Shocking! Clickbait Headlines May Be Ruining Your Email Marketing

Study finds that consumers are less likely to open emails with words like “shocking” and “secret of” in the Subject line.


You won’t believe it! (Actually, I think you will.) Clickbait headlines often work on social networks and across the web, but they’re not a good idea for your marketing emails.

That’s according to “The Art and Science of Effective Subject Lines,” a new study out today from Return Path. The company looked at more than nine million emails sent by “prominent global brands” to more than two million consumers between January 1 and February 28 of this year.

Return Path found that emails with clickbait-like words in the Subject line had lower read rates when compared to similar emails sent with less clickbait-like subject lines. For example, emails using the phrase “secret of” performed well below average (almost nine percent) and the word “shocking” led to a 1.22 percent drop in read rate. On the other hand, when the wording used more tame language like “get rid of” and “what you need to know,” read rates performed a little above average.


The study also found that subject lines with language suggesting a sense of urgency were among the best performers across the board. The phrase “still time” performed a whopping 15.54 percent better than average, and similar phrases were successful, too:

  • expiring: 1.63% above average
  • last chance: 1.05% above average
  • limited time: 3.05% above average
  • now: 0.24% above average

The full report is available free in PDF form and no registration or contact information is required.

About The Author

Matt McGee is the Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. After leaving traditional media in the mid-1990s, he began developing and marketing websites and continued to provide consulting services for more than 15 years. His SEO and social media clients ranged from mom-and-pop small businesses to one of the Top 5 online retailers. Matt is a longtime speaker at marketing events around the U.S., including keynote and panelist roles. He can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt’s disclosures on his personal blog. You can reach Matt via email using our Contact page.

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