Why Your Follow-Up Emails Get Ignored (and How to Fix It)

As an entrepreneur or business owner, you’ve almost certainly been on two sides of the same coin:

  1. You reach out to a new connection and don’t receive a timely reply. You agonize over whether to push things. Should you follow-up? Should you wait, or just let things go?
  2. You receive emails from contacts that begin with an unimpressive “Just checking in…” You save them for later, and never respond.

If you’re tired of winding up in the first situation, it’s time to think hard about the second; when it comes to communication, understanding others begins with understanding yourself.

Why do you ignore emails?

Let’s be honest: if responding to emails was a fun task, this article would probably be unnecessary. Getting back to people — even people you know you should be talking to — is hard for many reasons. For instance,

  • You have dozens of other emails to reply to, and you aren’t sure which to prioritize
  • You want to put off replying until you come to a decision or fulfill a commitment (but you haven’t done it yet)
  • An email seemed generic, canned, uninteresting, and generally not worth your time
  • Unless they are of the utmost urgency, emails finally slip away and get lost until you forget about replying to them altogether

If any of these points describe you, don’t feel ashamed: every online marketer faces the problems of overload, non-commitment, and forgetfulness from time to time. Even with software assistance and good organization skills, work is work, and work isn’t easy (or you don’t get a paycheck).

Why you don’t ignore an email…

Here’s the important point. Except on rare occasions, you probably aren’t ignoring an email because:

  1. You think replying is a total waste of your time, and that you would gain absolutely nothing from it.
  2. You hate the sender for bothering you. You are annoyed with them on a personal level, and don’t think they deserve a modicum of your precious time.
  3. Replying to the email would mean cancelling all your plans, and devoting the next few hours to writing a response.

There may be some very, very special occasions on which any of the former are true. However,

  • Unless the email is total spam, it’s from a contact. You’ve spoken before, and there was some good reason for it. You know it isn’t a complete waste of time; if nothing more, rapport could matter down the road.
  • You may feel too busy to answer, but you rarely feel malice or spite for the sender — you’re just busy! You aren’t thinking about them at all.
  • Most of the time, replying to an email won’t take more than ten minutes. You know this, but you’re thinking about your next meeting, lunch, or an even more important email.

How to not be ignored

All of this proves one simple thing: being afraid to write a follow-up email is silly. Barring exceptional occasions, checking in on someone is not going to ruin or interrupt their day, and there is some good reason for them to answer it.

Let’s get some obvious advice out of the way: don’t check-in too often. If you send a query every day, you’re going to annoy your contact and create the rare occasion on which they personally dislike you. However, 99% of all online marketers understand this advice, and are prone to err on the side of caution when a little more diligence would serve them well.

Use common sense, and don’t message more than twice per week. With that said, here’s how to make sure the emails you send get noticed:

  1. Be more personable. Remember that you ignore an email if it gets lost in the shuffle: so don’t let your emails get lost in the shuffle. Share something with your contact relevant to their business, reference something they published, or compliment their website. You’ll stand out and get noticed.
  2. Avoid cliches. Humans use cliches sometimes; that’s just how we roll. But on the Internet, this makes you sound like a robot, and sounding like a robot is how you get ignored. Do not tell your contact you are “Just checking in.” This is too easy to write, and adds no value. Speaking of which…
  3. Add value. If you can provide something useful to your contact, do so. If you notice something on their website that can be corrected or improved, give constructive feedback. If you want to build on a previous conversation, do that; whatever you do, don’t say, “I’m here. Now pay attention to me.” That doesn’t work.
  4. Have a polite sense of urgency. Remember that we struggle to prioritize which emails we respond to first. If the email you send is too short, comfy, and agreeable, you are saying “I don’t care if you reply.” So you probably won’t get one. Without being a jerk, use your tone and choice of words to show that you look forward to hearing back from your contact.

23 More Tips

For a more in-depth look at crafting an effective follow-up email, check out our infographic and related blog post: 23 Better Ways to Write a Follow Up Email by Belle Balace.

— Brandon Shutt, Editor at OMI