How to write email copy that converts

Email has one of the highest ROIs of your marketing channels, and a key component of your email marketing strategy should be great email copy. But what is good email copy? And how does it differ to writing for any other channel?

Here are my top 5 tips for writing email copy that converts.

1. Understand your customer and speak their language

This is a key element in writing copy for any channel, and I’ve discussed it before. It is really important that you understand who you are speaking to and write as if you were having a conversation, human-to-human.

Email has the ability to be personal, so your copy and tone should feel like the reader is being recommended a product by a friend or trusted colleague, not being sold to by a faceless company.

Obviously, if you’re targeting those in senior management roles your copy and tone of voice shouldn’t be overly familiar and full of slang as it may be for a younger B2C audience.

You should also be able to understand what they need and be able to appeal to this. It will keep your content and your brand relevant. Irrelevance is one of the top reasons customers unsubscribe or ‘break up’ with a company.

A good exercise is creating a customer persona. Using the data you have available, or by conducting market research, you should build a picture of your ideal customer. What do they do for a living? How old are they? Where do they live? What are they interested in? Etc.

For example, at one company I worked for we knew the majority of our target customers read the Guardian, listened to BBC Radio 4, and were more likely to be in senior roles. (For those not from the UK, this basically meant they were likely to be well-educated and politically left-wing.) From this we knew what type of content and tone of voice would appeal to this audience. We saw an increase in email engagement as a result.

2. Clarity is king so keep email copy succinct

The average person has an attention span of just eight-seconds. So your call to action (CTA) should come across clearly and quickly.

More so than for long-form writing, blocks of text should be kept to an absolute minimum. You should write in short sentences, and paragraphs should be no more than two sentences. Headlines, call-out boxes and large buttons can help draw attention to your CTA.

To draw even more focus to your CTA you should have only one goal in your email. Even if you’re producing a newsletter with multiple articles, there should ultimately be one goal – e.g. get your reader to your site.

Make your CTA obvious by including it early on in your email. The copy should also give a clear reason to click.

For example, in a re-engagement email campaign I ran the goal was to get readers to stay subscribed. I began the campaign with this CTA button: “I want to keep saving money”. It was intended to be playful and to appeal to their wants. However the conversion rate was fairly low at just 3%. I updated the button to “Resubscribe” and I saw my conversion rate jump up to 10%.

3. Don’t overlook your subject line and preview text

It’s very easy for email marketers to focus on the CTA and what’s inside the email. Often you will rush the subject line at the last minute and completely forget the preheader (preview) text.

Yes your email content is very important, but no one will see it if they don’t open your email.

The inbox is a brutal and competitive landscape. You need to fight for your reader’s attention with the very best of your copywriting skills.

The key things to remember are:

  • Why do your subscribers want to receive your emails and how can you appeal to that want
  • Make the best use of character limit (e.g. if the majority of your audience are going to receive it on mobile then they’ll only see 33-38 characters)
  • Use the subject line to catch their attention, but use your preview text to expand on why they should open your email
  • A/B test, A/B test, A/B test – what you think is a winning subject line may not be what appeals to your audience, and what works for one brand may not work for yours

Take a look at my inbox:

Screenshot of an inbox

Treatwell have gone for a risqué subject line by referring to the ‘F’ word. It’s not a bad method because it catches your attention. However risqué is not what I want from this brand. They should be helping me save money on hair and beauty treatments at local establishments. What’s more their preview text is too short so their ‘View Online’ link is visible, therefore distracting from what could be a key message.

L’atelier des Chefs (a cookery school) has wasted an opportunity by repeating the subject line as their preview text.

Expeteer (a career site) have done quite well here. They piqued my interest by asking a question they know I’ll say yes to. They also go further in the preview text by telling me how they’re going to help me.

BuzzFeed have drawn my eye with the use of emojis – note this definitely won’t work for all brands, but it is right for BuzzFeed’s demographic. They’ve also maximised their preview text by telling me exactly what I’m going to get out of this email.

4. Focus on benefits not features

When you’re proud of your product or service it’s easy to get bogged down in all the features you offer. But ultimately all your reader cares about, especially in the 8-seconds you have their attention, is how you can help them.

Focus your copy on the benefit(s) you are offering the reader.

For example, which of these emails would most appeal to you as an employer wanting to recruit top quality talent?

Features vs. Benefits Example 1

Features vs. Benefits Example 2

The second example gets straight to the point with the most compelling reason to use their service. It contains pretty much the same information, except it focusses on how it benefits the reader. It also has a strong and direct CTA.

5. Email copy should be emotional

By emotional I don’t mean making them cry with a story about a sick puppy. I mean appealing to their needs, their wants, and their goals. This is what we discussed under my first tip – understand what your target customer wants.

This isn’t limited to B2C marketing. It works for B2B also. B2B has seen a recent shift towards human-to-human marketing.

Human-to-human marketing is the development of a genuine, trusting connection between customer and company. Those who are emotionally connected to a brand are twice as likely to buy.

In the B2C realm you’re more likely to use copy that appeals to a consumer’s want to buy, or save money, or whatever product or service you’re providing.

For B2B you should use copy that positions your company as informed, focussing on their business needs.

Email from Joy

Take a look at this example from clothes retailer Joy. Every word is designed to appeal to the reader emotionally and their desire to save money. There isn’t a single unnecessary word. They’re all leading the reader to click and convert to a sale.

The key things to remember are: keep your copy and CTA clear and succinct, and use your words to appeal to your reader’s wants and needs, human-to-human.

For more advice on email copy best practice, or for my email copywriting services, please get in touch.

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