Don’t Suffer from Email Subject Line Fatigue

As I glanced through my Inbox this morning, I saw an email from a travel website with a subject line that promised, “Coupon Inside | $100 instant savings, Win a vaca, 40% off hotels + iPad exclusive.”

Interested in saving $100 on my next trip, I opened the email. My initial impression was that I did not see anything that visually represented a coupon. The email was a bunch of text with a prominently displayed “40% off hotels” image. As I read the email more closely, in the second paragraph, I saw this $100 instant savings was only good for trips to Oahu.

Based on the subject line, this email failed to meet my expectations in several key ways:

  • Coupon was the first word in the subject line, yet there was not an obvious coupon offer (or anything designed to look like a coupon) in the entire email.
  • The Fall Sale copy and image was featured prominently in the body of the email, yet it was the third item mentioned in the subject line.
  • The $100 in instant savings, though highlighted in the subject line, didn’t have a visual accompaniment and it was for one, very specific destination.

While the annoyance of having an email promise something in the subject line and fail to deliver in the actual content is not a new experience for most people, it certainly is a frustrating one. After all, you’re interested enough to open and read the email, yet it doesn’t deliver the value it promised. While it may not make you unsubscribe or write a spicy blog post, it probably will make you think twice about opening the next email the company sends.

I call this phenomenon, “Subject line fatigue.” The company has mastered the art of writing compelling subject lines, but the email fails to deliver what the subject line promises. The list subscribers are initially engaged and open the email, yet they find the content misleading or misaligned with their expectations. A statistical harbinger of this problem might be very good open rates and really poor click-thru rates. Another symptom might be a rash of unsubscribes.

Given the undesirable side effects of subject line fatigue, how can you prevent it?

  1. Don’t write the subject line as you’re loading the email for delivery. It’s not a surprise that so many email subject lines fail when they are an afterthought in the whole email development/QA process. The subject line creates your recipient’s first impression – don’t blow it.
  2. Be specific about special offers. If you’re offering a discount on a specific product or service, try to make that clear in the subject line so people don’t feel tricked. If the email above had teased a special offer to Oahu, I wouldn’t have opened it…or been disappointed because Hawaii just isn’t in my travel plans.
  3. Write your subject line after the email copy and design has been finalized. Oftentimes, a subject line will make sense in the context of the initial email iteration, but after a few rounds of revisions, it becomes misaligned.
  4. Test your email to a few colleagues that haven’t been as hands-on in the email design or development process so you can get a relatively unbiased view of whether the subject line is in harmony with the email’s content.

I hope these tips will help you think about the importance of your email subject line and making sure your email marketing campaign delivers what the subject line promises. Have questions about your next email marketing campaign? Give Round a shout today.

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