Five reasons employees don’t read your emails, and how to address them.

A recent study by the Pew Internet Project noted that more than sixty percent of U.S. workers who use the internet say email is “very important” for doing their jobs. More than three quarters of office workers say the same. Today – even with the multitude of available channels – email is still a primary means of communication in the workplace, and can play a valid role in a strategic communications plan.

If that’s true, how come your emails aren’t being opened? Why aren’t your messages read? It’s a question any corporate communications professional may ask – or be asked by a frustrated client.

Why don’t they read my emails?

The following are five reasons why employees don’t read emails, along with some suggestions on how to address them:

1. The subject line is uninformative. Today’s workers are busier than ever, bombarded by messages from multiple places. According to statistics gathered by The Radicati Group, business users send and receive more than 120 emails a day on average. With little time to spare, employees scan the subject line of each email and make snap decisions: Open, Ignore, or Trash.

A subject line that reads, “Message from John Smith” or “Project Update” means the only way a person can figure out what the email contains is to open it and read it. Instant decision: postpone ‘til later, where your important communication languishes in email purgatory, its chances of being read diminishing as more messages pile on.

What you can do: Make sure your subject lines give the reader enough information to make a decision. Be engaging without being too cryptic or amusing:

Know any Aces? Nominations for You’re an Ace Recognition Program Close Friday.

If no action is required, make the headline work hard, so the reader gets the main point without even opening the email.

Widget launch is a success with $6 million in sales.

While you’d rather have the intended recipient open the email and read it, remember the goal of any communication strategy: to deliver messages.

Your important communication languishes in email purgatory, its chances of being read diminishing as more messages pile on.

2. The email is from a generic (and ignorable) mailbox. Is the email from someone I care about or from an address that clogs my inbox with irrelevant information? Many an employee has figured out how to create a rule that automatically sends all emails from “HR News” to a separate folder – or worse, right to the trash.

What you can do: For critical or urgent messages, determine who is important enough to your target audience that they will open up the email. Maybe it’s a manager – or one level up.

Create a turnkey email template for those pivotal figures to send from their mailboxes. Be careful not to overuse this method, or savvy employees will add that email address to the “Send to Trash” list.

3. The content is too long. Even if you get readers past the first hurdle and they open up your email – or see a preview – one look at six dense paragraphs and you’ve lost them. They don’t have time to read through all that content; there are 15 other emails they still have to triage – and two more just arrived. Your email just looks too long and too hard to digest.

What you can do: If you’ve already determined your key messages, use them. Think short. Write in brief one- to two-sentence paragraph chunks.

If your content needs more than a few of those short paragraphs, store it somewhere else: in an attachment, in an article on your portal, or in a collaboration space.

Tighten your copy. Then tighten it again. Avoid tired phrases, sentences or paragraphs that offer no real value. They’re easy to spot: “We are excited to announce…”

Put most of the highlights in the body of the email, and the reader may still absorb some of the key messages in a quick scan, if not all the details.

Tighten your copy. Then tighten it again. Avoid tired phrases, sentences or paragraphs that offer no real value.

4. The body is too hard to scan. It’s not just long copy that can be daunting. Online, people tend to quickly scan a page or an email before reading.

Tracking studies show there are predictable spots where readers often stop, such as headlines or font changes. A message that is too dense is hard to scan, which means your reader may unwittingly skip over the important parts, or once again, save the email to read later – and possibly never get back to it.

What you can do: Make it easy for your readers to get the basics in a quick scan.  Not only does this enable them to easily assess the message, but if you build your email correctly, they will have absorbed some of your key messages as they scan.

Know the stop points, and use them to your advantage, including:

  • Headlines & subheads
  • Photos or visuals
  • Call-outs
  • Bullet points
  • Bold print or emphasized fonts

Make those stop points work for you, by crafting them to include key messages and important information.

Instead of a headline like “What you should know about our Business Transformation,” try “How you can help transform our business one innovation at a time.”

Then follow that with a bulleted list that supports the headline – and design each of those bullets so the reader doesn’t even have to read the entire line to get the gist. Examples:

  • Innovation doesn’t have to complex; a simple change in accounting processes saved our company $5 million last year.
  • We’ve made it easy for you to submit your suggestions for transformational change with our new online app, Innovation Station.
  • Tell us your idea at Innovation Station anytime, anywhere, online or on your mobile device.

5. The email is not optimized for mobile. According to an April 2014 poll on My.com, nearly three quarters of U.S. internet users check their email on a mobile device. An email newsletter that is not responsive – it doesn’t flex with the device it is viewed on – will be easily ignored on a mobile device if it’s too hard to read. Plus, tiny screens make even the shorter, chunked copy look long and therefore easy to ignore.

What you can do: If you use a design template, make sure it’s responsive. If the email is just text, test it on a mobile device – or several – before you send it to your audience. Use that as an opportunity to tighten, shorten or chunk your copy even more.

Any corporate communications professional worth her salt will know better than to rely solely on email to deliver all messages and engage colleagues, but it is a tool that is not going away any time soon. Learning how to make it work harder for you – by crafting communications that make it easy for the reader to scan and absorb your messages – may increase those hard-won opens and reads, and better deliver content to your target audience.

Do you have any additional tips to increase readership of your emails?