Categorized | List Building

Email Marketing – 10 Worst Performing Email Subject Lines

We recently analyzed several hundred million emails and thousands of B2B email marketing campaigns to determine what the best and worst performing email marketing subject lines are. In this short article we’ve summarized the 10 Worst performing email campaigns subjects along with brief comments as to why the subject line does poorly.

Ten Worst Performing Email Campaign Subject Lines (Not in order)

Join Us for a FREE Webinar on April 2 2011!

– Webinar about what? Why? From Whom? Aren’t most Webinars FREE?

Shop Early and Save!

– Oooh. Yet another promotional email. I’ve only received 219 of these today. – What will I be shopping for? Early for what? Save how much?

Register to Win Your FREE iPod!!

– I already have 4 iPods.

– “Free” and “iPod” caused some of the emails to be filtered. The email content for this email didn’t help either.

Security Spending

– Huh? I have no clue what this is about and I don’t have the interest in clicking to learn more.

– Better yet – I’ll add this company to the list of blocked domains – that will teach them!

Post-Trade Show Webinar: Expert Insights Into Key Trends and Observations from the Trade Show Floor

– This subject line was longer than some email bodies. – Response rate performance generally drops-off beyond 55 characters for the headline.

(Company) Announces Partnership to Work with (Other Company)

– Who cares? I don’t know Company A or Company B and what will their partnership do for me anyway?

– Make sure your email subject and intro paragraph emphasize the benefits for your recipient.

European Lakefront Elegance

– There isn’t a lake within 1,000 miles. What’s this gotta do with me?

Product Launch: New “Widget” Available (no mention of company name)

– This leaves the recipient wondering.. Who are you? The company name isn’t included.

– In most cases, the body of an email like this included the company’s press release, verbatim (see below)

Full Press Release Titles such as “(Company) Announces New Widgets”

– I’m too busy to be curious and click to discover what a “widget” is and why I should care.

– Even if I opened the email, why would I want to read a press release? Tell me about your widget’s benefits

Real Estate, Feb 2011

– This was a real subject line for a series of campaigns. Unfortunately it is too short and non descriptive to get the attention of most recipients.

TIP: Our analysis of the worst performing subject lines also uncovered the words most likely to cause the recipient to report the email as SPAM (note – this is not the same thing as saying ‘phrases a SPAM filter is likely to block’):

–> Confirm, raffle, requested, rewards, 10% (or any % in the subject), coupon, discount, savings, offer.

What Else Can We Learn from These? Summary of Recommendations

The above ‘worst performing’ subject lines are great potential learning experiences. We may not be the world’s greatest experts at pattern matching, but there are a few things we observed from these representative poor subject lines along with our additional analysis. For example:

Brief, matter-of-fact subject lines got better open rates than ‘sales pitches’. In fact in other testing we’ve found that the ideal email campaign subject length is 40 ~ 50 characters.

That said, a subject line that is too short (like #10 on the list), is not likely to score well – primarily because within such a short subject, it’s too difficult for the recipient to determine if the email is relevant for them.

Email subjects (and bodies) that are vague and non-specific, typically under-perform.

Email marketing campaigns that offer “value” or resources vs. ask for an order generate a better response rate, at least based on open statistics (ie you are giving vs. asking to take).

It’s important to note that these are headlines associated with best / worst performing campaigns, and we are only judging based on the open rates. Many email clients have a 3 sentence preview pane – so the open rate for each campaign subject above is heavily influenced by the quality of the email introduction text.

That said, if the subject stinks the email probably does too.

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