Email Marketing The Worst Email Marketing Subject Lines

Published on January 3rd, 2014 | by Colleen Corkery


Busted: The Worst Email Subject Lines, Ever!

Successful email subject lines are eye-catching, attention-grabbing and tempting. But there are also annoying, boring, careless, lazy, desperate, or worst of all, deceiving subject lines that give all other hardworking subject lines a bad rap. The purpose of writing an enticing subject line in your email marketing efforts is to achieve an open (which could eventually lead to a sale), but there are good and bad ways to go about gaining it. Let’s bust the worst subject lines ever and kick their bad habits to the curb:

  • THE ALL CAPS SCREAMER – It’s tempting to write a word (or worse, many) in all caps to emphasize importance, however, it also comes off as if you’re SCREAMING! And, that’s the last thing you want to do to a current or potential customer. To highlight something, consider using (one) exclamation point or words/phrases like “New, Last Day, Don’t Miss Out,” to create a sense of urgency or excitement. Your copywriting skills should display the importance you want to relay, not caps lock.  The same goes for wAckY CApS – Don’t go CRazAY.
  • The From Label Repeater – This is a minor subject line infraction, but the “from label” of your email should usually be your company name or the name of the person a subscriber has the relationship with, so there’s no need to repeat your company name in your subject line. Repetition is not only redundant and obvious, but it takes up precious space suited for your delightful subject line.
  • Zzzz… The Generic Snore i.e. “[Your Company Name Here] Weekly Newsletter” – Telling your recipients what they can expect from your email will go the distance. Your email subscribers already have loaded inboxes, so give ‘em the goods right away and tell them what’s inside. Generic subject lines like, “Weekly Newsletter,” “Monthly Wrap up,” “Daily News,” aren’t enticing or descriptive and they’re a snore. When sending an email newsletter, highlight your two most interesting topics in the subject line and your third in the pre-header.
  • The Deceiving Sneakster i.e. “Get 75% off the whole store… just kidding!” – Deceiving anyone doesn’t bode well in the long run, ever. Plus, when it comes to your subject line, lying or including misleading information is actually illegal! Yup, you read that correctly. Meet: CAN-SPAM – An act that states an email’s subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message. If people are subscribed to your emails, legally, they want to hear what you have to say, so give it to them straight.
  • The Symbol FanaticSymbols such as hearts and happy faces are fun, eye-catching, and pretty darn cute, but use too many, too often and they go from cute to “cut it out!” quickly. Symbols garner engagement, but make sure they’re appropriate for your content and audience, and only use one, occasionally.
  • The Desperate Crier i.e. “Open Me!” – Desperation’s rough enough, but begging for an open is hitting rock bottom and won’t give you the engagement you desire. Put on your copywriting hat and come up with something clever, we know you’ve got it in you.
  • The Grammar/Spelling Mistake Sore Eye – Everyone makes mistakes, so everyone also deserves a “Get out of jail free” card when it comes to a grammar or spelling mistake, but it shouldn’t become a common occurrence. Make sure to use spell check, have at least one other person proof your subject line (and the rest of your email), and when in doubt, refer to some of our favorites: The AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and Grammar Girl.
  • The Novel – Don’t give everything away in your subject line, that’s your email’s purpose. To find out what your audience really likes subject line-wise, you have to test it, however, the majority of the time, less is more. Keeping the subject line short and to the point will entice your recipient to open and to read on.
  • The Premature Sender i.e. “test.” – Whoops, did someone accidentally hit “send” without a proper subject line? It happens, and when it does, people love to point it out! Doh. Always give your email a proper subject line right from the get-go. Going in, you may have an idea what your email is going to be about, so give that subject line a shot and change later if necessary.
  • The Copy Cat (sending multiple emails w/the same subject line) – If you’re sending a series of emails, say a promotion over a course of three weeks, don’t be tempted to use the same subject line over again. This will cause people’s eyes to glaze over, or worse, they’ll delete the email thinking you either 1) sent it to them twice, or 2) they already read that email; delete! Rework your original subject line with a slightly different spin.
  •  The Pre-header Repeater – Repeating your subject line in the pre-header qualifies as the worst pre-header, ever. A pre-header acts like a secondary subject line and is your second chance at grabbing a potential reader’s attention. Take advantage and tell ‘em what other wonderful things they can read inside. Subject line feels too long? Cut it in half and put the rest in your pre-header.
  •  The One Word Spam Alert i.e. “Hi” – If you’re trying to catch a recipient’s attention by being mysterious, do so by asking a question:  “…they generate 92% higher comment rates than non-question posts,” on social media according to Buddy Media. Try it in your subject lines, too. Including just one word in your subject line screams “spam alert!”
  • The Punctuation Abuser!!!! – Like all caps, punctuation shouldn’t be abused. Use more than one punctuation mark and it also seems as if you’re screaming (!!!), you don’t remember proper punctuation rules, or you must think everything is important. One exclamation point or question mark serves its purpose.
  • The False Alarm i.e.”URGENT!” – As our Public Relations Manager, Connie eloquently put, “Unless you’re only sending to one person, it’s not ‘exclusive.’ Same goes for “breakthrough,” “pioneering,” “revolutionary” and all those other fluffy adjectives…” Granted, she’s speaking about press releases, but the same goes for your subject lines. If something isn’t really “urgent” or “breaking news,” exaggerating could let readers down. Plus, many people don’t open their email until days after it’s been received, so the sense of urgency may be lost.
  • The Fake Reply –Including Re: in your subject line indicating that it’s a reply is sneaky. “Oh look, someone’s replied to an email I sent them! But wait, I don’t know who this is? What’s this all about?” Sure, you’ll get opens, but the key is to engage and connect with your readers. This tactic will likely get your message deleted. If you really want to entice readers, try asking a question.

Have any other email subject lines you’d like to add to the list? Let’s bust ‘em!

Get started with your email marketing with VerticalResponse. It’s free!

© 2014 – 2015, Colleen Corkery. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

is a contributing author for VerticalResponse.

16 Responses to Busted: The Worst Email Subject Lines, Ever!

  1. Robert the angry engineer says:

    I actually created a spreadsheet to which I add all companies who fake the reply. When I receive the email, I leave it til I can get home to the spreadsheet (considering moving it to the cloud), add the email address, the company name, (if locateable) the hq of the company and then go back to email options and block the domain.

  2. As true as this is, it also greatly depends on your ESP. If you are using a great inboxing service like VR or their competition, you can usually get by with those words.

    But it is best to avoid them if you can.

  3. Kevin Gray says:

    I think another surefire way to get your email caught in the spam filter is putting the words (Discount, FREE, %) Phrases like (Only Hours left, Get up to 50% off… ) Great post and content.

  4. Colleen Corkery says:

    Hi Ian,

    Yes, spell check is important – See bullet point #7. I’m referencing the “urban dictionary” word, “crazay” to emphasize the point that it’s a bit ridiculous. As you can see, it is!

  5. Ian Melrose says:

    “Don’t go CRazAY” – use a spell check.

  6. Hi, I just hate the ‘caps lack screamer’ and ‘urgent’. There are just some email subject lines that say one thing… SPAM – I’m not worth reading.

    Whenever I’m stuck thinking of a good subject line I like to take note of emails I’ve received that I open. Why did you open it? What was the appeal? If you work this out you can create something similar with your own unique twist on it.


  7. Robert Roots says:

    “I just made this for you”

    Reading this, I say to myself, “No, you made it for you to sell me something!”

    It is also rather arrogant in suggesting that they are a guru and they cared so much about you they only did it (wrote blog, video, audio) to help you because if they didn’t then you would be lost.

    I unsubscribed to the last 5 people who sent this in the last week.

    Well written article. A rarity soon to be extinct on the internet.

  8. Dennis Brown says:

    Nice summary, Colleen – thank you.

    @Ewald – we’d add to that the one that we often see from (hopefully) new users of Mail Chimp etc, where the pre-header text reads (and these are genuine examples):
    “Add a pre-header here, or delete me”
    “Use this area to offer a short preview of your email’s content.”
    “Use this area to offer a short teaser of your email’s content. Text here will show in the preview area of some email clients.”

  9. Colleen Corkery says:

    Haha, very nice ‘breakup’ letter Bill.

  10. Bill says:

    Dear All-Curiosity-No-Intrigue,

    I admit it. Sometimes the curiosity gets to me, and I just can’t resist opening you.

    But the second I confirm that I don’t want to click or read you, I get so angry!

    No, I’m NOT saying it’s fun to be intrigued and then disappointed, either. But at least I feel like they tried not to waste my time. I definitely can’t say the same for you.

    I don’t think I can ever forgive you. You’ve hurt me too many times.

    It’s over. Please don’t email me again, I won’t open it.

    – Bill

  11. Colleen Corkery says:

    Hi Megan,

    Wow. Yes, good addition. Insulting a current or potential customer is never a good idea!

  12. Colleen Corkery says:

    Agreed! The pre-header is such a valuable space. People certainly need to take advantage of it.

  13. Marcel says:

    Hahaha, like this comment: “What part of FREE didn’t you understand?”.
    Sometimes all bulk-emails feels like insults if you ask me….

  14. Zea Morvitz says:

    One of my least favorite subject lines is (Your first name) you gotta look at this.

    It is so phoney to use a first name and mail out to a thousand people.

  15. Megan says:

    You forgot one… Insults.

    “What part of FREE didn’t you understand?”

    An actual subject line from a company I used to like and shop at. All the email did was make me unsubscribe from their list. It’s not a good idea to piss of your clients.

  16. It’s such a pity people are still using ‘Can’t read this email?’ texts in their preheaders. Unless you’re Specsavers this is nothing but loss of valuable real estate.

    Unfortunately some people don’t realise that the snippet is a valuable addition to the subject line.

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