6 changes to get employees to open email

Who the message is from and what it’s about is key to getting employees to open broadcast email. Keep it brief, and let them know ‘What’s in it for me?’

6 email tips

Argh! It happened again.

You laid out everything your employees should know in minute detail. Yet they are still in the dark. Only a tiny fraction actually opened the email, fewer read it, and fewer still clicked to take action.

If you’d like to see better email engagement, adjusting your subject lines and “from” addresses will give your email messaging better traction.

“We filter email using those two factors together,” says Michael DesRochers, PoliteMail’s founder and managing partner. “First you look at who the message is from, and then what’s it about.”

Drawing from performance metrics of more than 200 million internal emails in PoliteMail’s customer base, the email analytics company crunches the numbers to offer tips for your internal campaigns.

1. Send it from someone they’ll pay attention to.

The “from” address is generally the first thing your recipient notices. That makes it your first chance to snag an associate’s attention. Botch that, and you’re already fighting an uphill battle.

Why? For one thing, the “from” address is a larger font in most email displays. You only have about 20 characters to pique your recipient’s attention.

Employees are most likely to ignore emails sent from a generic mailbox, particular when those mailboxes are used to send a wide variety of content. Your associates are more likely to open email from an individual.

People tend to pay attention to an email from someone they know, an important figure such as their department head or the CEO, or a departmental mailbox they know has provided brief, helpful messages in the past.

“Your first-level filter is the question, ‘Is the mail I usually receive from this person important or relevant to me?’” DesRochers says.

The answer also lets the recipient know, “Do I need to pay attention to this email at all?”

At Baton Rouge General, Communications Manager Carlie Boudreaux says she is working with IT to change the email address and display name, which comes up as “Corporate Communications.”

“So, if a physician who is on medical staff at all four of the surrounding hospitals receives an email from us,” she says, “they don’t automatically know it’s Baton Rouge General’s corporate communications team the email is from. Besides the fact that I completely dislike ‘corporate’ in the title.”

Other communicators, who don’t have access to their organization’s IT email resources, use creative work-arounds as alternatives.

The life sciences company Bayer U.S. sends email from a general corporate communications address but adds “A Message from [Name]” in the subject line, along with a few words to convey what the email is about, says Lisa Noury, deputy director of corporate internal communications at Bayer U.S.

2. Use active verbs and strong nouns in subject lines.

“The way I approach headlines is to sum up the story in a short way,” Noury says.

Jettison jargon, abbreviations and acronyms, she adds. Use active or visual words and incorporating numbers whenever possible.

The subject line, on mobile and desktop, gives you about 42 characters to work with, DesRochers adds.

3. Trim your subject lines.

“Eliminate superfluous words,” Noury says.

This is important because shorter subject lines—five to 11 words on desktop systems—perform best, DesRochers adds. For senders in the top 80th percentile of performance metrics, 70% of their email subjects were six words or fewer. The bottom quintile, or worst performers, sent 68% more emails with subject lines of 12 words or more.

To work on mobile devices, subject lengths should be at most seven words or 42 characters to be viewed on those handheld screens.

4. Answer the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’

Your subject line’s job, Noury says, is “capturing the benefit.”

In other words, put yourself in the shoes of your workforce. An email pops up in the middle of a task that the boss wants done ASAP. If your message doesn’t let them know right away why they should read it, they are likely to move past it and never look at it again.

“You’ve got to communication something compelling or spark curiosity within those seven words,” DesRochers says. “Put yourself in the readers’ shoes and answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question.”

He noted that two recent high-performing subject lines were both questions:

  • “Are you in the gender pay gap?”
  • “Do you have a seat at the FY20 town hall next week?”

Good questions are an effective technique to spark curiosity.

5. Place ‘newsletter’ in the from line, not the subject line.

One common mistake that communicators make when sending the newsletter is to identify it in the subject line, wasting that valuable real estate. Worse yet is to identify the month or volume of the newsletter.

Want to end up in the bottom 20% of email performance? (You don’t.) Write a subject line such as, “July 2019 [company name] Newsletter.”

On the other hand, a bit of tactical thinking helps you convey more information in the meager characters you are allotted. If the “from” address is the name of your newsletter, then you can use the subject line to hook the reader with some interesting tidbit, DesRochers says.

“Depending on your audience, put the lead story or most topical, new, or compelling information in the subject line,” he says.

6. Try A/B testing.

An A/B test allows you to sample results to see what works best. You split a randomized sample of your list—say a few hundred recipients each—and send two versions, one with subject line A, and another with subject line B.

Which is more widely opened? You should know within three hours, as 80% of email is opened within that time frame.  Send the balance out with your winning subject to boost overall results.

Headline writers know the power of word choice. “You’ve got a limited space, so try different combination of words,” DesRochers says.

Effective email writing, he adds, is both an art and a science.

This article is written in partnership with PoliteMail.

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