posted March 24, 2017

For the love of copy, don’t trick your audience.

Amy Anderson

“Order Confirmed.” “Re: your order.” “Order status.” “DO NOT DELETE.”

Chances are, if you receive an email with one of these subject lines, you’re going to open it. But what happens when you do, only to find details about a whopping 5% off sale? You’ll probably be pretty ticked off. And if the email catches you when you’re particularly hangry or stressed, you might even unsubscribe from the sender completely. Bye Felicia (and Ann Taylor Loft), it was fun while it lasted.

So, why are so many well-established brands using subject lines like this? More than likely, the goal is to increase open rates. But this is pretty silly. Open rates don’t do much good when you’re angering the recipients. And if you’re tricking your audience, you can’t expect them to be happy about it. It’s kind of like sending your significant other a text that says “I’m pregnant” followed by another text that says “with doubt about this relationship.” Yes, the texts will be read. No, it won’t go well.

Unless you want your emails to be marked as spam, you have to be honest with your audience. But before you can do that, you have to be honest with yourself (very deep, I know). Ask yourself, what is the real goal for that email? No matter what you’re writing about, it isn’t just to be opened. It could be to encourage readers to browse a new product collection. Or, to help them learn more about a service you offer. Perhaps it’s even to tell them how much you appreciate their loyalty. By pinpointing your goals from the start, you can write much better subject lines—without sacrificing those precious open rates.

As email experts, MailChimp recommends writing subject lines that are to-the-point and helpful for the reader. In other words, tell the reader what they’ll find inside. Following this advice, “ORDER CONFIRMATION” should never, ever (ever, ever, ever) be used for an email promoting a sale. Or really, anything other than what it is: an order confirmation. That’s it. 

To make sure your subject lines are aligned with your emails, try writing the body copy first. If you’re still not sure what to tease in the subject line, it’s time to revisit the content strategy. Your email should have a distinct purpose—and that purpose should be at the frontline in your subject line. To help you further, you may also want to write a few subject lines, then A/B test them to see which performs best. Use helpful keywords, but avoid spammy clickbait (i.e. the absolutely ridiculous “DO NOT DELETE.”)

Your audience is busy. They may receive your email in the middle of a workday. Or while they’re cooking dinner. Or, as they spend quality time with friends and family. So when you ask them to spend time reading your email, make sure they won’t be disappointed—or worse, deceived. Tell them what they need to know upfront, so they can decide for themselves whether or not they’re interested. If they feel like they wasted their time on you, they won’t make the mistake of wasting their money too. Be honest (and maybe also playful, clever or emotional), and write subject lines that grow your relationship with your audiences—not ruin them.