The ART of emails
June 19, 2018
An introduction to the science of ART

In this article, I am going to introduce you to an optimization technique I called ART -- an acronym that stands for Authority, Relevance and Trust.

The ART technique borrows loosely from a framework developed in recent years for the field of Search Engine Optimization (SEO.) In short, the theory goes like this: to optimize anything that is published electronically; content authors need to focus primarily on building authority, relevance, and trust. In other words: anything you write or publish should build your reputation, serve a useful and recognizable purpose, and solidify or expand your relationships.

You may wonder how these concepts apply to the rather mundane task of writing emails. After all, at least officially, none of your emails are read, analyzed and ranked by Google. Or are they?

 

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authority icon

Authority

Authority is a measure of the power (weight) vested in the words of an author or statement by a superior legal, moral, financial or political entity. Authority can be asserted through a title, through references, or even by the sheer power of the language used to convey the message.

In an email, authority is often delegated to the signature. It can also be subtle and implied -- i.e., read between the lines. As with classical communication standards, you should craft your signature carefully. Remind the reader of who you are, how you got there and why your words are valuable. Assert your experience, your connections, and your relationship.

 

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relevance

Relevance

Relevance is a measure of the pertinence of a statement relative to its context.

When preparing an email, you'll want to make sure that 1) the entirety of the content is pertinent to either the intended subject or to the general subject of the thread under which the email appears, and 2) there is only actual valuable content. As much as possible, you need to eliminate distractions, rhetorical sentences and other styles that dilute the core message.

There's little point in denying that whether they are read by Google, your spouse, or a customer sitting halfway around the globe, your email communications should always deliver something useful and relevant. Otherwise, you're wasting both your and their time.

Let me remind you that reading emails is not fun: it's a chore. Emails are a weak proxy for being physically present in a conversation. In the end, there's rarely any room to play around in the body of an email. Keep in mind that emails are typically read diagonally -- the same way you read most of your emails, or even this blog post, for that matter.

Emails are automatically archived: they persist and remain search-able, whether they've been read or not. Assume that even if the recipient deletes your email, something, somewhere, has a copy of it that can eventually be retrieved. Emails are forever!

Because they are effectively archives, emails become part of a knowledge repository. It's a repository on which you don't have any control. You cannot delete an email once it has been sent. Hotmail still has all the emails that I exchanged with my wife of over ten years, dating back to before the time I physically met her. The same way she could refer to them years later (and nag me about the content,) your customers could use any of your prior communication to point to a discrepancy in a contract or a promise that was never acted upon.

Because of the asynchronous and search-able nature of emails, you need to abide by the following and rather basic rules. First, ensure that your communications get appropriately categorized and remain easy to find. Second, make sure that the subject line reflects the content of your message: always review your subject statement one last time before hitting "Send." Third, use consistent, agreed-upon keywords. In essence, keywords provide the context while the copy provides the content. Finally, run regular spell checks to ensure that nothing gets lost in the translation that time induces.

Most of all, stay relevant. Anything that is not directly related to the matter at hand can -- and probably should -- be eliminated. You're not handwriting a romantic letter to a lover who will weep over your beautifully crafted words: you're communicating something that needs to be absorbed in a matter of seconds. Conversely, an email that says nothing except: "Thank you!" should probably not be sent at all. Chances are such an email is a waste of time, bandwidth and network storage that only diminishes the chances of having the next email opened.

 

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trust

Trust

Trust is a measure of confidence in a given person or source. As a measurement, it is highly subjective and difficult to assert outside of a specific relationship.

You trust the people and the things you know: your mother, your boyfriend, your dog, your microwave oven. She won't strangle you while you sleep; he won't betray you; it won't bite you; it won't explode when you press Start. But there's a catch: you don't necessarily trust everyone you know just because you know them; often it's the opposite.

Trust -- the positive kind -- can only be built over time as part of a relationship. Authority can often make up for lack of trusted relationship. In most cases, in Authority vs. Trust, trust wins. While authority calls for additional verification, trust is a belief and relies mostly on emotions, and thus is more immediately actionable.

In the context of electronic communications, and more specifically in emails, trust is at best an external factor. Just like in real life, saying: "trust me" is a sure way to indicate that you have no tangible proof to back up your claim. Because trust is based on a prior relationship, it needs to be implied and emphasized by referencing previous interactions.

 

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The Practice of ART

Here at MailMinds, we tend to take a somewhat radical approach to email content optimization. We often end up trimming business and even personal communications to their bare essentials. In our next installment, we'll use the concepts described above in an optimization workflow. We'll take you through a few optimization examples, step by step. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

The Mailman

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