The 64-Word Subject Line & Other Email Marketing Don'ts

From Business Owners to Musicmakers, Mind Your Messaging

The first time I got an email from a music industry colleague with 64 words — yes, words — in the subject line, I figured it was an anomaly. The person was surely in a hurry, forwarding another misguided individual's email. Then I received a second one. And this week, another.

Verbosity gets you nowhere. No matter the content, recipients will hit delete almost immediately when a long-winded or overly formatted email hits the inbox. You could have an exclusive interview with Guy Kawasaki, but if the subject line is a paragraph and the body text is set off in 7 different colors, your readers will pretty much lose interest immediately. Point is, it would have to be pretty startling stuff to make me open an email that previews in my pane in a pain-in-the-tuckus kinda way.

Measuring Up: Remember, we're not all reading from desktops. A long subject line will eat up the entire real estate on mobile screens. Instant delete.

Measuring Up: Remember, we're not all reading from desktops. A long subject line will eat up the entire real estate on mobile screens. Instant delete.


For effective email marketing, avoid these common mistakes:

1. Lengthy Subject Lines

64 characters is more like it. Better yet, the industry-standard 52. That's including spaces. I copy and paste my subject lines into a Word doc and go to Tools > Word Count to see how many characters I've got.

Tip: Don't include the date. It's already built into the email header, so it only takes up valuable space.

2. Everything Can't Be Bold

Each detail of your event or topic is not equally important. Formatting tools like bolding, caps and exclamation points are for emphasis — for the non-readers who scan emails before taking action. Use these tools judiciously. Text in all caps not only looks like shouting, but also makes you, and whatever it is you're promoting, lose credibility.

3. Facebook Tagging People You Haven't Met

Call it lazy networking — tagging people in Facebook posts without ever introducing yourself. While social media makes it easy to reach out to many people at once with bare-minimum effort, nothing compares to introducing yourself in a private message or an email first.

Keep in mind that those you're tagging may have their settings configured to notify them whenever they are tagged in posts, perhaps even via email. So if you're posting once or twice a day, it can get time-consuming to check each and every status update you're being included in, not to mention crowd your email inbox. Yes, the tagging feature has morphed beyond its original intention of saying that you're with someone — as in, sharing the same physical space — but not everyone will think that your every update is important enough to be part of their timelines too, especially people you haven't met yet. Practice moderation, and if you really want to make an impression with someone, introduce yourself first.

4. Automatically Opting-in Newsletter Subscribers

Joining people to your newsletter without them opting in is another email marketing don't. I got an e-newsletter from someone I'd met at an event, and it wasn't a case of my requesting upon meeting them to be added to their list. This person had my business card and just joined me; no other contact was initiated. Like the Facebook tagging described above, it's frustrating to get a mass communication without ever having any sort of personal follow-up.

If I like the person's content, I'll follow in some way — maybe on Twitter, maybe bookmark his or her blog, etc. Let people choose to subscribe or follow your content in whichever way works best for them, not forcing your way into their already-crowded inbox. It's better to have fewer subscribers who find your content valuable than to have a ton of subscribers who hit delete each time.

10-Second Takeaway: Play to shortened attention spans. Keep your emails snappy and streamlined, and you'll retain subscribers who really want your content, and perhaps want to share it with others!

Happy connecting,