You send an email and get nothing but crickets.

It's the world we live in, right? Most of us receive hundreds of emails per day.

I will admit I'm guilty of reading an email and getting exasperated with the writing style, the technical jargon, and the utter disregard for the basic rules of grammar. It means I'm less likely to respond. When an email gets right to the point and doesn't wax too poetic, it grabs my attention. Now, I know why.

A new study conducted by the popular delayed-email add-on for Gmail called Boomerang found that 53% of recipients will respond if you keep things simple. As in, third-grade simple. In another interesting twist, the same study found that if you add just a hint of emotion--showing slight anger or happiness, but not going overboard--you will find people are also more likely to respond.

Boomerang picked through around 5M emails out of a treasure trove of about 40 million sent through their service last year. That main finding about the third-grade writing level is a bit surprising to me because I would have picked a reading level around middle school or even higher. At the third grade level, it means you should pick words no one would ever have to look up in a dictionary. Over half of your recipients will respond, compared to writing at a college level and having closer to a third of people respond (36%). It's a pretty shocking discovery.

The other big finding has to do with adding some emotion. I receive bland emails constantly, most of them requests to cover a product or to do a phone interview. I've noticed when the sender gets a little irritated with me or adds a touch of emotion that I'll usually respond. The study found that people are 13% more likely if you are "moderately negative" and 15% more likely if you are somewhat happy.

Yet, the numbers shift quickly if you add too much emotion or get too neutral. They used these examples. The one that works best is worded this way:

Hey, I'd definitely like to get together next week. Do you want to get pizza?

Note that the word "definitely" adds some emotion, but not too much.

These two add a bit too much emotion:

Hey, it would be really great to see you and catch up. Do you want to get pizza?

Hey! It would be absolutely wonderful to see you! Do you want to get pizza? I'm so excited!

They don't seem as genuine. I will say they are good examples of emails I'd usually delete because I can see through the ruse--the person is trying too hard. (By the way, if you show mild irritation, do it as a technique. If someone responds, back off quickly and just get to your point. Otherwise, people will probably stop conversing.)

The study revealed a few more interesting stats. People are the most likely to respond if you keep your email length to about 100 words (a 51% response rate). The rates go down quickly if your emails are too short or much longer. I tend to ignore emails that are too long; it's too much of a time investment. And, if the email is too short, I can't really act on the information. Find the right balance.

And, one more. I nailed this one recently, so I get to pat myself on the back. I mentioned how short subject lines get results (to my own chagrin--now people use my own tips on me and they work). The data backs this up. Subject lines with only three or four words get the highest response rate (48%). There's about a 10% change in response rates if you only use one or two words or if you use too many.

It turns out putting even more thought into your emails is super-important. It can make the difference between getting early feedback on a product, major news coverage, and racking up sales. If you try these techniques, let me know.

Published on: Feb 15, 2016
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