Don't Get Deleted: Applying SEO Lessons to Email

April 3, 2015

Across the planet, over 300 billion emails are sent every day. That's over 2.8 million emails every second, and 90 trillion over the course of a year. No wonder the U.S. Postal Service can't keep up with the competition.

And neither can we. Corporate workers send and receive an average of 225 messages per day. If we gave each email coming through our inbox our full attention, we'd be hard-pressed to get any other work done.

Most of us have adapted to the deluge with a "first cut" strategy. Before even opening an email, we glance at the sender and subject line and determine if it's worthy of our time. If it's a sender that often sends us marketing material we haven't found especially useful, it becomes instinctual to click delete before ever looking at these messages.

Although our personal process of determining a message's value isn't nearly as complicated as Google's search result algorithms, the same principles apply. Your key words, title tag, and links within your message can all mean the difference between being read and being deleted, even if you make it past an email program's automatic spam blocker.

Whether you're sending out a marketing email or just reaching out with an important inquiry, your effort is wasted if the recipient never even reads your message. To avoid being hit with an impulsive delete, remember these strategies.

Perfect Your Subject Line

If you don't get your email subject line right, it's the only thing your recipient will ever see. Of course, if you're emailing a colleague, a title like 'Quick question about Friday's meeting' will suffice.

We're talking specifically here about emails to people that you don't personally know and do not already have a working email relationship with.

Think about what your message is saying. Perhaps you work for a plumbing supply company, and you're reaching out to regional companies to encourage them to upgrade to new water-saving fixtures in their bathrooms.

First of all, don't try to sell anything in the subject line. Words like "Buy" or "Deal" in the email header will immediately prompt resistance (see Ryan Healy's recent post on attention to detail). We're so accustomed to being marketed to that when we have the power to shut it off, like in email, we take advantage.

If you were looking for your own product online, what would you search for? Most likely, you'd key in words like "environmental," "water saving," and "faucet."

Most likely, a straightforward subject line that reads "Local, eco-friendly water fixtures" will get more reads than one that says "Great deal on plumbing supplies."

Personalize Your Message

Let's assume you've gotten past the "click before reading" cut. Perhaps your recipient is even using a program like Outlook, Thunderbird, or Apple Mail, where messages appear without having to individually click to open.

Address your recipient by name. If you're sending a mass-produced, HTML-style email, the program will likely give you this option when you're adding contacts, but the downside is that most intelligent recipients will recognize this as an automatic feature.

If you're actually writing an email (and perhaps pasting it into messages to a handful of recipients), don't skip the quick personalization. A "Hi" or "Hey there" won't grab someone's attention nearly as well as "Hi Adam."

Likewise, close your email in the same way (even if the content is cut –and-pasted in between). Something like "Thanks for considering this, Adam, and don't hesitate to call me any time if I can answer any questions," will work wonders. Adam may even feel guilty if he doesn't reply.

Apply Keywords Throughout Your Message

Many people have elaborate folder systems set up to sort their email. If you get filed away in a "read later" folder, at least make your message easy to find. Going back to our plumbing analogy, throw those "water saving" and "eco-friendly" keywords wherever they'll fit, and if your recipient goes looking for you, you'll pop back to the top.

Even more important, these keywords are the crux of what you're selling. Using them strategically reinforces your message. (Here's more on keyword research for email marketing.)

Apply the Golden Rule

Spam constitutes 81 percent of email traffic, meaning over four out of five messages sent are generally unwanted. Even emails between colleagues can bog down our workflow, tossing tasks back-and-forth for feedback instead of actually taking action.

Some companies are responding to this by phasing out email entirely. It's not unlikely that "conversation flow" online dialogue will largely replace traditional email in the near future.

With this in mind, think about your own email habits. Check your inbox in the morning, and make a quick note of the emails you opened and those you deleted. Of the messages from recipients you don't regularly correspond with, what was it about their email that led you to read it?

Follow your own intuition. Only send emails that you would read yourself, and you'll find that your messages receive far more replies than when you haphazardly send out marketing email.

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WordStream's guest authors are experts, entrepreneurs, and passionate writers in the online marketing community who bring diverse perspectives to our blog on a wide range of topics.