A Tale of Email Subject Line FAIL and How To Avoid ItPosted by Heidi Strom Moon under Content Strategy & Web Writing , Interactive Marketing
Usually, I glance at these sponsor emails quickly before deleting them. Occasionally, I may sign up for a webinar or download a white paper if the offer seems relevant.
This time, the subject line caught my eye immediately.
But it was for entirely the wrong reasons.
Instead, I paused for a moment and read the subject line in slight disbelief. I could see instantly that it contained not just one, but three mistakes. When I opened the message and saw what was inside, I realized that it contained a fourth error, too.
What's worse, each error was a different kind of mistake.
I won't be responding to the call to action in this particular message, but it was a valuable email nonetheless, because it reminded me to avoid making these four email subject line mistakes.
- Misspellings or mistaken use of homonyms. A misspelling can be a plain old typo ("downlod this offer"). In this case, it was the use of the wrong homonym--which you'll remember from grammar class as a word that sounds just like another word with a different meaning, like "your" instead of "you're." The groaner here? "Your Smart." Ouch!
- Incorrect punctuation. Speaking of grammar, have you read "Eats, Shoots & Leaves"? (If you haven't, you really should. Never has grammar been more entertaining or easier to understand.) It teaches the importance of commas and the difference between a comma and a period. In our subject line fail, two sentences were separated by a comma, instead of a period. For example: "You Work Hard, Does Your Business?" Now, you could argue that many people wouldn't notice the distinction. But those who do will react negatively.
- Inconsistent capitalization. You've basically got two choices in capitalizing sentences in a subject line (or headline, for that matter). You can use sentence style, in which only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized. Or you can go Newspaper style, and capitalize most words; there are exceptions for words like articles, so this style is a little trickier to pull off correctly. Again, if you're using this style, some people may not know when words should be capitalized and when they shouldn't--but it will stick out like a sore thumb to many. In my example email, the capitalization mistake was glaring because the same word was used twice in the subject line--and one time it was capitalized, and the other time it was not.
- Factual errors. Finally, make sure what your subject line is saying or offering is actually right. In this case, the subject line asked recipients to download a "relevance guide" by Company X, but the offer inside the email itself was to download a "conversion survey" from Company Y.
So how can you avoid becoming an example of what not to do in email?
How to Avoid Subject Line Mistakes
It only takes a few minutes to prevent mistakes by doing the following:
- Proof-read and proof-read again. Check against these four error types. Give it to someone else for a second pair of eyes. Run spell check.
- Do a test send. Don't send your email to your list of hundreds or thousands before you've sent a test version to a group of insiders. You need to do this anyway to check the links in the body, right? Make sure your test recipients are checking the subject line, too.
And What To Do If You Make One
'Fess up. Contact everyone on the same list and apologize for the error. Don't lay blame; just admit your mistake and embarassment, and move on. Make up for it if you can.
I once received an email from a retailer offering a special promotion. This was followed by a second message explaining that the promotion period was stated incorrectly in the original message--and then offering to honor that promo period, even though it was a mistake. It was a classy way to make lemonade out of lemons.
How about you?
- What's the biggest subject line mistake you ever received?
- What's the biggest whopper you ever sent? (Brave folks only!)
- What QA process do you use to avoid making errors?
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