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How to Write Effective Emails

On his great podcast, Hello Internet, C.G.P. Grey[1] started talking about how to send effective email. His technique—you have 3 seconds to convince Grey not to delete your email—will be similar to the other busy people you’re emailing.

This discussion particularly resonated with me because I recently launched an app called Combust. Before I’d listened to this episode, I emailed five or six people about its release, and only got one response—not a great success rate. I’m going to apply Grey’s tips to the next batch of emails I send, and I’ll blog about how it goes. I’m going to write about Grey’s tips in terms of app marketing, but they can be applied to any email you send.

Here are his tips on how to contact busy people and get a reply.

The Golden Rule

Always keep the needs of the person you’re emailing in mind. They’re probably busier than you. That’s why you’re emailing them. Make it interesting and beneficial for them.

Keep it Short

A graph of sending effective email

A wall of text is going to obscure your key message and disinterest the person reading your email. Huge chunks of texts are to be avoided. Scrollbars are an instant death! Grey only responds to short emails; he doesn’t even read long ones.

Structural Simplicity

Aim for a simple three paragraph structure.

  1. Why you want to read this
  2. A link to the thing I want you to look at
  3. (Optional) Here’s who I am

Don’t Waste Time

What do you want from the person? How will what you’re sharing benefit them? Get straight to the point. When scanning things, we read the first few sentences of each block and make up our minds. In Grey’s robotic efficiency, he makes it a rule to only read the first sentence of each paragraph, at most.

Grey cares about what you want, in relation to who you are, not who you are in the abstract.



Subject Lines

Grey admits that he doesn’t even see the subject line when he processes email.

If you’re emailing someone who might check email on their phone, the subject line and the first two lines of text will be important. You’re trying to get the person to not delete your email immediately, so click-bait, dull intros, and long subject lines are a no-go.

[1]: If you aren’t already aware, C.G.P. Grey makes a series of outstanding, deeply researched YouTube videos. As he says on the podcast, he sends emails to other busy people for research or otherwise. So you’d imagine Grey would be one of the best at sending messages that elicit a response.

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