Biz Tips: Optimizing Your Email with Data-Backed Tips

Biz Tips: Optimizing Your Email with Data-Backed Tips

Biz Tip:

Optimizing Your Email with Data-Backed Tips

Email is the most popular method for business communication. Sure, we’ve seen messaging platforms like Slack and Skype rise in popularity, and employees are always quick to pull out their phones and send a text, but when it comes to business interactions, email has remained king. On average, the everyday email user receives 147 messages per day and spends about two and a half hours reading, responding and working through those notes. Typically, 12 of those messages require substantial work, which takes up to 90 minutes of the workday alone. Because of email’s prominence, we decided to conduct research into how users work through the tool, what aspects take up the most time, and what are the best practices for generating the most responses.

Considering how much time we spend on email, it’s important that we optimize the strategy and develop an efficient process that yields results, i.e. responses. When using email, most time is spent making decisions, doing work and crafting responses, so you’ll want to recognize how long each action takes and address the aspects that count the most. On average, writing an email clocks in at 72.3 seconds, or just over one minute – time that quickly adds up considering we send about 40 messages a day. Deleting an email takes almost no time, at 3.2 seconds, while processing whether or not we want to archive it takes a bit longer, at 7.3 seconds. Email users that employ third party services to defer emails decide that they’d rather answer the note at a later date in about 10 seconds. When they do get to those once deferred emails, it typically only takes 64 seconds to craft a response – 10 seconds less than emails that are answered right away.

Knowing how much time it takes to work through email is important for overall day-to-day productivity, but you’ll also want to make sure you’re putting effort into getting an actual response to your message as well. To draft better emails, and get the responses you’re looking for, considering the following data-driven tips:

  • Write like a 3rd Grader: Reading grade level has a surprisingly dramatic impact on email response rates. Our research shows that emails written at a third grade reading level have a shocking 36% higher response rate over emails written at a college reading level and a 17% higher response rate than emails written at a high school reading level. Context, of course, matters, but when appropriate, try using shorter words and sentences because syllables per word and number of words per sentence generally make up your reading grade level score. By keeping it short, you’ll also prevent the TLDR response that no one ever wants to see.
  • Write with emotion: You may be thinking that positive emails generate more responses than negative ones, but actually, it’s neutral email that you want to avoid. Emails that are slightly to moderately positive OR slightly to moderately negative got 10-15% more responses than emails that were completely neutral, so don’t be afraid to add some sentiment. However, don’t overdo it when it comes to emotion – overly positive emails have similar response rates to those that are neutral, and there’s no reason to send an email filled with negativity because after all, no one wants to come off as a jerk!
  • Keep the message short: You want to be sure to get your message across, but generally, you’ll want to keep your emails pretty short and to the point, with the sweet spot somewhere between 50 and 125-words. This should give you a paragraph to two-and-a-half paragraphs to craft your message, or enough space to get your point across without rambling. It’s important that you don’t keep it too short, though, because a 25-word email works about as well as a 2,000-word message!
  • The rule above also applies to your subject: Ask any email marketer about testing subject lines and they will tell you how critical of a step it is in designing email campaigns that have high open and response rates. The optimal length is a surprisingly short three to four words (not counting conventions like Re: and Fwd:). Regardless of length, it’s critical to include some sort of subject line – only 14% of messages without a subject received a response! Also, use words like apply, opportunity, connect and cancellation while avoiding confirm, join, assistance and invite for ideal response results.
  • Ask some questions: Emails that include one to three questions are 50% more likely to get a response than emails without any questions at all, so you’ll want to ask something of your recipient. That being said, you don’t want to ask too much and bombard them with questions because a message with eight or more questions is 20% less likely to get a response than an email with only three. So be sure to make an ask, but don’t overdo it!
  • Show some subjectivity: Whether the responses in our research where positive or negative is unknown, but it is clear that subjectivity mattered in getting a response. Subjective responses, or those that expressed some sort of opinion, are shown to have a higher response rate, so when appropriate, share your thoughts and steer clear of an overly “just the facts” writing style.
  • Timing matters: You may think that the ideal time to send an email is at the start of the workday, between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., but earlier is actually better (likely because by the time the workday has started, you’re already bogged down in email overload). Research shows that somewhere around 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. is the ideal time to read an email. If you are sending emails during the workday, aim for after lunchtime, when recipients are well-fed and ready for that second wind.

Those tips should help encourage responses from your recipients, but you’ll also want to take steps to ensure your message actually gets into their inbox and avoids that dreaded spam folder. Most of the time, spam filters are saviors that keep us away from scandalous, fraudulent and other forms of junk email, but sometimes they do fail and attract legitimate emails. Some suggestions to avoid spam include:

  • Avoid subject lines that include both question and exclamation marks.
  • Don’t use phrases like “urgent reply requested” or “assistance needed”.
  • Refrain from using images, including gifs and memes (even though they’re so tempting!).
  • Keep it casual and avoid the overly formal “Dear Sir or Madam”.
  • Stay away from that “High Importance” button because unfortunately, it’s a tactic overused by spammers.

There’s no one solution that fits all for email success, but by using the data-based tactics mentioned throughout this article, you should have a better roadmap for utilizing the business tool that we rely on so much. Are there times when exceptions to certain rules apply – of course! It’s unrealistic to think that when discussing the finer details of your Ph.D. with the professor evaluating your postdoctoral fellowship that you’ll be able to deliver the message in under 150 words, never mind write it at a third-grade level. Applying these steps will certainly help you work through emails more efficiently and generate the results you’re looking for, but even the most-optimized emails won’t get responses 100% of the time, so see what works best for you, and continue to tweak your approach until you figure out what works best.

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