Optimizing your emails!

Posted By:
Lifeline Design

Email might be one of the oldest forms of digital communication, but it is still one of the most vital! Emails are often the direct bridge from your business to your customers, your suppliers, and your important contacts.

Given how important they are it, it begs the questions -  why are so many emails terrible?! 

From boring subject lines to confusing sender names, some of the messiest, sloppiest, and poorly thought out communications a business will conduct are sent out by the thousands to end up in their customer's inboxes. I don't think that's how it should be, do you? Then let's fix it!

We're going to go over some easy ways to make sure your emails make the best impression they can in your recipient's inbox!

Presentation counts

Think about how an email looks in a typical inbox. There are three main components - the sender name, the subject line, and the pre-header. You want all of these parts to work in tandem together and provide as much information as possible before the recipient even opens the message.

This is why it's so frustrating that one of the most common mistakes businesses make is to send emails that use each of these separate elements to communicate the same info again and again!

For example, let's say you have an automated response email for purchasing receipts. A common mistake to see is a sender name like "Slick Co. Receipts” with a subject line that says "Your Slick Co. Purchase Receipt” and a pre-header that says "This is your Slick Co. receipt for your purchase on...”


I know my eyes glaze over when I see that kind of email. Not only is it boring, but it can be confusing. What if I made multiple purchases and was receiving multiple receipts? How would I tell which email was for which purchase? Do I need to look at every single one and dig into all of them? A better way to display that info might be something like:

Sender - "Slick Co.”
Subject line - "Purchase #1234 from 11/03/18”
Pre header - "Receipt for Product Name X for $X”

Think about how that will appear in the inbox. The recipient will see the sender and know exactly who it is, they'll see exactly which purchase the email is about and when that purchase was made, and in the pre-header, the most important information will be immediately seen. It's easily recognizable, searchable, and digestible. Nobody is going to confuse that email for spam or accidentally delete it and send you a support email later asking about the "receipt they never got.”

Step up and say your name

Always take the time to set your own name. The sender name is perhaps the most important part of an email (especially on mobile where it is the most prominent field) and the number one factor in deciding whether someone opens your mail or not. If the name isn't immediately familiar or looks fishy, your message is going to be deleted before you can blink.

Of course, this isn't always as easy as it may seems. What if you're using an automated service for generated emails? What if you are personally responding to a support email or complaint? What do you do in these cases?

Well, first let's look at some "don'ts.” Don't leave your name as an entire email address. Nobody wants to see "salesandmarketing@slickco.com” in their inbox. Even worse, depending on the email browser they use or their cell phone size, that name might become truncated or shortened. "salesandmarket...” is even worse. So don't use a full email addresses and don't go too long.

Instead, try to be short and sweet. "Slick Co. Sales” or "Sales” combined with a good subject line is a much better way to go. It immediately establishes who is sending the message and combined with the subject line should provide a reason as to why you would look.

But what about responses to support emails or complaints? When you need a personal touch, it can be tempting to just use your name. This is very familiar and personal (which is good), but if the recipient doesn't know you or that you work for a certain company, they might not put two and two together. In these cases, something like "Tom via Slick Co” or "Tom from Slick Co” can help keep that personal touch while also keeping your mail from being lost in the shuffle.

Similarly, is your business complicated? Are you technically the subsidiary of a larger company that handles the organizational side of things? Do you have a landmark product everyone knows that has completely eclipsed your actual company name? In these instances, it is always best to go with what the customer is most likely to be familiar with. Yes, it might be technically correct that "Slick Co” is actually just a brand while the company behind it is "Non-stick Metallurgy and Design” but if nobody knows that, your mail will just seem like spam. Always go with the most recognizable name you have.

What's the subject?

When it comes to your subject lines, clarity is key. No matter what kind of email your sending, whether it is a promotion, a confirmation of an order, a receipt, or a support response, the intention of the message needs to be immediately identifiable in the subject line. But while clarity is the major mark of a good subject line, tone and the words you use are also very important.

For example, if you're sending a confirmation to a user who has registered for your online training course or has signed up for your newsletter, a subject line that says "Confirmation of registration” is technically clear and concise. But it is also sterile and off-putting. Words like "Thank you” and "monthly” are more likely to be accepted warmly and actually read.

Similarly, personalization also helps a subject line's appeal. Don't think this means you have to find some way to cram the recipient's name into each and every subject line though. Personalization can also refer to information like a specific date, a previous purchase, a location, or a reference to a specific issue or question. A tiny bit of personalization can go a long way towards making your emails shine.

Pre-heaers are your best friend

The pre-header is the third and final piece of the email trifecta. It's also the one where you can use your imagination the most. 

The pre-header is the chunk of text that is displayed from the body of the email. Generally, this taken from  the beginning of the email and can be used as a way of showing what is inside the message is about without it being opened. This is especially important for mobile users where subject lines are often truncated. 

Think of your pre-header as a lede for your email. Just like a newspaper story, your first line of an email should contain the most interesting and important information that will pique the reader's curiosity. It should either convince them to open the email, or in the case of very simple messages, give them all the info they need then and there. 

This isn't something that can be immediately taught. There is an art to writing good first lines, and there is no easy way to bottle that advice to cover every possible scenario. But, it is a skill that you'll develop if you intentionally think about how your emails will be received and what the pre-header will look like as you write.

Open rates are less important than communication 

Open rates are important. If you're sending out enticements, advertisements, and appeals, you will want to do everything you can to pump up the open rates of your emails and make sure people are getting your message. But don't mistake the forest from the trees.

In several of the examples we looked at above, a combination of a clear sender name, a good subject line, and judicious use of the pre-header text can give a recipient all the info they really need from the email at a glance. You don't need a particularly high open rate on your receipt emails, confirmations, and routine messages – what you need is comprehension. 

Being mindful of how your email will appear in another person's inbox is the best way to ensure that communication is clear and well understood by all parties!