Email personalization (i.e. personalizing email subjects and greetings) has become a widely used practice in email marketing. So it always surprises people to hear that personalizing email can actually hurt your email deliverability if not done well and carefully. Most mailing software these days will allow you to personalize email by putting someone’s name in the subject line and salutation, and, not surprisingly, most commercial emailers take advantage of this. After all, using the recipient’s name when addressing them seems like it should be a really good idea.

And the thing is, email personalization used to really work, back when it was new and novel, and it still does work, for the most part, but sometimes it can backfire. Back when it tricked people into thinking that the email was from someone who knew them it would cause them to open and read the email. But nowadays people are on to that, which means that it isn’t always the best idea. In fact, here are 3 reasons that personalizing your subject lines can cause you trouble, and negatively impact your deliverability.

How Email Personalization Can Hurt Your Deliverability

1. An enormous amount of spam these days has email personalization (i.e. the person’s name) in the subject line. And by spam we mean commercial email for which the person did not sign up or otherwise request, not just superpharmapornoinvoice spam. You know, the kind where a business buys a list of contacts from somewhere like CrunchBase or Zoom Info or Rocket Reach, and then sends out email to everyone on that list. That is spam, and when it has the recipient’s name in the subject, that recipient can smell it as spam the moment they see it in their inbox.

2. For the most part, the only email that has personal names in the subject line is either commercial bulk email, or spam. This means that even if your email with the personalized subject gets delivered to the inbox, the recipient may never open it, because they perceive that any email with their name in the subject – unless it’s from grandma or a friend – is spam, or at very best someone wanting to sell them something. As Upland Software puts it, “Sometimes the most effective personalization is just to write emails like a person.”

3. Even if the recipient recognizes your “From” address, they know that any email with their name on it is likely to be a bulk commercial message, and that alone may cause them to not open it. They may even be annoyed that you took the liberty of using their first name. After all, you don’t really have a personal relationship with them, do you? Or they may perceive that you are trying to trick them by using their first name, to make them think that your email is a personal message just for them. And when they see that you used their name to get them to read what is clearly not a personal message, but rather a message that was sent to many others, they may get even more annoyed. And if they are annoyed enough, they may even hit “this is spam” just because they are annoyed at you. And even if they don’t hit “this is spam” – if they simply just don’t open your email any more, and especially if they delete it without opening it – that is going to adversely effect your deliverability.

But don’t take our word for this, check out the results of this survey on how recipients react to personalization in the subject line.

Now, this isn’t to say that nobody should ever personalize an email subject line. Every single mailing list is different; the demographics of the recipient base are different, the relationship the sender has with their list is different, and even each mailing campaign is different. So you should test and test again, to see how the results that you get, with your mailing list, differ when you both include, and omit, personal names in the subject line.

But, don’t just include those names because you can, without being sure that it’s having the result you want, and not creating a result that you didn’t intend.

3 Reasons that Email Personalization in Subject Lines is Hurting Your Email Deliverability

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4 Responses

  1. I agree! I can’t even think of the last time anyone in my family sent an email with my name in the subject. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I won’t be including names in the subject anymore!

  2. what a load of crap. As someone with over 10 yrs experience in both b2b and b2c email marketing, using almost every MAP and ESP out there, I can say with 100% certainty that personalizing subject lines has actually INCREASED deliverability, and engagement.

    1. Your statement that “They may even be annoyed that you took the liberty of using their first name. After all, you don’t really have a personal relationship with them, do you?” is perhaps the most troubling of the entire passage. So you assume that anyone using bulk email messaging doesn’t have a relationship with the recipient?? I can name SO many cases where that is incorrect. 1. Existing customers. Business email their customers don’t they? Is that not a relationship? They allow you to bill them every month, I’d say thats some form of relationship, strangers don’t have your CC number do they? 2. B2B sales. B2B sales people have typically smaller territories than b2c, and not only know prospects’ first names, they often know where their kids go to college, where they spend their summers, and what their favorite meal is. In fact, some prospects are former clients with whom a sales person maintains an ongoing relationship. Annoyed they’d use their first name?? hahaha.

    And I was wrong, the MOST annoying part of your garbage above is the end where you basically put in a disclosure that translates to “ignore everything we just said because every relationship is different and if you actually do A/B testing you’ll learn we’re wrong.” Well then why post this crap at all?? Post something AFTER YOU’VE TESTED IT and you know it has meaning for marketers. TO say something can KILL your deliverability is a VERY strong statement to then waffle on and admit its not true in any case you can specifically point to. Its called hyperbole.

    Finally – who has ever gotten an email that says ” firstname” or “lastname” in the SL where a mergetag has no value to fill? There are DEFAULT merge tag values (if you knew anything about email marketing you’d at least know this) so that the field name would never appear generically. For example, the default for Firstname could be “valued guest”, so an email to a hotel chain’s list could start “Valued Guest, did you know….”

    WHat are you talking about with subject lines that say FROM FIRSTNAME LASTNAME??? You mean a subject line that says FROM DUMB ARTICLE (where dumb is first name and article is last name?) NEVER. Never in any inbox ever in my life have i seen this. You’re making stuff up at this point. Why wouldn’t they just use a sender address fi***************@gm***.com for example?

    The more information an incoming email server can see that you know about a person BEYOND the email address actually PROVES a relationship with the recipient, not the other way around. HOw do I know? Because I’ve A/B tested this and seen deliverability go up with the subject line personalized. Engagement goes up I’m glad you’re not silly enough to try and argue that it doesnt, but please, spare us the hyperbole and remember there are actually people that do this for a living, so your over the top hyperbolic article titles should be done away with, and you should include helpful tips instead of nonsense if you continue trying to “help” people

    • Hello, Mr. Kuprianov,

      You are clearly a seasoned veteran, and so know what you are doing, and how to use personalization properly, and would never use personalization injudiciously. We suspect that you would never send an email where the personalization code would end up displaying, rather than the name that you intended. However that happens all the time, and in fact it trips some spam filters. The survey, you will note, was done among the general public, not email professionals, and it was them saying how they feel about personalization in the subject line, not us. At least as importantly, you know how to A/B test which, as you note, we say one should do. However, and as we point out for people who are much less experienced than you or we, just because you can personalize doesn’t necessarily mean that you should, just like any other tool, it should be used appropriately, and tested. Finally, as deliverability professionals with 20 years experience, and who helped to found that industry, we are unaware of any spam filter that uses a name in a subject line to provide positive reputation, if you are aware of one we would be interested to know which it is.

      Get to the Inbox Support

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