Lost in the Noise: How to Get People to Open and Read Your Email

email communication overwhelmed
email communication overwhelmed

It is hard to get people’s attention. Inboxes overflow with emails. Social media feeds compete for attention. Voice messages wait impatiently for a return call. Schedules are packed.

In all of the noise your emails can get lost or ignored. Here are a few simple things you can do to increase the odds of your emails being opened.

Use Second-Person Subject Lines.

This idea is from an article by Adam Auriemma in the WSJ blog (March 24).

In the cutthroat world of corporate email, where attention spans are measured in fractions of a second, a well-crafted subject line can make all the difference. Just don’t try too hard.

Dan Moskovitz, a rabbi based in Vancouver, used simple flattery to grab the notice of Amazon Inc. chief Jeff Bezos with the subject line, “Thank You! You’re Awesome.” Though the note was unsolicited and of relatively small concern to Bezos—some praise for a little-heralded Kindle feature—Rabbi Moskowitz received a personal reply, according to a recent account of their correspondence in Marketwatch.

Second-person subject lines often do the trick, especially for busy and high-profile recipients, and they need not be complicated.

“I always find the content line YOU makes people open up fast,” says Tina Brown, the former magazine editor and founder of next month’s Women in the World Summit, for which she wrangled notables like IMF chief Christine Lagarde, former President Jimmy Carter and actress Meryl Streep.

“Nothing is more fascinating to people than themselves,” Brown added in an email sent via a spokesperson. (Subject line: “from Tina.”)

Remember that Your Audience Is Probably Using a Mobile Device

The screen on a mobile device is small. It is likely that he or she is in-route, or otherwise engaged. Your email is probably receiving a quick glance.

To get attention, make the subject line short and to the point. Your objective is to reduce “screen scroll” where the recipient is glancing at his or her email like a Twitter or Facebook feed. Emails that seems relevant and catch attention will get clicked.

The Secret Formula to Getting Your Email Opened

MailChimp has conducted extensive research on what it takes to get emails opened and read.

So what’s our advice for email subject lines? This is going to sound “stupid simple” to a lot of people, but here goes: Your subject line should (drum roll please): Describe the subject of your email. Yep, that’s it.

Always set your subscribers’ expectations during the opt-in process about what kinds of emails they’ll be receiving. Don’t confuse newsletters with promotions. If your email is a newsletter, put the name and issue of the newsletter in your subject line. Because that’s what’s inside. If your email is a special promotion, tell them what’s inside. Either way, just don’t write your subject lines like advertisements.

When it comes to email, the best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside.

Comparative Examples

Here are a couple of examples to help you write better email subject lines.

Typical: Letters

Better: Draft congratulation letters re: DAR Art Awards

Typical: Follow-up

Better: Your Social Media Pilot Program Follow-up

Typical: Want to have lunch?

Better: Can you join me for lunch on March 29? My treat!

Typical: Proposal

Better: You need to sign photography proposal by (date)

Typical: Week of April 21

Better: I have jury duty wk of April 21. Mrs. Smith Filling In

Typical: Friday Chapel

Better: Please confirm that you can attend Chapel on April 21

Typical: Memo

Better: For Your Planning: Critical Decision Path—>New Building

What subject lines are most likely to cause you to open an email?