New Subject Lines for a New Era - March 1, 2021 - Content Directive


It’s high time that we update our approach to writing subject lines to better:

  • Reinforce our brand and voice

  • Increase long-term email opens

Our last set of detailed subject line guidance was sent in October 2016 (man, that’s a blast from the past!). We felt strongly that the methods laid out in that directive were the right move for the time -- but in the past 4+ years, a lot has changed: our content has evolved; our cities have evolved; our audience has evolved.

Specifically (to name a few things), more of our audience reads email on their phones, we’re much better at covering relevant news-worthy items, we’re less artist-driven (especially during the pandemic), we’re much better at surfacing opportunities to meaningfully help our communities, users have evolved their perceptions of what emails can and should be, and perhaps most importantly, we are decidedly much less focused on growing short-term engagement metrics than fostering meaningful, evolving, long-term relationships with our users.

So, we’re going to change some things about our subject lines. 

Our immediate directives are five-fold and apply to daily emails only (for now). Effective tomorrow:

  1. All subject lines should be no longer than 25 characters. 

    • This ensures that users can read our full subject lines on mobile. 

    • It also pushes us to use the subject lines more as a vehicle for expressing our personality, teasing some of the email’s content, and reinforcing our brand - and less as a ‘table of contents’ approach to listing everything in the email.

  1. No brand names

    • We are drawing a very hard line now. We can’t make the emails feel more like our brand if we are hyping up other brands in our subject lines.

      • Festivals don’t count in this case; Alcohol and cannabis brands do.

      • If the brand is doing something cool & worthy of the subject line, talk about the “thing” we are doing with them rather than using their brand name.

  1. Stop using the words ‘Free’, ‘Giveaway’ and ‘Win’ in our subject lines

    • Helps avoid spam filters.

    • Reduces churn rate (from users getting burnt out on promotions).

    • Is just plain cooler and less desperate. (Reinforces the brand.)

    • Fosters better quality users who are ultimately more interested in being active in their cities than winning prizes.

    • Offers openers our giveaways as a bonus perk of opening, rather than the sole justification for doing so.

  1. Stop using emojis in the subject line (at least temporarily).

    • We are considering adding these back via a uniform approach. To make that possible, we’re going to omit them for now. (More on this soon.)

  1. At least 1 of your 3 subject lines should be a question

    • Adds more variety to our subject line tests

    • Helps us be more conversational and engaging

      • Examples for this email could include: 

        • Schitt's Creek Pop-Up?!

        • Weed with that cheese?

        • Will you be mine?

Sweet! So, 5 new rules. To repeat them concisely, they are:

  1. No more than 25 characters

  2. No brand names

  3. No using ‘Free’, ‘Giveaway’ or ‘Win’

  4. No emojis (for now)

  5. At least one subject line should be a question

Everything that is not explicitly addressed here should remain the same. Please note that this directive does not apply to preview text. You're welcome and encouraged to use your preview text fields to give your audience more of a concrete look into the specific contents of the email.

It’s important to note that implementing these rules - especially #3 - could lead to a short-term drop in opens. That’s OK. As mentioned, we’re most interested in the long game

This directive is going to be the first in a series of subject line-related directives. The next one will be geared at architecting more support and feedback for all senders, especially those on smaller teams. More on that soon.

In the meantime, what questions do you have? Hit us back! 

This is an incredibly exciting time in our business, as we’re fortunate enough to be able to dig in and continue planting seeds (we’ve already planted a ton - thanks to you all!) that will help us grow even taller and stronger in the future. 

To growth - and to DoStuff!