7 Email Subject Lines that are Killing Your Open Rate

The average businessperson receives more than 100 emails a day. That’s a lot of information to sift through and you can be sure that if there is a way for them to dump any of that straight into ‘file 13’ they are going to.

One way to ensure your email gets the attention it so rightfully deserves is to spend time crafting your email subject line. Think of your email subject as the equivalent of a blog post heading and one of the key elements of a marketing email. There is a psychological science around what works and what doesn’t to entice people to click through.

With that in mind, I’ve rounded up some of the most common email subject line faux pas we see in B2B content marketing that doom emails to the dreaded trash folder (or worse – SPAM) never to be read.

Are You Making These Email Subject Line Blunders?

1. Using a Generic Sender Address

Some may argue this is not an aspect of your subject line, but considering the From field and subject are often shown side by side, the combination work together to elicit action.

People like to connect with people. Avoid using generic email addresses such as:

  • no-reply@companyname.com
  • enquiries@companyname.com
  • sales@companyname.com

Instead, use a personal email address to distribute your email marketing for better open rates. Immediately your readers identify you as a real person and the inclusion of the company name implies it is a business related email.


In the example above the sender is 'Dan at KISSMetrics'. The omission of Dan’s surname makes me feel as though I am already on a first name basis with him and therefore closer to the business.

2. Wasting Precious Characters on Redundant Information

As a rule of thumb, email subject lines should be no longer than 50 characters to avoid truncation. That is not much real estate to work with so ensure each word is carefully selected for maximum impact. For example, if you're sending out a company email and you have your company name as the sender address it is unnecessary to repeat this in the subject field.

3. Using ALL CAPS and / or Excessive Punctuation!!!!! 

General digital etiquette dictates that the use of ALL CAPS signifies shouting and should be avoided. The same goes for gimmicky AlTeRnAtInG UpPeR aNd LoWeR CaSe, most especially for business email. Have a scroll through your SPAM folder quickly and see how many of those are using upper case subject lines - I'll bet there are quite a few. Capitalising a single word or phrase has shown to raise open rates in certain instances such as a "SALE ENDS" or "FREE" but be sure not to abuse it.

Another no-no is the use of excessive punctuation. A single explanation point or question mark can be very effective when placed correctly but when repeated it comes across as tacky!!!!!

4. Using Poor Personalisation

I received an email the other day with the subject line: 'Could GE Use a 40% Bump in Sales Productivity?'

I’m sure they could, but considering I work for Struto I failed to see how was is relevant to me. Straight off the bat my interest waned as I was convinced it was a personalisation error. If you are going to personalise your subject lines ensure your segmentation is accurate and that your data is clean.

According to a MailChimp Report presented by MarketingCharts.com using the reader's first name in your subject line has shown a lift in click through rates when applied tactfully. Don’t be creepy about it. No one likes a stalker. Interestingly, this is most significant in the government sector but when used in the legal industry it can reduce the open rate.


5. Failing To Add Value

Quantifying your offer using numbers, percentages or a monetary value help potential readers to quickly assess precisely what it is they can expect from the email.

Consider the impact of:

'Save On Your Favourite Books' vs 'Save 15% On Your Favourite Marketing Books This Week!'


'Get More Facebook Fans' vs 'Get 1,000 More Facebook Fans in 14 Days'


'How Using HubSpot Saved Me Money' vs 'How Using HubSpot Saved Me £3,856 In 1 Month' 

In all 3 instances the 2nd version of the subject line elicits more interest by using specific values to quantify the offer. Which leads me into the next subject line blunder.

6. Having a Vague Offer

Everyone loves a little mystery … but not when it comes to email subject lines. If your headline does not convey your offer in the clearest of terms, you can be sure your open and click-through rates are going to suffer.

Consider the following subject line:

'Earn Double Points'

Well that's as clear as mud! I am now left asking myself how can I earn double points? On what? When? And where? A more compelling offer would have been 'Earn Double Points on Baby Products. Today Only!'

This is common with newsletter or blog round-up emails that simply state something along the lines of 'Weekly Blog Posts' or 'June 2014 Newsletter'.  Neither of these give any clear description of what I can expect. MarketingProfs do this very well with their daily newsletter:


Contracted versions of the article’s headlines work well as the subject line as I can instantly see what is covered in the email and while one article may not be appealing to me, another may very well be.

7. Deceiving Your Reader 

Never, ever, ever include RE: or FW: in your subject lines as a means to force a sense of trust for your reader. This practice is highly unethical (and spammy) and you will be sent directly to the email marketing hall of shame. Not really, but just don’t do it.

Some of the greatest copywriters of all time - David Ogilvy and Gene Schwartz to name just two - understood the value of headlines and both would spend far more time crafting their headlines than they did on actual copy. While I am not advocating that you replicate Ogilvy's 104 revisions to a famous Rolls Royce advertisment headline, I do highly recommend spending extra time on your email subject line, applying a scientific approach to encourage maximum open rates.


Subscribe to our Blog

The Complete Guide to Buying HubSpot

This guide walks you through the process of buying HubSpot from start to finish.

Download Guide