The Three Things You Don’t Know You’re Doing Before You Open an Email

  • Pierce Ujjainwalla

    Pierce Ujjainwalla

    Co-Founder & CEO, Knak

Published Apr 9, 2020

The Three Things You Don’t Know You’re Doing Before You Open an Email

Everyone gets marketing emails. But not everyone opens those emails and reads their content.

Today, I want to look at the three things that people do – unconsciously, and within seconds of seeing an email – as they decide whether to open it or hit the delete button.

Those three things are the same whether a carefully crafted email from a marketer, or a note sent by a co-worker or relative.

Understand them, and you will understand how to increase the chances that the person receiving one of your emails will click to open it.

The structure of your inbox

Take a close look at your email inbox, and you will see each email in your inbox is divided into three components:

  • The From line (usually the name of the person or company sending the email)
  • The Subject line (the title of the email given by the sender; you may see the entire subject line or only a portion of it, as well as whether it’s a forwarded message or a reply)
  • The Preview text (two lines of the actual text of the email)

This is all the information the recipient of an email has available to make a decision about whether to open it.

What are the three things you’re doing before you open an email? You’re evaluating each of these elements.

That’s why, to increase the chances an email will be opened, care has to be taken with each of these elements. They all have to work together to entice a recipient to take the next step – opening it to get access to the content.

The From line

The first thing an email recipient wants to know is: “Who is sending this to me?” Is it a person I know, or a stranger? Is it an actual live person contacting me directly, or is this an automatically generated email? If it’s someone I don’t know, should I be interested in them? Should I care?

I think the From line is the most important of the three elements. Often, people won’t move on to evaluate the two other elements if they aren’t comfortable with the sender.

So how to make the recipient comfortable?

By making the From line as personal as possible.

The scope to do that is somewhat limited, because laws and conventions in the United States, Canada and elsewhere regulate the information that appears in the From line (and other parts of an email, for that matter). That’s a good thing, because you don’t want to have to wonder about whether each email you receive is actually from the person or company indicated in the subject line.

But instead of just seeing the company name in the From line, it is possible to personalize it by adding an employee’s name. For example, instead of seeing just Knak in the From line, it’s possible to configure the From line to show Pierce from Knak.

I always suggest marketers make the From line as personal as possible.

The Subject line

The first thing to say about Subject lines is that shorter is better. Subject lines should be clear and concise.

Beyond that, the challenge is cut through the noise and get noticed.

One of the best ways to do that today is by using emojis, which add a burst of colour into an otherwise black and white text.

Emojis an important part of electronic communication these days, particular with the younger crowd and in social media. (Some companies have even started to use specific emojis for branding purposes, and include that emoji in all their communications.) And more emojis are released regularly; see this news release from Apple, for example.

Emojis offer a shorthand form of communication by allowing users to pack a lot of information into a single image. Little yellow faces signify “I’m bored” or “I’m happy”, a unicorn suggests something magical and sparkly, a lightning bolt can mean danger or energy.

I think emojis are great, and used wisely will lead to higher open rates for marketing emails.

But there are a few caveats.

Anyone who uses them in a subject line should make sure they are relevant to the content of the email. For example, an invitation to a cocktail party might include a martini glass emoji.

If your emoji is not relevant to the content, your email will not look polished.

And of course they don’t belong in every email. When a marketer is trying to evaluate whether to add one, they should ask: Would two friends use one here when communicating with one another? Because if only marketing emails end up using emojis, then they look less personal and more like marketing emails…

Emoji or emoticon? They are not the same thing.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, an emoticon is a symbol you can make with your keyboard, as in 😉 or 🙁 and was invented in the 1980s.

Emojis are pictures – smiley faces, unicorns, and the like – and were created in Japan in the late 1990s.

The Preview text

Usually, the From line and the Subject line provide enough information for people to make a decision about whether to open an email. But if they are still on the fence, they will look at the Preview text.

A good Preview text will offer a teaser to the content of your email, and be directly related to your Subject line.

Unfortunately, this is one area where a lot of marketers fall short.

In early email platforms, Preview text was not possible; it’s a relatively recent addition to the average inbox. So too often marketers creating emails forget about it.

Most marketing email platforms have a default setting that creates Preview text out of the first two sentences of your email.

However, it’s possible to do work-arounds. The best work-arounds pump up the volume by showcasing the most enticing parts of the text, like “50% off on all tools today only.”

Remember, these three elements have to work together. But once you have nailed them, you have cleared your first hurdle. People will open your email.

The next challenge is to get them to read it. But that’s another topic, for another day.

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  • Pierce Ujjainwalla


    Pierce Ujjainwalla

    Co-Founder & CEO, Knak

    Pierce is a career marketer who has lived in the marketing trenches at companies like IBM, SAP, NVIDIA, and Marketo. He launched Knak in 2015 as a platform designed to help Marketers simplify email creation. He is also the founder of Revenue Pulse, a marketing operations consultancy.

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