The 5 Things Your Emails Need To Include To Get People To Read And Respond

It’s easy for emails to get lost in the fray. Use these tips to make sure yours don’t go unanswered.

The 5 Things Your Emails Need To Include To Get People To Read And Respond
[Photo: Flickr user notoriousxl]

There’s a reason this tweet, sent at 9 a.m. on March 1st, amassed nearly 4,000 retweets and over 2,000 favorites in a matter of hours.


Eli Langer, who runs social media at CNBC, isn’t the only one with a crazy amount of unread emails. These days, maintaining “inbox zero” is a feat of diligent OCD.

Of course, what can we expect when of the nearly 200 billion emails sent every day worldwide (84% are considered spam).

That’s 168 billion emails . . . disregarded. You might be tempted to think that just applies to marketing emails. But you’d be wrong.

A full 55% of all email users admit that they don’t open and read messages regularly–whether business or personal. And we can’t just blame the “reply all” button. Email interactions are shifting entirely.

In fact, according to a recent GetResponse study, 41% of all emails are now opened on a mobile device. Even more shocking, according to that same study, 42% of users delete emails that don’t display correctly their mobile phones.

That’s nearly half of your email . . . getting dumped directly into the trash. So how do you make sure the emails you send aren’t part of those? I’ve put together five simple steps to make sure people don’t just read your emails, but actually respond to them.


1. Who? Make It Personal

Forget memos, company-wide lists, and (worst of all) “To whom it may concern” . . . Personalizing your emails is a proven strategy to boost your click-through-rate. But that alone won’t drive the change you need. You need to know what content appeals to which recipients and customers.

Why should you personalize your emails? Because:

  • Your recipients are not all the same
  • Your contacts are at different points in the workflow and sales cycle
  • Your email reputation will improve
  • You’ll achieve better results

According to Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas, impersonal email intros come off as old fashioned: “Ultimately, it sends the wrong message.” Before you even start an email, make sure you do your research and have a good idea of who the recipient is.

Send emails directly to the people who you need action from. Always address your emails to a real person . . . and always make it from a real person, you!

2. What? Make It Actionable

Ask yourself: “What is the one thing I need to get done with this email?” In other words, what is the one action, the one response, the one outcome?

If your goal is to sell, do not be the kind of person who’s always selling. This is very definition of spam. If you are that guy, quit wasting people’s time. Only email when you have something truly valuable or helpful to say. And be useful. Don’t just email when you need something from your readers.


More to the point, your audience wants to know what your email is about before they’ll do anything with it, including read it.
So tell them what it’s about and tell them right out of the gate. This is the reason your email exists, so get rid of everything else.

To really get practical, focus on the only three lines that matter:

  1. the subject line
  2. the first line (after their name)
  3. the last line.

The subject line: As Steve Young of Unbounce puts it, “If the subject line shows flattery, [that’s] a great way to get your recipient’s attention.” If you need help, here’s a killer subject line tutorial from Copyhackers.

The first line: Your first line of text, following your recipient’s name, is often as far as the reader gets. If the message is short, not packed with nonessential junk, you’re more likely to get that reader to venture further.

The from line: Again, the driving principle must be clarity. And just be you. Including your name. For help, try WiseStamp to create your own, free email signature complete with a picture and social media links.


So again, be personal. And remember, everybody’s job is nobody’s job. If you don’t ask for specific action from specific people, nothing gets done.

3. Why? Make It Practical

After who and what, the third question in your mind should be: “Why?” Why should anyone read your email? What’s in it for your audience? How does it help them “make decisions or take action”? Why will this email make their life better? Be sure to tell your reader why they should read your email and why they should take action in the first or second paragraph.

Things to Include:

  • Incentives
  • Pain killers
  • Payoffs
  • Requirements
  • Deadlines
  • And (of course) the most powerful incentive, money

Do not be vague with your Call To Action (CTA). Terms like “Find out more” or “Get more info here” might seem appropriate, but they aren’t going to convert your prospects. Your customer wants to know why you’re talking to them, so tell them! Don’t be shy. They’ll thank you for it.

Entice your customer with crisp, clear, direct CTAs they can’t ignore. Make it jump off the page at them. If you’ve done this right (by completing the “who” and “what”), they’re already tuned to the sound of their name and ready to connect with a CTA that’s perfect for them.

4. When? Make It Urgent

The next question you must address is the time factor. Communicate all deadlines and time constraints clearly. This takes forethought and planning. When planning your deadline driven emails consider the following:

  • Be genuine. Don’t just create a gimmick. People do recognize a fake emergency. Using a fake situation, you risk the respect and loyalty of some of your readers
  • Use urgency sparingly. The overuse of urgency can make your reader numb to deadlines. Don’t cry wolf. If you do, you’ll lose credibility.
  • When appropriate, words like “now” and “today” are fantastic at driving action, especially in the subject line.

Urgency is a key psychological motivator because humans by nature are excited by exclusivity. Marketing Experiments did a test where they only added the line “limited 1,000 attendees” to their email copy. It increased the click-through rate by 15%. Just that line.

The takeaway on this one is to remind your readers that time is of the essence in a way that inspires them to act quickly, and not just bounce over to their next inbox flag.

5. How? Keep It Short

Get in. Get the job done. Get out. Your emails don’t stand a chance if they take longer than a few minute to read.

Jon Levy, builder of a network called The Influencers lives the keep-it-short mantra. When sending an email that is tailored to CEO-level readability, brevity is even more important. Think 30 seconds or less.

Levy, for instance, keeps his emails down to a single sentence that cuts out any trace of filler. If the message requires a decision from the reader, he limits his message to three to five sentences. Levy also makes good use of links that allow the reader to choose if they want to get more information.

They will read because they need to, not because they want to. They will read because you have information they need to take actions or make decisions. They don’t get paid to read: they get paid to take actions and make decisions.


To do this, use:

  • Short sentences.
  • Short paragraphs . . . with lots of line breaks.
  • Short subject lines.
  • Short subheadings to break up content into scannable portions.
  • And (of course) short emails! As much as possible, avoiding “the scroll.”

To help keep it short, choose a single topic. And ensure that your message makes one request–and one request alone.

Now that you have packed your knowledge briefcase with these tools of the trade, you’re ready to drive higher open rates, boost your click-through, and reap the rewards.

So, the next time you sit down to write an email–any email–keep these five simple questions in mind. Because otherwise, not only won’t your audience read it, they won’t do a thing to respond.

Aaron Orendorff is a contributor at Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Business Insider, Success Magazine, Copyblogger, and MarketingProfs. When he’s not busy “saving the world from bad content,” Aaron teaches communication and philosophy at the local college. Connect with him out at or follow him on Twitter