Prevent Gmail from shortening your subject lines at the beginning (square brackets issue)

There is a lot of information about develping newsletters for Gmail. These range from rendering quirks to unique goomoji and clipping issues. However, one thing seems to be less well known. Or were you aware that Gmail does not only cut off subject lines at the end, like most email clients do, but also at the beginning?

It’s best practice to front-load subject lines with the most important words to drive attention. Some advertisers additionally highlight their main topic in square brackets, turning them into a kind of label or tag. “[WEBINAR] Join us next Monday” would be an example.

However, Gmail seems to shorten such labels on mobile devices. That is, if they consist of more than six characters. The remainder is then replaced by omission points (…) in the inbox overview. Thus, the previous example becomes “[WEBINA…] Join us next Monday”. Likewise, “[Free Video Training]” becomes “[Free V…]”:

Of course it’s not so bad, if instead of “Webinar” only “Webina” is displayed. However, the feature can lead to unforeseen consequences and misunderstandings, if one is not careful:

  • “[Industry Report] How the Workforce Learns in 2016”
    becomes
    “[Indust…] How the Workforce Learns in 2016”
    (HR Daily Advisor, 2016-06-29)
  • “[WE APPRECIATE YOU] Congrats on scoring up to an EXTRA 25% OFF, ’til midnight only!”
    becomes
    “[WE APP…] Congrats on scoring up to an EXTRA 25% OFF, ’til midnight only!”
    (Sears, 2015-08-10)
  • “[New poll] Will this be enough?”
    becomes
    “[New po…] Will this be enough?”
    (Bernie Sanders 2016, 2016-03-13)
  • “[Live Webinar] How using A/B testing generated $500 million in donations”
    becomes
    “[Live W…] How using A/B testing generated $500 million in donations”
    (Justin Bridegan, MarketingSherpa, 2013-06-13)
  • “[Petition] Keith Ellison for DNC Chair”
    becomes
    “[Petiti…] Keith Ellison for DNC Chair”
    (OurRevolution.com, 2016-12-20)

“In dust”… we trust? And what’s the “We App”? Such things may cost opens and clicks.

Is the bracketing technique even worthwhile? Many keywords could be used. Common ones are “urgent”, “warning”, “video”, “company_name”, “special”, “poll”, “infographic”, “, “update”, “whitepaper”, “reminder”, “new” and so on. I have seen mixed results in their use, with a tendency to perform somewhat worse compared to standard subject lines.

In any case, just putting the word “[Video]” at the beginning does not provide an automatic improvement in terms of email opens. Especially when the target group expects concise text information.

However, if you want to experiment with it, keep in mind that some of your recipients will only see up to six characters from your most valuable first word(s):

Or omit or replace the squared brackets with e.g. round ones to prevent Gmail from truncating the text. Note that (afaik) Gmail trims leading spaces, so putting one before the opening bracket won’t work.

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