We’ve talked before about sending great email newsletters to your customers. But what about the rest of your emails? What do they say about you and your company?
It’s very easy to shoot off a quick email, so most people don’t put much thought into it. But it’s like any other way you communicate: people are going to form an impression about you—not just on what you say, but on how you say it. So if you’re going to say something with email, say it like you mean it. Write it with conviction and style, in a way that makes your intentions clear.
Since I spend a big part of each day communicating through email, I put together this list of etiquette tips. Follow these and you’ll improve the quality of your emails:
- Use a meaningful subject line — A good, concise subject line can be difficult to create, but it will grab the receiver’s attention. It can also help keep your message out of the spam folder. If you’re emailing a customer, include your company name in the subject line: “Your contract from Smart Goat Web Design”. I find it helps to wait till after I’ve written the body of the email to write the subject line. At that point, I know exactly what the email is about and I can summarize it better.
- Be careful about attachments — Once you get used to broadband Internet, it’s easy to forget a lot of people still use dial-up. Sending large attachments to someone on a slow connection can cause a major headache for the recipient. For anything over a megabyte, it’s best to ask before you send. Or, upload the file to your website (or to a file-sending service like YouSendIt or MediaFire), then email the person a link to download the file.
Default to plain text — Many email programs offer a variety of ways to add images, colors, and different fonts to your emails. But before you try all those options in one email, ask yourself if it really adds anything to your message. Chances are it doesn’t, and will instead distract from your content. There is not yet a standard for HTML email, so there’s a chance the styles of your message will get garbled upon delivery.
If you’re using Outlook, you can default to sending plain text by going to Options under the Tools menu and selecting the Mail Format tab.
- Turn caps lock off — Some business applications require everything to be entered in capital letters, so some people get into the habit of typing this way. But on the Internet, writing in all caps is considered yelling, so it’s not appropriate for business emails. It’s also harder to read—part of the way we recognize whole words is by their shapes. You lose that shape when all the letters are the same height, and it slows down your reading.
- Use proper capitalization and punctuation — Following basic style guidelines will make your email more attractive and easier to read. Be sure to do these simple things:
- Capitalize proper nouns and the first letter of the first word of each sentence.
- End each sentence with a period, exclamation mark, or question mark.
- Double-space between paragraphs. In fact, dividing your message into logical paragraphs will make it much more readable.
- Use your spell checker — Odds are, your email program has a built-in spell checker. Run it at least once before sending your message. Many email programs have the ability to do this automatically when you hit the Send button.
Trim quotes in a reply — When replying, it’s rare that you need to quote the other person’s entire email in your response. Trim the quoted text down to only the part you are replying to, and type your reply directly below their message. This creates a very concise and easy-to-read email with a question followed immediately by the answer. So, with an email like this:
From: Client To: Billy Subject: Improving our Accessibility Billy, The latest changes you sent look great. Go ahead and put them up on the site as soon as you can. One other thing, I want to improve the accessibility of our site. What do we need to do to accomplish that? Thanks, Jane Q. Client Client Company, Inc. http://www.example.com (405) 555-1234 The absolute best clients since 1891!
I would reply like this:
From: Billy To: Client Subject: RE: Improving our Accessibility On September 25, 2007, Client wrote: > One other thing, I want to improve the accessibility of our site. > What do we need to do to accomplish that? Jane, As it happens, I just wrote a blog post about that: <http://www.smartgoat.com/blog/understanding_web_accessibilit/> Read through that, then give me a call and we can discuss options. Thanks, -- Billy Mabray Smart Goat Web Design http://www.smartgoat.com (405) 659-4822
- Include a short, informative signature — You might have noticed my email signature at the bottom of that reply. Your signature should be akin to your business card—a source for basic contact information. Email address is typically not necessary, since that’s part of the email itself. A favorite quote may or may not be appropriate, but a marketing “tag line” would be, especially if it tells something about what you do.
Yes, it takes a bit longer to write emails like this, but it’s worth it. When you pay attention to small details, you demonstrate a certain level of professionalism. This makes your customers more confident in you, and more willing to do business with you. I’ve also found that sending people quality emails encourages them to reciprocate, which improves communication in both directions.
Before you hit Send on your next email, go back and read it as if you were the person receiving it. Are you impressed? Are you convinced the sender knows what they’re talking about? Does the meaning come through loud and clear? If not, see if you can rewrite it… like you mean it.