How to Use Strategic SEO Email

Content writers know that good search-engine optimization involves targeted keywords that let people find exactly what they need quickly and easily. Smart keyword strategies allow a search that produces results.

No, this isn’t about using email to boost search engine rankings or helping people find a site. This is about creating an email system that helps you work faster and more efficiently while helping your clients to do the same.

It’s a win-win advantage that saves time and money for everyone.

With the increase of web working and using email to communicate back and forth, finding what you need, when you need it, matters a great deal. Minutes count in a day, adding up to hours in a week – and if those hours are spent searching your email, it’s a complete waste of time.

Email can even kill your business.

This searching is a waste of your clients’ time too. You’re not working on their project, you have less time to provide fast customer service, and inefficient email may mean that clients are spending their minutes searching for emails too.

You can set up all the folders in your email that you like. You can use filters, colors tagging and stars to manage your email until the cows come home. Your clients and peers may be doing the same, hoping for just as much as you might be.

What good is shifting email to folders to find what you want later on? You’ll still have to sift through all the communication. A folder labeled “Design Projects” full of emails from various clients isn’t really very helpful, nor is a long list of folders, each named for every client you’ve ever had in your life.

We’re foldering ourselves to death, people.

Besides, how many of us maintain these folder habits and tagging tactics? We all have great intentions to clean the email closet and organize until we can pick and choose in seconds. Fast forward a few months, and that email organization isn’t looking so clean.

It’s an ongoing maintenance thing. Most of us aren’t great about long-term follow-through on tasks like that.

Your email search feature is a search engine just like Google. It relies on keywords you input to looks through hundreds – thousands! – of emails and find a match. You can actually be pretty damned messy and disorganized with your email and still find what you need quickly if you apply great SEO to your email.

In short, harnessing the power of email SEO lets you take efficiency to a whole new level – and saves you a bunch of headaches. Here are some SEO email tips to help you go the distance:

Use a pertinent keyword you can remember easily in the subject line. Think about what you might search for in a few months when you might be looking back in time with a memory that isn’t fresh. “Question about the Auto Blog” isn’t a great subject line. “Sidebar Button Design for Auto Blog” is more relevant.

Insert the recipient’s name at least twice in the email – once in the greeting and once in the conclusion is perfect. We all like to hear our name anyways, and clients especially so. Start emails with, “Hi Ryan,” versus, “Hi,” or “Hey there.” Wrap them up with closings like, “If there’s anything else I can help with, Ryan, feel free to let me know.”

Apply relevant keywords throughout your email communication. In our search to get concise, fast emails zipping around the ‘net, we’ve started to cut out the most important elements. “Did you get that button I sent?” is useless email content. “Hi Ryan, did you get the sidebar button design for your auto blog that I sent you on October 1?” is better.

Try to stay on subject as much as possible. People have a tendency to create long email threads that cover 40 subjects in one back-and-forth marathon session. Starting a new email when a different subject slips into the conversation helps you find that thread when you search. Otherwise, you’ll have to read a long, long conversation to find the information you’re looking for.

Search well. Avoid generic keywords and single-word terms or common keyword phrases. Use targeted, highly relevant keywords in your messages that apply to the client, the project and the situation. For example, searching my email for “drive-by” produces hundreds of returns. That’s no good at all. “Drive-by Charfish Design November 32” chops the list down to a handful.

Can you think of other great SEO strategies that help you search for emails you need? How do you find what you want six months later? Share what you know and pass on the great tips!

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. This is a really great post, James. I would have never thought to use SEO strategies in my email, even though half the time I can’t find anything in my email. Yep, I really need to read this post about ten more times, then apply it to all my emails from here on out.

    Of all your posts on MwP, this is up there with the ones I find most helpful. 🙂

  2. I’m sure most of us can empathise with not being able to find that one critical email.

    Nice reminder, James.

    David Aireys last blog post..A conversation about spec work

  3. Thanks for sharing this, James – I use this tip all the time. Over the years, I’ve become used to people at work not responding to emails when they should, so I’ve used the keyword approach with great success.

    “Just search Outlook for (keyword)” has been a great excuse buster for lazy managers who insist they can’t find things in a 2000 message inbox.

    I also make sure the subject line can’t be misinterpreted and always has an action statement. “Input Needed by Tuesday COB on Visual Studio purchase” gets more response that “Software purchase request” 🙂

    Dave Navarros last blog post..The Poverty Snowball: What Is Your Life Worth?

  4. Graham Strong says:

    Hey James,

    This is a great point, though there is another reason to use SEO emailing habits: your clients. I always try to be as descriptive as possible in the subject line so that if my clients have to come back to something, they will be able to find it.

    So when they realize they didn’t actually save the Word file, they can easily find “Proposal Cover Letter Draft 1” whether they are searching or scrolling down their Inbox.


  5. @ Graham – Caught you skimming and scamming 🙂 I mention that this method helps clients as well a few times throughout the post. Subtle, I’ll grant you, so your stressing it helps.

    @ Dave – That’s a great tip, actually. I usually put deadlines in the text, but yeah, having the short cliffnotes version of the content as the subject is pretty efficient.

    @ David – That one. critical. email. Was looking for one of those this weekend and nearly tearing my hair out. (Found it!)

    @ Allison – Now I want to know what the other ones were 😉

  6. Dude – exactly – I used to folder it all – now I just archive and search. It’s a beautiful thing.

    Seamus Anthonys last blog post..Do You Pass The Lawnmower Test?

  7. Graham Strong says:

    @James – lol – actually, not really skimming but certainly reading quickly. I read the part about wasting clients’ time by searching on the clock, but missed the part about them searching too!

    Ah well, we’ve certainly underlined it now…


    Graham Strongs last blog post..The Art of Perception (Part I): Doors of Perception

  8. That’s a million times better than my method, and a billion times more obvious. Thanks.

    Writer Dads last blog post..Forty Days and Forty Nights

  9. Wow. Good article and a great idea. At my job, I am hamstrung by Lotus Notes, perhaps the worst email program on the market today. Even trying to sort all of my emails by relevant categories would be agonizing. The search system does work, if not well, so your system could help out. As it is, I try never to look at past emails unless I know exactly what I’m looking for. I just ask the question again. Luckily, all of the other employees are in the same lousy boat as I am.

    John Hewitts last blog post..10/18/2008 Writing Jobs and Links

  10. Brett Legree says:


    Good post with lots of relevant tips – I may suggest folks take it even further, with filenames too.

    It is common practice at my workplace for documents to be saved with a coded document number only – no human readable words to give you a clue as to what is in the document.

    Then, these are filed into folders and sub-folders and sub-sub-folders with only document numbers and sub-numbers and sub-sub-numbers to tell you what it is.

    I *used* to be able to find what I was seeking at work by using my groovy indexing search tool… but had to give it up as it was using too much bandwidth on our anemic network here. So rather than find things instantly, for a while I had to resort to “click-click, damn, click-click, damn”.

    Now if I find anything important or I’m sent anything important, I just mirror it locally on my own computer’s hard drive so I can continue to index it.

    The point – which you’ve illustrated so clearly here – is “make the computer work for you – don’t work for the computer”.

    Brett Legrees last blog post..john who?

  11. I’ve been using Gmail for a couple years and it does not even have folders. You can apply labels. Sort of the same but not quite. And with huge storage capabilities there is little need to delete anything (except the spam that sneaks by the filters).

    Anyways, it got me in the habit of just using the search feature to find old emails. And I don’t even waste my time with applying labels. Works great.

    Stevers last blog post..New iGoogle with Left Nav Bar is the SUCK!

  12. @ Stever – I use Gmail too – extensively – and while using the search feature got me by for a while, there comes a point when there’s just too much. I recently had to sit down and reorganize the whole system (hence this post).

    The difference between folders and labels in Gmail is basically just a term. If you apply the proper scripts and use the Labs features, you can have nested folder-style organization, labeling *and* color coding.

    For example, I have Clients as a “folder”. It’s then split up into a nested “folder” of Active\Inactive\Potential. Those are further split by client name. It’s cut down my searching phenomenally and I can easily shift emails from one “folder” to the other rapidly with two clicks.

  13. @James – You’re going to make me do work? Today? 😉 I’ll find them tomorrow so you can feel all special then. 😀

    I just wish everyone *else* used this as well… since the majority of my mail is incoming rather than outgoing, I definitely still use folders or labels quite a bit.

  14. If you can come up with a way to get other people to reply with a relevant subject line, then you’d truly be a genius…Is there a good way to tell a client that “RE: Invoice for 2008/xx/xx” is not the appropriate subject line for an email about new project requirements?

  15. Brett Legree says:

    Re: labels / folders, when anything comes in, if it requires an Action on my part, I basically forward it to myself, writing some text as to what I’m supposed to do, and give it a label I can use for sorting – if I’m waiting for something from someone, I label it as Hold.

    Everything else gets archived – works for me.

    Brett Legrees last blog post..john who?

  16. Brett Legree says:


    Forward it back to yourself with relevant information in the subject line and/or text body when it is still fresh in your head. CC them if you think they are the sort who would like that.

    Brett Legrees last blog post..john who?

  17. @ Damon – Dude. You have a site called Life with Beer?

    *bows* Amen.

    Not only that, today’s post is beer from Eastern Canada? RIGHT ON!!!

    Here’s a famous one for you:

    This brewery was a mini-micro brewery thing a few years back. Big now. Major cool labels that just absolutely kick ass and who can resist a beer named “The End of the World”??

  18. @Brett That’s a really good idea that I will use. Thanks.

    @James I hate coming up with names for sites. I’ve been agonizing over the name for my professional site for months. But as soon as I thought of Life with Beer…I just knew.

    Unibroue and I are already well acquainted. I applaud your taste in beer.

  19. @ Damon – I should create a site called Life with James.

    Lacking Unibroue, I’ll settle for a Sleeman Silver Creek 🙂

  20. @ James If Men With Pens splinters apart, you could write a nasty tell-all called Life with Harry (sorry, Charles, you have to participate in a drive-by before deserving a book or website devoted to sabotaging your reputation).

  21. Brett Legree says:


    I second James, that is a cool site you have and the name is awesome. Ah yes, Unibroue and I know each other well also… 🙂

    Brett Legrees last blog post..john who?

  22. Back on topic and filed in the Incredible Coincidence folder (which we now know we will never use).

    Jacob Nielsen today published an article on Transactional Email and Confirmation Messages where he mentions “deferred SEO” as one of the benefits of applying usability concepts to email.

    Clearly Nielsen gets his ideas from lurking on this site.

  23. @ Damon – They say copying is the highest form of flattery. On a drive-by note, the site is ugly as sin, the writing is convoluted and difficult to read and Nielsen truly lacks my flair for the written word.

    I remain King of All Things Alphabet. ‘Nuff said.

  24. James, this is cool. You’ve touched on something I already do! Shocker, I know… 😉

    I’ve been using gmail (and google mail for my law firm blogger address) for a long time, so searching is my way to go rather than a bunch of subfolders. For this reason, I do try to keep my subject lines to clients highly relevant, and when a client emails me and doesn’t include something I can easily search for I do try to make my response include search terms I can find later. Since google mail keeps the conversations all together, this makes my life a lot easier.

    Back in the old using outlook days, I used to drive myself crazy trying to find things and keep them organized. Not being a very organized person by nature, this naturally involved wanting to bang my head into walls several times a day. So I remember these days well and try to make it easy, when sending my own emails, for my clients to know where to file things away.

    I should probably work on doing this with personal emails also. You know, to save my pals some of the headache of talking to me. 🙂

    Amy Derbys last blog post..Review of Liz Strauss’ Ebook: The Secret to Writing a Successful and Outstanding Blog

  25. I know the feeling, and it’s seems like every other day I find myself digging through old emails. I like your idea of using a keyword in order to hunt down a particular email. 🙂

    Miguel Wickerts last blog post..Blog Action Day 08: Poverty

  26. Like Brett, I’ve been know to forward things to myself. I keep the important stuff in my Mail program on the computer, and everything gets archived in gmail. I keep waiting for them to email and kick me out for being such a packrat, 🙂

    Jamies last blog post..The Cure for Depression: Nick Vujicic

  27. There’s one additional thing I picked up from my brother regarding email and the subject line. Each email and corresponding reply(s) should, if at all possible, be limited to just the one original subject/thread. If a new subject develops or multiple subjects need to be addressed, each subject should be addressed with it’s own email. Otherwise the subject and body of your email may not correspond with each other.

  28. @ Mark – YES! YES YES! I am *such* a huge fan of “to each subject its own email” that some people have remarked on how I always open new emails for individual subjects. But man, it WORKS. Period.

  29. John Hoff - eVentureBiz says:

    Oh man . . . does this mean I have to start attracting inbound links to my email address too! 😉

    John Hoff – eVentureBizs last blog post..Start A Blog: Free or Paid? WordPress or Blogger?

  30. Urban Panther says:

    Okay, too funny. At work, I prided myself on my folders and my filters. Then last week I deleted them all! It really wasn’t achieving what I wanted it to. Now I read and delete, or read and keep. That’s it. Now I am hoping to rely on searches.

    Now, if I could just get the 600 people who email me to use good key words, my system just might work!

    Urban Panthers last blog post..Friar asked and I’m answering

  31. Brett Legree says:


    I hear you. At work, forced to use Outlook 2000… (just love being “cutting edge”) so when email comes in, if it is something requiring action, I drag it onto the Tasks button, which creates a new task. If more info is required to act as reminders, I edit the text and subject line. I give it a due date and a reminder. The original email may then either be archived or deleted (usually deleted).

    Some folks wonder how my Inbox doesn’t have 600 items in it… well, that’s how.

  32. Urban Panther says:

    @Brett – yup, Outlook 2000. But that’s okay, when I started here 10 years ago we were on Windows for Workgroups. I really like your process. Will try that!

    Urban Panthers last blog post..Friar asked and I’m answering

  33. Urban Panther says:

    @Brett – P.S. you and Friar will really like my post tomorrow. It’s a Factory post.

    Urban Panthers last blog post..Friar asked and I’m answering

  34. Brett Legree says:


    I’m looking forward to that post very much!

    PS – re: the drag to Tasks thing – be careful and check that any hyperlinks still work before you delete the original email, and it doesn’t always take attachments with it… I learned that the hard way 🙂

  35. I didn’t see this tip mentioned, but (I admit it!) I skimmed a bit here, because I already do most of these things using Gmail. Did you know you can create “additional” email addresses in Gmail? For instance, if your address is (which, for the record, mine isn’t), you can append anything you want to that by adding a + sign. So you could have a, and it would still come to be delivered to you. Additionally, you can also insert one or more periods anywhere in your existing address (before the @) and it will still get to you. So you can use or

    I haven’t quite figured out a use of the second option, but I use the first one all the time. For instance, instead of creating a “throw away” address for all the websites I register for online, I simple create a custom email address for each. So if I registered at Best Buy to order something, I might give them That way if I start getting SPAM at that email address I know who the culprit is and can easily follow up, create a filter to immediately trash anything going to that address, or quickly look up any receipts for orders I’ve placed with Best Buy. Pretty darn handy that.

  36. @ Nicole – Seriously? I did *NOT* know that. And that’s one bloody handy trick (says the guy with about 225 email addresses at any given time.)

  37. By the way, and this is important. Gmail only trick!

    Nicole Brunets last blog post..Gary: 2002

  38. BUT you could do the same thing with a “catch all” email address for a custom domain. I used to do it all the time. (I’m done yackety yacking now.) 😉


  1. 10/21/2008 Writing Jobs and Links | PoeWar says:

    […] How to Use Strategic SEO Email: An excellent system for creating emails so that you can easily find them in searches later. […]

  2. […] systems for organizing your email. Here’s a different question. Why are you spending so much time on email in the first place? If you’ve achieved Inbox Zero at the end of the day, but haven’t changed […]

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