received lower conversions than the other one… though, this could be down to having a less enticing headline…

    Out of 100 emails sent for each headline:

    (A) Do you fancy finding out how to do your own PR?
    (B) Name, can you make our PR webinar tomorrow?

    Opens 42(A) 36(B)
    Total Clicks 14(A) 8(B)
    Recipients Who Clicked 11(A) 7(B)
    Unsubscribes 0(A) 1(B)
    Conversions to webinar: 11(A) 7(B)

  5. Carolyn says

    Really interesting debate, lots of great tips there and thank you for the link to the Mail Chimp article too.

    For the last post about the split test, I wonder if it was the fact they were being asked about something tomorrow rather than their name? Plus version B is can you make OUR webinar so it could be falling into the Me Me Me trap rather than Version A is all about them??!!
    That is the problem, there are so many combinations to test!

  6. Tamsin says

    Personally, I don’t like seeing my name in the subject line, as that’s not what a ‘real’ person would do.

    I suspect that Carolyn is right about the you Vs me issue. Also, in Julie’s better converting subject line, there was a clear benefit in the headline.

    What would be interesting to see is how the 1st headline would compare to a 3rd variation of: Do you fancy finding out how to do your own PR? Join us tomorrow to see how.

  7. Alicia Cowan says

    Thanks for sharing your stats, Julie – that’s really interesting. Goes to show the importance of choosing a good headline!

    Carolyn could be right about the inclusion of ‘tomorrow’ but then there’s the argument for creating urgency with limited time offers. So many variables! In the end it’s what works for your business, as Tam pointed out.

    In terms of personalisation it would be interesting to see a split of an identical subject line with/without the name.

  8. Michael says

    It’s okay to put newsletter etc in the subject line when people are looking forward to reading it. If it’s the first issue then anything new will attract. If the content wasn’t up to much or at least not as well received as you’d hoped then it may be necessary to have to resort to being manipulative. (Getting what you want in a roundabout way!)


    1. Tamsin says

      Thanks for your comments, Michael.

      I wouldn’t advocate being manipulative – I would want to see the sender of the newsletter creating better and more interesting content that is more relavent to their readers (and letting them know in the subject line).

  9. Felicity Lerouge says

    Thanks for this article Tamsin (and Julie). It’s great to have such useful information in an accessible article, like this.
    It’s invaluable to be reminded it’s all about ‘WIIFM’, if you want people to open your e-mails.

    1. Tamsin says

      That’s exactly it, Felicity – you’ve got to make it relavent to your readership.

  10. Tanya Rennick says

    Thanks Tamsin,

    I was fortunate enough to get your advice on my newsletter a while back. This is a perfect forum to say thank you once again! I send out “Pearls of Wisdom” and my subscribers know it’s from me. I get quite consistent openings. Although, of course, I would like more. As for email subject lines, I like to mix them up a bit or people can get a bit wary of opening them.

    1. Tamsin says

      You’re welcome Tanya. 🙂

      I think it’s great if you can create a ‘voice’ for your newsletter that everyone knows – you’ve managed to do that!


  11. Tanya Rennick says

    Thank you Tamsin! 🙂

    I’m delighted that you feel I’ve done that! It’s very important to keep your ‘voice’ and I do enjoy getting my tuppence in…

    Tan x

  12. Richard says

    The subject line is the first thing your email subscribers see, so it’s important to give this the attention it deserves.

    A good tip is to check the papers.

    Their headlines are usually very short, and highlight the story’s facts in a very small amount of space. The same principles should be used in your email subjects. Let the reader know what your message is about, and what’s in it for them.

    1. Tamsin says

      Hi Richard,

      Yes – looking to the newspapers is a great way to see how to grab attention with a headline.

      …although it’s up to the individual whether they veer more towards The Sun style of headline or The Times!


  13. Karen Haller says

    Hi Tamsin,

    Great reminders of how to get the basics right. It’s easy to fall into bad habits.

  14. Deimar says

    It is also important to change the subject often, those 10 more seconds will increase the open rates of your e-mails. It is proven that whenever a company uses the same subject or really similar, example Newsletter 1, then Newsletter 2… Newsletter 10…etc. between each e-mail the open-rate decreases.

    1. Tam says

      Hi Deimar,

      Thanks for your comment. You’re right about changing the subject line often. I suggest every issue should have a different subject line.