Nothing encourages email subscribers to open a message more than an engaging subject line. This very short yet sharp delivery is the sender’s very first port of call; their first attempt at reeling web browsers in and urging them to find out more.

If the company falls at this very first hurdle, both their message and efforts will go to waste – it’s as simple as that. Well then why, considering the age of both the technology and its marketing channel, do companies insist on churning out some of the most awkward-sounding subject lines imaginable?

From blatant sales pitches to sentences packed with clichés, terrible subject lines might raise a smile or two but they do nothing for the business that relies on them for enquiries. In fact, one of their very few uses is to warn the subscriber to avoid the email at all costs.

Perhaps the most depressing truth is that some companies aren’t even aware of their subject lines having this effect on their customers. So for the sake of highlighting what makes a poor delivery in this crucial area, here are ten prime examples of subject line atrocities.

1. ‘Read me!’download the guide to email marketing subject lines

OK, so it’s in the company’s interests to attract readers, but actually starting a subject line with ‘Read me!’ is a sure-fire way of persuading customers to do the exact opposite. Competition in the average inbox might be tough; there may be tens of brands looking to attract one set of eyes and force them into enquiring within. Though having said that, there is no excuse for such acts of desperation.


The all caps screamer to awaken the senses – nicely done! Congratulations is in order seeing as you’ve managed to scare all of your subscribers away. Take a step back and consider how this email would look if it was sent to your very own inbox. It looks spammy, it sounds desperate and it’s probably the last thing you’ll want to click. Instead of using caps as a shortcut, let your language do the talking (in lower case!).

3. ‘Greetings, Joe Bloggs. How are you? Would you like to find out what’s been happening with us?’

Unnecessarily long subject lines have no place in email marketing. The chances are that most of your subscribers will be flicking through their folders and will bypass anything that looks like it could take a while to sift through. Keep your subject line short and succinct – between five and ten words is fine – whilst remembering that you don’t want to unleash all the goodness right away. Being a little cryptic with your delivery may intrigue the subscriber and tempt them into reading on.

4. ‘Hello, loyal customer. Here’s our latest newsletter’

Personalisation is the key to customer loyalty in email marketing and it all starts with the subject line. People don’t feel wanted when they’re addressed by generic titles – they want to see their own name in bold and spelt correctly. Use your email software to automatically insert customer names in the messages they receive. You never know, this may even fuel an increase in your open rates.

5. ‘Whats been happening this week’

Bad grammar plus bad spelling equals bad open rates. Email marketers are supposed to be experts in communication, so making a complete hash of things at the first possible opportunity is probably the worst thing they can do. Customers like to receive emails from figures of authority and brands that know what they’re doing. Thus, ensuring that every word follows the laws of English language is vital.

6. ‘Hello, Joe. Would you like new t-shirts, sweatshirts and jeans? Well, read on.’

Reading on is exactly what a customer won’t do after battling through a subject line that’s been packed with punctuation. Like capital letters, commas, full stops and exclamation marks shouldn’t be abused and this applies especially to email subject lines. Your sentences should be short, direct and contain no more than one form of punctuation. Failing to follow these basic rules could disrupt the flow of your delivery and force customers to turn away en masse.

7. ‘Urgent! Please read’

Declaring a message urgent, only to carry on like any other message or – worse still – to brand a 15 per cent discount an ‘Urgent matter!’ is one of the corniest tricks in the book. Your brand loyalty can disappear straight out of the window as soon as you try conning your users into clicking on your messages. The honest approach is far more effective, not to mention a damn sight more rewarding.

8. ‘Newsletter’

Great, a ‘Newsletter’ has just found its way into the inbox. That’ll be a swift delete from the customer due to a lack of detail on the message in question. The subject line should entice users and give them more reasons to click on the email. Save the one word entries for your friends.

9. ‘Here’s an exclusive just for YOU’

Exclusive – adjective, implying sole ownership to one person, group or area. So how can something that’s offered to thousands of web users be considered an ‘exclusive’? Once again, be honest with your subject line and avoid lying to amplify its significance.

10. ‘Click to win a FREE holiday’

You may well be running a competition for a free holiday, but just don’t go there. Seriously.