Powerful search clients and software have added utility to email that's changing the way we should all be doing business.
Whether it's a traditional email client like Outlook, classic webmail, or a hybrid like Google's gmail premium service, search is a critical piece of the email pie. If you don't have extremely granular and lightning fast search capabilities, it should be a high priority for your organization.
Here are some tips to leverage the power of search in your own (and recipients') email. Granted, some of this is common sense. But, as with SEO best practices, sometimes a gentle refresher is needed to not ignore the obvious.
1) Be plainly descriptive in your headings and in the body. If the discussion is about a red chair manufacturer, make sure your email contains "red chair" in the heading. This way, in the results pages itself, you will be able to find that email about the relevant key subject. Don't use the heading to talk about how excited you are that you finally found the red chair.
2) Hashtags are another way of organizing important categories of emails. E.g.: Between business partners: #financials, or #branding (for those long branding brainstorming threads). If everyone is on the same hashtag page, then finding highly important emails will be simple. Just make sure you don't ever assume that people are always using the hashtags when you're looking for that important link in the chain.
3) Stop overvaluing attachments. Law firms have the most to lose from us beginning to use emails more diligently as a contract initiation mechanism. In Canadian law, a contract is defined as "a meeting of the minds". Emails constitute contracts. Period. If you absolutely need to use attachments, also copy and paste the body of the attachment into the email. Then you're doubly covered, and you can search via the keywords of the contract itself.
4) Most word processors themselves are built on the same technology as email authoring platforms, so you lose very little in terms of formatting when you use email instead of word processing. When sending a set of deliverables to a client, or negotiating a contract, I can be 100% sure that the recipient will receive it in a timely manner, whether they're on the bus or at their desk. The consequence of getting into the email habit, is that your business life will become very searchable, and easier to organize.
5) Recipient confirmation. Save those as well! Search enables you to not only see what has been sent, but also who has seen it and opened it. Email combined with search enables you to answer the question, "Did Bob read that document I sent him in 2009?" Back to an earlier point: if the document is in the body of the email, then the answer can be known. But, if the document has to be downloaded, opened, etc. then your answer will not be certain.
Generally, you can see a pattern here, which can bring us to a great rule of thumb. By making sure all your business practices can be easily searched as you engage in business, including recipient actions, and other interactions, your life will generally run more smoothly and efficiently.