According to a recent study, 65 percent of emails that get opened are opened on a smartphone or tablet. The trick in this post makes it far more likely that the recipients open and read your emails on their mobile devices.

Note: to hone your emailing skills, sign up for my free weekly newsletter.

The gist of the trick is to front-load the first few words of email with multiple "eye-catchers." I give some examples of this trick below, but first I'll explain why it works so well.

Reading Emails on a PC

Because PCs have cursor keys, most people navigate the list of incoming emails in sequence, typically from the most-recently received email, moving message-by-message downward toward the older emails.

You can, of course, select specific messages with the mouse, but it's usually easier to walk down the list one message at a time, deleting, reading, or flagging (for future reading) each message.

The most popular PC-based email reader, Microsoft Outlook, can display the text of each email to the right of the Sender/Subject list. This is practical on a PC because there's plenty of horizontal "real estate" on the screen.

Because of this, when a recipient reviews incoming emails, peripheral vision guarantees that he or she will take at least a cursory glance at the text of the message. If something in the first few paragraphs catches the recipient's eye, he or she will read the message.

Reading Emails on Phones and Tablets

Reviewing incoming emails on a phone or a tablet is fundamentally different from the same activity on a PC.

First, unless you're using an exterior keyboard (which seldom happens), you don't navigate the list with cursor keys. Instead, you swipe the incoming list up and down, scanning for what's important and what's not.

To read a message, you tap that item in the list and only then is the text of the message displayed. If you are using a tablet, the text of the message is displayed alongside the list. If you're using a phone, the list is replaced by the text of the message.

While it's possible to move from message to message in sequence, most recipients take action on the message and then tap back to the list. Because of this, peripheral vision of the main body of text plays no role in the email review process.

What does play a role, however, are the first 10 or so words of the email text, because by default they're displayed in the list along with the Sender/Subject. On tablets and phones, therefore, the first few words of an email often determine whether that email gets read.

Why Mobile Emails Aren't Opened

Readers of my free weekly newsletter have sent me hundreds of emails for a free critique. Based on those real-life examples, here's a typical composite email to a potential customer:

Dear Joe,

I hope you are well and enjoying the nice weather in Florida.

I'm writing to you because I had recently had a conversation with your colleague John Smith about his experience with our VeebleFetzer product set. John said that because you're expanding by merging with XYZ corporation in order to compete against IBM, you'd probably be interested in VF because:

  • [benefit]
  • [case study]
  • [differentiator]
  • etc.

As structured, the email above has multiple potential eye-catchers (colleague name, trigger event, mention of competitor, etc.), all of which are visible to the recipient's peripheral vision during the email review process ... if the recipient is using a PC.

However, if the recipient is reviewing incoming emails on a phone or a tablet, the recipient will see something like this:

Dear Joe, I hope you are well and enjoying the nice weather in Florida. I'm writing ...

Unless the recipient knows the sender or the Subject is incredibly compelling (which is not usually the case), that email will be deleted, because it's boring and irrelevant.

Writing Emails for Mobile Devices

In my free weekly newsletter, I frequently critique and rewrite sales messages to make them more likely to be opened and read. When doing this, I tend to load the first few words of the email (i.e., the "opener") with as many eye-catchers as possible.

Using the example above, a strong opener might be any of the following:

Joe, John Smith said you need competitive info on IBM. We just did a project ...
Joe, CNN said you just acquired XYZ. I worked with John Smith on a similar ...
Joe, John Smith flagged you might want insights about IBM's reaction ...

An email with any of those openers will probably get "tapped" and read on a mobile device, even if the email doesn't have a particularly compelling Subject line.

Of course, to be truly effective, the entire email must be equally as tight, without any filler, and (especially) with a single and clear call to action. Stay tuned, because I'll be revealing a new email trick every day this week.

Published on: Nov 3, 2014
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.