email copywriting
Project Ignite Podcast by Derek Gehl 10 Email Copywriting Tips To Increase Opens, Clicks and Conversions
00:00:00 00:00:00
  • Episode  19
  • Derek Gehl


In this episode I share my top ten email copywriting tips–not about what goes into the email, but how to put things into emails. I discuss the optimum lengths for subject lines, paragraphs, even individual line lengths, and tell you why it is that I never use those fancy email layouts that come with most email marketing systems.

Transcript: 10 Email Copywriting Tips To Increase Opens, Clicks and Conversions

Welcome to the Project Ignite podcast, this is your host, Derek Gehl. Today’s episode is on my top ten email copywriting tips to increase opens, clicks and conversions.

I want to clarify that this episode is about the mechanics of a good marketing email; so we’re going to focus not on what to put in the email, but how to put it in the email. I’ll probably cover the “what” in another podcast, but this one is about the “how”–how to structure your emails, how to get the best responses. This is based on over the one thousand emails I’ve written and tested in so many different niches over the past fifteen years. These are sort of my email marketing truths. If you do these things, you’re almost definitely going to get better results–is there an exception to the rule? Absolutely, there always is. But, if you do this, you’re going to get a good result.

Again, this isn’t what to write, but how to present it. This applies to marketing emails, but what you do with your newsletters might be really different. This is the immediate follow-up when someone opts in, for example.

So let’s dive in here!

Email copywriting tip #1 is to keep your subject line short. My general rule of thumb is fifty characters or less; but shorter is better. All of the tests are showing that a one word subject line is outperforming everything else–some of the best I’ve seen are one word: “hey.” Of course, you can only use that subject line so many times, but those short subject lines are really powerful. One of the reasons for this is that if you go over, in many email clients, it’ll cut the subject line off and people won’t be able to read it all the way through.

So two words, three words, four words, hit the point home – curiosity, urgency, but keep it short.

I could do a whole different podcast on this, which will probably come up pretty soon, but for today, remember to keep it short.

Email copywriting tip #2: When someone opens that email, they open it because they’ve seen something that interests them in the subject line–but if the body of the email isn’t congruent with the subject line and what they were expecting, you’re going to lose people. It’s great if you’ve got a high open rate, but if it’s not congruent, they’re not going to hang around, and it might even piss them off.

To drill down a little further, this congruence should be first and foremost between the subject line and the first paragraph. Sometimes I just rephrase or clarify that subject line, because there’s continuity in that. People open the email, and it immediately addresses what made them open the email in the first place.

Email copywriting tip #3: Personalize the email! As much as you can. “Hi, first name.” That’s all good and well, but what else can you use? What other information can you get from their last purchase, or something you’re currently teaching them? Where they live? Whatever that is–utilize it to capture their attention at a higher level.

There are sometimes that you’ll break this rule. If you have a massive database and you see that a lot of people have entered their first names in all lowercase, or have just typed gibberish, you’re gonna want to think hard about merging the first name. Because that looks so terrible when you send out an email that says, “hi ____” and it’s all lowercase, or just their initials… So if you’re going to use the first name, it’s worth scanning your database and having someone go in and clean that up. If there isn’t a first name, just pull it out and leave it blank so that it just says, “hi.”

The other point of personalization where there’s split opinions is the subject line. There are studies that say it’s beneficial to use a first name in the subject line, but then there’s also people out there that say, “I’ve tested this and it didn’t work.” Again, every market is different, and you do need to test this–but one of the questions I always ask myself is, how can I make this feel like a real, personalized message that someone sat down at their computer to write, just for this one person?

As I scanned my inbox, I realized that nobody ever puts my first name in the subject line. So having that first name in the subject line is almost a little suspicious. However, I’m arguing both sides here, but I’ve also seen it test well. So I would suggest testing for this personally. Bottom line, tip number three is personalize your emails.

This brings us to tip # four. I’ve kind of been alluding to this already, but let’s dive in anyways. Simple formattingmake it look like it came from a friend. When you send an email to a friend, you don’t merge in logos on the top or have crazy layouts. Keep all of that to a minimum. I want my emails to look like I just typed it up organically, and like it’s coming straight from me. So avoid fancy formatting, and maybe even rich text formatting. Use it all sparingly. In most cases, that’s going to get a better response than having a really fancy blended layout.

Email Copywriting Tip #4: Make it look like an email from a friend. It’s very simple. The good news is it’s easier to create that than fancy email. You want people to feel like you are speaking to them–it’s going to get you a better result.

Email Copywriting Tip #5: Make it scannable. There’s a few sub-elements here. The fact is, when someone opens an email, and the email is super dense and really long, you’re going to lose people. With big long paragraphs, lines all the way across the screen–even if someone intends to go back to read it later, chances are, it’s going to get pushed further and further into their inbox and they will never, ever read it.

You want to make it easy to read. Make it scannable so that they can scan it and pick out the key points.

Keep your line lengths short. If there’s no hard line breaks, or no length control, for someone with a high resolution screen, that line is going to continue all the way across the screen. You don’t want that. You want it to be formatted with hard returns or with tables to make each line 60 characters at the absolute most. It makes it look and feel easy to read. The other trick here is to not have long paragraphs. My general rule is that I’ll never have a paragraph in an email that’s more than five lines. Keeping the short line lengths and short but slightly varied paragraph lengths makes it easier to break out the key points.

For the English teachers listening, this is going to go straight against the grain, because you’re tossing grammatical rules and paragraph structures out the window–but this is how the top email marketers are working right now. Make it scannable. That’s number five.

Tip # six, make it look short. In an ideal world, if someone can open the email and see the end of it, they’re more likely to read it. If you can see that big scrollbar in an email, more people are more likely to put off reading it. It looks too long to read! You want to make it look as short as possible. When they can see the end of it, they know exactly how long it’ll take them to read.

So, make it look short. The ideal way to do that is, when you open it in your client, can you see the end of it? This may not work perfectly every time, but do your best to make it look short. That’s tip number six.

Email Copywriting Tip #7: Don’t sell in the email! The goal of an email is to generate interest from the right customers and get them to click through to a website. Then, it’s the website’s job to sell. There’s not enough information in an email to make a proper buying decision. The email has one purpose–grab their attention with the subject line, and then engage them enough to take one action: click the link to the website. Then the website does the job of selling the product.

email copywriting

Email Copywriting Tip #8: Have a simple, clear call to action. In your email, you want them to do one thing only. Click a link to go to a webpage. Once they get to the webpage, there’s a bunch of additional things to take them through a sales process. An email is very limited, so you don’t want to ask too much of them. Just one simple call to action: click here. You might have that same call to action two or three times in the same email, but it’s all going to be the same action.

Email Copywriting Tip #9: This is kind of a pet peeve of mine. When I get an email, and I open it up, and it seems to be written by somebody, but when I scroll down to the signature, it’s from a brand, or a company. I see this with big and small businesses. Everybody knows that a brand can’t send an email–a person sent that email.

Your emails need to be from someone, not something. Make it personal. You need someone that will be that face and voice if you don’t want to. People want to do business with people, not just brands. Particularly at the email level. Make sure you have a personal signature, and a consistent person is sending these emails. Eventually your customers will build a relationship with this person. If you start to change it up, you can lose that trust.

Email Copywriting Tip #10: test, test, test. I’m always shocked at how often people will just put an email together and blast it out with no testing, period. If you have a very small list, it’s difficult to test. But once you have even a few thousand people, create a couple lists and test a few different subject lines and approaches before you roll it out. Take the time to test–all of the good marketing clients offer you the ability to split test and track. Take advantage of that, don’t just guess. A lot of the tips I’ve shared with you will prove to be true across the majority of niches, but you still need to test your specific market to see what is working well. Never assume, because there’s always exceptions.

What I’ve given you today is ten things that will get you a better result. If you’re just getting started out, apply these things now and then test against them–use them as your control going down the road.

Let’s just reiterate that list of email copywriting best practices:

  • Tip number one, keep your subject line short. Fifty characters or less.
  • Number two, make sure there’s congruence between your subject line and your email, but especially the first paragraph.
  • Tip three, personalize your emails, go beyond first name if you can. The more personal it is, the better results you’ll get.
  • Tip four, keep the formatting simple–make it look like it came from a friend. Stay away from fancy layouts and images and graphics. When you sign up for GetResponse or Aweber, they’ll give you all these fancy layouts, but the simplest emails will get you the best response.
  • Tip five, make it scannable! Short line lengths, short paragraphs of varying lengths–make it scannable.
  • Tip number six, make the email itself look short. If it’s multiple pages, there’s a good chance no one will read it.
  • Tip number seven, don’t sell in the email! The website needs to do the selling for you. The email has one goal: get them to click to go to the website. That’s it.
  • Tip number eight, have a single, clear call to action in the email. Don’t ask them to do muliple things.
  • Tip number nine, give it a personality. It needs to be from someone not something.
  • And tip number ten, test! Don’t assume. What works for one business might work for yours, but a slight variation might work even better–but you’ll never know unless you test.

I’ve got one bonus tip for you here, we’ll call it tip number eleven. Keep a swipe file. One of the things I like to do is, when I’m checking my email, and I find myself attracted to an email, I have a mental recorder that notes what was good about those emails–I use Evernote. Then in the future, I can reference those emails for ideas going forward. Any copywriter has a swipe file, but keep one for email marketing too.

There you go! Ten email copywriting tips that you can start applying to emails.

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