email subject line best practices surprised faceI know I’m not the only one who does email triage while getting ready for work in the morning. You do it too, right? Checking email on your smartphone and deleting those that don’t matter so you won’t have to mess with them once at work in front of your computer?


It turns out that can be a dangerous undertaking when marketers fail to adhere to subject line best practices: Doing email triage this morning gave me a fright due to the worst subject line ever.


While brushing my teeth and scanning emails on my iPhone, the subject line “Are you mad at me?” more than caught my eye, it threw me into a panic. I didn’t recognize the sender’s name, but I am still fairly new to my community and don’t remember everyone I meet, and I immediately wondered what I had done or forgotten to do as my stomach knotted up.


The subject line wasn’t the worst of it. The snippet of preview text I could see read: “I hope I’m not being overly sensitive, but I couldn’t believe you still…”


Yikes, that made me even more panicked! So I put down the toothbrush, picked up the iPhone, and opened the email to find out just what horrible thing I had done (or failed to do). And then I got mad. This was simply a marketing email done in a way to trick me into opening it. Once I read past the snippet, I got: “I hope I’m not being overly sensitive, but I couldn’t believe you still haven’t taken advantage of (and then the spiel for her company starts here…)”


If that bit of email marketing was meant to get my attention and interest me in what she was selling, it failed big time. Causing your audience to choke on their toothbrushes first thing in the morning is not good email marketing, but it’s really good for offending people and making sure you end up in the spam folder! Talk about a negative brand experience!


A subject line has a job to do and it isn’t simply to get someone to open the email. (For more on this, read about the importance of your click-to-open rate.) When you adhere to subject line best practices, you use your subject line to get your email opened, yes, but also to make a promise to the recipient that your email content then strives to fulfill.


If knowing you’re tricking people doesn’t bother you and those subject line best practices can go out the window, then consider the other ill that will befall you if you do these kinds of things (besides the ill will you’re earning): your email deliverability rate will be affected. You see, disappoint or even upset people in the inbox, and they will either flag you as spam, stop opening your emails, or both. Obviously the spam reports will hurt your email deliverability, but so will the lack of engagement at the inbox levels, which the ISPs will interpret to mean yes you are spam to that user because they never engage with (i.e. open) your emails.


As for the cruel shock I received this morning, I’m sure that email marketer was able to go to her boss and show a dramatically high open rate for that email, one that will win her kudos. But she probably won’t show her boss the spam reports or unsubscribes from that email. And if she keeps up with that technique, I’m pretty sure there will be a downward trend in the email deliverability as a result too.


Worst subject line ever? Yes indeed…with far-reaching implications beyond my morning email triage.

Published On: March 7th, 2014Categories: Email deliverabilityTags:

About the Author: Sharon

Sharon Ernst from is on a mission to improve the business and marketing writing skills of today’s workforce with her blog, newsletter and online classes. Her newest class on intermediate email copywriting covers 19 tips and techniques non-copywriters can put to use right away for better results. The class has real-life examples and before/after comparisons to make the lessons stick. Find her class at When she’s not busy helping employees, managers and marketers master their writing skills, she and her husband are busy raising pigs, cows, chickens and vegetables on their 20-acre farm.

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