Email is the oldest online communications tool. We’ve been using it for so long that not much thought goes into how to use it most effectively. So, if you could make some changes in your habits that resulted in more and better responses to your emails, would you do it?
Last year, over 40 million emails flowed through the Boomerang service and they measured the response rate, along with several other factors, to produce this year-end report. The results were surprising (and in some cases depressing). Here are the highlights:
Write like a 3rd Grader
Emails written at a 3rd grade level received a whopping 36% improvement in response rate over those written at college level. Of course, it matters who you’re writing to and the subject of the message but for general purpose email, 3rd Grade was the sweet spot.
The main parts of your reading grade level score are the number of syllables in your words and the number of words in your sentences. So try simpler words and fewer words per sentence than you normally would. You can check your content’s reading grade level in the Word Count tool in most word processors. Or search for “Flesch Kincaid grade level” to find plenty of online tools that can calculate it for you.
Write with Emotion
Neutral emails got the fewest responses. Those with moderate amounts of either positive or negative emotion got a 10-15% boost in responses. Positive words included great, wonderful, pleased and delighted. Negatives included bad, hate, furious, terrible.
Poisonously negative emails were the least likely to get a response. However, a moderately negative email is your best bet for a complaint, working 13% better than similar content expressed in a neutral tone.
Short emails are best
Word lengths of 50-125 all yielded responses over 50%. Responses dropped sharply below 25 and above 2000 (!) words. And emails with only a subject line did the worst of all, with only an 11% response rate.
Use short (very short) subject lines
Subject lines with only 3-4 words (excluding re: and fwd:) worked best. Response rates dropped slowly though, so if a word or two is needed for clarity, it probably won’t hurt. Don’t leave them off though; only 14% of messages without a subject received a response.
Emails that asked 1-3 questions are 50% more likely to get a response than emails with no questions. Perhaps not surprisingly, an email with 3 questions is 20% more likely to get a response than an email with 8 or more.
Time of day
Emails sent early in the day or at lunch time yielded a higher response rate than those sent mid-morning or in the afternoon. Go figure.
What does it all mean?
Every person’s communication style and the people they correspond with is different. This study gives some insight into a large mass of emails with some concrete measurements. It’s worth paying attention to these numbers when writing to people you don’t know well or to large groups. And by the way, this post is at Grade 7.7 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test, so I guess I have some work to do.