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Ramona Sukhraj

By Ramona Sukhraj

Jun 1, 2015


Lead Generation Email Marketing
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Lead Generation  |   Email Marketing

4 Subject Line Pitfalls That Are Destroying Your Email Open Rates

Ramona Sukhraj

By Ramona Sukhraj

Jun 1, 2015

4 Subject Line Pitfalls That Are Destroying Your Email Open Rates

4-subject-line-mistakes-destroying-email-open-rates.jpgOk, quick: describe yourself in 10 words or less! --- Not that easy, right?

Condensing an important topic into a measly 10 words is no easy task and, for marketers here and abroad, it is an everyday challenge presented by email subject lines.

With 33% of email recipients opening messages based purely on subject line alone, this little piece of copy can often make or break the success of your campaign.


Unfortunately, despite this, far too many organizations are still making amateur mistakes that end up dragging down their overall open rates. To help break away from the pack, here are four common subject line mistakes that are dragging down your email open rates and tips on how to turn them around.

Mistake #1: Giving Too Much Away

At its core, an email subject line is supposed to be a tease.

It was designed to be a brief preview of the longer message that lies inside, but ever so often, a marketer comes along who gives away the whole campaign within this snippet.

We’ve all heard the expression before, “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.”

Why should a reader open your email when they’ve already gotten the entire message? When you’ve already told them everything they need to know, what’s their motivation to click through?

How Can You Fix It? Create a knowledge or “curiosity gap” with your email subject line. In other words, you want to present enough of an idea or a solution to catch your reader’s interest, but omit just enough that it forces them to click open in order to satisfy their curiosity.

Take these subject lines from my inbox for instance:

  • “Why I Started Canva”
  • “The Guide to Summer’s Best Trends”
  • “6 Ways Snapchat Is Upending Advertising As We Know It”
  • “You’re Missing The Best Part of”
  • “When is the Best Time to Be Creative?”

Why DID she start Canva? WHAT exactly are the best trends? HOW is Snapchat changing advertising?

Like these examples, you want your subject line to raise questions in the mind of the reader so the only way they can find the answer is by clicking through.

Mistake #2: Being Too Long

If the popularity of Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and other micro-media sites have taught marketers anything, its that: (1) people are mobile and (2) their attention spans are shorter than ever.

On average, email subject lines with only 4-15 characters deliver the highest open rates and with most mobile screens can only display 4-7 words before getting cut off, you have to be able to say more in as little time as possible in order to have make an impression.

How Can You Fix It? Keep your subject lines short and sweet. MailerMailer suggests staying under 50 characters in order to keep your audience’s attention and avoid the dreaded ellipses on mobile.

While this presents a bit of a challenge, it is also an opportunity to get creative and truly grab your audience’s attention in their undoubtedly spam-filled inboxes.

Try something different A/B different options to see which will deliver the best open rates from your buyer persona.

Mistake #3: Being All About You

Email is a personal thing. In its early days, it was a way to instantly connect friends and loved ones through long digital letters and e-cards instead of waiting for the mailman to arrive, but things have changed.

Today, you’re more likely to get spam from a chain-restaurant than someone you actually know and when you send your audience a self-centered subject line talking about your latest sale or product, you are likely to get lost in all of the noise.

How Can You Fix It? Frame the content of your email in terms of the value or benefits it brings to your audience.

People don’t care about your big news, they only care about what’s in it for them, so make sure your subject line speaks directly to their personal concerns and interest. Tell them exactly what they will get by clicking open.

The easiest way to do this is replace all of your “we” and “our” statements, with “you” and “yours”. For example:

  • Thank you for downloading our eBook →  Here’s your free eBook!
  • Check out our newest lead generation feature → Kickstart your business’ lead generation with this!
  • We’ve got great news. → You’ll love this big news.

Also make use of your contact database to personalize the copy in any way you can. Using data you have to cater your subject lines will help it appear more relevant to your audience and in turn, more likely to attract their clicks.

In fact, by addressing your contact by name you’re likely to increase your click-through rates by 14% so don’t be afraid to experiment with your options.      

Mistake #4: Not Being Tested!

When it comes to an important email marketing campaign, the last thing you want to do is lose your audience at square one because the subject line scared them off.

You want to make sure that the subject line that meets them in their inbox is the right one, delivering the best results possible, but many marketers overlook its importance and just throw something together five minutes before scheduling.

How Can You Fix It? Don’t blindly implement the status quo. While there are dozens of data-backed best practices to use in your email subject lines, every organization’s buyer personas are different and may ultimately react differently to the same things.

As Founder of WiderFunnel, Chris Goward, once said,  “We listen to our gut, then test what it says. We create best practices, then test them. We listen to opinions, then we text them. We hear the advice of experts, then test it.”

Best practices or even peer ideas should merely serve as baselines to begin your testing.

When first beginning a email campaign, sit down with your team to brainstorm possible subject line copy just as you would the internal message. When you’re done, test them. With this data in hand, you will be able to move confidently into your campaign, knowing that your risk has been calculated. While without risk there is no reward, with calculated risk, your reward will only be that much greater.

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