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Janet Roberts

Four Subject Lines to Avoid
By Janet Roberts

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"Just had my first bounce back because my Welcome message subject line reads, 'Welcome!,'" marketing-communications writer Dianna Huff said in a recent note to Ezine-Tips.

"The company's email filter, in its wisdom, bounced it due to the exclamation point. This is the first time it has happened in three years of publishing. So, I changed my subject line."

Dianna's experience illustrates why you need to fine-tune all of your subject lines, not just in email newsletters but also in any communications you send to subscribers.

All the junk email I get every day actually helps me see trends developing in spammy subject lines. Here are four "don't" for subject lines, based on the latest crop of electronic stinkweed:

  1. Punctuation in subject lines
    As Dianna pointed out, content filters are counting any punctuation, particularly exclamation points and question marks, as spam indicators. Also, don't bother using punctuation marks to disguise sensitive or trigger words in subject lines and body copy. Now, it's a dead spam giveaway.

  2. Commands or calls to action
    SpamAssassin and similar content filters that assign points for various infractions or questionable phrasings consider this "aggressive" language. Many spam subject lines puts verbs as calls to action in the subject line. Those I see most often include "Get," "Open," "Download," "Buy," "Save," Make, "Take" and "Respond." That's why I'm trying to break the verb habit.

  3. Pronouns
    You would think these would be relatively benign. You would be wrong. I see more spam coming in with "You," "Your" and "I" as the first word in the subject line.

  4. The "F" word
    "F" as in free, that is. What was once a guaranteed email- opener is now your fastest ticket to Filterland. You probably know by now not to put it in an email message, but make sure your other communications, such as subscription confirmations or periodic solo mailings to your own list, also conform. Still, if you didn't know that, you're not the only one. "I have a filter for 'free' and can't tell you how many legitimate newsletters get trashed because of it -- including from people who should know better -- like (major newsletter publishers)," said Dianna, who publishes The Marcom Writer for marketing-communications people.

  5. Does all this mean you have to give up any semblance of creativity in your subject lines? After all, you still have to find a way to get your readers to open your emails. In a future Ezine-Tip, I'll list ways to get around each of these four guidelines.

    Ezine-Tips for May 27, 2003

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