Whether you’re writing a cold email or following up, email subject lines play a crucial part in making the right impression and getting your message read.
A good subject line is specific, suggests a benefit to the recipient, and is contextually appropriate for the business relationship. Many of the most popularly subject lines in use don’t follow this logic, however. This irritates prospects and in some cases may even qualify as spam.
Here are eight email subject lines that are sure to land you in the trash folder:
1. “Just checking in”
As the subject line for a cold email, “Just checking in” raises many of the same problems as “Hi.” Unless you have actually spoken with the email recipient previously, you are not checking in with them. Again, this subject line offers no specific information about the email’s contents and is generic to the point of being cliché. An email with this subject line can signify anything from an inquiry from the boss to a quick note from a college roommate.
This subject line is commonly used for follow-up emails. Although it is more appropriate in this context, the subject line is still plagued by vagueness. Follow-up emails succeed when they are specific to the individual prospect and the interactions you have previously had with them.
Alternative: Following up on our conversation last [date]
2. “Better performance guaranteed with [product]”
“Guaranteed” is one of those words that’s commonly flagged by spam filters, and for good reason. Few things are guaranteed in life, and any reputable sales representative will avoid making lofty or unrealistic promises. In B2B sales, you want to position yourself as a trusted partner and consultant. Besides, the word “guaranteed” conjures up associations with exercise equipment infomercials.
People today have learned to be skeptical of guarantees. Be level with sales prospects and they will appreciate your honesty.
Alternative: Would you like to improve your company’s [KPI]?
3. “DON’T MISS OUT ON THIS DEAL!”
This subject line is big on hype, but low on actual value. In general, all-caps subject lines should be avoided. It comes across as unprofessional at best and screaming at worst. You should also be judicious in your use of exclamation points—and try to avoid them altogether.
Aside from the formatting of this subject line, it is weak because it does not inform the prospect about what the deal actually is or why they might benefit from it. (Note that the word “deal” is itself commonly flagged by spam filters.)
Alternative: Enjoy [benefit] with [offer]
4. “Hi… “
I’m not sure why, but there seems to be a certain appeal in this simple, one-word subject line. As opposed to a more sales-oriented subject line, “Hi” seems friendly and colloquial. But that’s the problem. Many recipients might click on this email believing it to be from a friend or colleague, only to become irritated when it turns out to be sales-related. If you’re not on friendly terms with the email recipient, subject lines that imply otherwise should be avoided.
Another major problem with this subject line is the lack of specific information or any sense of urgency. Even if you don’t annoy the email recipient, this subject line may result in your email getting lost in the shuffle.
Alternative: I’d like to talk with you about [subject]
5. Using “Re: … ” in the first email
The false “re:” is a popular tactic among many sales representatives who send cold emails. The idea behind is that if the recipient believes an email is part of a previous conversation, they will be more likely to open it. However, this subject line isn’t just likely to irritate recipients because it is misleading. Under many anti-spam regulations, using “re:” falsely can qualify as illegal spam email.
These general principals carry through to all elements of the email. You must accurately represent yourself and your affiliation in all email communications. Not only is it the law, but it’s also the best way to begin what will hopefully become a good business relationship.
Alternative: Let’s talk about [product benefit]
6. “Urgent development!”
“Urgent” is another word that’s commonly flagged by spam filters. Before framing an email as urgent, step back and consider whether it truly is urgent from the perspective of your prospects. If it’s not, the recipient will not be happy about the hyperbolic framing. Alternatively, the email may languish in the inbox for a few days. When the prospect finally gets around to opening the email, the supposed “urgency” may have passed.
By all means you should share relevant business news with your customers and prospects, but don’t overpromise and then fail to deliver. An email subject line is a tool for setting expectations—not just for compelling recipients to open.
Alternative: Introducing [product]: a new way to [benefit]
7. “Try our product for free”
Free trials can be enticing, so it is entirely appropriate to let prospects know you’re offering a free trial. However, many decision-makers are bombarded with emails offering free trials. They simply don’t have the time to partake in all of them. In order to stand out in the inbox, the prospect needs to immediately see the benefits of the free trial.
To improve upon this subject line, identify the prospect’s needs. How can they stand to benefit from your product? What have your existing customers identified as key benefits for them? Incorporate these benefits into the subject line.
Solve [problem] by trying [product] risk free
8. “Congrats on your funding”
If you’re targeting startups who recently completed fundraising, you may be tempted to use this one in order to show that you’ve done your homework. However, this reveals only the bare minimum of research. Your prospects are probably getting tons of emails with the same generic congratulations message. Offering this generic congratulations does very little to set you apart from the crowd.
Alternative: Do you need better [benefit] as you grow?
9. “Can I have a minute of your time?”
Outreach emails are intended to start a conversation. The problem is that this subject line both demands something of the recipient and sounds pretty generic. Instead, use a simple subject line that gets the recipient interested in your conversation. The following formula from Growbots got an 80% open rate and 10% conversion rate:
Alternative: (Your recipient’s name) x (Your name)
It’s easy to write a sub-par subject line, and even easier to lose your audience’s attention. By being creative and framing your subject line in context with your prospect’s needs, they are more likely to read your message.
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