In the crowded consumer inbox, everything is at a premium—especially the recipient's time.

Consumers are doing a cost-benefit analysis on a minute-by-minute basis—even if they don't know it. They're weighing the pros and cons of their routes home from work. They're debating whether to pay the extra shipping to get that online order in a hurry. And they're gauging the benefits of opening all those emails cluttering their inbox.

The major challenge to marketers: how to create a click-worthy message that gets opened.

In a typical inbox, people only have three pieces of information to consider when deciding whether to open an email: the "From" name, the subject line, and the preheader text. That's not much.

Shrinking attention spans and itchy delete fingers make it crucial to get those three elements right.

Tip No. 1: Go with a 'From' name they know and trust

What's the quickest way to get someone to ignore or outright delete your email? Make the "From" name something they don't recognize.

The sender's name is the first thing people see when browsing their unread mail, so it's the first test your email has to pass on its way to Open Land.

Most brands simply use the name of the organization; if you want to add a personal touch, select a person at your organization to pair with your company name. For example, Emma's newsletter comes from me ("Director of Content Emily Konouchi"), but we also include the Emma brand name so our subscribers don't wonder, "Who is this Emily Konouchi, and why is she emailing me? (Delete.)"

But don't overthink it: You simply want subscribers to know exactly where, and who, the email is coming from.

Tip No. 2: Forget about the formula for the perfect subject line

There isn't one. (Trust me, we've checked.)

Every audience is different, so experiment and split-test your messaging to find out what resonates most with your subscribers. That said, here are a few pointers.

Make it short and sweet. Keep these two important numbers in mind:

  • The first is 32. That's the number of characters iPhones allow before cutting off the subject line.
  • The other is 50. Exceeding 50 characters can sometimes land your email to the dreaded spam folder. If you have more to say, continue your thought in the preheader text.

Be clear, but compelling. Busy subscribers are only scanning their inboxes, so don't get too clever with your subject line. It might be hilarious, but you run the risk that they'll miss the joke—and skip your message altogether.

Instead, provide a clear and specific preview of the content they can expect to see when they open. By all means, be creative, but don't bury the lead. Use the subject line to tease the content so that your audience can't resist clicking and opening.

Find inspiration in your own inbox. Southern lifestyle magazine and Emma customer Garden & Gun recently sent a mailing with this subject line: "A Mississippi Roadside Marvel." This subject line is great because it says you're going to see something awesome, but it doesn't give away all the goods. It forces you to open to see for yourself. (And, in case you're wondering, it worked. The mailing went to 60,000 contacts, and the open rate was nearly 40%!)

Tip No. 3: Don't skip the preheader text

The preheader text (you'll often see "View Web version," or similar language, as the preheader) is another opportunity to catch the eye of recipients scanning their inbox. And the nice thing about it is that it allows you to add content without extending the subject line beyond the cutoff point.

You can use the preheader to tease the content of your mailing, provide a strong call to action, or include a personalized greeting. The allowable length varies by email client, but we recommend keeping it under 75 characters to be safe.

And just as you would subject lines, test different language to see what works. It just might take your open rate over the top.

Tip No. 4: Design for mobile first

Any design choice you make in the interest of engaging mobile readers will work well on a large screen, too. The mobile experience is all about letting your content shine, so adjust the header height to 50-100 pixels, and make text and image decisions that enhance the experience for your mobile audience.

Don't forget to give your content breathing room. Extra line breaks, dividers, and alternating background colors distinguish messages in your email no matter where it's viewed.

Break content up into sections with bold headlines and use a responsive template to help your emails look great on any device.

Email often drives your subscribers to do something: Make a purchase, visit a website, or watch a video. Make sure the place you're driving them to is also mobile-friendly. If you aren't linking to sites automatically optimized for mobile, like Shopify, Wistia, or Formstack, at least make sure you're sending readers to a page that's easy to navigate on a small screen.

* * *

Here's the big takeaway: Simple is better.

People are constantly bombarded with emails, so be transparent about where the email is coming from and the content it contains. It's the best (and quickest) way to ensure a click-worthy message.

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Don't Just Hope Your Emails Get Opened: Four Tips for Click-Worthy Communications

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image of Emily Konouchi

Emily Konouchi is director of content and communications at Emma, an email marketing software and services provider that helps organizations of all sizes get more from their marketing. She is also the director Emma’s communal dishwasher-emptying efforts, but only when she has writer’s block.

Twitter: @emikonouchi

Google+: Emily Konouchi