Marketing / Email Marketing

10 tips for writing email copy that converts

Eric Goldschein

Oct 14, 2020 · 10 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

10 tips for writing email copy that converts

Every small business should have an email marketing strategy. Despite the emergence of many new digital marketing channels, email remains one of the most effective ways to reach and engage with customers. That being said, only you can write emails that best represent your brand.

How often do you delete an email without reading beyond the subject line? How often do you open an email only to feel like the email copy doesn’t speak to you? Now that you’re on the other side of the equation, how can you avoid such pitfalls and get people to not just open your emails, and not just read them—but click and buy from you as a result?

Writing email copy that resonates with your audience and converts into sales is difficult, and there’s no magic formula or AI that can do it for you. But there are several best practices to keep in mind when you are writing email copy that can improve the results of your campaigns.

1. Create audience segments

First and foremost, you should always know your audience. Research shows that segmented campaigns get more than 60% more clickthroughs than non-segmented campaigns. After all, someone who has never made a purchase from your business is less likely to jump for a “two for one” deal than someone who is already a loyal customer.

A perk of most email marketing providers is that you can segment your email contact list by a wide variety of categories, including:

  • Demographics
  • Interests
  • Industry
  • Source of lead
  • Location in sales funnel
  • By creating audience segments, you can better define the purpose behind all of your emails. Whether you’re trying to convince people to abandon carts to come back and finish their purchase, encourage previous buyers to buy again, or virtually anything else, audience segments let you target customers with specific goals.

    2. Focus on a single audience

    It would be great if you could just write one email and have it work for every audience segment and every marketing campaign. You can do that, but you’ll have a lot of confused customers deleting your emails on sight.

    When writing copy for an email campaign, focus on one audience segment at a time. You may be running a massive campaign that will target eight different segments; you should still write the emails that go out to each segment individually.

    When you focus on individual audiences, your messaging is more appealing. Rather than saying, “We’re having a sale on socks,” your segmented campaigns can give a special coupon to people who have purchased socks from you in the past month, or you can target people who purchased specific types of socks with messaging that appeals to them. Athletic socks and dress socks don’t have much in common, so why should your email messaging about them be identical?

    By focusing on single audiences when you write email copy, you’ll create more meaningful emails that speak directly to what that audience wants, and be more likely to drive conversions.

    3. Write a catchy subject line

    Email inboxes these days are stuffed to the brim with promotions. If you want your emails to stand out, you need a catchy subject line. Your subject line could be the difference between recipients opening your email, deleting it, or filtering it to spam.

    Frankly, there are a lot of dos and don’ts when it comes to subject lines, but here are a few general rules:

  • Subject lines should be fewer than 9 words or 60 characters.
  • Subject lines should mention the goal of the email (sale, come back, provide feedback, etc.)
  • Subject lines should give readers a reason to open the email.
  • Subject lines should not be vague.
  • Subject lines should not be written in all caps, or pretend like the world will end if the email isn’t opened.
  • Effective subject lines come in many forms. You can read more about writing high-quality subject lines here.

    4. Make your copy match your subject line

    A major email marketing faux pas is promising something in your subject line only for the body of the email to be about something different entirely. That’s a bait-and-switch, and that’s a good way to lose customers.

    Your readers are already inundated with spam and emails they don’t care about. Your subject line is what got them to open, so deliver on that promise. Using a clickbaity subject line like “Save 99% off” will increase your open rates, but if you aren’t offering 99% off anything, you’ll probably see more unsubscribes than conversions.

    Email marketing can build trust in your business, or it can destroy trust. Building it is preferable.

    5. Personalize it

    People want to feel valued, and being called “Customer” instead of their name does not exactly make them feel valued. Personalized emails have 29% higher unique open rates and 41% higher unique click rates than non-personalized emails.

    Every major email marketing provider gives you the option to personalize emails with a recipient’s name. Use that feature on every email. This is an additional benefit of segmentation, because when you segment based on certain customer behaviors, you can also contact customers with personal details about their orders, their preferences, or with a special coupon during their birthday month.

    Personalization could go both ways, too. Just as customers prefer to be addressed by their own names, they may also prefer to receive emails from individuals rather than companies. Whether you’re a one-person business or a 50-person business, you could designate a person who will “send” marketing emails. It may not work for every customer base, but it’s worth A/B testing emails with personalized vs. unpersonalized senders.

    6. Keep it snappy

    It’s rare that people stay on web pages for longer than 20 seconds. Adults tend to spend only eight seconds on individual tasks. You should assume that this eight-second attention span extends to emails. You have a very brief opportunity to get someone who opens your email to do what you want them to do.

    Email copy should:

  • Keep paragraphs short—no longer than four sentences.
  • Follow a logical structure.
  • Include one main idea per paragraph.
  • Provide as much information as possible in graphics and images.
  • Sometimes, you have to convey complex information in emails. In those cases, it’s a good idea to break email copy into bullets and subheadings as much as possible to make your emails easier to read.

    Vocabulary and syntax are also foundations of a readable email. Sentences should be short and free of long “SAT” words. You don’t want readers to have to look a word up or read the same sentence multiple times. They’ll get bored, and they’ll delete your email.

    In sum, just get to the point.

    7. Write how you speak

    You aren’t emailing your boss, you’re emailing customers. There’s no need to be formal. Keep your emails conversational. Remember that bit about personalization? When you write like you’re speaking to someone, it puts them more at ease.

    For instance, you could write, “You now have a 15% discount.”

    That’s short and conveys the main idea, which is great.

    However, “I saw you bought those athletic socks, so I got you a 15% discount on another pair.”

    That’s a little longer, but it’s more conversational, more personalized, and still gets to the point quickly.

    Note the second person tone in both instances. Using “you” and “we” is an easy way to come across friendly. Everybody is on social media these days and the world is a little more informal. Your emails should reflect your comfort with your customers, as if they were standing in your storefront.

    Finally, do you yell at people every time you speak to them? Of course you don’t. Your email copy shouldn’t be in all caps and full of exclamation points. That screams scam.

    8. Write in active voice

    Active voice sells. Anyone with an English degree will tell you to cut passive voice from your writing. People with English degrees make good email copywriters.

    Active voice is more exciting and engaging than passive voice. As such, write your emails actively right through to the call-to-action (CTA).

    In marketing, the CTA is the closer line. It’s where you tell a person what to do to get what you’re offering. It might be a “Shop now” button or a line reading, “Get your discount here.” CTAs come in many forms.

    CTAs start with verbs. You should use strong verbs throughout email copy, but finishing with a CTA that begins with a verb is essential. “Shop,” “get” and “order” are common ones, but get creative. Additionally, words that demonstrate consumer benefits like “free,” “custom” or “complimentary” help increase conversions, too.

    9. Align everything

    Great brands are instantly recognizable. Their logos, color scheme, and fonts flow and make aesthetic sense. Your emails are just the first step in a buyer’s journey. That journey should look cohesive.

    Whether you’re driving customers to a checkout page, social media post, article, video or anything else, if your landing page looks drastically different from your email design, it will confuse people.

    It’s easy to overlook things like font, formatting and imagery, but it’s crucial to align all of these design elements across the buyer journey. Make sure your brand is clearly visible on all pages that you send customers, and ensure that fonts and imagery are, if not identical, at least similar.

    This also echoes an earlier point, to keep your subject line and copy aligned. People are logical. They expect ostensibly related things to be related.

    10. A/B test

    Finally, the only way to know if you’re doing something right is by testing. An A/B test is a common tool that marketers use to compare one version of something to another. In copywriting, it’s essentially saying the same thing two different ways.

    Setting up A/B tests in most email marketing platforms is easy, and it will allow you to test multiple hypotheses and copy versions to see what works best for your audiences. You can write with more or less urgency, offer a discount in one email and free shipping in another, adjust subject lines, and much more. As you track data on each version of an email, you’ll learn what works with your audience and what doesn’t.

    Every small business should test, well, everything. You won’t know if you’re doing something as well as you can until you try an alternative.

    The bottom line

    There’s no hard-and-fast formula for writing high-converting email copy. Every business is different and thus, email marketing strategies will work differently for every business. However, most businesses find that these best practices work and can improve your email conversion rates. If you’re looking to improve your email marketing strategy, start implementing these tips today.


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