How much time do you spend on emails every week? If you’re average, it’s about 28% of your time ‒ almost one and a half days out of every week.
So … how much of that time do you think is wasted?
It might be a tough thing to consider, but, by some estimates, six percent of our total working time is wasted, simply because we have to wade through murky writing.
Now, not all of that reading time may be in your inbox. But a lot of it is. And email reading is particularly slow and difficult. That’s because we’re usually required to do something with the messages we receive. Answer them – delete them – file them – forward them. Or just let them sit there, taking up space, until we finally get enough clarity to know which one of those actions to take.
It all uses up a lot of time. Not to mention thinking energy that could be used for better things.
The tidal wave of email isn’t going to stop any time soon, but if we want to be better heard above its roar, we’d do well to learn how to craft more effective emails.
This isn’t just for copywriters or marketers. If you do anything in a modern office, you probably use email quite a lot. You get a lot of emails, and you send a lot of emails.
So what if you could get more results from the emails you sent? More “yeses” to your requests? Faster decisions from your bosses?
It would make your job a lot easier, right?
That’s what I want to show you how to do. And it won’t take very long. A clear path to more effective emails is at your fingertips.
1. Get your subject line right.
We’ve written about how headlines can make or break a piece of content. Well, subject lines can make or break an email. Depending on which study you look at, up to a third of consumers either will or won’t open an email based solely on the subject line.
Writing subject lines is, of course, an art. A lot of research has been conducted on which words, phrases, or approaches work best.
One recent study from Marketing Sherpa showed that personalized subject lines often get a lift.
You can also test your subject lines. Tools like the free Subjectline.com or the paid tool, Touchstone, can help. There’s also Adestra’s free tool for subject lines, which will tell you how an individual word in a subject line might affect your email’s performance.
For much more information on the art of the subject line, see our ebook, “12 Tips for Amazingly Effective Email Subject Lines.”
2. Keep it short.
Unless you’re publishing a long-form e-zine-type of newsletter (something like The Hustle), keep your emails short.
As short as possible. This applies to interoffice emails, outreach emails, sales emails, and even to promotional and company announcement emails.
Why keep things short? Because:
- People don’t read online. They scan. And if they scan on web pages, they scan in their inboxes even more.
- Nobody wants to spend a second longer in their inbox than they have to.
- Most emails won’t be looked at for more than 20 to 30 seconds, max. And about half of them will only be viewed for 15 seconds or less.
So how short should emails be? The research says that an optimal length is 50 to 125 words.
To give you an idea of what that might look like, here’s a content promotion email from Neil Patel. It’s 104 words:
Notice a couple of things about this:
- It’s got four links. Three of them go to the same page ‒ the new blog post he’s announcing.
- Each of those three links has different language. This makes you more likely to click, because there are three options for framing the content.
- Most of the paragraphs here are only one line long. Even the long paragraph is only three lines.
- That postscript: It goes to a business opt-in. So he’s promoting content here, but also nudging the people who are interested into his sales funnel.
- The postscript is an old-school copywriting trick. People tend to read postscripts far more often than the body of a sales letter. So try using more postscripts in your emails (especially if they are covert calls to action) and see if you don’t get better results.
Here’s a sales follow-up email that’s also short and sweet. It’s also 104 words:
A couple of things about this one:
- It’s personalized both at the greeting and at the close.
- Notice all those short, easy-to-read paragraphs.
- It’s written in a conversational tone. This email sounds like a real person would sound.
- It’s offering me something of value, but also something that I’d expressed an interest in.
- It’s the follow-up from a webinar I attended. You’re sending follow-ups after someone downloads content or signs up for something, right?
- The signature lines tell me a lot about who he is. They also give me a way to look into other things he offers. This is a bit of a softer sell than Neil’s postscript, but it’s quietly doing a similar thing.
Compare those two emails with one that’s 226 words long. Even this is a relatively short email, but those extra 100 words don’t really add much. This is an email that should have been 100 words, not 226.
A couple things of note here:
- The author of this email is trying to appeal to my ego. I’m certainly vulnerable to that approach, but it’s done here in a rather pandering way.
- It’s got several punctuation mistakes in it. They hurt the writer’s credibility. Badly.
- She could have cut the paragraphs that begin with, “Pam, It (sic) was a really great article” and “Now I’m sure.”
One of the things she does do very well here, however, is to ask for feedback. Joanna Wiebe has an excellent series of tutorials on copywriting, one of which is about writing cold emails like this. In it she recommends asking the influencer what the one thing they’d change or add to the piece would be. That very focused and simple request often gets a response.
Want to get better at writing shorter emails? The Chrome extension TinyMails can help by giving you immediate feedback. It counts the words in your emails and calculates how long they’ll take to read.
3. Keep it clear.
The best measurement of your writing’s clarity is the grade level it’s written at. We’ve previously noted how important readability is. But with emails, it’s even more important. So, while your onsite content might be okay at a 7th-grade-reading level, consider writing your emails at a 3rd-grade level.
Is that crazy? Nope. Research from Boomerang actually proves that sales emails written at a 3rd-grade-reading level get the highest response rate.
Now, does this mean you have to distill your messaging down to “Bob ran fast. See Bob run.”? Nope. It does mean that you’ll need to talk to people without using jargon. And without meandering sentences or murky thinking. You can write about complex things with simple words. It just takes work – and skill. (Ask Hemingway.)
4. Personalize the email.
We touched on this in two earlier points, but I wanted to give personalizing emails their own moment.
Personalization works. Period. You saw how a personalized subject line can lift open and click-through rates. Then you saw how a personalized greeting, combined with a personalized close, can make a good email stronger and more convincing.
And that’s all true and good.
But it’s also important to acknowledge a different kind of “personalization” ‒ sending the right message to the right customer (or influencer, or prospect, or co-worker) at the right time.
This is the kind of personalization that’s more effective than just dropping somebody’s first name in.
It’s also far harder … but it gets much better results.
So when you’re sending out emails to people (for requests, or sales contacts, or whatever), don’t just use the same copy over and over again. Customize it based on the receiver. Take a look at their website to get the gist of what they do and who they are. Then write an email that acknowledges that.
I get far too many emails (I bet you do, too) from people who say things that make it vividly clear they have no idea who I am or what I do. And you know what? I don’t answer those emails.
I bet most of the other people they’re sending these emails to don’t answer them, either. I bet they get pretty awful response rates.
I also bet that if they sent out even a third as many emails ‒ but actually checked who they were mailing to and wrote emails that made sense and showed five minutes of research – that they’d get more results. Fewer emails, same amount of time … but emails that actually connect with their targets and show that the sender wasn’t just cranking out a template with people’s first names stuffed in. That’s not too much to ask.
5. Close strong.
How do you sign off on your emails? With “Best Regards”? “Yours”?
I usually mirror back what the other author wrote. So if they close with “Best Regards,” I will, too.
But maybe I need to try a different tack.
According to other research from Boomerang, “Emails that closed with a variation of thank you got significantly more responses than emails ending with other popular closings.”
Here’s the count for what they found:
Geez … Mom was right. Saying “thank you” really does make a difference. And in a statistically valid way!
Email isn’t going anywhere. It will be the primary way we communicate in business for quite some time. And while managing email and writing emails are certainly frustrating and time-consuming tasks, they are also necessary.
So it’s worth focusing a little effort on making our own emails better. It might just get us ahead, too. And who knows, maybe – inspired by everyone else’s better emails – more of our peers will start sending better emails, too.
Back to you
Got any tips for how to write better emails? Share your wisdom in the comments.