Does Your Email Look Like Junk?
by Bob McElwain
A large portion of the email I receive is junk.
But I have to be sure before deleting. I can
usually figure this from the preview screen
(Eudora), but sometimes I have to open it
to be certain.
What surprises me is how much legitimate
mail *looks* like junk. Over the last while, I
tried to figure why. The obvious things are
misuse of the ...
- From field: Often crony names, rather than a
straightforward email address, preceded by
the full name of the sender.
- Subject field: Often cute and clever, rather
than a clear statement as to content.
- Greeting: Often opens with an odd heading,
sometimes in all caps, as is true of a lot of
junk mail. Legitimate email opens with a
name, as in, "Bob," Hi Bob," or even just, "Hi."
- First Line: Lousy grammar and spelling
errors right from the start; spammers write
some of the worst stuff you will ever see.
- First Line Revisited: No sense of the
purpose of the message for several lines.
Get to the point. Fast!
Sure, some of this is from people new to the
Web. But a lot of it is from people supposedly
in business. How long they can continue with
such poor standards is another matter.
==> HTML: Hot Stuff?
Some must think so, for I'm getting a lot of it.
The other day I got a real dandy: black text
on a black background. Totally unreadable.
And not all mail readers can deal with HTML,
which means your message may never be read.
While things may change, a good deal of
the spam I receive is in HTML. While probably
not fair, my first reaction to any message in
HTML is that it's junk. If it proves not to be, then
it's someone who is not being professional.
While sending streaming media along with
HTML may be the wave of the future, it is not
appropriate today in business. Send only
standard text in a non-proportional font such
In addition to the above, here are some
common blunders I observed, that contribute
to an overall sense of something I don't want
to read. If you want to annoy people, then go
for it. Most know where the Delete key lives,
and use it frequently.
==> Send 80 Character Lines
Many people, including myself, have their
email reading window set at 65 characters
as the maximum line length. So when you
do not hit Enter at or prior to the 65th character,
your message on my screen looks like:
> I wanted to let you know about a neat site I ran into the
>other day. Wow
>it's terrific. Knowing how much you are into panda bears,
>you've just got
>to see this site.
This is difficult to read. "But hey, if folks
don't like 80 characters per line, tough
stuff!" Fine. Everybody has a right to
their opinion. Good luck with this one.
Many people are almost as impatient
when checking email as when surfing.
If you don't make it easy for those who
receive your message to read it, it may
"But why would anybody narrow a screen to
65 characters?" Because a 65 character
line is about twice as easy to read as one
80 characters long. Most newsletters use
this line length, some even less.
==> Quote Back Everything!
Never quote an entire paragraph; your response
can be difficult to find, particularly if the original
message wrapped. Also be hesitant to quote
the entire message below your reply. If I can't
remember easily, I have to go hunting for what
I said, which takes time. This is particularly true
when the reply is to a message sent out three
or four days back.
The best approach is to quote just enough to
be sure your reader will remember what was
said earlier as a transition to your reply. Quote
no more than a couple of lines, unless more is
absolutely necessary. Also be sure to add
blank lines to highlight the difference between
quoted text and your reply.
Here's how I might quote the example of
wrapped text above. And I'll remove the
wrapping for better readability.
> Knowing how much you are into panda bears, you've just
> got to see this site.
Thanks for the heads up, Joe.
Yes, it does take a bit more time, but to the
extent you care about your image, it's a must.
To the extent you care about communicating
effectively, it's a must. Sending clean, easy to
read email is mandatory. Your customers will
downgrade you if you send anything less.
==> Everybody Loves Email
Uh huh. It is much wiser to assume the
person you are writing to is very, very busy.
A second good assumption is that they
receive several hundred emails a day.
"But hey, that's not so." Maybe it's not.
But make the assumptions anyway. They
lead to better email habits.
Web marketing and consulting since 1993
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