Tired of Emails Being Ignored? It Might Be Your Subject Line

I never tire of great email tips like Gmail must-have plugins, Outlook time-savers or how to control your overflowing inbox.

But these fancy tricks don’t address the underlying goal of email, or any communication.

You want your email read and acted upon by the recipient.

Researchers at Radicati Group estimate in 2014 we will send and receive, on average, 109 business emails each day.

With that many emails constantly clamoring for attention on our screens,  it’s much easier to ignore, than to click.

What’s your best weapon to ensure your email is read?

A compelling subject line.

If your recipient can’t decide in a split second why they should pay attention to your email versus all the others, you increase your chances of being completely ignored. Within 10 minutes, your poor email moves down the inbox list, and soon disappears off the screen.

Your subject line is what grabs the reader, so make it a good one.

Don’t make us guess. We don’t have time for ambiguity. It should be clear from the subject line what follows in your email.

  • Meh: Follow-Up
  • Better: To-Dos from Sept 18 Project Kickoff
  • Meh: Introduction
  • Better: Marta Steele sent me
  • Meh: Help
  • Better: Project from hell–need your advice

If it is urgent, say so. Julie Porter, Chief Rocker at Front Porch Marketing, reminds us that, “Your audience needs an easy way to know what requires immediate action amidst everything else they are juggling.” She suggests summarizing your request after a semicolon:

  • Please respond:
  • Response needed by [insert date]:
  • Urgent:
  • Need feedback ASAP:
  • Need feedback by [insert date]:
  • Customer request:

Be descriptive, but brief. At some point in the day, most of us scroll through our in-boxes on mobile devices. Even more reason to be clear and concise. The iPhone displays about 35 characters of a subject line before it starts chopping. Keep in mind your mobile readers won’t see anything in your subject line after about the 5th or 6th word.

Evoke curiosity. New York Times best-selling author, Jonathan Eig, says there’s nothing wrong with a little wit or personality. Eig, who is soon releasing his fourth book, The Birth of the Pill, suggests “when trying to get the attention of someone who might ignore you, like a potential reviewer of your new book, or a TV producer who might be inclined to promote your new book, or a boss, or a potential client, that’s when you need some sex appeal or a flash of humor.”

  • Best book about contraception you’ll ever read
  • Why bra sizes increased in 1960
  • From Al Capone to the birth-control pill

It’s about them, not you. As with all communication, make it relevant to your audience. How will your information benefit them? How can you appeal to their ego? How can you make it easy for them to help you?

  • Our spouses work together
  • I have a killer idea for your new client
  • Schedule switch – you’re presenting Sept. 18

Do a gut check. Eig tells his writing students to “think of everything you write as an exercise in creativity.” Ask yourself, “Would I notice and want to read this email?” If your answer is no, then assume others will feel the same.

Subject lines that elicit curiosity and usefulness are your best chance for being heard and standing out among all the email inbox noise. It’s well worth the extra 30 seconds to get it right.

Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults. Connect with her on Twitter @MartaSteele.