The subject line of your email plays a crucial role in the overall effectiveness of an email. The ultimate goal of email marketing is to get people to open your emails… but at what cost? Are their tactics that get huge open rates and cost you dearly? Yes.. there is.

Both the United States Can Spam Act of 2003 and the Canadian Internet Spam Law (CASL) strictly prohibit “deceptive subject lines”… but what’s a deceptive subject line, and how do you know if you’re using one?

… And if you can get away with it, is it worth it?

First let’s dig into some examples of deceptive subject lines:

SUBJ: FWD: Your invitation from us.
SUBJ: RE: Your gift
SUBJ: You left your coat at our place

These are classic examples of subject lines where it’s most likely deception. If you’re sending these to a bulk list it’s not a forward, it’s not a reply to an existing conversation and it’s not a personal note about a forgotten item. It’s marketing.

Reasons why you should NOT use deceptive subject lines:

  1. According to several studies the click thru rate is almost zero when people feel cheated. If they’re not going to click on or take action on what you’ve got inside, why bother using this method to get them to open?
  2. A sharp increase in complaints. Complaints can get you booted off your email platform and dramatically decrease your ability to reach inboxes and stay out of the spam box. Most providers consider 0.03% too high a complaint rate, so it’s not hard to reach that.
  3. An increase in unsubscribes. People don’t like to be tricked or cheated. Not only will it decrease your list size and take great customers off your list, most email providers have a limit to how many unsubscribes they will consider acceptable before they boot you for too high an unsubscribe rate. For most providers around 1% is considered too high.
  4. It’s illegal. Both in the United States and Canada (and many European countries) consider deceptive subject lines illegal and it’s certainly not worth battling a court case over a marketing campaign.

What can you do to increase your open rates and write ethical (and hyper effective) subject lines?

Use open loops.
An open loop is an incomplete idea. “This week the team gave me…” make them open the email to find out more.

Use announcements/news.
People love news and if you really do have news to share, it’s not lying.
“We’ve got an announcement to share”

Use a pain point.
“My emails were all hitting the spam box”
“She’s still not talking to me”
“Facebook frowns at this”

Use a personal letter.
“A letter from the CEO to customers”

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