Email marketing has come a long way in just the past few years, but with all the fancy new functionality brands are utilizing, you know what’s kind of funny? A well-written plain text email can perform just as well, if not better, than a highly designed email with tons of bells and whistles. In fact, no matter how fancy your marketing emails look, if they’re devoid of well-written content, your subscribers will stop opening and start deleting your messages, and your list will quickly dwindle in value.
So how do you write a great marketing email? It all comes down to a few copywriting best practices that you should apply to both the subject line of your message, and the message body itself. Next time you draft a message for a lead nurturing campaign or just a one-time email send, ask yourself whether your copy meets all of these guidelines first.
Writing a Compelling Email Subject Line
Part of writing effective email copy is nailing the subject line. The subject line is like the gatekeeper of your email — no one gets to read your stellar email copy if they aren’t interested enough to open your email in the first place. And that interest is garnered almost wholly on the subject line of the email (with the sender name playing a role, as well). We’ve written an entire blog post about crafting email subject lines, but here’s a distillation of what you need to know to write some excellent copy.
Use Actionable Language
With email subject lines, using actionable language doesn’t necessarily mean using verbs — though it certainly helps. OpenTable, for example, sent me an email just a few days ago that said “Take Mom to Brunch” in the subject line. This is one way to use actionable language effectively in email subject lines; by incorporating a verb — like “take,” “download,” “reserve,” “ask,” “buy,” etc. — the reader knows exactly what they can do in the email.
But there are ways to use actionable language without relying on verbs, giving you more room to play with words when crafting email subject lines. Simply use language that makes it clear to the recipient when they can do with the information in the email should they choose to open it. In other words, keep the value for the user top of mind.
For example, TicketMaster sent me an email last week with the subject line “Don’t Miss Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.” They didn’t order me to purchase tickets by saying “Purchase Tickets Tomorrow for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band,” though such a subject line may have performed just as well. The original subject line worked well because it was clear what I could do with the information in that email — ensure I’m prepared for the 10:00 AM sale time so I could snag my tickets (which I did, thanks to the email)!
Personalize When Possible
Emails that are highly segmented benefit from better performance in a number of areas. Take a look at the data below from eMarketer, which shows the effect of list segmentation and targeting on email marketing performance metrics.
Notice that first one? Highly segmented emails have better open rates — 39% better, in fact. That’s because the more segmented your email list, the better able you are to personalize the subject line and provide relevant content to that email recipient.
So ask yourself, is there a way to make your email subject line more personal? And I’m not talking about the dynamic field where you insert someone’s [FIRSTNAME] — email recipients stopped being impressed by that fancy functionality some time ago. Consider this scenario, instead …
You’re a realtor with a huge database of clients. Some of them are looking to rent, some prefer to buy; their ideal location ranges across several cities and zip codes; they all have different price points with which they’re comfortable; some are looking for a studio, while others want a mansion; you even know that a group of them will only accept homes that have been renovated in the past 5 years. You certainly wouldn’t do a blanket email send across all of these different segments of your list, and your email subject line wouldn’t be the same, either. You might have one subject line that says “Renovated 1BR Apartment for Rent in Cambridge: Schedule a Viewing” and another that says “RSVP: Open House Sunday for Colonial House in Sudbury.” Each subject line speaks to the radically different needs of two radically different list segments.
Subject Lines Must Be Clear, and Might Be Catchy
Write a subject line that is clear first, catchy second. In marketing copy, clarity should always be your first aim. If after you’ve drafted a clear subject line you can also make it catchy, funny, cute, whimsical, whatever, then go for it; but never sacrifice clarity for the entertainment value!
UrbanDaddy is an example of a company that excels at writing subject lines that are always clear, and sometimes also catchy, funny, or entertaining. Take a look at the subject lines of some of the emails I’ve received from them:
UD | A Hotel in the Middle of the Ocean
UD | Nunchucks. Made from Beer Cans. Finally.
UD | Getting Everyone Together: Now Less Obnoxious
UD | A Grill the Size of a Foosball Table
UD | It’s Ice Cream. It’s Beer. It’s Beer Ice Cream.
UD | Here’s a Private Bahamian Island. Do Your Thing.
Some of these subject lines either make the recipients chuckle, or are bizarre enough to pique your interest — but it is always extremely clear what you will get when you open the email. Which brings us to our next point.
Align Your Subject Line Copy and Email Copy
We’ve already talked about how crucial it is for your call-to-action copy and your landing page offer to align; it’s no different when crafting your email subject line and email message. What your email subject line promises, the email message should deliver. Because when readers don’t get what they’re actually promised in the subject line, click-through rates plummet — and in the long term, so will your email open rates.
In fact, we performed a test of our own. Our email with the subject line, “54 New Data Slides for Your Marketing Decks” had a click-through rate of 26%, while the more vague and frankly, less accurate, subject line “Get Key Marketing Trends From the Marketing Data Box,” suffered a 10.4% click-through rate. Remember — a high email open rate means nothing without any click-throughs.
Writing a Compelling Email Message
Now that you’ve crafted a stellar email subject line, you have your audience’s full attention on the body of your email message. So how do you craft copy that will get them clicking? Here are the important components you need to know!
Just like the email subject line should strive to establish relevancy through personalization, so should the copy in the message of the email. Again, it takes more than just a dynamic name tag for your email copy to convince readers the contents are relevant to them. So take the beginning of the email to explain how you know each other, like HubSpot customer Zinzinya Web Solutions did in this email from its lead nurturing series.
Take a look at that opening paragraph called out in orange. It recalls for the reader why they’re being emailed — they downloaded a piece of content — and this email is to follow up on whether that content provided helpful strategies to implement. Imagine if this email eliminated that first paragraph, and started instead with what is currently the second paragraph: “In case you missed it, we have another guide – a quick 5-Point Diagnostic Assessment – that will help you determine if your company has what it takes to succeed at inbound marketing.” Who has another guide? Why would I want your advice? By reminding the recipient that you know one another because they’ve read great material from you in the past, you have a greater likelihood that they’ll click through and redeem your offer in this email.
Write in the Second Person
Writing in the second person means you orient the copy towards the reader, not yourself. Take a look at the copy in this email from Zappos, for example:
Now count how many times this email says “You” instead of “we” or “I.” Okay, you don’t have to count … the words “you” and “your” appear 12 times, while “we,” “our,” and “we’re” appear only 5 times. That’s a nice balance of second person language that keeps the focus on the customer, not the brand. This is a subtle tactic that helps you stay value-oriented, but this next step is crucial to hitting the point home.
Talk About Benefits, Not Features
You know the value of your email, but does your recipient? Not yet! And it’s your job to explain it. The problem is, many emails only explain the feature they are offering, not the benefit. Take a look at the copy in two separate ecommerce emails I’ve received. Which one is touting the feature, and which is touting the benefit?
If you guessed email B, you’re right! Email A throws a 30% off discount in your face, but doesn’t explain the value behind it. What does 30% off a GoDaddy product do for my goals? Will it let me adjust a small business’ expenditures on infrastructure costs, freeing up money for a new hire? That benefit is far more tangible than 30% off an undisclosed cost.
Compare that email, though, with Email B from Banana Republic. The goal of the email is to sell shorts, but the copy isn’t just shoving shorts down the recipient’s throat. I mean, they’re shorts … big deal, right? They’ve identified what makes these shorts worthwhile — their versatility. They allow a man to lounge around the house and then go out in the city while putting minimal effort into changing his outfit. How convenient! How easy! How versatile! The copy translates the benefit of buying those shorts, but the copy (or lack thereof) in GoDaddy’s email doesn’t explain the benefit of redeeming a generic 30% off offer.
One of the worst mistakes email copywriters make is trying to shove the entire story into the email message. Think about when you open a marketing email in your inbox. Do you read every single word in there? Probably not. It’s more likely that you scan for important points so you can glean the overall message, and decide whether you want to take any action. So if you’re sending email with hundreds of words of copy, you’re making it much more difficult for recipients to decide whether they want to click through … because they can’t quickly sift through all of the information in your email!
Instead, find a way to summarize what the reader will get in a compelling way, and let them click through to a page on your website for more information. Take a look at how this HubSpot customer and Certified Partner Precision Athletics drafted a brief email that encouraged readers to click through for more information:
There are a few lines of copy used to set up the purpose of the email and, of course, thank the recipient for utilizing their free training session. But after that, Precision Athletics gets to the point of the email — delivering success stories from those who have completed the training program to motivate the email recipient.
Keeping your message on-point is the key to writing brief email copy. What’s the point you’re trying to make with your email? If you know the action your email is supposed to drive — recipient buys a grill the size of a Foosball table, recipient remembers to buy their Bruce Springsteen tickets, recipient gets motivated to work out — you’ll have a much easier time drafting succinct email copy that remains focused on that one end goal. And if writing succinct email copy isn’t enough of a motivator for you to narrow down your goals, remember that having just one primary call-to-action in your email marketing results in better click-through rates than emails with competing calls-to-action!
Use Actionable Language in Your CTA
That’s right, emails have calls-to-action, too! Well, the good ones do. First and foremost, your email call-to-action should be extremely easy to identify. Remember, people scan their emails, and if there’s one thing you want your recipient to pick up on, it’s your call-to-action. If you’re sending an HTML email, you may decide to include a button like this AmazonLocal email did below.
There are two qualities that make this call-to-action button effective. First, notice how the large, bright orange button stands out from the blue design; that call-to-action certainly isn’t hard to find! But the copy on the button is just as important. Your call-to-action button should include language that is succinct, clear, and action-oriented. This AmazonLocal button tells you in very few words what you can do using verbs — you can view the deal showcased in the email!
But it’s also crucial to spend some time optimizing your plain text emails for clear calls-to-action. No matter how fancy your HTML email, not all email clients will render your images, and not all email recipients will choose to display your images. It’s crucial that you make your calls-to-action stand out in plain text format, too. Take a look at how one of our emails makes use of linked anchor text to draw recipients’ attention toward the calls-to-action.
With the exception of the branded banner at the top, the email message is devoid of any other graphics or colors. As such, the hyperlinked calls-to-action garner the most attention from the recipient. And just like a graphical call-to-action, the text you use in the hyperlinked text is of the utmost important. First, these hyperlinks use verbs like “Get” and “Claim” to put the onus on the recipient to redeem the offer. But they also mirror the same language in each — a complimentary website assessment or evaluation. Reiterating the offer using similar or even the same language is crucial in emails. When readers scan through the text and focus in on things like bolded words, images, and hyperlinked text, reiterating the same offer over and over hammers home for them exactly what you want them to do — redeem your offer by clicking your call-to-action!
What else do you think makes for effective email marketing copy?
Image credit: Linda Cronin