Top 10 Most Annoying Email Subject Lines EVER (Voted for by you!)

Firstly, congratulations to:

Raj S.
Jo O.
Gary M.

All of whom win a $25 Amazon Gift Card. They were picked at random after completing the one question survey I sent out last week:

surveyquestion

Thank you to everyone who entered and sorry if you were unlucky with the prizes this time – I’m sure you’ll have another chance at some point in the future!

Needless to stay this is all a bit unscientific but having gone through all of the results here are the top 10 from least annoying (No.10) to most annoying (No.1).

10: “You have a commission…”

This is just one example from a wider set of spammy subject lines:

  • You have a payment
  • Congratulations you are in
  • Activate now
  • Your account details
  • You have been selected
  • About your order (when you’ve ordered nothing)

My only comment with these is that 95% of them are likely to be either:

1) Genuine spam (i.e., completely unsolicited emails)

…or…

2) “Biz op” promos (The kind that lead to videos with actors, mansions, fast cars and no information on what the actual product is)

In other words, if they are not already being funneled automatically into your spam/junk folder, then they should be!

9: “Good news and bad news…”

This was actually the example which inspired me to run the survey in the first place. I was surprised that it wasn’t cited as a more frequent offender really. But I guess it just goes to show different things annoy different people!

8: “Page 1 Rankings Instantly…”

This is a category of subject lines which could be labelled as “unrealistic and over-hyped claims”. You provided several more examples:

  • Make 6 figures overnight
  • How I banked $XXYSYZ by (sending XY) emails…
  • Mr X made $10,000 last week using this SIMPLE trick…

Again very “biz oppy” in nature and targeted at desperate people rather than people who want to start a genuine long term business.

7: “Don’t buy [XYZ product] until…”

A classic affiliate promotion. Of course the sender still wants you to buy the product, but only through their affiliate link.

6: “Secret loophole”

A curiosity play. Perhaps not that much of a secret though if it’s been broadcast to thousands on email?

5: “Game changer”

A timeless classic! Enough said.…

4: “Last chance”

Scarcity is one of the most powerful influencers in the whole of marketing so it’s not surprising that it is used so often. In the survey many of you were very cynical about the use of false scarcity citing other variations such as:

  • Not many left…
  • Last chance before price increase…
  • Ending soon…

3: “DUDE” / “HEY” / “OPEN UP”

A number of you have pointed out that these one or two word subject lines seem to have been popularized by a very high profile US marketer (won’t name them here!) and then copied by many others.

Gavin M. commented, “I’m not a DUDE, but think the two guys in the movie Bob & Ted’s Excellent Adventure are! How also does this headline sit with female recipients? Sorry [NAME OF MARKETER WHO STARTED IT], you need to rethink this one!”

2: “RE:” or “FWD:”

This was widely cited as extremely annoying and essentially a “trick”.

1: “Sorry wrong link!”

Variations include “Oops!” and “I messed up!”.

This was by far the most cited example in the survey and people seemed to regard this as a “manufactured mistake.”

Mike H. put it as follows: “Most of the time, the cynic in me sees it rather as a very calculated excuse to send yet another email out pitching a product – not that I have a huge problem with people sending multiple emails for a product they truly believe in, but I just find that one lacking in imagination and quite dishonest, really. And way too overused.”

Finally…

I thought Frank B made an excellent point:

“Personally, I will open any email from any marketer I follow, because they’ve gained my TRUST and for the good stuff they sell/promote. I don’t even look at their subject lines.”

This says it all really: Yes there are subject lines that are tired, overused and annoying. But as an email marketer if you go the extra mile to be honest and provide genuine value your subscribers will perhaps judge you less on the exact copywriting techniques and more on your actual offers.

What do you think? All comments welcome, please SHARE etc if you care to and drop a comment below…. Cheers, Rob 🙂

30 Responses to Top 10 Most Annoying Email Subject Lines EVER (Voted for by you!)

  1. Paul Hollins March 16, 2015 at 10:53 am #

    I totally agree with all of these!

    The one that *always* makes me hit delete is the tried & tested…

    Subject Line: TEST

    It’s been so overused by unscrupulous marketers to ‘trick’ you into opening their email just so you can what it is they are ‘testing’.

    I guess some of them use this ‘TEST’ tactic purely to increase their open rate with the autoresponder companies and therefore gain kudos with their Email Service Provider (ESP), but it’s hardly a white-hat tactic.

    Great post as usual Rob… and congrats to all the winners!

    • Rob March 16, 2015 at 11:54 am #

      Very interesting Paul, I didn’t know that.

      Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for your comment 🙂

      Cheers, Rob

  2. Dale Reardon March 16, 2015 at 11:18 am #

    Hi Rob,

    So how about another survey? What are the best subject lines that do get you to open the email?

    Perhaps as Frank said the relationship is the most important so those first few emails have to work hard to build rapport.

    Dale.

    • Rob March 16, 2015 at 11:52 am #

      Interesting idea Dale. I suspect that a some of the most annoying ones might will also appear on that list too! Personally, I try and focus on the overall engagement rate rather than just the open rate. So the subject line, body copy and link destination need to be considered. And yes, ultimately the relationship underpins everything.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

      Cheers, Rob

  3. Fred March 16, 2015 at 11:18 am #

    I agree with Frank B, up to a point. I will open their email but if they insist on using crappy email subjects I have looked at what product they are promoting and buy through someone else if I want it. And politely let the original marketer know the reason why.

    I have had some abusive responses (mostly aimed at my lack of experience) and a few automatic un-subs but some have responded positively thanking me for feedback. I know they can a feel of what is working or not from their metrics, but metrics do not tell the whole story. If I stop buying through a particular marketer without telling them why, how will they know?

    • Rob March 16, 2015 at 11:46 am #

      Very interesting Fred. I think the theme of trust building is really coming through here. Good to get your thoughts – thank you 🙂

      Cheers, Rob.

  4. Lee Parratt March 16, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    I rarely look at subject before deleting or opening but always look at sender

    • Rob March 16, 2015 at 11:47 am #

      Thanks Lee, I suspect a lot of people are the same. Makes it all the more important to make a good first impression when people join your list.

      Cheers, Rob.

  5. Trevor March 16, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

    Hi rob I agree with frank I do get these emails from the states when you get marketers sending stuff you no it involves money you just think will it work so am always a bit warey now to what I say yes to

  6. Ahrale March 16, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    Good point Rob,

    You are right, you gained my trust & I follow you but unsubscribed from many JV marketers that I purchased from because they spam me nonstop as affiliates of many products of others.

    I would accept it if I’d receive one mail about a product but I’m spammed sometimes 5 times a day for one week for the same product.

    I don’t know what’s on their mind, but they lost my trust. I decided even to lose the option to be updated about products I purchased.

    I also wonder why, I sometimes spammed intensively to purchase, after I had already purchased.

    Now is much more difficult to gain my trust thanks to these JV’s.

    Thanks & Enjoy Life 🙂
    Ahtrale

    • Rob March 17, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

      Hi Ahtrale,

      Thanks for sharing things from your viewpoint. Getting hammered with promo emails is no fun at all regardless of the subject lines used!

      Cheers, Rob.

  7. Jo O Connor March 16, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

    Rob, I would act like Frank B. I am not interested in subject lines but I read all emails but only act on the ones from writers I trust.

    Jo

    • Rob March 16, 2015 at 5:06 pm #

      Thanks Jo, appreciate your input which backs up what a few of the other contributors say.

      Cheers, Rob.

  8. Robert Watkins March 16, 2015 at 9:48 pm #

    Re: Hey Dude Open Up… You’ve Got The Wrong Link!

    Sorry… Joking 🙂

    Frank B did make a very good point about following a trusted marketer. BUT you’ve got to open that marketer’s email for the very first time before you start following him!

    Why can’t life be easy? (Hey… That’s a good subject)

    Take care,
    Rob

    • Rob March 16, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

      I should have changed the contest Rob and asked people to construct the most annoying subject line ever. If I had awarded a prize to the best I think you would have won for sure 🙂

      Excellent point you make on opening the first few emails. Making a good impression with lead magnets and those first few emails is just so important.

      Cheers, Rob.

  9. Francisco March 16, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

    I hate receiving repeated emails with the same subject line.

    I guess this one is difficult to control, specially for automatic email sequences.

    Receiving twice or three times the same email is OK but I have received the same email even 10 or more times.

    Another subject line that I hate is this:
    Grrr….!

    Thanks Rob great post.

    • Rob March 16, 2015 at 10:15 pm #

      Agreed on that Francisco! I think there is a definite convergence among IM marketers with subject lines (and other copy techniques as well).

      Good to get your input – thank you!

      Cheers, Rob.

  10. Frank Haywood March 17, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    Well I’ve seen all the others, but I’d never seen the “good news, bad news” one, and I’ve been around for a while so that’s a little bit surprising to me.

    The reason I mention it though is because by accident I sent out an email with the title “Good news, bad news…” a few weeks ago. Like all of my emails, it was genuine and concerned some bad news about my mother in law, as it meant changes to my family life and my time available that would likely be affecting my subscribers. Also I know people like to know what’s happening with me and what I’m doing next.

    So I wrote the email, thought about the title and decided to go with “Good news, bad news…” and sent it.

    My open and click through stats almost doubled, and as a direct result my flabber was completely gasted.

    It seems that particular title is a really good bit of bait to get people to open an email and that’s almost certainly why people have seen it being used.

    Nearly 10 years ago I was told by my mentor that copywriting was probably *the* most important skill to acquire and so I’ve done a lot of work in that area and tried to balance sales copy with being honest and direct with people. So none of this “like a rabbit on steroids” nonsense for me. I like to think that people appreciate it, and judging by the majority of responses I get, they do.

    So really and truly there’s no need for hype and I think most people can spot it a mile off now. Even my kids will say “OMG! Dad! Look at this rubbish!” when it comes to a particularly bad piece of sales copy.

    Wouldn’t it be good if all marketers could recognise this and put it to one side as a phase that we went through? But I still see copy that’s just too much, and very hard to believe.

    One day maybe…

    Last thing. There’s a book on copywriting written by the late great Joe Robson. I paid $30 for it a few years ago, but it’s free now. Google “Make Your Words Sell” and the PDF should be in the top few results.

    While I don’t totally agree with everything he says, it’s still a good read if you’re just getting into copywriting, especially his SWAT (So What?) method which I use to get into the customer mind set.

    Well worth taking a look.

    Have a nice day. 🙂

    -Frank Haywood

    • Rob March 17, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

      100% agree on copywriting being the No.1 skill Frank. I can’t think of anything that is so powerful and yet such an unpopular topic to learn by so many people.

      I’m not surprised on the high open rate there either, I think actually a lot of the most annoying ones will be the same too.

      Thanks for taking the time to post such a great comment 🙂

      Cheers, Rob.

  11. Dita Irvine March 17, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

    Hi Rob,

    I’ve seen all the subject lines you mentioned in my inbox. The one I did not think of being spammy was the “Oops wrong link”. Thanks for pointing that out to me.

    The ones that I find very annoying are the ones that are “personal” and I can’t think of any specific subject lines right now because they are all discarded. But I mean the ones that suggest the “lovey-dovey I care for you” title…

    These I find most annoying and being an internet marketer, I’ve heard many webinars and email courses which suggest to use those to “form relationships” with the subscribers.

    Honestly, when I subscribe to someone’s list it is because I want to learn from them, get updates and I really don’t care what they had for breakfast. I find them the most disingenuous and I they end up in trash.

    Thanks for sharing, Rob. Quite interesting.

  12. David Taylor March 17, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

    I have seen most of them and yes I delete most without looking.

    I didn’t submit this but one that really gets my goat is:

    ‘David, I’m really upset with you!’ or some other variation like ‘David, I’m shocked!’ which detail how upset the writer is that I didn’t download their report/gift. That one gets an instant delete and some fruity comments if they ask for them.

    I once sent an email then, afterwards realised I had actually sent the wrong link. My next subject was ‘I never thought this would happen to me’ so I didn’t need to do the ‘wrong link’ cliché. Yuk!

    Anyway, interesting results. Thanks for sharing.

    All the best,
    David Taylor

  13. Steve March 17, 2015 at 2:27 pm #

    Regardless of subject lines my pet hate is those marketers who after you have unsubscibed then add you to another mailing list. There are a few big time marketers who do this.

    If I receive an email from someone after I’ve subscribed then I now simply report it as spam, or when I unsubscribe tick the ‘you don’t have permission’ option.

    Once someone does this to me I never buy from them, or give them my time ever again.

    Steve.

    • Rob March 17, 2015 at 3:26 pm #

      Thanks Steve. Not sure I’ve experienced that although I have been added to multiple lists when buying products. Big mistake in my book as it dilutes the trust. All sorts of shenanigans can go on!

      Good to see you here on the blog 🙂

      Cheers, Rob.

    • Frank Haywood March 17, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

      Hi Steve,

      That’s one of my pet peeves too.

      You unsubscribe from their autoresponder service (Aweber, ImnicaMail, whatever) and find yourself added to their self-hosted autoresponder. So you unsubscribe from that and find yourself on another self-hosted autoresponder on another domain. And so on.

      I have an email account that I stopped using 3 years ago. I made sure I was unsubscribed from every list. I STILL get emails from some of the same old names on there. In fact ANY mail that arrives on that account now is all spam as far as I’m concerned.

      So what I do now to anyone that does this is I just nip into my web admin panel and add a mail filter to exclude their email from my inbox.

      What I do is in cPanel I go into “Account Level Filtering” in the mail section and then add a new filter and give it a name. Then for the rule I choose “Any header” and “contains” from the drop-down boxes.

      Then lastly I enter either their names or the domain name they’re sending me email on and make sure that under Actions it’s set to “Discard Message.”

      From that point on, all their email disappears as soon as it arrives on the web server.

      Because they don’t know you’ve done this (you still look subscribed to them), they’re unlikely to start sending you email from another domain.

      You’ve effectively done a hard unsubscribe. 🙂

      -Frank Haywood

  14. Chris Randall March 17, 2015 at 3:02 pm #

    Never saw survey but can’t believe this one isn’t in it and I would vote it numero uno!

    “I’m really shocked at you”

    This is a more personal onslaught.

    Things like “Re” just show the moronic level of the sender. How they ever expect to get an email read is beyond me.

    • Rob March 17, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

      Yes that actually came up Chris and I agree that I thought it would have made the top ten (only a couple of people mentioned it from memory). Thanks for pointing it out.

      On “RE:” I’ve no doubt the open rate are extremely high but the engagement level is likely to be pretty low in most cases when people find out it’s basically a trick.

      Cheers, Rob.

  15. Bazzer March 17, 2015 at 7:59 pm #

    You should have added “I’m worried you didn’t see this” and “Resending due to email problems”

    The latter happens so often I wonder what rubbish ISP’s they are using if their business is so dependent on getting their message out.

    Of course, none of it is true it’s just a way of justifying the sending of more marketing emails.

    • Rob March 17, 2015 at 8:44 pm #

      Thanks Bazzer, appreciate the input 🙂

      Cheers, Rob.

  16. Super-RAJ March 18, 2015 at 11:36 am #

    Great post!

    There is a bunch of these annoying subject lines dropping in my inbox all the time!

    People use them because they think they increase open rates, maybe they once did, but as everyone copies them as the “magic subject line” they have the opposite effect.

    Frank B point is spot on in my opinion, there a are a few people in my inbox whose emails i will open regardless of the subject line, this comes down to the relationship they have built.

    Build the relationship, and it doesn’t matter what subject line you use in your marketing

    😉

    Cheers
    Super-RAJ

    • Rob March 19, 2015 at 8:36 am #

      Thanks Super-RAJ – another vote for Frank B’s point!

      Appreciate you taking the time to contribute 🙂

      Cheers, Rob.

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