Getting your email marketing strategy right is a science AND an art. A key element of both is understanding how to write high converting email copy.
You are creating an email campaign for your awesome target audience, but the email copy is somehow off-kilter. It’s a feeling a lot of email marketers are familiar with.
“Your email copy is a direct conversation with your target audience.” – EmailOut
Even the most seasoned email marketers and copywriters (myself included) have trouble nailing their email copy. I bet even old-timers like Hemingway, Tolstoy and Austen have gone through writer’s block. When you’ve put tons of effort into writing the perfect email subject line, preheader and body copy but your email marketing KPIs fall flat, you start wondering – “What did I do wrong?” and “How can I improve my email copywriting?”. Sounds familiar?
This article covers the following topics about email copywriting:
- What is email copywriting?
- How to write email copy?
- 11 email copywriting tips
Ready to dive in?
When dealing with email copywriting there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Brilliant marketing copywriters have existed for hundreds of years – for example, Claude Hopkins’ “Scientific Advertising” published in the distant 1923.
Still, email copywriting is not solely about the subject line, nor is it just about the call-to-action or only about the body copy. It is about all of it and the art – and science – of crafting the most amazing email campaigns that convert like crazy and serve as automated selling machines from the moment you unleash them onto your target audience.
Email Copywriting: Definition
The most important rule of email copywriting: you must write something people want to read.
Email copywriting is the words written in your subject line, preheader and body copy. It is the act of expressing an idea to persuade leads to convert into customers through the power of well-crafted, witty, interesting and captivating text.
Email copywriting is not much different from any other form of copywriting. Yet, it does have a few unique advantages deserving of serious consideration.
- higher levels of persuasiveness
- a connection between subject line, preheader and call-to-action
- no fluff, fillers or tangents
Mastering email copywriting requires time, strategy, a dash of creativity and, of course, a keen eye for detail. It’s not a marketing activity you should dread. In fact, by breaking down each content component of your email campaign you will simplify, streamline and clarify your copywriting process – and might just find out how much fun writing email copy can be.
How-To: Writing Email Copy
Writing email copy starts with a specific goal – “What is it that you want your audience to do after opening your email?”
Email Copywriting For Inbound Marketing
Generally, email marketing has two main uses – inbound marketing and outbound sales (more on the latter later). Thus, you are either utilising email marketing to –
- communicate with and nurture leads already attracted to your brand, or
- attract new leads and convert them into long-term paying customers.
Inbound marketing, for those who might not be familiar with the term, is a form of marketing that attracts people to a brand by –
- creating content they want,
- solving their existing problems, and
- offering solutions they’re looking for.
Let’s dive into writing smashing email copy for inbound marketing emails.
Understanding Your Long Term Target Audience
The focal point of inbound marketing is building and nurturing long term relationships, focusing on that goal is essential to nailing your inbound email copywriting.
The two main elements to focus on are relevance and trust.
You must take your audience on an intentional journey where each element of your email campaign is connected to the others (i.e. subject line to preheader and both connected to the body copy and CTAs) and relevant to the overall journey.
In terms of trust, it’s important to remember that the immediate response to your email campaign is not as important as the long term response. In inbound marketing, the types of emails you send and your email copywriting are critical to your overall success because they will either build or deteriorate trust.
I know profit is important but riddle me this, would you sacrifice a long term trustworthy relationship with a client (which will be increasingly profitable in future) for short term success?
The Subject Line Promise
Subject lines are like movie trailers. If the trailer doesn’t grab your attention, you wouldn’t even consider seeing the movie. The same applies to your email campaign’s subject line.
With three billion emails sent/received daily worldwide, the chances of YOUR email being ignored are quite high. Unless… you craft the perfect email subject line befitting the type of email you’re sending and delivering on the promise within the subject line.
If your subject line promises a free guide or a three-month free trial or the secret to email deliverability, you must ensure you’ll deliver on that promise.
Fulfilling The Promise
The Wild West of marketing is a dangerous place and your email copy falls slap bang in the middle of it. No rules, no perfect formula. If you neglect to fulfil your subject line promise within the email copy, your campaign will most certainly crash and burn.
I receive tons of emails every day and have seen all sorts of email copy, some brands have done pretty well, others – not so much. However, “pretty well” is not “very well” where email marketing KPIs will skyrocket and sales flow.
The inbound marketing email copywriting trends I’ve recognised as successful across varying content types and goals are –
- delivering on the subject line’s promise,
- storytelling is king, and
- original content works best.
Create Strategic Email Sequences
Now that you have some pointers on how to create inbound marketing email copy, it’s time to focus on putting everything together and creating strategic email sequences.
The four main email sequences every brand should have are –
- onboarding email series (welcome emails)
- product/service launch & sales series
- customer engagement series (thank you, milestone, birthday, early access emails)
- inactive subscribers series (re-engagement emails)
Whether you are a marketer, small or medium-sized business or a start-up, email automation will help you –
- save time,
- decrease costs,
- nurture customers & attract new ones,
- improve conversions, and
- increase ROI.
Besides, 64% of B2B marketers use email marketing automation techniques and B2C marketers using email automation witness a 50% increase in conversion rates.
Email Copywriting For Outbound Sales Campaigns
It’s time to tackle the much less complicated world of outbound sales email campaigns.
Outbound sales emails have one very singular and simple objective – to start a conversation.
Unlike inbound marketing emails, here you don’t need to worry much about building long term trust and providing continuous value. Ultimately, outbound sales emails are a game of numbers. You are simply attempting to –
- get your products/services in front of a large group of potential customers,
- grab the attention of as many people as possible, and
- convert a percentage of them into customers.
The three main things to focus on when crafting outbound sales email copy are –
1) Increasing open rates with the help of your subject line.
We always face the same challenge over and over again when it comes to subject lines – standing out in the mess that’s the potential customers’ inbox.
Since you won’t be able to squeeze in all of the five essential ingredients that make a powerful subject line (i.e. curiosity, urgency, personalisation & relevance, novelty and a tempting offer) due to the recommended email subject line of only 50 characters (nor should you), make sure to carefully think through your subject line copywriting process.
2) Boosting engagement rates with your email’s body copy.
You got recipients to open your email, but… now what? This is not an inbound marketing email. People have no desire to spend their precious time reading through tons of content. If you respect them and want them to convert, you wouldn’t force them to. Rather focus on three important things –
- pivot off your email subject line,
- provide to-the-point, clear, short content, and
- make the offer.
You can always go wild and write more content and encourage recipients to experiment, but the shorter and more focused the better in my experience.
3) Maximising conversions with follow-up emails.
Your email might never be a top priority for your target audience. They may need what you’re selling and open your email. But… what if they get a call in the middle of reading or a work email needing their immediate attention?
If they are (really) interested, they’ll either mark the email as “unread” or make themselves a reminder to get back to it. The bottom line is that you will not get an immediate response. Thus, you need to follow up on your initial offer within at least 24-48 hours. Just give them a little nudge. If after the third or fourth follow-up email, you still haven’t managed to convert them, let them go.
11 Email Copywriting Tips
Email copywriting can be time-consuming and stressful, but it can also be fun, exciting and enjoyable. People want to hear from you, but if you don’t meet their expectations, your email – regardless of how hard you’ve worked on your email copy – will be doomed to the horror that is the Trash, or worse – the Spam folder.
However, you can prevent any such email marketing doomsday event by simply utilising these 11 email copywriting tips.
Identify the WHO and WHAT
Two of the most important things to determine before you start with email copywriting are –
- who are you writing email copy to?
- what do you want recipients to do after reading your email?
It is crucial to understand your audience. If you don’t understand who you’re speaking to, what you want them to do and how you can help them, should you even be sending marketing emails?
Of course, if you DO understand these things, ensure every part and element of your email is resonating with the ‘who’ and smooth-talking them to do the ‘what’.
Nail Your Subject Line
Your emails’ subject line is the perfect place to make a memorable and lasting first impression. Not to mention that –
- nearly 50% of recipients open emails solely based on the subject line, and
- almost 70% of recipients will report an email as SPAM only based on the subject line.
A great email subject line can have a powerful impact on your target audience. From the words you choose and adding emojis (or not) to personalisation and funny puns, writing the best email subject lines is an art you need to master to achieve your email marketing goals.
Oh, and did I mention email subject lines are pretty much the biggest factor in whether or not people open your email?
It often takes us milliseconds to glance at a subject line and decide whether or not to open, ignore or delete an email. So, make sure YOURS will withstand such a fatal fate by following email subject line best practice.
Match Your Email Copy with the Subject Line
If you’ve made a promise in your subject line then make sure to fulfil it in the body copy. You wouldn’t want to make a promise to your target audience and then not keep it, would you?
Beardbrand, for example, is brilliant when it comes to aligning its email copy with the email campaign’s subject line.
Subject Line: The Perfect Mustache Curl Has A Surprising Secret
The Promise: The secret to the perfect moustache curl
My Secret: I don’t have a moustache, but still opened the email out of curiosity.
The Delivery On The Promise: An engaging video on how to get the perfect moustache curl.
Tell A Story In The Email Copy
A good story engages the senses, triggers emotions, helps readers connect with you and provokes action. So, why not focus your email copywriting on telling a story?
Depending on the goal of your email campaign, you can explore so many possibilities. For example –
- you can tell a joke or a personal anecdote (if relevant)
- transcript (shortly) a recent customer’s interaction with your product/service
- come up with a fictional story to illustrate your point
Storytelling has been a way for people to communicate, relate and connect since the dawn of time. Everyone loves it. In fact, according to stats, B2B marketing experts rank storytelling (81%) as the second most important factor in email marketing success, the first being audience relevance (90%).
Be Short, Sweet and To-The-Point
Email copywriting IS NOT blog copywriting. If your email consists of several hundred words, you’re doing it wrong. Although people spend several hours a day scrolling through their inbox while they finish other tasks, they only skim individual emails. Thus, get to the point or you’ll miss your window of opportunity.
If you add huge blocks of content you’ll send readers racing to the ‘close’ button – or even worse, the delete one. Instead, make sure your email copy has a lot of whitespace and if you want to make sure your point gets across use bulleted lists, short sentences and questions.
Any advice you come across on the web regarding email copywriting (mine included) will include a personalisation tip. Using people’s first name in your subject line AND email copy to get the readers’ attention. However, there’s more to personalisation than just using someone’s first (or last) name.
Personalisation is the foundation of consistently achieving better email marketing metrics. Actually, according to a very interesting study I came across, 80% of people who receive personalised emails are inclined to make a purchase. Oh, and did you know that highly personalised emails significantly reduce unsubscribe rates?
You can use various techniques to personalise your email copy that doesn’t require hours upon hours of stress, sweat and the occasional desperation. The more you segment your email list, the better you can automate your emails while also keeping them relevant and personal.
Use Power Words
Not all words are created equal. Smart copywriters use power words to trigger psychological and/or emotional response from their target audience.
With humans being the complex emotional beings we are, there is a wide range of emotions copywriters can “attack” with their email copywriting. However, I’ll focus just on a few.
- Greed – bargain, best, big, cheap, discount, deadline, exclusive, gift, giveaway, greatest, inexpensive, ultimate, up-sell, expires
- Curiosity – behind the scene, invitation only, sneak peek, top secret, unconventional, under the table, classified, bizarre, limited
- Sloth – accessible, all-inclusive, cheat sheet, comprehensive, freebie, guide, how-to, fail-proof, on demand, now, free, efficient
- Lust – captivating, compelling, engaging, fascinating, forbidden, mind-blowing, mischievous, uncensored, intriguing
- Vanity – ahead of the game, at the top, amplify, remarkable, quick-witted, successful, money-making, effective, wealthy, ultimate, boost
- Trust – accredited, authentic, approved, best, best selling, certified, endorsed, fully refundable, guaranteed, moneyback, no obligation
Avoid Spam Trigger Words
You have a reputable IP, near-perfect sender score, on-point subject line and both a physical address and unsubscribe link, why then is your email still ending up in the spam folder? Spam trigger words.
Most (if not all) email service providers (Gmail, Yahoo!, Outlook, etc.) have spam filtering algorithms that are triggered when certain spam words either in the subject line or the email copy are detected. Therefore, it’s crucial to know which specific words you should avoid.
- financial (business) – credit card offers, no investment, no credit check, no hidden costs, a full refund, explode your business
- general – chance, here, leave, amazing, cancel at any time, click here, congratulations, for only ($) (£), free, guaranteed, great offer
- marketing – click, click to remove, email harvest, increase sales, month trial offer, not spam, click below, direct email, removal instructions, increase traffic, mass email, opt-in, sale, this isn’t junk, we hate spam
- numbers – 4U, billion dollars (pounds/euros), join millions, one hundred per cent guaranteed
- offers – no claim forms, no obligation, no gimmick, confidentiality on orders, no catch
- call-to-action – get, print out and tax, give it away, see for yourself, sign up free today
- free – pretty much any phrase containing the word ‘free’
- sense of urgency – call free, do it today, apply online, don’t hesitate, great offer, order now, offer expires, get started now, call now, order today, urgent, take action now
Do Not Forget Your Preheader
We all know what an email subject line is but what about that line of text shown next to (or under) the subject line? That’s known as an email preheader. It’s completely different from the subject line, but the two are joined at the hip. They work together to convince your target audience to open and engage with your email.
Your preheader’s purpose is to build on the subject line, not parrot it. Hence, being repetitive is honestly an unproductive and, to be honest, lazy technique. At the same time, you also need to be consistent. If your preheader goes off in a completely different direction to the subject line, your audience will get perplexed and far less likely to open your email.
Be Careful With CTAs
You might be tempted to add multiple call-to-actions (CTAs) in your email body hoping at least one will grab the readers’ attention, but if you give recipients too many links or buttons to click on your chances of increased conversion will be slim to none.
The three main elements of a great call-to-action are –
1) Copy. Make sure your CTA copy is short, clear, with active and urgent words as well as personal pronouns and that it offers benefits. If it takes > 6 secs to read, it’s too long.
2) Design. CTA design best practice –
- use a bold and legible font that complements the rest of the email’s copy
- apply contrasting colours to draw attention and make the CTA stand out
- pick the right size – the average call-to-action button is 47.9 pixels tall.
3) Placement. Two important things to consider when deciding your CTA placement –
- You want your CTA to be easily noticed without the people scrolling down too much? Place it in the above-the-fold area.
- You want the readers’ main focus to be on your offer? Place the CTA towards the bottom to avoid being overly aggressive and pushy.
You can place more than one CTA, but don’t overdo it or you might annoy your audience.
Always Split Test
You can research your audience and create buyer personas all you want. You can follow all best practice from segmentation to subject lines and design. Or, you can even implement every email copywriting tip and trick in the book. At the end of the day, it’s all just a guessing game until the data comes in from your audience.
You’ve written your email copy, BUT to find out which will work best, you will have to use split testing (A/B testing) without having to commit to either. This means that a small portion of your entire email list will receive two different versions of your email copy – 50% will get Version A and the other 50%, Version B.
Afterwards, your email marketing software of choice will run the A/B test and swiftly track important KPIs like open, click-through and conversion rates to figure out which email version resonates best with your audience. Then, the rest of your email list will receive “the winner” based on the results.
Email copywriting is not rocket science or nuclear physics.
The key to writing a powerful and effective email campaign is understanding your audience. From there, the email copy will pretty much write itself. Though you do need to figure out your writing style and the triggers your recipients will respond best to.
Remember, email is personal. Thus, treat it as such. Don’t treat your recipients as money-making machines. Instead, talk to them like the human beings they are. Trust me, they’ll be more than happy to take action and help you achieve your email marketing goals.
Are you ready to tell your brand’s story?