When it comes to marketing, email may not be the new kid on the block, but it’s the best-performing kid on the block.

According to a joint 2016 WBR Digital and emarsys study, no other marketing channel drives customer acquisition or retention more than email, including social media, paid search, or organic search.

You’d be an idiot to ignore those numbers.

With a tool so valuable to marketers, it’s important that each and every aspect of each and every email is well-executed, well-planned, and well-designed. In addition, the copy in that email better be on-the-money if you expect anyone to open the darned thing in the first place.

No pressure or anything, copywriters!

Fear not: there are some best practices for writing effective email copy. Let’s take this top to bottom.

1. Make the email from-name recognizable to the recipient.

Have you ever received a strange email from a name you didn’t recognize only to realize it was sent by a company’s CEO or perhaps a guest-blogger featured by your favorite blog? Actually, you probably didn’t make it that far.

Shocking information: people instantly delete emails from names they don’t recognize.

A key email marketing concept to remember is that people have very short attention spans. When they skim their inboxes, they make a decision whether or not to open your email within about one second. One. Un. Uno. You can’t afford to give them any reason to swipe-delete your email away into that digital trash bin in cyberspace.

Another key concept involves the idea of matching customer expectations. It’s true with digital ads and landing pages, and it’s true here: customers will feel a sense of betrayal if they open an email expecting to see one thing, only to be duped into reading something else.

The exception to this rule would be for industry influencers, company leaders with wider name recognition (i.e., Bill Gates), or if you’ve got a subscription list of people who signed up to hear from you in particular.

For the most part, though, your customers expect to receive emails from your company. Not from you. But don’t feel sad. We’re sure they like you a whole lot. It’s not personal; it’s business.

2. Write great email subject lines.

Let’s talk logistics.

While devices vary, you should generally try to limit your subject lines to 30 characters or less. Why, you ask? Because if it’s any longer than that, the screen won’t show the whole thing!

Beyond length, there are a few other important tenets of writing effective email subject lines. Remember: the subject line’s job is to convince the recipient to open the email. It’s arguably one of the most important parts of your email copy. If you can’t get them to open the email, you can kiss that conversion goodbye.

Clarity is key

When writing subject lines, don’t bother with long, flowery prose. This is tough for you writerly types, but you need to get in and get out as fast as possible while still compelling the reader to open the email.

The subject line above simply tells me what I need to know about the contents of the email. Nothing more, nothing less.

Confusion is the enemy. The moment your customer fails to understand your messaging, you’ve lost them. Sometimes, it’s just best to tell it like it is.

Use urgency

Another tool in your email copy toolbelt should be the use of urgency. You have a very short amount of time to engage your reader, so injecting urgency into your subject line will provide an added incentive to open the email. When people feel like they have a very limited time to act on an offer, they’ll be more likely to jump on it quickly.

Other “urgent” subject lines highlight that a product is “limited edition” or that a certain sale is “today only.” Take, for instance, the example below:

Yes, it’s real. Kind of hard not to open that email to see what it’s all about, isn’t it? Urgent subject lines make the reader feel as though what you’re selling or offering is scarce. When they’re able to get something scarce, they feel special. And, when they feel special, they feel exclusive.

Your customers are important to you. Make them feel that way.

Make it personal

Not that kind of personal. Personal, as in, make them feel as though you’re speaking directly to them. You can do this by using their name, like in the example below:

A holiday surprise? Just for me? Let’s get real, here, folks – I won’t ignore that.

Most email marketing platforms include some sort of feature that allows you to insert each and every recipient’s name into the subject line. Personalization is part of a highly-effective brand experience and does wonders for your open rates when you do it right.

Grab attention with a question

Similar to personalization, a good, ol-fashioned, attention-grabbing call-out that hits on one of the recipient’s pain points can also be quite effective. Take the example below, which combines personalization with a call-out:

By using a specific call-out like a question, there’s a greater chance you’ll be able to catch the reader’s eye and entice them to open the email.

Make ‘em an offer they can’t refuse

Slow down, Michael Corleone, I’m not talking about that kind of offer. If you’re sending an email that contains a free download or a great coupon, be sure to let them know what they’ll be getting up-front. If you’ve got a goody in store for your recipient, use it to your advantage:

If it’s something the recipient finds useful or necessary, they’ll very likely open your email.

3. Write email preheader text that accompanies your subject line.

The preheader text is that bit of copy that comes after the subject line and offers the reader a little preview of what’s to come in the body of the email. If you’re using an email marketing platform that allows you to edit the preheader text shown in the recipient’s inbox, use it.

The thing that’s important to note here is that the preheader text should be a continuation of the idea stated in the subject line. If your subject line is a question, the preheader should answer the question, like this:

This preheader can also work with the subject line by providing further clarification of the message’s contents:

This is also a place where you could use the recipient’s name if you didn’t have room to do so in the subject line:

A side note: try your best to keep the email preheader around 75 characters or less. This ensures that those reading from a mobile device can read the entire thing.

4. Optimize the email body copy.

Ah… body copy. It’s the meat and potatoes of your email. Depending on what kind of email you’re sending, it may or may not be heavier on copy. For example, if you’re sending a newsletter, it’ll probably contain more copy than, say, an email promoting a new product.

Either way, there are some guidelines to follow. With most marketing emails, getting the reader to click a CTA button is the ultimate goal. How do we get them to click it? I’m glad you asked.

Use benefit-focused copy

This may be somewhat obvious, but benefit-focused writing is the kind of writing that focuses on the benefits of using a product or service, rather than just providing a laundry-list of the product or service specifications, processes, or features.

Yes, there are people who are very concerned with every detail of what you’re selling. But for the most part, people only care about what makes their lives easier, especially if they’re higher up the funnel.

In the above email, Grammarly tries to ease me into the email by highlighting the benefit associated with using their program. The message is telling me that using Grammarly will make me a better writer. Notice how they never get into the nitty-gritty of how their spell-check features work, or what the differences are between their free and paid services. They’re simply helping me to believe that I will be a better writer by using their program.

By using benefit-focused copy, the customer immediately understands what’s in it for them. According to Campaign Monitor, the use of benefit-focused copy increases click-through rates by 10%. If you can illustrate how their lives will improve as a result of using the product or service, you’ve won half the battle.

Emphasize urgency

Urgency isn’t only effective in subject lines; it works nicely in body copy, too.

“Don’t delay. Your Late Bird discount will expire tomorrow.”

When the reader has to make a quick decision on an enticing offer, they’ll likely buy into it. The fear of being left out of something exclusive is strong in the age of Keeping Up with the Kardash– er, Joneses.

Write with clarity

Just as you don’t want to confuse the reader in the subject line, you don’t want to confuse them in the body copy, either.

Below, Dropbox promotes a new feature with straight-to-the-point copy that tells me what it is, why I should be interested, and how much it’ll cost me.

…Dropbox Paper is a flexible workspace that helps you collaborate during all phases of a project – from start to finish. And it comes free with Dropbox.

Two sentences.

There’s no vagueness, no sesquipedalian words (see what I did there?!), no long, drawn-out sentences. It’s telling me what I need to know in a fairly friendly and straight-forward voice.

People are busy. If they can’t understand the point quickly, you’ll lose their attention – and their potential business.

5. Optimize the email call to action (CTA) button copy.

Think “Apply Now” or “Buy Today” is gonna cut it? You’re thinking wrong.

It may seem like a small detail, but the CTA button is one of the most important parts of the email. It’s the final gateway, the last hurdle to getting your reader to do what you want them to do. It’s the reason you sent the email in the first place.

When writing CTA button copy, it’s important not to tell the reader to click on the button – you need to tell them why they should click it. This is closely related to the idea of benefit-focused copy.

Emphasize Value

Imagine you’re writing an email on behalf of an accounting firm. The purpose of the email is to send the reader to a landing page where they’ll be able to download a free tax planning guide in exchange for a name and email address.

Instead of writing a CTA button that reads, “Download Now,” it would be more effective for it to read something like, “Get My Free Guide Now.” By writing copy that focuses on the value behind the click, the reader will be more likely to actually click.

The above CTA uses the benefit-focused copy “Get Your November Box” instead of something like “Buy Now.” The copy emphasizes what I’d be getting instead of highlighting that I’d be spending money to get it. It’s slight, but there is an important distinction.

Convey Urgency

The CTA button is yet another opportunity to emphasize urgency, if you see fit.

For example, if your goal is to have customers register for a special event, instead of writing a CTA like, “Register Now,” you could instead write something like, “Save My Seat Now!” Not only does the latter hold more urgency, it helps the reader visualize attending the event.

The example below uses “Register Now,” but adds a little extra oomph by reminding us that early registration will save us $300.

A little advice: don’t try to trick your reader into believing there’s urgency where there really is none. Honesty goes a long way in content marketing.

Get to the Point

We’ve all seen CTA buttons that, much like Celine Dion’s heart, go on and on. While you want to avoid the humdrum, you still need to make it as snappy as possible. The longer the copy, the more spammy it’s going to seem.

Here’s an example of what not to do:

Instead, a shorter option could have read, “Try Basecamp Free for 60 Days,” or “Get My 60-Day Free Trial.”

Conclusion

One of the most important things to remember when writing your email copy is to consider both the brand and its audience.

While it’s true that you want marketing copy to be as clear and concise as possible, an audience of corporate CPAs may respond better to more technical industry jargon. The voice of your email may change depending upon which segment you’re targeting. The depth with which you discuss a particular product’s specifications will change depending upon where the prospect sits in the marketing funnel.

The point is, as with most things in life, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Which aspect of email marketing has been the most challenging for you and your brand? If you’ve made adjustments and still can’t seem to get the results you’re looking for, give us a call.