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Why Your Email Subject Line Sucks and How to Fix It

Michael Reynolds

Posted by Michael Reynolds on 5/16/11 3:33 PM

email_subject_lineHow many email newsletters do you get on a daily basis? Three? Five? Ten? More? If you're like me, you get at least that many. Some are legitimate and some are spam as a result of my chamber memberships. In most cases, I notice one thing that is a recurring theme in email marketing: subject lines that suck.

Since approximately 69% of email recipients report email as Spam based solely on the subject line and 35% of recipients open email based on the subject line alone, hopefully it's easy to see how significant the subject line is to your email marketing strategy. It's possibly the most important factor in determining the open rate of your compaigns. Yet even with this data, so many organizations still fall into the trap of lame, uncreative subject lines.

What are some examples of subject lines that suck? Let's take a look:

  • "Chamber E-News"
  • "May Newsletter"
  • "News from XYZ, Inc."


So what's wrong with these subject lines? Let's break it down.

1. These subject lines are vague and bland. When you receive an email newsletter with a subject line like "May Newsletter", do you rush to open it because you can't wait to see what's inside? Me, neither. A bland subject line tells the recipient nothing about the content and therefore gives that person no reason to open it.

2. These subject lines are like everyone else's. Since so many organizations send newsletters with the same style of subject line, your newsletter will just blend in with all the other lifeless subject lines competing for attention in the recipient's inbox. This means there is very little chance it will get any attention.

3. These subject lines are selfish. No one wants to hear more news about the Chamber, your non-profit, or the latest news at company XYZ. They are subconciously asking the question "what's in it for me?" They want to know how your email will help them, entertain them, or teach them something. Boring "latest news" subject lines do nothing to appeal to the need for value that your consituents are measuring your content against.

So how to you fix it? It's very simple: be specific. Take the main point of your newsletter and use that as your subject line. Use your value proposition as the subject line. Tell your constituents exactly what they are getting and what to expect. If your email newsletter is properly built around content marketing, this should be easy because you will simply use the title of your main article. Now let's look at what is happening.

1. Your constituents know what to expect. They no longer have to worry about whether your message is spam. Instead, they know what type of content it contains and are more likely to open it.

2. Your email newsletter now stands out. Amidst a sea of emails that say "May Newsletter" and "Chamber E-News", your email looks unique and is more noticable.

3. Your email is now constituent-focused. While all the other organizations blather on about their "news", you are sending a newsletter that clearly states the value of the content. Your subject line tells your constituents that you will be helping them, entertaining them, or teaching them something. This dramatically increases the likelihood that it will get opened and read.

As a bonus, also try branding your subject line by placing your organization's name in brackets at the beginning, like this: "[Acme Widgets] Title of newsletter article". This helps reinforce your brand and develop a recognizable format for your constituents.

Do your subject lines suck? If so, the great news is that it's very easy to fix! Analyze your content, figure out the value proposition, and try getting specific. Track your open and response rates over time and I think you will be happy with the results.

Comments and feedback are welcome below!

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