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5 top reasons why your audience ignoring your emails

Have you been looking for reasons why your audience ignoring your emails?

How often have you heard a workplace manager complaining “they should know, we sent an email about that last week!”?

Many managers assume that their staff get messages simply because they are sent out in an email. They don’t just assume that staff open all emails in their inbox but they actually read them too.

Yet this is a dangerous problem if you’re serious about getting your message to your audience by email.

According to Lifewire, the average worker receives about 121 emails a day. Only 16% of emails received are opened on desktop computers, 55.6% on a mobile and 28% by webmail.

The average worker will miss – or actively chose to ignore – any number of emails on any day.

How can you stop your target audience from ignoring your emails and increase the chances of your message getting through?

Here are five common reasons I’ve found why your target audience is possibly ignoring your emails:

  • Email is not the best medium to convey your message or information
  • You’re not the best sender for the message
  • Your subject line isn’t relevant or compelling
  • You haven’t framed the message properly
  • You have issues in the body of your email

Email is not the best medium for your message

The first of the five reasons why your target audience is possibly ignoring your emails comes down to your choice of medium.  

Some messages just don’t work well in email. Particularly those where you want to include a lot of information.

Some people like to include a whole document of information in the body of an email. In the same way of thinking “I’ve sent an email so I’ve communicated the message”, they assume everyone has the time and patience to scroll through 20 paragraphs in an email. Yet that’s not how the average person reads emails.

If you’ve got loads of information to share, consider publishing it as a document on your company Sharepoint. Then use email to send a brief summary and link to that document. You would do well to include context and a reason for sending the information along with a brief description. And since it is a summary, keep it to one or two paragraphs. All the time remembering that your purpose will be getting them to click the link.

Having said that, I am conscious for some that it’s hard to get past the idea of sending a short email. So if you really need to include more than four paragraphs in an email, include signposts such as forecasting statements and subheadings. This will make it easier for the reader to navigate quickly through your email.

Another reason why an email might not be the best medium is the nature of the message. If it’s of a personal nature, talking to someone in person or on the phone may be much more effective.  

A final reason to consider is that your audience just doesn’t use email. Even if they have a company inbox where you can send them emails, there’s no point emailing them if they won’t open up the email. One company I consulted for many years decided not to email morning briefs to their sales team. They knew their team – if doing their job – would be on the road and not have time to read emails. So they instead prepared a podcast that sales agents could listen to whilst in transit. The message got through perfectly.  

It’s best to establish that email is the best or most appropriate medium to use for your message before writing an email. And be ready to choose another medium if that will achieve your purpose more effectively. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to put time into writing a great email only to find out that it’s not the right medium. 

You are the wrong sender for the message

The second of five reasons why your audience is possibly ignoring your emails might come across as offensive. That’s because it comes down to you.

People often choose to read or listen to a message based on who is delivering it.

Consider research from Prosci’s Best practices in Change Management that show employees have preferences about who they want to hear from during a workplace change activity. For change information that impacts an overall organisation, they like to hear it from their senior leadership. For change information that affects their daily activities, they are more likely to listen and respond positively if delivered by their immediate manager.

This concept is not limited to the world of organisational change. It works for all sorts of messaging you may want to send to the organisation. There are all sorts of reasons for this, such as the sender’s appointed authority, earned authority, trust, rapport, and so on.

When the “sender” is the first thing you see against an email in most email browsers, that person’s name or position can impact whether it gets opened. Back in the “wild west” days of internet marketing before regulated privacy laws, astute email marketers would change their sender name as soon as their subscribers stopped opening their emails. This almost always increased the open rate. That’s because the readers decided whether to open an email on account of who was sending them. 

Could being the wrong sender for the message be one of the reasons why your audience is ignoring your email?

If you’re serious about getting your message out for people to consume, always choose the best messenger. If you’re not the best messenger for this message – find someone that is. Then get them to send the email to increase your open rate and readability.

Your subject line isn’t relevant or compelling

If the sender is the first thing a reader sees in the email browser, the subject header is the second thing. This is very important.

Looking back to the world of email marketing, the purpose of a subject header is to get people to open the email. It’s worth adopting this principle in a manner appropriate to your work environment when sending work emails. You’ll increase your open rates.

It’s also helpful to ensure your headline is relevant to your target audience and easy to find as a reference for later. Particularly for emails with information the receiver will use as a reference for later. For example login URLs or Sharepoint links for important documents.

Here are some thoughts for creating effective subject lines:

  • Give your reader a reason for opening the email, such as “SharePoint access for [Name of Document]
  • Describe the gist of the email, e.g. “What you need to know before [New App] goes live on Monday”
  • Apply a little bit of internet marketing hype if you can get away with it, for example, “Five reasons to complete your Personal Development Plan In Time”
  • Avoid generic subject lines that either bore people or don’t frame the email content, e.g. “Login Details” is nowhere nearly as helpful as “SharePoint Login Details for new contractors” or “Key Announcement” is so vanilla when it could summarise the key announcement “[Company Names]’s response to COVID cluster”

Famous copywriter Joe Sugarman wrote that the purpose of the title in a piece of marketing copy is to get people to read the first sentence. And the purpose of the first sentence is to get them to read the second sentence. And the second sentence to get them to read the thirds sentence… you get the drift.

There’s nothing wrong with applying a marketing principle like this to organisational emails. For operational comms, the main purpose of an email’s subject head should be to get your audience to open the email and read the first paragraph. Also, to make it easy for them to find the email later for later reference.

Framed the message with a “why” or “so what”

In a busy world where time is money, people need a good reason to consume your content. They also want to understand the information in the right context. They don’t want to be confused or haveing to join the missing dots together.

That’s why how you “frame” – or don’t frame – your message is the fourth of five reasons why your audience is ignoring your emails.

When constructing an email, set the context first. For example, rather than just starting out with a reference to new working-from-home policies, set the context (or reason) for it. Such as “with a new state COVID-19 lockdown announced by the government today, we’ll need to transition to work-from-home operations”. The key message might be a transition to work-from-home operations, but explaining it in its context frames it nicely.

Another consideration for framing your message is to position it from your audience’s What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) perspective. Instead of writing “we need volunteers to set up Friday Drinks”, You can frame it with the WIFFM “So we can keep Friday drinks continuing, we need volunteers from your team to set it up. Can you help?” Including the information in a “so what” statement that speaks directly to their needs will tune their ears or focus their eyes to read further.

Setting context or including a WIIFM doesn’t mean adding lots of words to the body of your email. You can set the context in half a sentence. Or you can do it in a paragraph if you want to.

You have issues in the body of your email

Let’s assume that you’re the right sender, you’ve got the right kind of message for the email medium and your audience has actually opened your email because it has an amazing subject line. This should guarantee your message getting through, right?


There are still several roadblocks that can sit in the body of your email:

  • Poor structure
  • Too much content
  • Poor language

Poor structure as one of the reasons why your audience is ignoring your emails

Even though your email may only be one or two paragraphs, the structure is still important. That’s because a good structure helps articulate an idea. A good structure organises your ideas logically so that it makes sense to your audience. It prevents gaps of logic and increasing the cognitive load.

Further, you can use a “superstructure” that is geared to support the outcome of your email. (A superstructure is like a template for organising the type of information to include in a particular way). For example, if you need to persuade workers to adopt a new process, you can take advantage of a persuasive superstructure.

When you don’t bother about structuring your message in an email, you end up with a poor structure. And this can help your reader tune out. Is this one of the reasons why your audience is ignoring your emails?

Too much content as one of the reasons why your audience is ignoring your emails

Although we’ve covered it earlier, it’s worth mentioning again. Emails are not a good medium for sharing loads and load of information. First, it’s hard to consume so much information through the layout of an email browser. Secondly, people reading emails at work are limited in time and just want to get the point quickly. Thirdly, nobody likes scrolling and typically won’t bother scrolling.

Another consideration is that people also read emails on their smartphone. The real estate of a smartphone screen does not make it easy to have lots of detailed information.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why your audience is ignoring your emails. If so, re-think how you communicate your information. Consider drafting your detailed information in a document that your audience can read later, and using an email to provide short a short summary of the information in a way that entices them to read the information in a suitable format.

Poor language as one of the reasons why your audience is ignoring your emails

We all learnt how to write in High School English, but we were mostly writing essays to show off our command of advanced English. Back in the day, long sentences and fancy words ruled the day.

But in today’s business world people aren’t interesting in the eloquence of your writing. They just want to get the message. So you need to write in a way that puts the focus on the message and not the style.

The best way to do this is write your emails in a plain English style. And, where possible, write in a personal manner.

Poor language can confuse people or bore them. Either way, it stops them from reading your message.

If this is one of the reasons why your audience is ignoring your emails, then work on your plain English writing skills. Take time to learn the elements of plain English and cross check your writing style. I’ve found a lot of people who attend my writing workshops think they write in plain English but don’t. Don’t assume you do either.

Reasons why your audience is ignoring your emails

If you are finding your audience is regularly ignoring your emails, perhaps some of these reasons we’ve covered could tell you why.

Remember for email success to ensure that you:

  • Are confident email is the best medium for achieving your communication outcome
  • Are the best sender for the message, otherwise choose someone more effective
  • Include a subject line that is compelling and relevant to your audience
  • Frame your message with a context and include the WIIFM
  • Use a good structure, avoid including too much information, and write in a plain language

The reasons why your audience is ignoring your emails isn’t rocket science. You can address any of these in your writing easily to increase the effectiveness. We help business professionals do this as part of the Bullseye! Method, a comprehensive approach to becoming a great communicator. It takes the mystery out of what makes successful communication and offers simple steps to creating effective comms. It doesn’t just help in creating effective emails, but many different types of comms as part of leadership, organisational and marketing comms.

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