Yesterday, I got 292 emails. I backburnered, procrastinated, or ignored 196 of them.
I’m in that love/hate relationship with email that busy people never shut up about. And though I’ve managed to get people in the habit of routing correspondence through chat or my office manager—and though I’ve been working on the whole “saying no” thing—the email flood persists. It’s hard, therefore, to get my attention, and harder to get me to take action from an email.
Out of nerdy impulse, I did an analysis on what emails actually manage to get action from me. The results were pretty interesting—at least for content geeks like me:
Of the 96 emails I did open, 40 contained links—mostly newsletters or sales/marketing emails, plus a few emails from colleagues.
Between those 40 clickable emails, I clicked on 9 links (not including attachments from colleagues).
That makes my overall email open rate 13.7 percent, which is a little lower than email marketers typically see. My overall click-through rate of 3.1 percent would be pretty standard if these were all just marketing emails.
If we count only emails that I opened, my link click rate is 22.5 percent, which is respectably high. This would indicate that I’m being sent great emails (or am a particularly easy target) if not for one detail: Five of those clicks came from a single email from a single sender:
In reality, I have a 10 percent click-through rate on links inside my everyday email, and a 500 percent click-through rate on emails from GQ.
A cursory look at my mail archives and browser history indicates that these rates are accurately representative of my daily email behavior.
GQ is my best email friend.
They send me an email every day. I have only not opened GQ‘s email once in the last thirty days. I’ve only missed an average of three days a month since January. The only headline that didn’t get me this month was “What We Learned at a Feminist Porn Shoot.” (And that’s only because I have philosophical issues with porn and didn’t think at the time about how a “feminist porn shoot” might actually have aligned with said philosophy. Probably going to read it after I finish this post.)
History indicates that I first subscribed to GQ‘s daily email on April 1, 2014. For two months, I ignored or archived every email they sent me; those emails got filtered as “not important” by Gmail and therefore I barely glanced at them.
However, two months later GQ sent me “The Best Streaming Music, the GQ Guide to Brooklyn, and More,” which I clicked on because I was considering moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
After that, I checked out progressively more GQ emails until September 2014 when I abruptly started opening nearly everything they sent:
Two things happened. First, I consider this the tipping point of my relationship with GQ content; I had been increasingly enjoying and trusting their articles (which is the same thing that happens the more you share stories with people in real life). And so, our “relationship” tightened. But also, on September 3, 2014, I’m pretty sure GQ hired a new email person. The email subject lines changed from a comma separated list of story topics to one punchy, juicy headline. (The first one: “Inside the Orthodox Jewish Hit Squad.” <— Killer headline.)
They also changed the email sender from “GQ” to “GQ Daily”, which suggests a change in guard or strategy. Whatever really happened, it worked:
After that, my GQ relationship intensified—to the point that I started to reference its articles in conversation all the time. I wasn’t even conscious of this until recently a friend accused me: “You get all your facts from GQ, don’t you?”
Blast… It’s true.
But come on! Did you know that “water fasts” are a thing? They make you hallucinate, and a GQ writer lost 17 pounds in a week doing it. Do you know the right way to put pomade in your hair? I do now. What about the right length for your t-shirt? Pshaw.
(It should barely hit the top of your pants when you raise your arm above your head, guys.)
I owe this whole relationship, and all this trivia, to GQ‘s email headline writer. The content is good, but the headlines are what get me there; they get me to take leaps on content I wouldn’t normally be interested in. And that relationship actually leads me to take action beyond clicks. I picked up some white perforated sneakers when GQ told me they were important this season. And I just bought a bunch of chia seeds after an email teaser got me with “These Tiny-Ass Seeds Are A Dieter’s Dream.” If GQ was selling this stuff itself, I’d be its dream. (Take heed, content marketers.)
What is it about GQ‘s email subject lines that work? I did a mini text analysis on their contents. Here are the most popular words they’ve used since I subscribed:
As you can see, GQ keeps a good amount of variety coming. I believe that contributes to its steady appeal in my inbox. Aside from the topics that GQ covers (style, fashion, women, etc.), the words “need,” “know,” “best,” “every,” “never,” and “secret” indicate that GQ headlines tend to convey necessity with a touch of hyperbole. GQ sends a lot of “guides,” too.
Headlines tend to fit into one of several categories:
The Thing You Need to Know:
- The No-Show Socks to Save Your Feet (and Shoes)
- The Wise Alternatives to Rental Tuxes
- The Secret to Living 100 Years
How to Do X Awesome Thing:
- How to Get Ripped, in Prison
- How to Have Sex in a Two Person Sleeping Bag
- How to Date Zoe Kravitz
How to Do X Basic But Secretly Difficult Thing:
- How to Dress for the Gym
- How to Combat Thinning Hair
- How to Get the Most out of One Suit
Things You Can Learn from X:
- 6 Style Moves to Steal from Justin Timberlake
- Nick Offerman’s Guide to the Holidays
- 26 Style Lessons from the NBA
Person X Does Y:
- This Guy Dropped 77 F-Bombs in One Epic Rant
- President Obama Reveals All in His Final Four Bracket
- Ellen Degeneres Nails the GQ Look
- Can Women be Douchebags?
- Is There a Right Way to Get Naked?
- Is Your Halloween Costume Offensive?
Listen Man, This Is How It Is:
- Your Socks Need an Update. Here It Is
- You’ve Been Shaving Wrong This Whole Time (So Were We)
- Dress This Way for a Date
Wildcard Headline You Didn’t See Coming:
- A Sex Drought Will Do You Good
- BuzzFeed Is Trying To Kill Me
- You’re Probably Being Cheated On
In general, GQ subject lines are great. But what accounts for my five clicks per email?
Cleverly, the subject line that gets me to open the email in the first place often belongs to a story at the bottom of the email, after five to 10 other story blurbs. Those stories generally have good headlines too, so while I’m scanning for the link to the featured story, I end up opening up several tabs in my browser.
Most importantly, the main subject lines of GQ‘s daily emails continually surprise me. Best recent one: “The Crumbless Guide to Eating Nature Valley Bars.” I showed that one to half my office. Second best: “Man Takes Drug, Has Sex With Tree.”
This one actually helped me deepen a friendship:
Most ridiculous headline that still worked: “Game of Thrones? More Like Game of Nathalie Emmanuel Is Really Hot”.
Nailed it, GQ email writer! Whoever you are, I am prepared to propose drinks and/or marriage. I promise to wear the right tie bar in either scenario.