Why I Read Spam

I used to think I read spam because I’m in e-mail marketing and I want to stay on top of the latest trends, good and bad. Then something weird happened. I started to get intrigued and addicted to spam e-mail. The creative is never that good, but the copy points and subject lines are usually unbelievably clever.

My favorite spam of all time has a subject line of “Top Ten Reasons to Buy a Russian Wife.” Inside, the copy really does list 10 reasons Russian wives are better than American wives. Highlights include: “They are used to being in the cold so don’t mind waking up and cleaning off the car for you in the winter, or shoveling snow.” And, “They didn’t grow up with much, so you don’t ever need to buy them things.” While I’m not in the market for purchasing a wife and don’t know of anyone who is, I still shared this e-mail with many, many people.

This week I received my quarantine notification e-mail from my company. Usually a quick scan lets me know if any legit e-mails got caught by accident. But this week I saw these compelling e-mail subject lines (sent from me to me, by the way):

  • “Let’s perform a trick”
  • “Things you forgot to do at work yesterday”
  • “Why no one reads your e-mails”
  • “Before you write a big check to a vendor: know this”

Since each of these e-mails were sent from me to me, I knew they were spam, but I couldn’t help but open them. I wanted to see what the trick was, what I forgot to do at work yesterday, why no on reads my e-mails, and what I need to know about vendors.

Each e-mail was about ordering Canadian pharmaceuticals, so they were all deleted. However, this made me reflect on the status of subject lines in today’s e-mail marketing world.

Here are the three takeaways I ended with:

  • Subject lines that demonstrate perceived value drive much higher potential to be opened.
  • The use of first names in the subject line seems to have become a best practice of the past.
  • Spam subject lines, compared to real marketing subject lines, are much more inventive. Somehow, as legitimate e-mail marketers, we’ve lost our sizzle and have begun relying on tried-and-true phrases, like “Your XXXX is here” and “See Inside for the XXXX news.”

As we enter July, the realities of the second half of the year are upon us. We have made it over the year’s hump and are now gearing up for back-to-school and holiday seasons.

As you design your e-mails for the upcoming months, test subject lines similar to what spammers use. You may be surprised with the lift in response.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center. Learn the ins and outs of SEM, including site optimization, link-building tactics, pay-per-click advertising, and landing-page testing and tuning to ensure high conversion rates.

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