4 Deceptive Email Subject Lines That Will Kill Your Business

A few days ago I had a meeting with our Compliance team, and we studied Subject lines of GetResponse users who didn’t play by the book. Today I’d like to share with you some of these “brilliant” ideas for Subject lines that are guaranteed to kill your reputation, your deliverability and your email marketing account.

So let’s look at some of the offenders…

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Subject line 1: ”You have (1) new Facebook message…”

Hey, isn’t this actually smart and creative? We are all on Facebook after all… We’re all familiar with their notification emails, and we often open and click those.

Facebook subject line ChameleonSo why not maximize email metrics by pretending to be Facebook?

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I’m writing this with an evil grin on my face, but what’s scary is that this marketer actually must have liked the idea. And they were not the only one.

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Forging a Facebook email is not only deceiving to your subscribers and killing all the trust and rapport you’ve ever built with them.

It’s is also against the CAN SPAM law and international laws. Oh, and Facebook’s lawyers won’t be too happy about it, either.

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Subject line 2: “I just sent you $X,XXX.XX”

Money - roll of dollar bills

Other variations:
“Notification Of Payment – You Just Earned $XXX”
“XYZ just sent you $XXXX.XX USD with PayPal.”

FREE MONEY!!! Any takers?

This marketer is uber-direct and particularly generous.

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In fact, when we multiplied his subscriber count by the dollar amount offered in the Subject, we think he must have given away over $12 million :-) So next time you hear someone talking about “nurturing a relationship with subscribers”, you now know how it is done. By giving away free money. Lots of it.

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But seriously now… Yes, some people are greedy, and they will open up a silly email like that. But they will quickly turn away with disgust as they notice the trickery, and they will express their frustration by unsubscribing and voting your email as spam.

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Everyone else will just report it and delete it right away, then proceed to launch a thermonuclear missile in response back to sender. Must be why the open rate on this email was negligible.

Next time when you want to hand out free money, just don’t.

Nobody wants your money anyway. Certainly not in Boston, from what I hear.

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Subject line 3: “Your PayPal Account Status”

Fear-based subject lineNow this marketer is unlike the previous two. No free money. No heads up about new social messages. This marketer’s heart was touched by darkness. S/he operates with fear.

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Most of us have a PayPal account where we keep our stash. And we’re usually anxious if it will still be there next morning. After all, we always hear about how financial institutions get hacked. Or we get worried that PayPal will do something to our account for whatever reason.

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This subject line is purposefully crafted to thrive on these fears. Unlike the previous two, this one doesn’t imply anything directly. It doesn’t say your account got hacked or shutdown. But when you see it, you may subconsciously think that something’s happening with your PayPal… Something possibly wrong. And then you open the email.

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Again, this is pure pseudo-marketing gimmickry. If you try to emulate this approach, you’ll piss off a lot of people, get reported for spam and lose your credibility. You’ll also violate the law, and possibly have PayPal’s lawyers go after you.

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Subject line 4: FW: [something]

Shouting with a megaphoneor… RE: [something]

This Subject line is a little bit more inventive.

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The marketer invents a fake conversation thread, because s/he thinks the recipients will be more likely to open her email if it appears to be a response or a forward. After all, we always get Fw: / Re: emails from friends, and we engage in those types of conversations.

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It’s a sure-fire to engage people, but only if your definition of engagement is having them click on “unsubscribe”, “mark as spam”, and “delete”.

Keep your FW: and RE: for your personal one-to-one emails. That’s what they were meant for.

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So who are the “bad guys”?

What’s sad is that many of these marketers aren’t necessarily bad guys by design. Sure, there are hardcore spammers out there who only care about their next email trickery, but most offenders don’t fit that profile.

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Who are the bad guys?

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They may even love marketing, just like you and I do. They may have received bad advice from someone, or simply came up with a really bad idea, or didn’t have that intuitive gut feeling that deceiving people is a serious business (ok, so maybe they ARE bad people after all :-)

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But the damage was done. They killed their relationship with their list. They damaged their reputation (if they had any in the first place). They lost their email marketing accounts.

This didn’t have to happen, so don’t let this happen to you.

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How to prevent Subject line doom ’n’ gloom?

After you finish composing your email, invest 5 minutes of your time and look at your subject line from a perspective. Put yourself in your subscribers’ shoes.

What will they think when they see your subject?

How may they react?

Will they expect what’s inside the email based on its subject?

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Is there a tiniest hint that s/he may feel tricked or deceived after opening the email, because the email’s content didn’t match her expectation based on the subject s/he saw?

Do this internal Q&A, and you will feel if your subject line may have a problem. And if it does, just rewrite it and repeat.

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Do this, and you will eliminate the risk of being called a spammer, deceiver or both.

So what do you think about deceptive subject lines? Any ones that have a special place in your memory?