13 Lessons to Make Your Inbox Presence More Welcoming to Readers

I opt-in for A TON of stuff using a dedicated (and neglected) email for opt-in noise (to keep my main inbox clutter-free). Recently, that inbox went from 21,000 emails (!!) to inbox zero status WITHOUT hitting Select All / Delete.

Crazy, right? I’ve got a feeling what I learned will be your new email marketing commandments.

I don’t sign up for things to digest the content, but instead, for free marketing inspiration. I love seeing what kind of freebies people offer, how it’s all presented on social media and what the process looks like to get me on their email list.

Email subject lines. What they say / how they say it. Call to actions. Stories. Sales pages. How they show up and connect.

It’s like a celebrity gossip magazine: you don’t NEED to see what they’re doing, but ya just can’t get enough. 

When I gave myself a couple of weeks to dive into the mass amount of emails (on the couch with the tv on in the background), I was EXCITED as if I had just picked up a good book. As I opened email after email, I was quickly disappointed.

WHERE HAD HUMANITY GONE?!

I was quickly bored as hell. All the emails felt stale and similar – a solid 90% were only inviting me to webinars or sales pages. No connection, no value, just an invitation to get closer to buy.

And worse:

I recognized some of my own patterns as a sender.

This felt gross. I mean, don’t you want your subscribers to feel like you’re a real person and NOT someone looking at them as $$$?

I want my subscribers to feel like they’re getting notes from their long time pen pal – a person who gets them and shows up with wisdom at just the right time, THEN sell my product or service when they’ve already received a series of yesses and wins with me.

So, I started to pay closer attention to what I liked, what was annoying, what felt welcoming, what felt cold, etc. on a mission to make sure my inbox presence feels WELCOMING and human.

(so far, my last 3 sends have received more engagement than most other emails in all of 2017)

Of course, these are mostly my personal taste, so take a look at how YOU feel about these things and make sure you’re meeting your people in a way that feels good and refreshing.

You might wanna pin this one… there’s some serious food for thought here that I know you’ll find useful later. If you prefer to LISTEN instead of read, go ahead and click here.

Without further adieu…

Here are the 13 Lessons I Learned:

1. The inbox as a whole: lacking CONNECTION

Part of this was because I hadn’t looked at the account for about 2 years and I was forgetting who people even were.

So, their marketing and sales emails felt like marketing and sales emails.

A select few had a knack for reminding their readers who they are AS they were marketing / selling, which is genius!

Why? Because I didn’t wanna run to the unsubscribe button. Instead, I kept catching myself thinking, ‘ok, this *may* be important.’ I think this is from believing the email is from a familiar person as opposed to “who is this?”

2. I don’t like the “MAKE IT HAPPEN MONDAY VERSION 147” type subject lines.

I wanna know WHAT the email is about if you want me to open it or at least feel curious. If I’m assuming what it’ll be about, I’m likely hitting delete.

It can feel redundant to share themed content, but if I’m getting a themed email, the only way I’m opening it is if I’ve found HIGH VALUE in that theme in the past.

Point being, if the subject line doesn’t speak to me, it’s easy to delete. I found this happening a lot with sender’s sharing a new blog or podcast episode was up. I was surprised how many didn’t share the content title, just “NEW PODCAST episode 123.”

3. A juicy content tease in a subject line only to have to opt-in and wait for something to get the dirt is annoying.

My biggest annoyance!! A KILLER subject line that set me up for total disappointment, because I HAD to watch a webinar to get even a sliver of value (which, considering this inbox was 2 years deep, the webinars and replays had long ended).

As a society, we’ve trained ourselves to get instant information when we want it. Taking extra steps to click over to something new, fill out a form, and wait before getting any value? Annoying. It wasn’t as bad if the opt-in was for a digital download, but more irritating if this was for a webinar I had to wait for.

I found opt-in / webinar invite emails to be far more welcoming when they gave me SOME killer value first (an ah-ha or piece of information I could actually take away from the email even if I didn’t proceed with their webinar), THEN invited me to learn further via an event.

4. A juicy content tease in a subject line only to HAVE to go watch a video or listen to a podcast, also annoying.

This wasn’t as bad as #3, because I didn’t have to opt-in to anything or wait for the content.

Still, it bothered me, because I learned when I’m READING in my inbox, that I actually still like to READ to digest content. More specifically, when content is broken down into organized chunks, step-by-step how to’s, or as an engaging story.

Now, I love podcasts and appreciate video — when I’m choosing to engage in that type of media.

In my inbox, I prefer to see the value nuggets AT LEAST broken down into cliff notes. I don’t want to be forced to change how I’m digesting the content. Make sense? I found some of these I was actually interested in, but set them aside for later…. later was weeks ago and I’ve never looked back.

5. I found MY PEOPLE – the ones I always click open from.

There’s about 3 people I love to hear from and open every email. The one thing they have in common: they share just enough about their own life for me to feel like I know them in almost every email, but I don’t know them as if they’re showing their lives like the Kardashians do either.

They drop value bombs in every email. One of them does some of the bigger annoyance offenses, teasing about content that I have to opt-in to get it. But, because I LIKE him (and I only know him through my inbox), it doesn’t feel as annoying.

It seems like people share about themselves in their welcome email, but after that, it’s almost all business there on out. That makes it easy for people to forget who you are! Even if you have killer content, connection is lacking.

Remember the old adage: people do business with people.

6. Your face matters.

More than a handwritten digi-sign-off, I appreciate seeing a face. Even knowing the emails are sent to the masses, seeing a face feels a bit more personal.

My picture hasn’t been in any of my emails, until now. You could put your picture in your email header or by your signature. Here’s what I did:

Email signature

7. Blog Preview or Whole Blog in the email? It depends.

For the most part, I do like the whole blog post in an email, but it doesn’t bother me if I’m getting a QUALITY snippet of the post and invited to continue reading on the website itself.

Similarly to #4, don’t tease me about what I’m going to read about in some vague sentences, like, “Today on the blog, you’ll learn about email marketing to creatures and pets.”

No. Give me some value nuggets or at least the first few paragraphs so I can feel out the post. Otherwise, I’m probably gonna decide #delete.

8. My eyes are drawn to the bold in the middle of an email, rather than the opening sentence.

I found this to be so interesting! When I’m writing, I try so hard to make a great first sentence to HOOK the reader, but as I was reading, my skimming-eyes went straight to the bold points + headers down in the core content.

Second to the subject line, this was how I judged if I was going to read on or hit delete.

9. I had SO MANY “please confirm” emails that I never actually confirmed.

As I tended my inbox, I’d try to “confirm email” to the ones I never did anything with. Most worked, but several gave me an error (it has been too long since I tried signing up).

I think this is something very important to consider more than ever.

As we’re growing more aware of noise and actively seeking keep noise at bay (like how I have an entirely separate email account for opt-ins that I DON’T check much – probably will never buy from), it’s not just about growing our lists with a free piece of content. We need to create an instant, memorable experience at that first touch-point – before they even make it to your list.

If someone has hit a landing page, but didn’t opt-in / confirm, hit ’em up with a Facebook Ad to remind them to go do so. I’m sure there are lot of other fun ways to reconnect that Bond knows far better than I (I’m talking about Amanda, not James. You should know her.).

Maybe try those Messenger Bot things?

I don’t have the answers here, but it’s important to consider. More and more people in my community have deactivated their social media or are taking action to life a more mindful, distraction-free life.

We need to pay careful attention to make sure we’re viewed as high value, not a distraction. 

10. At the year+ mark, I started to see repeat emails.

The 21,000 emails expanded over 2 years of messages. I actually found it comforting to see people rocking their systems! You DON’T have to constantly re-invent the wheel, friend!

This is why I teach to create timeless content.

The people getting repeat emails are likely not previous buyers if the email was part of a sales series. Smart marketers segment their subscribers. If the email was pure value, then it’s nice to digest “an oldie, but a goodie” rather than constant NEW.

11. I paid attention to words that excite me – mostly conversational, positive, sexy, curious, magical words.

I started a bank of what NOT to say. Phrases that make me roll my eyes hit delete, like:

  • LAST CHANCE!!!!
  • THIS IS GOING AWAY!
  • The ONE THING you need
  • Stuggling with X? Do this…
  • $XXk launch / challenge / etc.
  • – $XXX in my bank account

or this one:

“CIRCLE THE DATE AND POP THE CHAMPAGNE”

(listen, we all read the same email marketing book and IT’S OBVIOUS if you’re using that line)

And, I started to pay attention to how people were conveying the same messages in a more inviting, appealing way.

12. Conversational, lean, stylized text wins.

The academic days of paragraphs + perfect grammar are over.

Thanks to newsfeeds and noise, we skim. Make it easy for people to maintain the skimmy pattern in which they read.

Think about how good it feels to break a routine – like simply getting out your office and working from a coffee shop. Use things like headers, bold, and italics, negative space, line breaks, etc. to break the long walls of text.

And for the love of a welcoming inbox, remember there’s a human excited to hear from you on the other side. Be conversational.

In the words of, Nikki Elledge Brown:

“Write the way you speak.”

13. Simple, but thoughtful “design”

If I had to guess, I’d say less than 5% of the senders are still using a newsletter design. The rest use simple text emails (which are said to be better according to ConvertKit).

Honestly, I don’t have a preference AS LONG as the newsletter design has a clean, clear, user-friendly aesthetic. Unfortunately, I see too many DIY and they’re just clunky and hard to follow. #delete

After 21,000 emails, I believe I’ve decided on my own design recipe: a brand-aligned header, a sprinkling of color in the text (absolutely no more default blue for links), and the image email signature.

That’s a wrap.

Comment below with your fave lesson or tell me what else you love / hate to see in YOUR inbox!

Author: MarieMasse

I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.


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