The Anatomy of an Email

hammer

It’s been about a year and a half since we first circled around to talk about email. It seemed so simple that I imagined people walking out, throwing things, or just falling asleep (fortunately, my colleagues are very kind people). Fast-forward to last week and it was the same situation—email workshop to our alumni relations friends at the CCCU Alumni Conference. As I prepared, I thought it was again too obvious and I would bore people to tears.

But that wasn’t the case—from blacklists, to vendor trouble and horrible open rates, it was one horror story after the next. So I find myself needing to spread the word about email once again. There are so many things we could talk about—from spam and email preferences to a new friend Carlyle Delivers. You’ll have to wait to hear more about Carlyle, but I think there are some important things about email you should know.

If you want the full presentation, check out You’re Probably Spamming & Don’t Event Know It on Prezi. Otherwise, here is a section that I use every time I’m writing, proofing, or dreaming up an email.

The Anatomy of an Email (pdf) is a helpful cheat sheet for working through an email. You’ll find this guide on the desks of most of our editors as a cheat sheet for keeping our emails in line. Here are the 6 areas to look out for:

From address

  1. Who is this email coming from?
  2. Does the recipient know this person?
  3. Is a generic or personal email address best?

Subject line

  1. Don’t sell what’s inside—tell what’s inside. Think going through security at the airport—surprises are bad.
  2. Subject lines are not advertisements. Cheap pharmaceuticals, anyone?
  3. Avoid the words “help” and “reminder.” Overused and ineffective.
  4. Even good subject lines go bad. You don’t want them to think “I’ve already seen this.”
  5. If going to a broad audience, include “Bethel” in the subject. Use familiar words to build legitimacy.
  6. 50 characters or less. Try reading a novel on your phone.
  7. Don’t use the “important” status. It’s a bit presumptuous.

Body copy

Do:

  1. Speak like a human. If you want to be formal or classy, send a letter.
  2. Avoid humor and sarcasm. They don’t translate well.
  3. Use short paragraphs, bullets, and numbers. Make the email easy to scan.
  4. Link actionable words. Please no http:// or “click here”
  5. Only underline URLs. Hopefully this isn’t a surprise.
  6. Limit yourself to 2 unique URLs. Don’t give them 10 options—it’s confusing.
  7. Keep the font simple. Times or Verdana, it doesn’t really matter what you choose—just choose one and stick with it.

Don’t:

  1. Use “dear.” Who begins an email with “dear?”
  2. Use all CAPS. Shouting?
  3. Use more than one exclamation point. You end up sounding like you’ve had too much coffee.
  4. Bold, bold, bold. If everything is important, then nothing is important.

Call to action

  1. Clear and singular. The recipient shouldn’t have to guess what you want them to do.
  2. Facilitate a quick response. Don’t make them wait to respond—if they’re ready, they should be able to.

Signature

  1. Who to contact with questions.
  2. Can be an office or individual.
  3. No images, disclaimers, slogans, etc. Save the inspirational sayings for the card you’re sending in the mail.
  4. Should include:
    1. Sender’s name
    2. Title/Office
    3. Phone number
    4. Email address

Footer

This let’s them know why they’re getting the message, what they need to do to unsubscribe, and where to find you. It’s the right thing to do—and it’s the law.

You’re receiving this email because you’re a Bethel [role]. If you’d no longer like to receive [role] [category], you can unsubscribe at any time.
Bethel University | 3900 Bethel Drive | St. Paul, MN 55112 | 651.638.6400 | www.bethel.edu

Tip of the Iceberg

Looking at the content of your email is just the tip of the iceberg. But, it’s a great place to start. Once you have a better handle on what you’re saying, it’s a lot easier to be strategic about missing or conflicting messages and to…wait for it…think about effectiveness and relevancy. I’d say don’t treat email as a lower form of communication, but in reality, don’t treat your constituents with such disregard. They’re too important.

Maybe next time we’ll talk the horrors of spam, email preferences, or introduce you to our new friend Carlyle Delivers. Until then, stay classy and say something worth saying.