How do you write a marketing email that sends the right message to the right audience?

Marketing emails are both a staple of the online world, and all too frequently a curse. However, nailing the copy can make them not only more effective tools for your business, but more pleasant for the recipients as well. Here’s some practical copywriting advice for next time you want to write an email that actually gets opened.

1. Determine your audience.

Are you writing a direct, personal email to a lead you’ve been nurturing for months? Or are you sending a mass email to a mailing list? Your audience will affect more than just the content of your email—it will also determine the tone in which you write it, and even the level of design involved.

If you’re writing a direct email to clients or leads with whom you’ve already established a rapport, keep the tone personal and forgo a polished design. Even if the email is coming as part of an automated workflow, an overly branded email can make your contact feel alienated, as if they’re talking to the brand and not a person. Or in other words: if the email is coming from you, it should feel like it’s coming from you.

However, if you’re sending a newsletter to a mass list, anyone on that list already knows what to expect. They’ve signed up for a company mailing, so the email should be branded as if it’s coming from your company.

2. Determine your goal.

What do you want your email to accomplish for your business? Is this a general promotional piece advertising a new deal or a flash sale? Or do you have a specific objective, such as ticket purchases for an event or a fundraising drive?

The main thing is to keep your email focused. An email trying to do too much at once will usually result in nothing getting done at all.

3. Choose the right subject.

Your email subject line is the most important part of your email, but that doesn’t mean it has to be too complicated. You want to keep it short enough that it will display fully, without being cut off, but also long enough to be descriptive. You’re only looking at 40–50 characters (about seven words), so you want to make them count.

Spam filters monitor subject lines carefully, and are more likely to flag your email if it contains exclamation points or words like “free,” “sale,” and “buy.”

4. Use your header to get to the point.

I’m a fan of practical descriptive subject lines, but if you’re sending to a mailing list that knows your emails pretty well, playing around with them to tease the email contents can be fun. However, once your recipients click to open, you want the header of the email to let the know what your email is about. You have to have a really strong rapport with your readers to draw it out longer than that.

For first time emails, it’s even more important to be direct. Choose a subject line that will encourage readers to open, then use your header to reinforce it. Don’t bury the lede at the end of the email, because many of your readers won’t get there if you do.

5. Body: long or short?

When it comes to the length of your email copy, there is no one right answer. Long-form content works very well on blogs, where it is publicly accessible, easily sharable, and able to generate some SEO juice. But emails are a different beast. Many people are turned off by a long email, and would rather see an image with a button that shows them were to click.

But—and there’s always a but—this isn’t true of every email campaign. Some subscribers sign up to email lists because they find the emails themselves valuable. In fact, the two emails I’ve been subscribed to most consistently over the hears send daily emails of 1000+ words. I don’t read every one, but when I do, it’s a treat.

That doesn’t have to be your campaign. In fact, unless you have a lot of deep information to share—or a special connection to your subscribers—I would advise against it. If they don’t know you, and if you don’t have much to say, keep it short.

6. Calls-to-Actions: one or many?

Go back to point #2: What are you trying to accomplish with this email? For emails where the CTA is especially urgent, it’s best to keep it at one. For instance, you want the recipient to sign up for an event which is time-sensitive and needs a frim RSVP: put all the energy in the email behind that one CTA.

On the other hand, if you’re sending out a regular update, you may have won just by having your recipients open the email. In this context, it’s fine to include multiple CTAs, especially if you have a big blog roundup or a line of recently-launched products.

7. Promoting extra content: Do or do not?

Let’s say you write a great email with a convincing CTA. You have your audience’s attention—should you take advantage of it to take things one step farther?

Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. In some cases, including a link to your blog or a secondary CTA from an ongoing promotion might be great reinforcement. However, if you risk cluttering your email with TMI, it’s better to leave it off. If you overwhelm the user they may choose to unsubscribe, and then you won’t have another option to present your content.

Marketing emails—more than any other content—must be tailored to the audience.

Email marketing is a delicate piece of content, and a single misstep could cost you a lead or alienate an audience. All of us have had bad experiences with it, from the flood of spam emails for things we don’t want, to the overly persistent automation that won’t seem to go away.

That’s why it’s so important to have a strategy in place that focuses on the customer. Don’t send emails you wouldn’t want to receive yourself in you were in their shoes, and take every opportunity at your disposal to customize the content to fit your audiences.

But that said, there is some reassurance in knowing that the copy you send is going to an audience that knows you and has a strong reason to be interested in what you have to send. Your email isn’t going to be on a public website where anyone and everyone can see it. So be comfortable with the copy and don’t be afraid to be warm, personal, or even crack a joke if it feels right. In a sense, you’re preaching to the choir.

Published 04/12/19 by Laura Lynch