While email has advanced a little bit in the last couple of decades with HTML, responsive design, and some other elements, the driving force behind an effective email is still the message copy that you write. I’m often disappointed in the emails I receive from companies where I have no idea who they are, why they emailed me, nor what they expect me to do next… and it results in my unsubscribing to them as rapidly as I sign-up for them.
I’m working with a client right now to write copy for several of their automated emails… subscription notification, welcome email, onboarding email(s), password reset email, etc. It’s been a good month of research on the web and I believe that I’ve uncovered enough nuances to other competing articles to share my thoughts and findings here.
My client has been waiting patiently for me to complete this task… thinking I was going to open a word document, write their copy, and provide it to their development team to insert into their platform. That didn’t happen because every element must be well thought-out and it required a ton of research. Subscribers don’t have patience nowadays for companies that waste their time by pushing communications that aren’t of value. I wanted to ensure our structure for these emails was consistent, well-thought-out, and properly prioritized.
Side note: I’m not going to speak to the layout, design, nor optimization here… this is very specific to the copy that you’re writing in each of your emails.
Effective Email Copy Elements
There are 10 key elements I’ve identified to writing effective email copy. Note that some of them are optional, but the order is still critical as an email subscriber scrolls through the email. I also want to downplay the length of the email. An email should be as long as needed to reach the goal of the communication… no less, no more. That means if it’s a password reset, the user just wants to know what to do and how to do it. However, if it’s an entertaining storyline, a couple of thousand words may absolutely be appropriate to entertain your subscriber. Subscribers don’t mind scrolling as long as the information is well-written and partitioned for scanning and reading.
- Subject Line – Your subject line is the most critical aspect when determining whether or not a subscriber is going to open your email. Some tips on writing effective subject lines:
- If your email is an automated response (shipping, password, etc.), just state that. Example: Your password reset request for [platform].
- If your email is informative, ask a question, include a factoid, apply humor, or even add an emoji that draws attention to the email. Example: Why do 85% of digital transformation project fail?
- Preheader – many systems and companies don’t give a lot of thought to preheader text. This is the previewed text that email clients display under your subject line. They’re often the first few lines of the content within the email, but with HTML and CSS you can actually customize preheader text and hide it within the body of the email. The preheader enables you to expand on your subject line and grasp the readers attention, further enticing them to read the entire email. Eg. Continuing with the digital transformation subject line above, my preheader may be, Research has provided the following 3 reasons on why digital transformation projects fail within businesses.
- Opening – Your opening paragraph may be your preheader or you can take advantage of the additional space to add a salutation, fully set the tone, and establish the goal of the communication. Example: In this article, we’re going to share a comprehensive research done within Fortune 500 companies that point to the 3 most common reasons that digital transformation projects fail within the enterprise.
- Gratitude (optional) – Once you set the tone, you may wish to optionally thank the reader. Example: As a customer, we believe it’s critical to share information like this to enhance the value we bring to our relationship. Thank you for your patronage to [company].
- Body – Respect people’s time by briefly and creatively providing the information to reach the goal you stated above. Here’s a couple of tips…
- Utilize formatting sparingly and effectively. People read a lot of emails on mobile devices. They may wish to scroll through the email first and read headlines, then dig in deeper to the content. Simple headlines, bolded terms, and bullet points should be enough to help them scan and focus on the copy they find interesting.
- Utilize graphics sparingly and effectively. Imagery helps subscribers comprehend and retain the information you’re providing faster than reading text. Think about looking at a pie chart rather than reading the bullet points and values… the chart is far more effective. Graphics should never be a distraction, nor gratuitous, though. We don’t want to waste the readers’ time.
- Action or Offer (optional) – Tell the user what to do, why to do it, and when to do it. I’d highly recommend that you utilize a button of some sort with a command on it. Example: If you’re planning your next digital transformation project, schedule a free introductory consulting meeting now. [Schedule Button]
- Feedback (optional) – Ask for and provide a means to provide feedback. Your subscribers appreciate being listened to and there may be a business opportunity when you solicit their feedback. Example: Did you find this information valuable? Is there another topic you’d like us to research and provide information on? Reply to this email and let us know!
- Resources (optional) – provide additional or alternative information that supports the communication. This information should be relevant to the goal of the communication. In this case above, it could be additional, relevant blog posts that you’ve done, a handful of articles on the topic, or the actual resources referenced in the article.
- Connect – Provide communication methods (web, social, address, phone, etc.). Let people know where and how they can connect with you or your company on social media, your blog, your phone number, or even your physical location.
- Reminder – Tell people how they subscribed and provide a means to opt-out or change your communication preferences. You’d be surprised at how many emails people are opted into, so remind them how they were added to your email list! Example: As our client, you were opted into these newsletters. If you’d like to opt-out or update your communication preferences, click here.
Consistency is key in your email structure and copy, so set the framework for every one of your emails so that subscribers recognize and appreciate each one. When you set expectations and even exceed them, your subscribers will open, click, and take action far more. This will lead to better engagement, acquisition, and retention of your customers.