How To Make Sure No One Opens Your Personal Email Messages

May 3, 2006

A while back, I did a post on “How to make sure no one replies to your email.” That addressed the issue of personal email that you open up and it looks like a form letter. Today, I’m talking about the opposite problem: someone who writes a personal email (or what looks like a personal email) and then doesn’t take the time to write a subject line that reflects the mail’s one-to-one nature. A lot has been written about testing of subject lines, but that’s generally for mass emailing, where you can split the audience and see what pulls the best. I don’t see that much on how to write personal email, but personal email is often where the sales call begins, especially for high-ticket items and/or in business-to-business companies.

Bad example #1: Last fall, I was hoping to work with the marketing committee of the Web Analytics Association (I still am.) Another web analyst arranged for the co-chair of the committee (at that time) to get in touch with me, and I was probably told the co-chair’s first name, although I promptly forgot it. When the co-chair’s email came through, it looked like this:

From: Firstname Lastname (which I didn’t remember/recognize)
Subject: Time for a chat?

This was a very one-to-one email, but the subject line looked so pink (like spam) that I promptly deleted it. I am posting this example becaue the email came from a high-level executive at a large web analytics company, and I just didn’t understand how someone “in the business” wouldn’t know better.

Bad example #2: This morning, I got email that looked like this:

Subject: Recommendation from

This also looked very pink, but my Thunderbird email client does an incredible job of deleting junk mail, so I took a chance and opened it. It might have been personal and it might have been mass generated, but here was the opening:

Hi Robbin Steif,
I was visiting your profile today on and thought you could use this for your blog, “Increasing your Website’s Conversion Rate”. Its a good resource for sticking files up on your blog and it doesnt cost anything.

He then went on to give me a link to his site. {I made up this email address, although it is very similar to the one I got.)

Now, maybe this last message was mass generated. If so (and if, as it seems, he was visiting blogs and sending all the blog owners the same message), why wasn’t the subject line, “Your blog,” a subject that would mean something to me.

If I go to a networking event, say, and John Smith tells me about an associate whom I should write, I never send email with “Recommendations from Robbin” or “Let’s talk” in the subject line. The recipient will trash it, 1-2-3, because he doesn’t know me and my subject line is meaningless to him. I work hard to craft a subject line that means something to him, usually, “John Smith gave me your name.” After all, conversion starts with a click.

Robbin Steif