Optimize Your Email Like It’s Website Content
We spend a lot of time making sure that site content is logically-grouped, relevant and searchable. If you apply the same thinking to your email, then you will get similarly positive results.
Leveraging subject lines, labels/folders and file names will make your email more easily readable and searchable and that will make task tracking, doc management, communicating and delegating easier. At Actonia, we use Google Apps for Business, but you can apply the same techniques in any email program.
Keep Email Threads Tightly-Focused (Like Site Copy)
Websites are complex systems, so changing one thing can lead to other things needing to be changed. When that happens, you need to make sure that those other things get discussed in unique email threads not just added to the original conversation.
For example, don’t let URL syntax, URL rewriting, 301s and indexing of new URLs stay under one subject line titled “New URLs”. Sure it will seem fine at the time, but 3 weeks later when you need to find the 301 rules that were implemented you will have to skim through 50 emails to find the one where the developer pasted in the rules. Instead, start a new thread for each change in focus. This will help you find things faster, give a better view of what is happnening and also let you delegate better because you can forward one small thread instead of having to cull and summarize 50+ emails.
If you then group these different threads with sub-folders/sub-labels, then you have a concise and easily read record of activities.
Subject Lines (Like Page Titles) Should Tell You What to Expect
The simplest way to find an email is by searching for relevant keywords. This might be a problem if the only keyword that comes to mind is “SEO” or “reports”, but usually you will have a decent idea of what you are looking for. The problem arises when the email body has the keyword, but the subject line doesn’t.
Sure you will eventually spot the message, but wouldn’t it be great if the subject said: “YoY Q4 Sales Comparison” instead of “Report you asked for” or “Sales report”? Yeah, it would be great.
Use Descriptive File Names (Like You do with Image & Video Files)
When you send a file or request one, make sure that it has a name that tells you what is in the file, who it is for (client) and when it was created. If you have multiple people working on the same task, like a big copywriting project, then have each person include their name on their file. For example, “johns_project.xlsx” would be better named “john_clientname-product-descriptions_01102012″.
Naming the file this way gives you 4 searchable values: 1. creator 2. client 3. deliverable 4. date. If you can’t find it with all those options, then you need to get an assistant or new glasses.
Folders/Labels Should Make Finding Relevant Content Easy (Like Site Architecture)
How you organize the folders will vary by your type of work, team size, etc but you want to cut down on the skimming and searching. The ideal is that you can look at a folder and have a very good idea what is in there. I usually have a client folder with individual projects in sub-folders below it. But I also have folders for each of my in-house teammates. Vendor emails get grouped with the client and project they pertain to, but don’t get their own folder.
Setting up the client folders means that you have an obvious place to look for documents for a particular client. Same thing with the project’s folders but you also get the benefit of seeing which projects are “fresh” and which seem to be lagging based on the count of unread messages. I have folders for my in-house teammates, but that might not be practical if you have a large number of teammates or employees working under you.
Once you have the folders, you can setup rules/filters to make sure everything gets to the right place.
Make Contact Info Easy to Find in Every Email (Like Having the Live Chat Link on Every Page)
This is a little off-topic, but still important. Having your contact info in every email sends the message that you are available and that you WANT your client’s to reach you. If you are working with non-local clients, then being accessible can be the difference between a long-term relationship and them looking for someone closer to home.