Marketing

6 Strategies Marketers Use to Write High-Converting Email Copy

Databox recently polled dozens of marketers to learn the tips, strategies, and real-life examples behind writing email copy that converts.

Dann Albright on July 30, 2018 • 12 minute read

Nathanial Hawthorne, the famed 19th-century American novelist, once said, “easy reading is damned hard writing.”

The same can be said for writing email copy that converts.

The most effective email copy is great because it’s almost invisible. It doesn’t feel like marketing or sales. It’s personal. It’s compelling.

While that sounds easy, it’s damned hard.

And while conventional thought might have you think differently, there’s no one “right” way to do it.

For example, we polled dozens of marketers to find out if shorter or longer emails converted better…

…and while 68% of marketers say that shorter email performs better (Tweet this stat), that doesn’t necessarily mean that longer emails don’t convert, too.

In fact, roughly 30% of marketers say that email length doesn’t matter. When you nail the message, subscribers don’t care how long the email is.

Obviously, there’s a ton of nuance, so we asked that same pool of marketers to share the things that have worked for them in terms of writing high-converting email copy.

Here’s what we found.

*Editor’s note: Want a deeper analysis on the performance of your email campaigns? Grab this free Google Analytics template and visualize your email performance in minutes.

Personalize Every Email

More than anything else, marketers recommended personalizing your email outreach.

Katie Green, inbound marketing specialist at HeadsUp Marketing, shared some of her organization’s results:

“In our own monthly marketing newsletter, subject lines with the word ‘you’ or the recipient’s first name consistently perform with up to 10% more opens than non-personalized subjects.”

But that’s not all. HeadsUp’s best-performing email used both “you” and the customer’s first name to get a 60.3% open rate and a 7.6% conversion rate.

What was the subject line? “Hats off to you, [first name]!” It’s simple, but it worked.

People get so many emails, says Ashleigh Peregoy, marketing manager at Box Marketing, that “unless everything from the subject line to the content resonates with them, they will likely ignore it.”

Personalization is key.

Peregoy recommends going beyond including a name or the word “you.” “[D]on’t focus just on ‘you’ or ‘your business,'” Peregoy says. “[M]ake it as much about them as possible.”

Ryan Gould, vice president of marketing and strategy services at Elevation B2B, echoed this thought.

“For example, if your audience are dog lovers, let them know in the subject line that the content of the email features something they’ll be interested in,” said Gould. “Like discounts on pet accessories or dog food.”

Go Beyond the Subject Line

The marketers we talked to recommended personalizing email subject lines. But it’s not the only part of the email that benefits from a more personal perspective.

Says Farheen Gill, digital marketing consultant, “Including the customer’s first name in a subject line isn’t enough to boost engagement.” Instead, Gill urges marketers to include demographic or behavioral data in the email itself.

“This can be as simple as referencing the last product they purchased for a B2C audience or calling out their job title or company name for B2B audiences,” Gill says.

SmartBug Media‘s marketing strategist team lead Jennifer Lux also points out that personalization and relevance aren’t just for the subject line. The email copy and the call to action need to be relevant to your recipient as well. (We’ll talk about calls to action in a moment.)

Kristen Montana, junior associate at Smartleaf, gave an example of how her company combines personalization and relevance. Smartleaf targets people who read the first part of an article series, but not the second part. About an hour after leaving the site, these users receive an email thanking them for visiting the blog and recommending the second part of the series.

These emails are very successful, with a 42.2% open rate and a 10.9% CTR.

The copy is short and to the point, which helps. But Montana emphasizes the timing, as well. “It was also relevant because of the quick turnaround, remaining top of mind.”

Keep the Tone Light

Personalized emails create a more personal, often informal tone. But you can—and should—go beyond that to create an even more personal feel to your email.

Srajan Mishra, CEO of TSI Apparel, encourages marketers to “leave the marketing tone aside. . . . Make it intriguing and personal as if you are speaking to them directly,” Mishra says, who wasn’t the only one to bring up speaking.

“Small changes, like using contractions . . . has dramatically increased CTRs for our clients,” says Sharon L. Hadden, CEO of Social Savvy CG. “If contractions aren’t your style, at least read your email out loud and adjust it to your natural speech pattern.”

Tamara Wilson, chief engagement officer at Briz Media Group, also pointed out that speech-like writing can be useful.

“I often pretend that I’m pitching a journalist over the phone and I write what I would say if I were on the phone with them or in person,” said Wilson. “It is a great way to get to the point and remove all the extra marketing jargon.”

Long-time writers may resist writing in a “speaking voice,” but it can do wonders for making your emails feel more personal.

Other marketers suggested going beyond the informal tone of writing in ways that would shock traditional marketers of old.

Alex Membrillo, CEO of Cardinal, tells jokes that reference the recipient’s field in the first line of his emails.

“By including emojis in the [subject lines of] emails, I was able to get an open rate of 65%,” says Arielle Kimbarovsky, Codal‘s digital marketing intern.

In the end, getting the right tone for your emails is about figuring out what will appeal to your customers. It’s not about what’s going to be the most effective sales pitch. Remember that your first goal is to get people to open the email. Without that, you’re going to run into trouble.

“The biggest mistake we were making with our emails was using company logic as opposed to customer logic,” said Zach Hendrix, CTO of GreenPal. “You really need to put yourself in the mind of your customer when crafting your emails.”

Leif Abraham, co-founder of AND CO, told us about how his company did away with branded emails. “Instead, we send emails that look like emails,” Abraham told us. “[T]hey start with ‘Hey Peter’ and end with ‘Best, Oliver.'”

The result? About 100% improvement in performance.

Strive for Simplicity

Once you’ve nailed the tone and you know what you’re trying to do with your email, it’s tempting to include as much information as you can. You want to pitch your product or service or show what value you can contribute, or be friendly to make a connection.

But don’t make the mistake of overcomplicating your email.

Mike Schiemer, social selling consultant, sums it up: “While there are times that long-form email marketing can work . . . most people don’t have the time or attention span to read lengthy emails.”

Instead, Schiemer says, keep it short and sweet. And don’t write long paragraphs or blocks of text; split your email up into short sentences or paragraphs like you’d see in a LinkedIn post.

Amy Kilvington, social media manager at Blinds Direct, agrees: “Email copy needs to be quick, simple and straight to the point.” Smartbug Media‘s marketing team lead Juli Durante told us that some of her most effective emails were only a paragraph long.

Flodesk‘s Martha Bitar shared some results from one of her own experiments. The long version of an email, with three paragraphs of 40–60 words, had a CTR of 2.89%.

The second email had six short sentences, each with its own subtitle. The CTR? 7.1%. That’s a big bump from a formatting change.

Do Away with Colorful HTML Formatting

It’s not just the text that you should simplify, though. The look of an email can have a powerful effect on the recipients.

In the past, marketers were big into colorful, complicated HTML emails. Today, though, the trend is leaning back toward plain-text emails that can be viewed and read quickly.

PM by PM‘s founder Praveen Malik increased his CTR from 1% to 5% by switching from image- and color-heavy emails to text-based ones. He credits the more personal feeling of the style with the boost.

In addition to better connecting with your recipients, using simple, text-based emails has another big benefit: these emails are less likely to get sent to Promotions or Spam folders.

“By dropping extraneous HTML content, you have a greater likelihood that your messages will hit a customer’s primary inbox,” said Greg Bullock, marketing manager at TheraSpecs.

Make Calls to Action Simple, Too

The idea of using simple text and formatting applies beyond the body of your email. It also applies to one of the most important parts of email marketing: the call to action.

“We still think the most effective strategy to get people to convert on an email is to include call-to-action language in your copy, both in the subject line and in the body of the email,” says Michael Rand, content master at Market Veep.

If you want your email to convert, you need a call to action. It’s that simple.

And, importantly, your customer needs to know what to do. Online Optimism‘s SEO/SEM specialist Cory Sarrett recommends including “exact directions that point your reader to where they can convert.”

And make it specific. Sarrett gave “Call us today to get our deal!” and “Submit your information to enter our contest!” as examples. There’s no ambiguity about what the recipient needs to do or what they’ll get when they do it.

Jonathan Aufray, co-founder of Growth Hackers, emphasizes the need for not only a clear CTA, but exactly one CTA. “I see marketers and email copywriters who have several links on an email [along with] a few questions,” Aufray says. “This confuses the recipients. For high conversion . . . just have one call to action.”

Emphasize Benefits, Not Features

If you’ve spent much time in marketing, you’ve heard “highlights benefits, not features” about a million times. That’s because it’s great advice. And it holds with email marketing, as well.

“Spending the time to hone in on simply stating the benefits of a product is so important for increasing conversions through email,” says Jesse Schor, Campaign Creators‘ marketing technology manager. “Because people don’t buy products; they buy better versions of themselves.”

Alexa Engelhart, senior content strategist at Power Digital, agreed. “The key to writing effective, high-converting email copy is to write about the outcome and feeling your target customer will experience after using your product or service rather than writing about the product or service itself. People don’t buy products or services, they buy experiences and feelings.”

Know Your Audience’s Needs

Of course, to understand the outcomes, experiences, and feelings that will appeal to your audience, you have to know a lot about that audience.

“Who are they? How old are they? Where do they live? How do they speak? What are their problems/pain points? Why would they want to buy your product or service? What objections would they have?” These are the questions that Overit‘s senior digital marketing strategist Shannon Howard says you should answer.

Once you have those answers, you can tell your readers why your product or service is so valuable. “The one thing you should focus on is providing something unique that the reader does not yet have,” says Lauren Petermeyer, digital strategy and planning manager at 301 Digital Media.

Make Sure Your Email Gets Opened

Even if your email copy is perfect, people won’t see it if your subject line doesn’t get readers to click. It’s a crucial part of any email strategy. (We recently published an entire roundup full of advice from marketers on how to write subject lines that get people to open your emails.)

Stacy Caprio, search marketing manager at Deals Scoop, puts it simply: “[Be] specific and [give] value in the subject line. Our best performing email subject lines have told the reader exactly what to expect inside the email, and have offered value, such as something for free.”

Freelance writer, publicist, and blogger Karen Dennis had similar suggestions. “Make it about the consumer. Share a feature and a benefit.” Dennis also recommended resending emails to recipients who didn’t open them the first time. Changing the subject line, Dennis notes, is crucial in these cases.

Copy Tips Beyond Copy

Some of our respondents shared interesting ideas that moved beyond copy—but affected the effectiveness of copy nonetheless.

For example, both 108 Degrees founder MaryAnn Pfeiffer and CDN77‘s Michal Pecanek recommended segmenting email lists. That way you can focus your copy on customers with specific needs. Both reported solid results for their email open rates and CTRs.

Syed Irfan Ajmal, growth marketing manager at Ridester, recommended using Boomerang for Gmail and its text-analysis tool, Respondable, to optimize your copy.

James Pollard, founder of The Advisor Coach, recommends sending great resources and useful information to readers—but leaving out something important to take advantage of curiosity. He provides value, but still leads readers to the sale.

It’s clear that there are a lot of factors that go into email copy that converts. But if there’s one current that runs through all the responses we got for this question, it’s this: make it easy for your readers. Grab their attention by emphasizing benefits. Keep it simple. Make sure your message is relevant. Use a clear call to action.

In short, stop writing marketing emails and start writing “emails that look like emails.”

What factors have you found to be useful in writing email copy that converts?

About the author
Dann Albright Dann is a freelance writer who helps B2B companies reach their audiences more effectively. With an emphasis on organic traffic and conversion, he takes big ideas and turns them into highly practical content that keeps readers hooked.
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