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.