How Sensational Email Subject Lines Can Hurt Your Open Rates

Last week an email with this bombshell subject line detonated in my inbox:

That time I almost hired a Baby Snatcher…THIS is why recruiters research you

I have to say, after years of following the best email marketers in the biz, I’m pretty jaded when it comes to subject lines these days.

But there was NO WAY I could *not* open that one.

The email was written by a subscriber named Jennifer, who helps job seekers write resumes that get noticed.

And I read every line of Jennifer’s story, which was about how she narrowly avoided disaster when her husband discovered that the baby sitter Jennifer was about to hire had lied, lied, lied about EVERYTHING.

Jennifer even managed to skillfully transition into a pitch for her product without losing my attention—the trickiest part of a good email, and one that takes some finesse to pull off.

The entire email was a home run—until I slammed into this brick wall in the closing paragraph:

OK – so maybe she wasn’t a Baby Snatcher, but hey, she definitely wasn’t a child care expert, and she lied about everything. Who knows?

That last line let all the air just whoosh out of the balloon.

Without meaning to, what Jennifer said to me was, “Heh, well you caught me. That great subject line was just a gimmick. I really had you going there, didn’t I? Fooled ya!”

The high of the story instantly vanished, leaving me feeling that I’d been cheated.



It was totally unnecessary, too.

The problem wasn’t with the subject line itself.

Jennifer was using a bit of hyperbole—and that’s perfectly fine.

A little playful exaggeration is great entertainment.

But when you have a sensational subject line like this, it’s absolutely critical that you “pay it off” in the email.

There are plenty of ways to let your audience in on the joke without making them feel like you pulled a bait-and-switch.

Off the top of my head, a line like this might have done the trick:

What ELSE was this woman hiding?

Maybe her grandmother had a hand in the Lindberg baby’s disappearance?

Or something else that gently lets the reader know that the “baby snatcher” reference wasn’t literal.

If you don’t let the reader down gently, you’ll disappoint him and damage the trust you’ve so carefully built.

The good news is, I don’t think Jennifer did much harm in this case.

On balance the email was fantastic—and she even got some well-deserved raves from her list about it.

Just be very careful about this kind of “made ya look!” stunt, or you’ll soon find that your audience turns a blind eye no matter how outrageous your subject lines are.