Digital Marketing, Thought Leaders

Email Marketing Best Practices: How to Write Engaging Copy

May 20, 2020

by Andre Oentoro

Email marketing is still one of the most effective ways to connect with your target audience, just as long as it’s backed up by a good copywriting. You must be able to capture the audience’s attention with your subject line, keep them excited with your email body, and finally earn a conversion with your call-to-action.

Who ever said that email marketing is finished? By 2020, active email users are predicted to reach three billion people. Moreover, the majority of professionals (86%) and millennials (73%) still prefer to use emails when communicating for business purposes. Those stats indicate that email is still one of the most effective tools to reach out to prospects.

However, those stats are meaningless without good copywriting. The audience’s inbox is a morass of emails from brands and companies. If you can’t stand out from the rest, nobody’s going to open your email, let alone subscribe or purchase your product.

If you’re currently not satisfied with your email marketing results, this post will guide you through the proven tips and tricks of writing email copy.

5 Tips for Writing Subject Lines

The subject line is extremely important because it’s the first thing that people see upon receiving your email. If your subject line can’t get people to open your email, then it doesn’t matter how good the content of your email is.

Make sure to implement these subject line best practices in your next campaign.

How to Write Subject Lines

  1. Pick your words carefully
  2. Keep it short
  3. Personalize where you can
  4. Clarify first, style second
  5. Use suitable emojis

1. Pick Your Words Carefully

Studies have shown that some words perform better than others when used in a subject line, and some perform worse.

Here are some tips for choosing the right words for your subject line:

  • The words “yesterday” and “tomorrow” have higher engagement rates (20.5% and 22.3%) than the word “today” (11.8%), according to SendGrid.
  • Avoid using the word “free” because it causes a lower engagement rate (13.1%) than subject lines without the word “free” (17.2%), according to the same study from SendGrid.
  • The words “thank you,” “thanks,” and “breaking” are among the top-performing subject line words, according to Adestra.
  • Formal words such as “journal,” “forecast,” “whitepaper,” “report,” and “training”  are generally the most underperformed subject line words, according to the same study from Adestra.
  • You must choose the right words in your subject line.

bottom 10 email subject lines

2. Keep It Short

In today’s era of mobile devices, people do almost everything on their smartphones, including opening their emails. In fact, more people open emails from their mobile devices (46%) than webmail (35%) and desktop (18%).

Because of this, you need to consider the length of your subject line the next time you send an email. Most email providers only show between 33 to 43 characters of your subject line on mobile before it cuts off.

short subject lines

If you want to make sure that all of your recipients receive your full subject line, you need to stay concise.

So, what’s the best length for a subject line? It really depends on your own situation, but it’s better to keep it under 33 characters. As a guideline, Brian Dean of Backlinko, one of the top marketers, uses 15.1 characters on average.

3. Personalize Where You Can

What I mean by personalization here is beyond just mentioning the recipient’s first name, although it certainly helps. A study by HubSpot found that subject lines that include the first name receive a higher clickthrough rate than those that don’t.

However, today’s audience is getting smarter. They won’t easily fall for the same, overused marketing strategy. What you can do to personalize your email is to segment your subscribers and only send them emails based on their interest or purchase history.

A survey by the Direct Marketing Association shows that targeted and segmented emails are responsible for 58% of all revenue of the people surveyed.

4. Clarity First, Style Second

When writing for a subject line, make sure to write short and use simple words that summarize the content of your email. After that, if you can make the words sound catchy or flowery, then go for it. However, the clarity of your words should always be prioritized over style.

In this fast-paced world, people don’t have much time and will only judge your email by its subject line ㅡ 47% of email recipients open an email, and 69% report an email based on the subject line alone.

If your words get too complicated, people won’t be sure what’s inside your email and will much more likely skip it or even worse, report it as spam.

It’s okay to be creative, but the best subject line contains clear words that describe what you have to offer inside.

5. Use Suitable Emojis

Why do you need to use emojis in your email marketing? As I said before, you’re not the only one sending emails to your audience; tons of other brands are doing the same. Using emojis to accompany your well-written subject line can boost your visibility and make you stand out from the others.

However, the downside to this is that not all operating systems support the use of emojis. For instance, your recipients who still use Windows XP won’t be able to see your emojis. Instead, they’ll only see this symbol ☐.

email subject emojis

A study by Mobile Marketer found that the use of emojis in an email’s subject line can actually boost the email’s open rate. The problem is, there’s still no explanation of why certain emojis perform better than the others. That’s why it’s essential for you to run your own A/B testing to find out which one works best for you.

5 Tips for Writing Email Bodies

Of course, once the reader has clicked on an email, you must keep them on the page with an entertaining and compelling body. After managing to attract the audience with your subject line, it’s a wasted opportunity if they don’t stay to read the content of your email.

How to Write Email Bodies

  1. Focus on one goal
  2. Hook the audience from the start
  3. Offer solutions, not features
  4. Don’t sound like a robot
  5. Create a clear call-to-action

1. Focus on One Goal

Before you start writing the copy, set one specific goal of what you want to achieve by sending this email. Do you want the recipients to check out your new video? Maybe you want them to click on the link to your sales page? Perhaps you need a little bit of both?

Focusing on one goal will help you write the proper copy that’s built around that particular goal. On the other hand, putting multiple goals in one email will just ruin the focus of your writing and confuse the readers. 

Then again, it shows the importance of a segmented email marketing strategy because it’s easier to write a different copy for each different buyer persona.

2. Hook the Audience From the Start

To keep readers engaged, you need to capture the audience’s attention right from the start. The first few sentences of your email body should be an extension of your subject line.

In order to do that, cut the generic intro and get to the point of why the audience is receiving your email. Use clear wording: the rule of clarity first, style second also applies here.

A great example would be this email from Uber.

email from Uber

The message in this email is so simple, yet effective and clear. Without a long-winded introduction, Uber reminds its subscribers to simply sign up for its newest promo. Making the first sentence larger font also helps in attracting the readers’ attention.

3. Offer Solutions, Not Features

Customers only care about themselves and the problems they have. If you can provide solutions to those problems, only then will they care about you.

To achieve that, you need to know more about your prospects, the problems they may experience, and how your product can solve those problems.

To give you an idea, remember how Steve Jobs marketed the iPod? Instead of a music player with a 5GB hard drive, iPod was marketed as 1,000 songs in your pocket.

iPod marketing

Instead of talking about its technical features, the iPod gave a solution to people who got tired of carrying around a Sony Walkman.

4. Don’t Sound Like a Robot

Remember, your subscribers’ inboxes are full. They don’t need another generic promotional email from a company that’s looking to take the money off their bank balance.

It’s important for you to sound like a real human being with emotions and not some automated AI. Spark some emotional reaction from readers to create a lasting effect. One of the best ways to do it is by using humor.

Mack Weldon is an example of a brand that frequently uses humor in its email marketing.

Mack Weldon email markering

In fact, a study found that around 50% of people in Europe and North America prefer humor over any other theme in advertising.

You need to sound like a real person in your emails.

5. Create a Clear Call-to-Action

Now we come to the most critical part of email copywriting, the call-to-action (CTA). A CTA is usually placed at the bottom of the email as guidance for the readers of what to do next. Without a clear CTA, the readers will be confused and most likely will just leave your email.

A good CTA is a combination of both good visual design and good copy, just like this one from Casper:

Casper email marketing

First, notice the blue color of the CTA’s button that makes it stand out from the white background. And second, notice how instead of using the usual “Shop Now” copy, Casper uses a CTA copy that’s relevant to the content of the email.

Finding the Right Message

Just like any other skill, writing effective email copy takes time and a lot of trials. Digital marketing isn’t science where everything is fixed ㅡ it’s fluid and it keeps changing. That’s why it’s essential for you to keep doing A/B testing to see what works and what doesn’t.

It’s also important to keep learning from other bigger brands to take notes from their success and learn from their mistakes. If you want to learn more about copywriting, check out this article about how to improve your writing skills in general.

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