This is not one of those “Here’s how we boosted our email open rate by 50%!” posts. Those posts are great, but this post isn’t about data, it’s about common sense.
If you’re an influencer, do you ever need to get a hold of someone? Perhaps you need a quote from a famous entrepreneur for an article you’re working on. Maybe you want to partner with another influencer, but you know he or she is very busy. Or do you just want to build your network? Your success or failure at building your influence may rely more than you know on whether or not the emails you send get opened and read. Here are some tips to make sure the message gets through.
1. Don’t capitalize what comes after the name. What am I talking about? You know, you’ve got an auto-blast email that goes out to 40,000 people and your software automatically fills in the name of the person it’s going to, because emails with the recipient’s name at the beginning are more likely to get opened, right? And then you go and do this:
“Josh, I don’t know what these pink boxes are pointing out, what are you talking about? Where’s the problem?”
When you include “Hi Josh,…” in your email and then the next word is capitalized, what are you telling me? That it’s not a personalized email, and that I’m not offending anyone if I delete it. You’ll notice some of these are pitches from PR firms trying to get my attention. You’ll also notice some of them aren’t even opened, and they’re already in my trash bin because they violated this rule.
Don’t start your emails like this:
Can I send you a complimentary copy of…
Instead, do it like this:
Hi Josh, can I send you a complimentary copy of…
This is how real people send emails, they don’t put a line break after addressing their friends and family members. Let’s look at how an expert applies this tactic.
2. Start your emails like Derek Sivers. Hands down, Derek Sivers does the best job of consistently getting me to open his emails. I often read the beginning of my emails, even before I look at who the email is from, and dang it, Derek always gets me with his opening line. I almost always assume he has sent me a one-to-one, personal email, and then I open it and it’s not until I’ve already started reading that I realize “Wait a sec…this is his blast to his whole list!” But it’s too late by that point, I’m already hooked with his great content. One of his recent emails was nothing more than this:
New article you might find interesting:
The philosophy of great customer service
I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to leave a reply there on the site. Also feel free to copy, forward, quote, or anything else.
How did this get me to open it? Because Derek started his email the same way I start my emails when I’m sending a single person an article I think he or she will find interesting. This is how I write emails to my team members, friends, and family, almost verbatim. Other variations might include “Thought you’d like this article…” or “Thought you’d be interested in this article…” and so forth. Is it a trick? Call it what you will, it doesn’t bug me, because I like what Derek sends me.
3. Keep it short. Dave Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (updated! yay! The old version talked about Palm Pilots…), has a 2-minute rule. If it can be done in 2 minutes, do it now. If it will take longer than 2 minutes, do it later. Want to get people to read and respond to your emails? Make sure they can do it all (reading and responding) in less than 2 minutes. Derek’s email does this beautifully. As I explain in my post How to Get Me to Write an Article About Your Company, if your email is too long I won’t read it at all, I’ll save it for later, and due to my busy schedule that probably means I’ll never read it. TL;DR, you know?
4. Put the important stuff first. If your reader only has 5 seconds to read your email, what would you want them to know? Are you trying to set up a meeting? Do you want them to click on a link? Too many of the emails I receive start out with an introduction, thank me for taking the time to read the email, and continue to spend 30-60 seconds of my time on “fluff” before getting to the reason they emailed me. I don’t need all that. The people you’re trying to reach don’t want to read it, either. Get the hook set right at the beginning. Give the recipient a strong reason to keep on reading. That means getting your point across in the first sentence, and then, and only then, providing more background.
For example, when I was writing Chief Marketing Officers at Work (aka “my CMO book”) I interviewed 30 CMOs. To get these interviews I could have started out talking about what a great book this is, but then the CMO I was pitching wouldn’t have known if I was trying to sell them a book, if I wanted a testimonial, or what.
“Josh, wouldn’t they get that from the rest of the email?”
No! Too many people never read past the first sentence of emails before deleting. That’s why my first line was “I’d like to interview you for the book I’m writing on CMOs.” The next several sentences were carefully crafted to establish my credibility as a writer, the credibility of the publisher, and the benefits that would come to the interviewee by being included in the marquee list of CMOs in this book. I took no chances that they might never get past the first sentence because they misunderstood what my pitch was.
5. Use formatting. This goes along with #4. You can’t put everything important first, so call it out and make your content look more interesting by breaking it up and formatting it. Bold headlines, bullet lists, and short lines with a line space above and below call attention to themselves. It makes an email look more readable and the recipient can scan the email to get quick points.
6. Ask for it. I’m surprised how many emails I receive from people who seem to want something, but then never ask for it. “I’d love to meet sometime,” is not a request, it’s a statement. It’s like saying “I like puppies.”
“Well, that’s great,” I think, “You like puppies and you would like to meet me sometime. What am I supposed to do with this?”
I generally don’t respond to emails like this. If you want something, ask for it. Preferably in the first sentence (see #4).
Are There Exceptions?
Of course. Ryan Holiday’s book recommendations emails are long. So are Eric Snider’s movie review “In the Dark” emails. And that’s just how I (and apparently lots of other people) like them. But those aren’t normal emails from normal people, it’s content we’ve signed up to get. Even for those kinds of emails these tips help.
If you’re a celebrity or some sort of VIP, you can also ignore these tips (except when emailing other celebrities and VIPs, perhaps). If you’re Tim Cook or Beyonce or Donald Trump you can write whatever you want in an email and people will read the whole thing, then parse every single word and publish 50 different pieces of commentary on it online. For the rest of us aspiring influencers who are sending normal emails, trying to get the recipients to read and act on them, these tips will improve your response rates.
What else do you do to make sure your emails get opened and read? Tell me in the comments below.Liked it? Share it!
Thanks Josh, great advice. Check out http://www.hubspot.com/sales/email-open-rates-report for more advice!
Thanks for this Josh. There are so many schools of thought about long, short, clever, authoritative- you name it.
The only true way to make all these tips work is what you pointed out with the Derek example… credibility. Derek always delivers something of value and has built a relationship of sorts with you.
We open emails that promise value. You get a free pass once and if you don’t deliver, your credibility is shot and there is no 2nd chance.
Thanks again for the reminder!
Hi Josh, thanks for these insightful tips. They’re spot on.
Regarding #1, I usually write my emails in the format:
Thank you for joining my newsletter.”
Which means GMail parses the paragraph and puts everything in the same line. So in this case, should I just go with “Hi Josh, thank you for joining my newsletter.”?