Ahh, anyone here remember that movie? Goodness! It was the Golden Age of the Web, and we were all (Internet) explorers, weren’t we?
Email is nothing new. It’s been around for decades now and everybody (including your grandma) is using it. But think about how much it’s evolved. Now, for a generation of young people, the meaning behind the title of the 1990s classic romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail, is all but lost, as no one – repeat: no one! – is still using the once-familiar audio notification from which the film gets its name. In the years since that film debuted, email has morphed. Nearly everyone has taken to viewing their email messages in their Web browser.
And the rise in popularity of SMS messaging via mobile devices has caused many people to adopt a shorthand, TXT-style approach to hammering out emails, just as they rattle off rapid-fire texts to their friends. This is despite the fact that, for the most part, the semi-archaic terms and conventions, which themselves derive from the workplace memorandum of yesteryear, have largely remained constant. What’s more, lacking professionalism can undermine your professional emails, which still call for a certain degree of formality, or at the very least, form and function.
One email statistics report points out that workers spend as much as one quarter of their day, on average, working with emails. Add to that the fact that other research confirms what we already suspect, that people feel inundated by email messages on a nearly constant basis, and you can see how important it is to use email effectively. With all that in mind, we’ve put together this essay to bring you up to speed on the state of email at this point, with the help of seven essential email etiquette rules.
And, as a marketer, email is an essential part of your day. But the field is crowded, as an estimated 54% of emails are marketing messages. Unfortunately, only 17% of emails are opened. Still, more than 60% of marketers say they believe email marketing works (according to data from Epsilon). To cut through all the noise inside your recipients’ inboxes, you need to know and employ some best practices when it comes to email marketing. If you can beef up that 17% open rate with compelling emails, you’ll be well on your way to boosting your conversion rate by well over the needed 10%, if you’re following along with the 7 Levers of Business framework.
In this essay, here are the seven steps we’ll cover:
- Why Your Email Address Counts
- Know the Key Terms and Conventions – and When to Use What
- Know When to Reply, When to Reply All
- Always Write Compelling Subject Lines
- Keep It Friendly
- Use Good Grammar and Great Spelling
- Don’t Reply Angry
Let’s get right to it!
1. Why Your Email Address Counts
What’s in a name?
The first thing you need to think about, when it comes to issuing “professional” emails, is your email address. “Partydudeinperth@blah.com” might be the handle you’ve held on since high school, but it’s not the right point of origin for professional email messages. Ideally,you will avoid even addresses that include route to mail servers like @gmail.com, @yahoo.com or @Hotmail.com.
It’s far more professional to have firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Key Terms and Conventions – And When to Use What
Have you ever sent an email “BCC” to someone other than the primary recipient? Do you know what that term means? How about “reply all?” Here’s an explanation of the important terms you need to know:
To = Your Primary Recipient(s)
The “To” field is, of course, the primary recipient or recipients of your message. Adding more than one recipient’s email address to this field is a way of giving multiple recipients equal treatment. For example, you might email two people in different departments with parallel ranks within your organisation; adding both to recipients to the “to” field of the message is a way of being respectful to both people’s rank and privilege.
Forward = Sharing an Email with Someone New
Forwarding is mainly used to show an entire email to someone who has not been in your email chain. The forwarding action breaks with the prior email “chain” and creates a new one. Forwarding is basically the email world’s version of “FYI – For Your Information.” Treat it as such.
CC = Carbon Copy
Carbon Copy is an email term derived from the practice of using carbon paper to create duplicate copies of tangible documents, like invoices and memos.
Adding an email recipient to the “CC” field in your email messenger lets you take a slightly different approach to informing someone other than your primary recipient of the content of the message. This is often used in situations where the primary recipient ultimately needs to act on the information, but a supervisor or subordinate might also need to be brought into the loop. Often, the “CC” field is used simply to confirm to a supervisor that an email has been sent, per the supervisor’s request.
There are numerous reasons to use the CC field, but it’s important to keep in mind that both the “To” (recipient) and the “CC” know that the message has been copied. So if you don’t want all parties to know, you’ll have to use another field…
BCC = Blind Carbon Copy
For those times when you want to bring someone up to speed on your email conversation, but you don’t necessarily want your primary recipient to know that you are doing so, you’ll want to use the BCC option.
Everything is the same with BCC as it is with CC, except your recipient will not know that someone else has been copied in. We’re sure you can think of some situations when this feature is quite handy!
There is one very important situation that you will arrive at as a marketer – one in which BCC is a must. Anytime you need to email multiple subscribers (or your entire customer list) you want to add their email addresses only to the BCC field, so that you don’t reveal your list to everyone on it. This protects not only the privacy of your subscribers, which is severely important in its own right, but it also protects the valuable asset that is your list! You’ve worked hard to build a database of email subscribers, and using BCC helps you protect it.
3. When to Reply, When to Reply All
Replying and forwarding are the points where emails can go horribly wrong.
Have you ever seen or been part of a reply-all disaster of epic proportions? There are some amusing ones over at Business Insider. Here’s an excerpt of one of them:
Two travelers wrote to Spirit Airlines to complain about their less-than-stellar travel experience and request compensation for a delayed flight and missed concert. They weren’t quite satisfied with the the air carrier’s offer of $200 in vouchers, and their next email (asking for more than that) was forwarded to the company’s CEO.
Apparently he didn’t think the passengers had any right to complain, and he accidentally told them so by inadvertently selecting “Reply All”:
“Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.” (Courtesy of Karlee Weimann at Business Insider).
Yeah, that’s a tough break! You don’t want to end up in a situation like that, so here are a few simple steps to help you avoid such problems:
Before hitting reply or reply-all, decide who your reply is meant for. Is it just one person? Or is it everyone? Be careful. Make sure you’re choosing only those recipients who need to see the message.
4. Always Write Compelling Subject Lines
Perhaps THE most important element in your email is the subject line. The subject line of your email message is a lot like the headline of an article in a magazine or on a blog. You have to choose your words carefully.
MailChimp conducted a study on the open rates of subject lines using its internal data. Here are some of the more interesting findings the company has published:
- Personalisation counts – using the recipients first and last name gets more results than using the first or last name only
- First name-only is NOT good in the legal fields (it has a -.31 impact on open rate!)
- The word “freebie” is more effective than the word “free”
- Words relating to charity (like “fundraising”) can have a negative affect on open rate
Some of the most clever and compelling email messages around come from our friends at Not-So-Freaky University. Here’s a screenshot of some of their recent email headlines:
5 . Keep It Friendly!
Email is a communications platform that is conducive to keeping it short. But you still need to greet your audience, whomever they are. Failing to add a simple greeting and valediction comes off poorly. That, however, does not mean that you need to be overly formal in greeting your audience.
The research from MailChimp shows that using first names only can have a positive impact on open rate in many industries. Likewise, you can probably tell from the NSFU email titles above that interjecting a little fun in your emails can help them stand out in the oft-boring world of email marketing, giving you an edge above your competition.
6. Use Good Grammar and Great Spelling
Everybody makes mistakes. And most people can forgive the occasional mistake. But it’s vastly better to check your work. It’s not so much the occasional “your” swapped with “you’re” that people will notice. It’s the times “got” gets inadvertently turned into “hot” and the dangling modifiers that will cause your recipients to question your professionalism.
It may seem obvious, but it’s something that is all too often overlooked. Proof your emails, before hitting send! One of our favourite spelling and grammar checkers is After the Deadline.
(Tip: Although it offers plugins for your browser various applications, for some reason, the Web-based version of After the Deadline is the most surgical, precise, and concise spelling and grammar checker around). Run the text of your emails through After the Deadline before hitting send!
7. Don’t Reply Angry
This last tip is one pulled from our own experience around Preneur HQ. It’s simple, really.
Sometimes, emails bring bad news. Sometimes, sentiment is lost in the digital realm. Sometimes even those messages composed with the best of intentions come across as hostile.
But even when an email doesn’t make you smile, you still need to give the sender the benefit of the doubt. When you receive an email that upsets you, don’t reply right away. Wait 24-48 hours before drafting your reply. That’s enough time for the initial sting to subside. If you respond to an email – even an upsetting one – with venom in your words, you’ll just make matters worse.
Reply with a cool head and you can smooth out even the toughest of situations.
PS – Add a PS!
A PS, or postscript, is a great way to end your message (above the signature line, of course). The PS is often the most-read part of an email. According to a publication from Inboung.org, adding a postscript can create a sense of urgency or offer an enticement to take further action – and that’s the name of the game, when it comes to conversions. Consider emboldening and italicizing the postscript in your messages, just as we have here!