When I check my email today, I found the most inept and self-centered introductory email I've ever received. I may share its full heinousness in a future post, but for now here's just the dreadful subject line: "May I pick your brain please for 15 min?"

Ugh! Anyway, that email, along with a suggestion from my editor, got me thinking about Subject lines so awful that almost everyone deletes them unread. Here, IMHO, are the worst of the worst in alphabetical order:

1. "Are you missing out?"

The motivation here is to create the impression that an opportunity will pass me by if I don't open the email. However, this tired phrase has been used in so many times that it now means the opposite. Delete!

2. "Can I pick your brains?"

Not only is this expression metaphorically disgusting, it implies that my time is worthless and that my hard-won experience and knowledge can be easily consumed, like lice from a chimp's fur. Delete!

3. "Hi"

This is supposed to sound like the email is from a long-lost friend but it's been used so frequently for porn, it usually gets caught in the SPAM filter. If such an email does get through, though... Delete!

4. "I Want You"

The idea here is to make me feel important and wanted.  However, 1) I'm not that desperate and 2) why would I care what YOU want? Delete!


Partly it's the ALL CAP SCREAMING and partly the exclamation point (more on this later!) but the mere sender's need to label the email "important" tells me that it's actually trivial. Delete!

6. "Geoffrey,..."

Including the recipient's first name is supposed to make it seem as if the sender hand-crafted the message. However, everyone knows it's just a "<first_name>" field. Delete!

7. "Limited Time Only"

The idea behind this phrase is to suggest that something I want won't be available in the future. (In sales theory this is called "artificial scarcity.")  The phrase, however, is obviously  as classic sales banter and therefore manipulative. Delete!

8. "Monthly Newsletter"

The assumption here, apparently, is that I have been waiting anxiously for the next issue of the newsletter. Putting the actual month isn't much better. Delete!

9. "Open and Save"

I don't see this one much any longer, probably because it sounds so desperate. As a general rule, though, if you've got to beg people to read something, it isn't worth reading. Delete!

10. "Satisfaction Guaranteed!!!"

Any subject line with multiple exclamation points isn't worth opening. Add the hokey sales-talk and you've got an email than nobody will open. Delete!

11. "Take a Look"

This is supposed to pique my curiosity. However, anybody with the intelligence of an 8-year-old knows that whatever is in that email it's not interesting enough to look at. Delete!

12. "Urgent"

Not. Delete!

13. "We want your feedback!"

I guess I'm supposed to feel complimented that somebody wants my opinion. Instead, I just feel annoyed that the sender is asking me to spend my valuable time helping them improve my business. Delete!

14. Will you help?

Obviously, if a friend asked me for help, I would, but a friend would never put the request in the subject line. Why would I want to help somebody I don't know? Or open an email requesting it? Delete!