Study finds which email openings get the best response rate (I’m shocked by the results)

I have always said that one should err on the side of caution when sending an email, and go more formal rather than less when it comes to greetings.

Starting with “Hey,” I’ve always said, could be viewed as disrespectful or glib, while “Dear” shows some reverence, which is a compliment. And people like to feel respected and complimented. If you don’t like “Dear,” I’ve suggested that “Hello” is a good option, and that one should never, ever use “Hey.”

Well, it turns out I might be wrong. At least according to some new research conducted by the folks at Boomerang, a productivity software company.

The researchers analyzed data to see which openings are correlated with the highest response rate. Looking at more than 300,000 threads from “online communities that make their message archives public,” the researchers looked at the first lines of each message, counting the relative occurrence of opening words. There were five openings that appeared 1000+ times in order of frequency:

Hi
Hello
Dear
Hey
Greetings

As you can see, “Hi” and “Hello” were by far the most common, appearing 19 times more often than “Dear.”

They then looked at whether the threads received replies, and found that the opening that received the most replies was “Hey.” And “Dear” came in last!

Here’s the breakdown of response rates:

Hey – 64.0%
Hello – 63.6%
Hi – 62.7%
Greetings – 57.2%
Dear – 56.5%
Baseline (all emails in sample) – 47.5%

Overall, emails with an openings got more responses than those without, regardless of the opening. So, you should always include one of some sort.

Here’s how much they each increased a chance of response (over nothing at all).

Hey – 34.8%
Hello – 33.9%
Hi – 32.1%
Dear – 20.6%
Greetings – 19.0%

Colour me surprised. What can I say? But still, that doesn’t mean I’m altogether wrong.

The researchers caution that the data they analyzed may not be representative of email data at large.

“Online communities tend to be more informal, so you might find a different distribution of openings, and different response rates across them, in more formal settings. The same research also showed that participants in online communication tend to mimic each other in the formality of their writing. So keep your audience in mind when you’re starting to write a new message.”

I also think that we’ve probably been turned off “Dear” in recent years because it’s the salutation most often used by debt collectors and people posing as Nigerian princes. “Dear” puts us on the alert.

That being said, I’m still not going to recommend opening with “Hey” when cold emailing a potential employer or similar. You can surely use it with peers, and in interoffice communication with people with whom you’ve already established a relationship. But I still think it’s rude and disrespectful when I receive a cold email starting with “Hey.” Particularly if that person is asking for advice or some other form of help.

Stick with “Hi” or “Hello” for the time being.

Boomerang also previously analyzed the same data sample to see which closings begot the best response rate. In that case it was “Thanks in advance,” possibly because you’ve implied trust that the deed will be done.

Here’s the breakdown of those response rates.

Thanks in advance       65.7%
Thanks 63.0%
Thank you        57.9%
Cheers 54.4%
Kind regards    53.9%
Regards            53.5%
Best regards    52.9%
Best     51.2%
Baseline (all emails in sample)         47.5%

It seems a lot of people hate “Best.” I’ve heard this before. So, avoid “Best” I guess. And close with a “Thank you” of some sort, which is always a nice thing to do.

How do you begin and end your emails? And do some greetings irk you?

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