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How to write email copy that converts

As a writer, it hurts to say this: But in the email marketing world, copy is the red-headed step child. People love to play with design (the cute, lovable baby) and experiment with tools like automation and dynamic content (the smart, successful older brothers), but how many marketers get super amped about email copy?

After all, it’s difficult to get excited about putting a lot of effort into something that, in all likelihood, most of your subscribers are only scanning at best.

But what initially feels like a futile mission actually presents an interesting challenge: Knowing that your audience is primarily scanning your emails, how can your copy capture their attention and, ideally, get them to convert? Here are a few strategies we’ve seen work – they might just help your email copy go from neglected afterthought to the top spot on the marketing fridge!


1. Craft a compelling subject line.

Subject lines are everything when it comes to boosting the success rates of your emails. They’re the first thing people see when they pull up their inbox and determine whether or not they'll decide to hit “open” – in fact, 35% of your audience opens emails based on subject line alone (Convince and Convert).

That’s why you should do everything you can to optimize your subject line copy. A few basic rules to follow:

• Use actionable language and tell recipients exactly what they’ll be able to do with your email if they open it.
• Keep it clear – jokes are great, but they should always come second to clarity and, in the case of subject lines, brevity. Besides, you can always use the preheader text to expand on whatever it is you're trying to say. 
• Try to reference what’s actually within the body of your email. You can be clever, but no one appreciates a click-bait-and-switch.

Here, Madewell's subject line – "The beauty of one-piece dressing" – and preheader text – "Out the door in five" – demonstrate the value of the apparel they're promoting in the email.


2. Keep it relevant.

Personalized, relevant emails work so much better than old-school batch-and-blasts – they’ve even been shown to drive 6X higher transaction rates (Experian). And there are a couple of reasons why: First of all, your email list is full of all sorts of people who all have different needs. Second, modern subscribers expect much more of the brands they elect to hear from than they did in the past... and they won’t hesitate to unsubscribe if your messaging doesn’t interest them anymore. Remember, it’s a privilege to be invited into their inbox.

That’s why audience segmentation is one of your best friends and biggest allies in the email marketing game. It allows you to tailor your messaging to the specific group you’re wanting to reach, keeping your copy extra relevant and on point.

Always write your email copy with the segment you’re sending to in mind. It can be super simple. Maybe a group of your subscribers downloaded a guide from your website and you’re reaching out with another piece of helpful content – so reference that initial download in your email! It’ll help provide the necessary context for them to know where you’re coming from and why they should pay attention to what you have to say. 

Loft sent me this email two weeks after I ordered a sweater from them – a super timely, extra relevant marketing strategy on their part.


3. Communicate value (not just price).

It’s a mistake we see marketers make again and again… offering your recipients discount after discount IS NOT the same thing as demonstrating value to them. Here’s an example:

A. Get 20% off your order!
B. Our brand new feature X will save you time and boost your ROI 150%.

Which one feels more compelling? People are constantly bombarded by a sea of generic “limited-time,” “exclusive” deals – and they’re increasingly aware of the fact that most of the time, those deals aren’t actually limited time or exclusive. But by presenting the benefit of your product or service in a clear way, you’ll make it much more appealing to your audience and ultimately drive more conversions.

Aside from a subtle "Start Your Trial" link, there aren't any calls to buy in this email from Sprout Social. Instead, they let a case study speak to the value of their product and compel people to purchase.


4. Be brief.

This rule applies to marketing writing in general, but it's especially true when it comes to email: No one wants to read a 100-page novella about your brand. Remember, they’re just scanning, so, ideally, they should be able to only read your subject line, headline(s) and CTA and understand what you’re trying to get them to do.

Rather than making your email an intimidating wall of copy, use copy instead to simply tease your content. Hook your subscribers with a succinct message that leaves them wanting more, then drive them to click through to a landing page on your website with more information.

Emails with a single call to action increase click rates 371% and sales 1617% (Toast) – and no, that isn’t a typo. Keeping things focused on a single, central message will boost your conversion rates like crazy.

Publisher StyleBlueprint rarely includes more than one piece of content in their daily emails, keeping them clean and hyper-focused.


5. Break it up.

The reason those mindless Buzzfeed lists are everywhere these days? They’re incredibly easy to scan and digest. This particularly applies to audiences who are reading on their phones (and that’s over 54% of them when it comes to email): The ultra-popular list structure is one of the easiest to follow and engage with on a mobile device.

So keep that factor in mind when composing your emails: Format your email for people who are skimming by using numbered lists or bullet points, keeping sentences short, and making your CTA simple and to-the-point.

A numbered list makes this email from Stitch Fix easy to scan and navigate.