Email backlog

This is a “hairball” post you can ignore. However, this post does trace my thinking about how to scale webmaster communication. Part of me wants to start answering questions I get via email by stripping out the identifying information and then replying with a blog post. Instead of one person getting a single reply, everybody could see what the answer is.

I spent most of the past week tackling my horrendous email backlog. At the start of the weekend, I was just touching 500 unread emails. I got it down to 218 unread emails and 264 total emails in my inbox. Of course, the ones that are left are the harder messages. And out of those 264 emails, 167 are from outside Google.

A few weeks ago, I flew up to the Kirkland office for a couple days to catch up with the Webmaster Central team. At some point, we were talking about doing videos for webmasters. Someone said “Why don’t we just grab a video camera and see how many videos we can shoot in an hour?” So we did. We managed to tape three pretty informative videos in about an hour, and that includes set-up/breakdown time.

So now I’m looking at these 150+ emails from outside Google, and I’m pondering about how much time I should spend on email compared to other things. Email is a 1:1 communication, so I could answer 10 emails and help roughly 10 people. Or in the same amount of time, I could comment on a forum, start on a blog post, or plan out another video that could benefit a lot more people. I did a series of about 15 videos last year when my wife was out of town, and the videos have been watched over 300K times and downloaded over 100K times.

So to make a long story short, I’m trying to figure out how I should handle email going forward. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but don’t be offended if I don’t reply to email as much going forward.

11 Responses to Email backlog (Leave a comment)

  1. Take a look at what author John Green is doing. He doesn’t answer email, but communicates to his audience through twitter, YouTube and his tumblr page. Very effective too – his legions of fans love him. He makes it clear that he won’t respond to email.

  2. You can actually do both. Emails and videos that you will introduce to the world via a blog post. Blog post can go online the same day or at a later time. That way you keep the 1:1 communication model and relationship with people who really know what they are after, plus you help far more people (your regular readers + organic traffic) by pointing to the new great videos on YouTube/emails answers via a blog post. It takes some extra effort but it helps way more people while still honoring the 1:1 communication model via email.

  3. Matt, why not start a forum on

    You can ask webmasters to post their queries in there and then either you can reply to them or other knowledgeable people from Google or Webmaster Community in general.

    That way it will likely reduce your workload and make it easier for people to reference information in future.

    I know Google already has Google Group for this, but frankly speaking, it is a lot less intuitive to use than good forum software out there and one rarely gets a response from the official team there.

  4. It’s hard to find the right balance sometimes. A lot of people do appreciate the informative videos that set the record straight on a lot of questions that come up from time to time and feel they do help a large number of people.

    Really appreciate the posts and the videos you have been putting out!

  5. Emails take up so much time. My flatmate is constantly in his emails even when he’s on his days off. You’re cracking on an important issue here. Get a secretary? But then to find similar/same brain power – not going to happen. Plus company procedures won’t allow. You’re doomed Matt. It’s videos and emails all the way. But you could group emails and if they have similar questions – make a video that answers them in groups then email the video link. Ranting now – but I do hope you get those emails under your utmost control and that they aren’t that stressful.

  6. I think it is a great odea to try and andswer emails via a video or blog post, so many people can benefit from it.
    I too have problems with receiving too many emails and I have been really trying to unsubscribe from as many things as possible to try and limit them.
    Maybe you need a good assistant who can answer some of the lower levels emails on your behalf?

  7. Hi Mr.Matt how are you my friend? really I like your post and it’s my favorite keep in touch from INDONESIA god bless for you.

  8. I like the idea of a blog post or maybe a FAQ section on the website. Video is a good idea also. People learn more by watching than reading today. I recently have gotten a little more aggressive in managing e-mail. I try to change e-mail frequency to weekly from daily on all the lists that I actually use. If I can answer an e-mail in under 2 minutes, I do it. Otherwise, I batch it with other e-mails that I go through at one time.

    Thanks for a good “hairball” article about the e-mail monster.

  9. I’ll be interested to learn how you continue to work out this issue. I’m dealing with the same thing on a much smaller scale through my own website. I would love to correspond individually with everyone who wants that, but it’s beginning to be overwhelming and taking away time from other efforts that could benefit a greater number of people. Who knew there were so many uncommon veterinarians all over the world!

  10. Hi Matt,
    It s is humanly not possible to reply to all mails and I think most of your readers will understand this problem. Its actually a great idea of replying back through blog post or video post. This solves the problem totally.

  11. Matt,

    yeah having a forum would be great for you or hire a virtual assistant