When an e-mail pops up in your inbox, what do you usually do with it? Do you open it, ignore it, or shoot it straight into the “Trash” bin? It depends, right?
It depends on what’s written in the subject line.
See, the subject line tells you, at a glance, whether the sender’s message – or, more accurately, the sender’s purpose – is worth your attention. As a sender, you can either write the subject line right, or you can do one of the following things, which will definitely get your email pushed aside.
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1. Get Too “Cutesy”
Example: Bet you won’t be able to resist opening this e-mail!
Why it doesn’t work: It’s one thing to be witty. It’s another to come across as trying too hard, which is exactly the impression you’ll get from the sample e-mail above. When you’re in doubt about how to write your subject line, remember this: Clarity trumps cleverness. You can combine both, of course, but that takes some practice.
What can work:This e-mail will help you today
2. Type in ALL CAPS
Example: VERY IMPORTANT E-MAIL
Why it doesn’t work:Your e-mail may be the most urgent in the history of urgent e-mails, but if your subject line looks like the online equivalent of shouting, it’ll still get ignored. Use the “CAPS LOCK” button only when necessary (e.g. proper nouns like John Doe, Empire State Building, World Cup).
What can work: Very Important E-mail
3. (Ab)use Punctuation Marks
Example: Please, Please, PLEASE open this e-mail!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Why it doesn’t work: Punctuation marks have their place, yes, but as with the “CAPS LOCK” button, that place isn’t the subject line (most of the time). Besides, a subject line that looks as though it was written by a drunk 15-year-old at 3 AM doesn’t exactly earn you points in the professionalism department.
What can work: Please open this e-mail
4. Promote, Promote, and Do Nothing But Promote
Example: Random Product for Sale!
Why it doesn’t work: Your recipient may be stingier than Ebenezer Scrooge, but if you at least specify a benefit in your subject line – rather than being a little too blatant in your attempt to part your recipient with their money – you’ll get a better response.
What can work: Don’t Miss This 50% Discount on [Insert Product Here]
5. Be Vague
Why it doesn’t work: Okay, I know it’s an e-mail (thanks, Captain Obvious!), but what kind of e-mail is it? Is it an uplifting message about getting through another boring day at the office? Or is it an ongoing promo about a product I’ve been dying to buy for the past few months? C’mon, don’t make me waste my next few seconds figuring that out for myself!
What can work: A message about
6. Be Generic
Example: News Alerts from The Daily News Deliverer
Why it doesn’t work: This one may be slightly more descriptive than a vague subject line, but it’s no better. Why? Because it doesn’t give the recipient an urgent reason to open your e-mail other than: “Hey there! We hope you’re willing to waste a few precious minutes trying to find something interesting in here!”
What can work: Breaking News: ‘Daily News Deliverer’ Figures Out How to Write Subject Lines
7. Write Kilometric Subject Lines
Example: This e-mail will help you ditch that soul-sucking corporate job, find a beautiful wife, buy an equally beautiful house in a swanky neighborhood…
Why it doesn’t work: Yes, your subject line should be descriptive, but not to the point that it’s longer than the entire border of Russia. In fact, a study found that e-mails with 6-10 word subject lines are more likely to be opened than e-mails with 11-15 word subject lines. (Fun Fact: Most marketers are used to doing the latter.)
What can work: This e-mail will help you live your dream life
8. Write Nothing
Example: [no subject]
Why it doesn’t work: If there’s nothing written in an e-mail’s subject line, it’s reasonable for the recipient to assume that there’s nothing worth reading in the e-mail either. That said, if the reason you don’t have a subject line is an honest mistake (e.g. you clicked the “Send” button too soon), you can always resend your e-mail, along with a sincere apology and a polite request to disregard the previous e-mail.
What can work:
A (Parting) Reminder on How to Get It Right
Okay, we’re finally done with how not to write e-mail subject lines. Now what?
We start writing them right, of course. We start writing subject lines that (1) stand out, in a good way, from the usual drivel that clogs up people’s inboxes; (2) concisely describe the e-mail’s contents; and (3) clearly spell out to the recipient what they’ll gain from opening the e-mail.
If you don’t want to bother with subject lines, you can always communicate with others the old-fashioned way: either through snail mail, or through face-to-face conversations.