9 Ways to Improve the Impact of Your Email – The Works

Want to know how to get your email answered? Need more impact in what you do? Want more time? I’ve got ideas.

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What Email Has Become

Depending on your work situation, email has become much more than its original intent. Email has become:

  • Your not-in-person meeting tool.
  • Your ass-covering tool.
  • Your chat window.
  • Your filing system.
  • Your database of information.
  • Your to-do list.
  • Your private social network.

None of these are especially “wrong” uses, but what happens is that by using this technology for all these purposes, it blunts our ability to be effective and to get quality responses from others. We’ve all had that situation arise where we try to get a response from someone and we either get a lame/vague response that requires another 8 messages to get everything nailed down, or the dreaded “no reply at all.”

Here are some thoughts on improving your email response and quality rates. Your mileage may vary, plus I’d love to hear YOUR tips in the comments below.

Make Subject Lines Actionable

One reason people don’t respond is that you don’t prompt them to do your bidding. Here are a few sample subject lines to help:

  • YES OR NO: _______
  • 2 MINUTES TO READ: __(and the subject, briefly)
  • NEED YOUR DECISION
  • DINNER PLAN PROPOSAL
  • PLEASE FORWARD SUKHJIT’S LETTER

See how in every case, the subject prompts the reader for a next action? Now run to your inbox, check your sent items, and look at YOUR titles. I’ll do it, too. Because I get behind on this, too. (Well, that backfired. Here are some of the “choice” subject lines I’ve used lately:)

“Dude.”
“Happy Birthday” <-- well that's okay.
"Language for Mentoring" <-- pretty descriptive to the receiver
"You call me, right?" <-- winner!
"Is there a way to have ONE product page for all these offers?" <-- very accurate.

Now look at yours. I’ll wait.

Okay. Back?

Make the Ask At the BEGINNING, not the End

This is a super secret great tip. Make the MOST IMPORTANT request at the beginning of the email. Lots of people try to fill the message with backstory. If you want, here’s a format for this kind of thing:

Subject: Would You Speak at a Special Event?

Body: Hi ________ ,

I’m writing because I want you to speak at a conference on ____ 12th, 20___ in Chennai. I’m prepared to pay your speaking fee of $____, and provide you air, hotel, and ground transportation as part of the deal. If you’re interested, please reply with YES, and the contact for your event coordinator/assistant and I’ll get the project started. Backstory is below.

—-

Backstory and Details:

…blah blah blah…

See how this works?

Reminding Someone To Reply

There are right ways and wrong ways to remind someone to reply. Here’s the least useful/good way: Email followed by immediate text/tweet.

Just don’t do that one, unless it was otherwise asked for in some way. Okay? Our inbox throws out a big red circle with a “1″ in it for a reason.

Now, what’s different than this is when you send an email and two or three days have passed (note that I said 2 or 3 days, and not 2 or 3 hours). Then, it’s perfectly reasonable to send a brief message via another channel to confirm whether that person got the message. Around that same time, you can always re-send the message, and tack on a “I’m not trying to be pushy, but just wanted to be sure you saw this” kind of message on top of the original.

Some people will be bothered/offended. Others will be okay with this. Related to that, don’t ever bother someone more than once for the same email. If they haven’t responded after the reminder, they’re either too busy, not interested, or whatever. You can’t guess on that, but you know the answer is “not going to respond.”

How To Get Some Attention

Here are some quick ways to get someone to respond to your email so that you won’t need reminders like the one above:

  • Give more than you ask. Thus, your name won’t be synonymous with “needs something from me” when it pops up in the inbox.
  • Write less-than-300 words when you send an email.
  • Be the person who brings people business. Not introductions. Deals.
  • Respond when others mail you. (This should make sense, but it’s where some people fall down – me, sometimes!)
  • Stay connected via the various social channels, as well. It’s more likely people will feel connected with you if you’re commenting on their photos, or their tweets, or whatever.

Those are some ways to get attention. We’re nearing the home stretch.

9 Ways to Improve the Impact Of Your Email

  1. 1 subject per email. Ask only 1 question.
  2. Brevity. Short sentences. Less than 300 words.
  3. Remove that bunch of “general’s ribbons” that makes up your signature. Pick 1, 2 tops ways for people to reach you.
  4. Use plain text, or the simplest possible HTML. Flashy and fancy or (shudder) stationary never help.
  5. Pick unique times of day to send, instead of during work hours. (My free newsletter goes out Sunday!)
  6. Use bullets or numbers to make your emails even faster to answer.
  7. Remove the “biography” or “liner notes” from your email and just ask what needs asking.
  8. Ask all the pertinent questions in the first email, instead of stringing them out. (Conflicts with #1, I know!)
  9. Make every reply either clear in the follow-up question or definitive in the ending of the correspondence. Work towards ONLY those two responses.

Those are the ways I know. I’m curious to know what works for YOU! Answer below in the comments section?

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  • http://twitter.com/BostonMarki Marki Conway

    Good tips, Chris. I also like to use their name in the subject line to make it more personal and so they know it’s not an email blast. Another thing that bothers me is if someone says “quick question” in the subject line and then it’s a lengthy email. If you say it’s a quick question, that’s what I expect and if it’s not that, it will only bother me even more that your email is lengthy.

    • http://remarkablogger.com Michael Martine

      Names in the subject line are HOW people know it IS an email blast. No one I know personally has ever put my name in the subject line of a real email.

      • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

        Jinx.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Because many email blasts now use the first name trick, you might not be as successful in that as you would hope. I now avoid first name subject emails because my friends never send them.

  • http://twitter.com/betsytalbot Betsy Talbot

    I like to give a date when I need the response, too. Like ASAP, by Tuesday, or whatever. Then let them know I’ll follow up that day if I don’t hear from them first. (The Boomerang app for Gmail is great for setting reminders to follow up, too.)

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      That’s really smart. I like that as it helps the recipient plan.

    • Linda Rumbold

      I agree. Deadlines (along with a Call to Action) are always good.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gray.rinehart Gray Rinehart

    Great advice here, which I intend to incorporate in a “business writing” workshop we’re putting together — full attribution, of course! I especially like the ways to use the subject line better. I’ve used “for your review/comment” at the tail end of the subject line, but now I wonder if it might work better at the beginning. I’ll try it and see.
    Thanks!
    G

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Glad to hear it. :)

  • http://remarkablogger.com Michael Martine

    Wonderful list, Chris: packed with information people can actually use and benefit from immediately. I’ll share with you a subject line that has worked wonders for me, but it has to be used sparingly:

    “Check this out”

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      So happy it worked for you.

  • http://www.valueofsimple.com/ Joel Zaslofsky

    I’m a sucker for a good blog post on email. But this one was dynamite Chris! I struggle with making my written communication action-oriented, so this really helps frame it up nice.

    My immediate change will be making the subject lines very literal and action-oriented. However, it sounds like your general approach to email is a “get in and get out” mentality. That’s probably necessary due to the insane amount of email I assume you get. I’m curious though…how does your approach change to managing personal emails instead of work-related emails?

    I would hope you’re comfortable tackling more than one topic per email and writing more than 300 words to a friend.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      You’d be amazed or depressed. I don’t follow the subject line part but the rest? Absolutely.

  • http://monetizing-website.com/ Zouras

    Hello Chris!! Just another awesome and helpful content for internet marketers !! Yes email marketing works perfectly especially when you know what you are doing! Personally I believe that these titles : 1)Yes or No:_____ 2) 2 minutes to read are really powerful and can capture eyeballs !! :) Thank you for the really valuable post!!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Happy it resonated with you.

  • http://twitter.com/Omaniblog Paul O’Mahony (Cork)

    Chris,
    Please don’t suggest to too many people that they should send me emails on Sunday mornings.
    That’s family time & you are the only person I want to send me a work-related email on Sundays.
    The only reason your emails are welcome then is that I decided I wanted to sit with a cup of something in my kitchen at 09:02 & engage with them.
    One of my tips is: remember emails are an intrusion into a life that’s already full – win the right to send your email by the way you connect beforehand. Become attractive …

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      That’s a very good point. Think of what I’d be doing.

      But then, we can choose when we read. :)

  • http://twitter.com/TaniaDakka Tania Dakka

    :) Love this and am trying to be better about subject lines myself. Thanks for the list of possibilities and the explanations of why they are. And LOL at your subject lines! <:-)

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      You’ll get there. : )

  • http://www.inktechnologies.com/ Jonnalyn Pascual

    Hi Cris,

    Thanks for that wonderful and helpful tips. We all know that emails has a great and big impact to people especially to internet marketers. Constructing your email is easy but you must think that when you do emails you must consider many factors is order for you to have a big response rate. And also some email receiver can judge you the way you compose your email.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      We agree, Jonnalyn. Thank you for your thoughts. : )

  • http://twitter.com/rexalma Rex Williams

    I like to use their name in the body of the email, but in a very natural way, like “Thanks ____,” or “You’ve got a point, _____”

    Great content Chris. Very useful. (Oops, there I go again.)

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      As you well know, I like the name in the body, too. : )

  • http://www.weeklyhustle.com/ Ryan Ridgway

    Although seeking an accurate or timely response isn’t too large of a concern, if I know that i’m sending an email to someone less reliable or who has shrugged me off in the past, sometimes it’s best to use the curiosity approach. I often times put email titles as something along the lines of “need your advice on something” or “did you find out yet?” so that way it prompts the recipient to open the email to see the larger pressing issue…and if they’ve opened it, they might as well reply right? ;)

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      That most certainly can work. : )

  • Marc A

    my email subjects were horrible! a lot fo RE: but i could have helped those out some. good post!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Happy to help. : )

  • http://www.fabianlinge.com/ Fabian Linge

    Great post Chris. For me the “give more than you ask” almost always works.
    Also picking a “catchy” subject line is helpful. You can have the most valuable information but if you head line sucks… nobody is gonna read it.

    It also helps with getting reply’s faster :-)

    Cheers

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Agreed. Catchy helps for sure. : )

  • http://raulcolon.net/ Raul Colon

    Once I read Enchantment I got a guideline on how to structure business emails especially when contacting someone for something. It is in line with putting the request first.

    Where I need to work on is on the headline! I unconsciously had put some actions but way to many times I just create a generic one! Will start now with my next email!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      That guy really says a lot of stuff, Guy. : )

  • http://thefranchiseking.com/about-joel-libava-the-franchise-king The Franchise King

    Nice job, Chris.

    As I was sending out a follow-up email to audience members who were kind enough to place their biz cards in my Crown, I was thinking of that “1 subject per.”

    And then I included 4.

    That didn’t work so well. Thanks for the reinforcement.

    JL

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Hah! Happy to help. : )

  • http://twitter.com/sarajeang Sara Jean Goodman

    A business writing refresher class I took last year gave three questions you should always ask yourself before writing an email:

    1. What is the ACTION I want the reader to take?

    2. Who is my AUDIENCE?

    3. How do I recognize SUCCESS?

    Making sure you’ve clearley defined these, without the unnecessary extra text, helps tremendously for preferred responses, and response times!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Sounds like a great course. : )

    • Anne Stone

      Thank you Sara Jean Goodman! Hoping this will help my non-profit volunteer board communicate more efficiently, along with “BLUF”!

  • http://ClimbingEveryMountain.com Mary E. Ulrich

    Love the specifics.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I get aggravated when people give 2 paragraphs of friendly chit-chat. I just want the message. Not a bunch of fluff.

    Maybe that’s being anti-social, but even with friends, I would rather get one or two sentences than a long thesis. Long messages are for the phone or in-person visits.

    I’m getting better with headlines, but your examples are great.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      I quite agree. Funny, someone asked me about that. You and I see eye to eye on that.

      • Anne Stone

        apologies ;)

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    Great email ideas. I always keep things very brief and ask for a reply asap. It works most of the time. I also make sure to use “tact,” even as I am direct. This is especially important with superiors.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Tact? Oh no! Don’t tell people about tact! : )

  • Drew Bixby

    Great content! Regarding making the ask, I would add one important thing. I would ask again in your last sentence, especially if you have a lot of text. People don’t always read the subject. Bringing them back to what you want at the end helps.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      You’re right. Great point!

  • http://twitter.com/rajkhera rajkhera

    Chris, good point about sending during non-standard work hours. My company analyzed about 1 billion emails for our email marketing metrics report and found that sending during off-hours increased the engagement. Our report focused on newsletters, but it makes sense for non-newsletter emails, too. People are less distracted during off hours and seem to be more likely to interact.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Exactly so. That’s really cool!

  • Dave Crenshaw

    Great advice, Chris. Thank you! I’m sharing this post with my assistant.

  • http://www.engag.io/Abdallah Abdallah Al-Hakim

    Good and useful advice. Getting your email read is more challenging these days as some people literally receive 100s of daily emails. Clear subject lines and brief content should help. The key part is to have your emails become synonymous with terms such as ‘easy’, ‘quick read’ and ‘useful’ in the mind of the person receiving them

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      That’s the hope, sir. Absolutely. : )

  • Patricia C Vener

    With respect to friends, email is how some of us stay in touch, occasionally writing with the verbosity of a snail mail letter. Correspondence between geographically distant friends is very different from anything else and I expect these to be long.

    But the advice is great for everything else. Of course now I have to edit most of my email sigs. (One exception – I prefer to see the full address and contact information for university correspondents)

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      You’re right. There’s always a place for context. : )

  • http://toomanymeds.com/ Alex Barker

    BLUF: Bottom line up front.

    Best tactic I was ever taught in email etiquette I teach this to students all time. Lord knows how many times I’ve read emails with pointless information and the question at the very bottom…

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Oh nice! I like that. : )

    • Anne Stone

      There are SOOO many fantastic contributions to this post. BLUF is one of the new mneumonics for me! Of course over the years I realized it was critical to move the bottom to the top before hitting send…and it’s a great opportunity to scan to delete stuff in the middle to find out what ‘filler words’ can come out…and realize that by the time that is done, it *MAY* just be faster to get up and walk over to the colleague or pick up the phone…

  • http://JaredLatigo.com/ Jared Latigo

    Great tips Chris! I have to admit that my recent emails failed the subject line test miserably. :( Guess that leaves plenty of room to improve though!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      You and me both. : )

  • http://www.theskooloflife.com Srinivas Rao

    Good stuff Chris. Love how actionable this is.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      THanks, superstar. : )

  • http://twitter.com/cc636 ChrisTAL

    I like to think of email similar to writing a news article. The most important information is the the ‘headline’ and ‘lead’.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Exactly! Want to know a secret? I never knew this, so I promise I’m not being an ass. It’s “lede” and different than “lead.” I never knew that before. But now that I know, I secretly share it. : )

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  • pennecole

    I like to highlight really important emails with asterisks, e.g., ***Subject***. As long as you don’t abuse the asterisks and only use it for really urgent things, it helps to make your email stand out.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      I do that and I do ALL CAPS. : )

  • http://www.MikeWilliamsPro.com/ Mike Williams

    Seriously @chrisbrogan:disqus this is the best post I have read in about 3 months. There are some solid tips here. Most of the tips would seem like common sense, but we get so caught up in the way we normally to do things, we don’t realize how much people and what they respond to has changed. Thanks I will make sure I start using the tips

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      So happy to hear it, Mike. That’s the kind of stuff I put into my courses, so I felt it’d be helpful. : )

  • Jason Ward

    #4 is so important. It seems like all of my clients respond to my emails from their phones. HTML emails have almost no place in the average business email.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Hah! I agree. : )

  • Rita

    Chris, thank you, this was a great post and one I would like to refer to from time to time. I have tweeted this.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Thank you!

  • http://www.jbspartners.com Jim Spencer

    I send out emails, but I don’t send out email newsletters. This was a very helpful group of ideas, because I really could improve my subject lines. I just assume that people want to hear from me. :-) My one tip is to thank people when you can before asking for something.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      That’s also a good way to do it. : )

  • vitamins

    Great stuff about e-mail.e-mail, is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients.

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  • Philip Strange

    1) The subjectline should be THEIR COMPANY NAME/YOUR COMPANY NAME/SUBJECT
    It helps you find the mails more easily in the future (especially if you use Google mail because the searching/filtering is not a patch on Outlook).
    They will be able to search easily for you because the format will become recognisable
    Putting their company name first makes them feel that they are top of mind.
    2) Yes, the subject should give a pretty strong indication of what the email is about and make them want to read it. “Hello” is a waste of time. “Our meeting” or “Your invoice” are not much better. In fact, AVOID subject lines with “my/our/your” + one word subject. They can even end up in spam.”Reschedule our meeting” or “Company X invoice is incorrect” are better.
    3) 300 words is a blog! I suggest 100 words

    4) Sending a business mail doesn’t always work at the weekend, this assumes everyone is 24/7 connected. Choose times when you know your contact will be able to act on the email. This goes for text messages too – don’t send them when your contact might be driving…..
    Hope that adds value to someone out there.
    Phil.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      You’ve got some good ones, Phil. Thank you!

    • Stefanie

      I like most of these suggestions, in addition to the article. However, please don’t put my company name in the subject line. If everyone did this – my entire Inbox would be very difficult to search.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/smithlaurence Laurence Smith

    That’s funny. I’ve just checked my sent emails and they aren’t that bad. No dudes! Anyway this is very good info. I’ll print it and stick it on my wall for reference and promise myself not to ever Dude anyone.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      I dude people. I really do. So I need that reminder for me. : )

  • http://twitter.com/Alpha_Robb Robb Massey

    After reading this, I think I’ll stop using forwards. If I’m forwarding an email, I’ll change the subject to say why I’m sending a forward. Then I’ll put a 1-2 sentence summary before the forward.

    Great ideas!

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      BINGO! I mean, it’s easy enough to leave the FW in there, but that’s not really the whole story, right? : )

  • http://www.markpack.org.uk/ Mark Pack

    One tip I’d add: try to minimise the number of further back and forth emails required by covering the knock-on issues up front. E.g. if arranging to meeting someone, suggest day, time and venue all in one go rather than having a separate email exchange to fix each in turn.

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      Exactly, Mark! SPot on. : )

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    Big fan of short emails with one simple question or action item. All too often, I get emails in which people are clearly verbally processing with their keyboards.

    No intended or expected outcome — a waste of everyone’s time.

    When people are clear about what they want or what they’re saying, it makes it easier for me to respond (and I tend to do so more quickly).

    • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

      I agree. It’s definitely a great way to get it done.

    • http://pollyannaonpurpose.blogspot.com/ Jen Moore

      …and as in your reply above, appropriate use of white space (carriage returns) between main points.

      A little bit of “breathing room” between thoughts makes processing information easier.

      Ditto about clarity.

  • http://twitter.com/hunterboyle Hunter Boyle

    Excellent post and tips, Chris. I’ll be using some of those subject lines for sure.

    Two related ideas I’ve found helpful:

    1. Using an online calendar and including the link in emails. When I suggest a day/times for a call or meeting, the recipient can confirm or suggest alternates, so it’s added to our calendars and reduces the back-and-forth in email.

    2. I’ve used [Critical] or [Urgent] — *very* sparingly — in subject lines, and that’s worked well. Of course, the key with those is to almost never use them!

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  • http://www.empowernetwork.com/getinspiration/ Steve Heis

    Hey Chris, great post and to be honest it gave me inspiration for my latest blog post as well. I think you focused more in the content of the email, I chose to focus just in the subject lines. And on that post I focused also in engaging the readers. But it is awesome noticed how engage your readers are. It

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  • Brian Downes

    I like this Chris. You just highlighted a few my bad email habits. Thanks for that! Haha!

  • Zedblogger

    HI Chris,
    You have shared usefull tips for improving impact of email.After reading this article iam able to improve my email impact
    Thanks for sharing

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  • OBVAVirtualAssistant

    E-mails have
    actually become a tool which acts in your absence and monitors the actions. I
    really liked email is your “Your ass-covering tool”. Actually in all
    MNCs this is what is happening and that is why a small issue which can be
    handled more efficiently becomes big and hot topic of discussion. Make the ask
    in the beginning- that’s actually what is interesting. Generally we write mails
    describing all what we need and then end up asking is it YES or NO. Great
    suggestions, I always feel as a part of your articles. I can so very well
    relate to all the situations. I have so many things to pen down but I shall end
    it here, its always a pleasure reading your posts.

  • Phyllis Edson

    Good tips. I especially like the idea of sending out the newsletter at a unique time of day. My inbox is full of newsletters every Monday morning. Consequently, I don’t look at most of them.