Squeaky Clean Subject Lines

The other day I actually won a raffle. I won a plant. I’ve never won anything in my life, and I thought it was pretty cool. So I wrote a friend an email, to communicate my surprise and enthusiasm. The subject line went like this: Wow, Guess What Happened to Me.

Sent it off into the ether and within seconds it had boomeranged back to my inbox. That ever-vigilant dude, Mailer Daemon, informed me “This communication is obviously spam.”

Legal minds are grappling with the issue of spam. So are the ISPs. Lots of them have put major spam filters in place to help reduce the amount of spam you have to deal with.

But this is making it difficult for even legitimate email to reach you.

I hate knowing that if I take a trip for the weekend, I’m facing 593 mails in my inbox, and most of them will be spam. On the other hand, I’m noticing a decline in response for this newsletter, not because people suddenly don’t want to read it or are unsubscribing, but because this newsletter isn’t always reaching readers who have asked to receive it (if you haven't been getting the Grok twice a month, let me know). This explains why my subject lines are increasingly … well, less inspired.

The whole spam issue is a double-edged sword. Used to be, all you had to do was avoid the obvious "spam" words and make sure to avoid using all capital letters. So what’s an honest, permission-based ebusiness to do now?

This is going to be an evolving problem. For now, assuming your domain isn’t identified as a known source of spam, you have to make those email subject lines as squeaky clean as possible. How? Janet Roberts offers this advice:1

Avoid Punctuation. Particularly exclamation points and question marks and the trick of disguising words by replacing letters with punctuation marks. Content filters are flagging this stuff.

Ditch Imperative Verbs. Some content filters now make it necessary for you to rethink how you craft the Call to Action of your subject line. Imperative verbs are those that direct or command (the subject – “you” – is implied). They are actually very motivational words, which is why spammers use them. Ms. Roberts identifies these filter-targeted calls to action: Get, Open, Download, Buy, Save, Make, Take and Respond.

Don’t Get Personal. At least, not in the subject line. Steer clear of “You,” “Your” and “I.” And based on a lot of the spam I get, “Me” probably isn’t a great choice either.

Forget The Word That Means “At No Charge”. That word definitely can’t appear in your subject line.

Ben Isaacson, of The Isaacson Group, offers this piece of advice when creating your subject lines these days:

“If an e-mailer is sending to a verifiable permission list, he should never use the ADV subject line. The lawyers are flat out wrong. Anytime an e-mailer uses ADV, his brand and the list owners' brand are destroyed. More important, by using ADV with a permission list, they are saying there is no permission. (a.k.a.: lying).”

And my experience would suggest you should avoid expressing your enthusiasm with singularly obvious words like “Wow.” What a world, eh?

1 “Four Subject Lines to Avoid.” Janet Roberts. E-zineTips.com. http://ezine-tips.com/articles/content/20030527.shtml .

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