25 Words and Phrases that KILL your subject line
Sales & Marketing for Professional Services & Sales Tips

25 Words and Phrases that KILL your subject line

February 9, 2015

by Tony Vidler

We spend hours and hours carefully constructing messages and marketing campaigns, and then pretty much everyone (myself included) makes the mistake of including one of the words or phrases in the subject line that is a killer.

All that effort wasted as the message not only doesn’t get read, it gets violently hurled into the deleted bin.

For example; Any email or message that arrives with the word “winner” in the subject line gets kicked into touch by me immediately.  It is an instant delete without any further consideration.   I realise that I have quite possibly missed out on several billion Euro’s and/or US Dollars by not claiming my many lottery wins, but then I haven’t let in any identity thieves yet either.  As an aside there are many weeks where I feel like the luckiest person to ever have lived, as the number of unknown, deceased, and extraordinarily wealthy relatives I have seems to know no end.

In any single day I get a lot of emails, and I send a lot…there are literally hundreds in and out.  So I see a lot of subject lines and have to write a few, and I’ve learned a whole bunch of words that are a very quick turn off and just shouldn’t be used in subject lines.  I’ve been keeping track of a lot (mostly as a checklist for myself so I don’t fall into the trap of using them), and I’ve listed the biggest offenders below.

Before heading to the list of Killer Subject Line Words it is worth sharing some research from Mailchimp. We often hear that implying there is time sensitivity – the “limited time” or “urgency” rush – helps influence open rates on messages…..but does it?

It doesn’t appear to affect open rates significantly does it?

The other big one that often gets touted as being a great and compelling word in a subject line is FREE!

….and I am guilty as charged….I’ve used it a few times myself.  So imagine how I felt when I saw that actually the use of the word “FREE” in financial services is more often than not a turn off.  It is a killer.

Clearly I am still learning what works and what doesn’t, but the following are words and phrases that I am sure do not work well at all:

Killer Words Oh No! Phrases
amazing Act Now
attention As Seen…
collect Buy Now
compare Click Here
credit Dear Friend…
discount Don’t Delete!
free Financial Freedom
friend For You
help Free Gift
hot Free Access
instant Free Offer
loans Information you requested…
lose lose weight
lower Limited Time!
lowest Lowest Insurance…
offer Open Now
opportunity Please Help…
refinance Promised You…
satisfaction Read Now
SEO Search Engine…
urgently Take a look
winner This is not spam

…and the number 1 killer (for me) is


These are all words and phrases that can and do have legitimate use perhaps, however they are deadly in a subject line as they will reduce the engagement rates.  Combining several of them will probably get your message isolated in a spam filter before it gets anywhere near the addressee…

So Don’t Delete this Dear Friend…You should Urgently Act Now on this Amazing Opportunity to Lose your Competition and achieve Financial Freedom For You.  So Open Now and Take A Look – just Click Here ….

…or maybe not.

The subject line or heading of a message or advertisement is undoubtedly critical to the level of engagement, so even if (like me) you are not a great copywriter, then at least check to make sure the Killer Words and phrases aren’t there.  Give your message a chance to get through.

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Comments (5)

  • Thanks for the solid research, Tony. I see all those ‘no no’ words and phrases all the time and simply delete the message. One that bugs me that you don’t mention is ‘only a minute of your time’.

    Ron Denholm
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