Email Subjects are Irrelevant, Only Sender Matters

An email comes from you mom, your sister, your BFF. Does it matter what the subject line says?

No, you open it right up.

I suspect there are some commercial organizations you feel the same about. In my house, it’s DailyCandy, BabyCenter, Joyent, Amazon, our insurance agent, accountant, etc.

Any one of those organizations could send out message without a subject line and I can still guarantee they’d be read.

In light of this and a marketing conversation about subject lines and open rates, I asked around which item matters more. Sender came back nearly unanimous.

Makes me wonder if the customers requiring persuasion only by an arduously-crafted subject line are worth the trouble. They obviously don’t trust the sender – and a single email isn’t going to change that. An overall improved customer experience (including ignoring them) might start that process.

In addition – how many of the subject lines in your inbox right now are meaningful and accurately reflect the message body?

I checked Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Mail.app, and it’s not obvious how to remove the Subject column in any of them. Best I could do was in Mail.app – move the Subject column to far right and then expand the width of the other columns to push it out of sight. We’ll try this for a week and see how it feels.

6 Replies to “Email Subjects are Irrelevant, Only Sender Matters”

  1. Yer nuts. 😉

    I agree, the sender is probably more important but the subject is really, really important too. One glance at the top of my inbox gives me a lot of information.

  2. Most of my subject lines are relevant to me with the exception of bacn. When a subject changes in an email thread, I will literally change the subject line in my reply so future correspondence on that subject matches the subject line.

    I have a couple friends that will write email without a subject line and not think anything of it. That drives me up the wall.

    When I look at my Inbox at a glance, I generally have a good idea of exactly what’s in it without having to open messages. It really matters to me.

  3. I’m wouldn’t say that the subject line is unimportant.

    But the reality is if the email is from my girlfriend or my mom or certain friends, it’s going to get read right away, no matter what.

    That’s for my personal email. The subject is most important at work.

  4. If most subject lines have nothing to do with the message inside – as you suggest – wouldn’t people (or businesses) who send emails with descriptive subject lines stand out from the crowd?

  5. I actually pretty much agree.

    Two stages: 1) initial consumption; 2) retrieval, if necessary.

    For initial consumption it is normally only the sender (unless it’s marked as urgent by a second- or third-tier sender) that I would ever sort by.

    For retrieval, the subject line helps.

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