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Why Open-Bait Doesn’t Work in Email

Subject lines for mobile inboxes must be shorter—and better—than those you’ve labored over for your desktop versions. You not only have less space on that tiny screen: You have less attention span too, as people hurriedly triage their emails on their phones.

These subject lines have to shine. There’s no way around it. And how do they shine? They’re more compelling, more relevant, more concise…more honest.

Honesty is always the best policy when it comes to subject lines, but more so on mobile where not only attention spans are shorter, but tolerance levels too. In addition to honesty, you want your mobile email subject lines to be short and sweet, while compelling people to open your emails. You also want your subject line to be tied to the email content/offer, to make a promise that the body of the email delivers on.

Open-bait, like Clickbait, is aimed at generating revenue at the expense of relevancy or accuracy and relying on sensationalism to attract opens.

“But won’t a tricky subject line get me that open so I can sell?” asks a marketer somewhere. It may get the open, but not the love.

Why open-bait is to be avoided

There’s a difference between a creative subject line written to compel someone to open your email, and open bait which is trickery—and mean. Sure, you’ll get some opens. But you know what else you’ll get? Pissed off people, annoyed that you just wasted their time. Damage to your brand now that you’ve shown you can’t be trusted. And possibly a few unsubscribes or spam reports as well.

Is that worth it? I think not.

I’m not saying your subject lines have to be straightforward and boring, not at all. You have plenty of free license to be creative and compelling. You can easily find all kinds of inspirational ideas for subject lines that will get you writing intriguing subject lines without ever crossing that line from tempting to trickery. And you can easily test to see which kinds of subject lines work best with each of your audiences.

I’m just saying don’t trick anyone into opening your email.

Two of the worst subject lines I’ve seen lately are,

  • “Hi, You’re Fired.”
  • “Are you mad at me?”

Both of these used open-bait tactics. And neither email was worth opening. Which pisses people off. Are you seeing the point here? Open-bait only opens the door to ire.

A well-done subject line, that shines on a mobile device, without resorting to trickery is a thing of gold…and might just be worth gold too, as it generates opens, click-throughs and conversions in the short-term and long-term.

Scott Hardigree
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