Writing top-notch emails is easier said than done. Unlike a blog post or blank canvas, you only have a few fields and so many characters to play with to create an engaging masterpiece.
Get it right, and your email will get noticed, opened, and clicked. Get it wrong, and your emails will ultimately go ignored.
Email writing is both an art and a science. It’s an art because it takes creativity, technique, and overall good storytelling. And it’s a science because there are formulas and best practices you can follow to nail customer needs and boost engagement.
It’s also a skill—not an inherent talent. Learning to write outstanding emails takes time, practice, and a little know-how.
Whether you’re writing a professional email to your boss, colleague, or customer, or a business email to a list of 100,000+ recipients, there are universal best practices to make your messaging more effective—and these work for other forms of business communications too.
First, let’s drill home the point that email writing matters (like, a lot)—then, we’ll get into best practices for writing better emails.
Why email writing matters (and data to back it up)
Quality email writing matters, but don’t just take our word for it—see what the data has to say:
- Email overload is real
- Catchy content leads to action
- Readers are always watching
- Users form strong opinions quickly
Email overload is real
Every time you send an email, that message competes with more than 70 other emails. Users aren’t opening and reading through 70+ emails every day—they’re picking and choosing the most interesting ones, and the rest get deleted or remain unopened.
A well-written subject line and preheader text will lead to a higher open rate. Then, it’s up to your email content to gain clicks and drive conversions.
Catchy content leads to action
Respondents in our 2020 Global Messaging Engagement Report stated catchy/fun content was the second-most memorable and click-influencing element of an email (after discounts/offers).
Personalization was important, as well as layouts and branding, but well-written content trumped the rest when it came to influencing action.
Readers are always watching
Web readers have an uncanny ability to spot grammatical errors and typos. Seriously. They’re sometimes better than a full-time editorial team.
“The fact that such a high percentage wouldn’t trust a company with poor spelling or grammar just goes to show how crucial it is that businesses make the most of every opportunity,” says Richard Michie, Marketing and Technology Director at Global Lingo.
“You only have a short amount of time to make an impression on a potential customer, and if your website or ad [or email] is riddled with grammatical errors, it’s not going to place you in a favorable light,” continued Michie.
Users form strong opinions quickly
Users spend only an average of 5.59 seconds looking at a website’s written content before forming an opinion and taking action. Expect your email to get even less time.
If your recipient scans the content, and it doesn’t pack a punch, they’ll move on to something that will. Every paragraph, sentence, and word needs to be intentional. With less than 6 seconds to spare, you can’t afford to deliver anything but the best.
How to write better emails: 14+ best practices
1. Learn how to write email subject lines like a boss
It all starts with your email subject line. It doesn’t matter how great your content, discounts, or creative is—if the subject line isn’t irresistible enough to compel readers to click, no one will ever see it.
Keep it short: Around 4 words.
Our past email data revealed recipients prefer short-and-sweet subject lines. Feel free to experiment with longer ones, but around 4 words is a good place to start.
Add intrigue or a call to action (CTA) to your subject line. Make your recipient have to open your message to see what’s inside.
Go easy on the exclamation points, though. Overall, we see lower engagement when brands use exclamations in subject lines (20% unique open rate vs. 25% without).
And don’t state the obvious. You only have so many characters to play with in your subject line, so don’t waste valuable real estate reminding someone it’s a Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Memorial Day sale—they know why there’s a sale. Our data shows that subject lines mentioning a shopping holiday tend to perform worse than those that don’t.
Need some inspiration? Check out 39 Email Subject Lines That Rocked Our Inbox!
2. Don’t forget your preview text
Preview text (also known as preheader text) is the copy immediately to the right of your subject line. If you leave it blank, email service providers (ESPs) will usually auto-populate it with text or HTML from the top of your email, which is often something like: “To view this email as a web page, click here.”
This is prime real estate (second only to your subject line), so don’t waste it! If your recipient is making a split-second decision to open your email or skip on down to the next one, this is the text that might push them over into the realm of “opened.”
Keep this text short and tied to your subject line. For example, look at this preview text from Ladders: “What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer?” That’s just downright intriguing enough to get me to click and find out the answer.
3. Choose the right email sender
Who the email comes from is critical. Our research found that consumers worldwide agree that the sender is the most influential factor when deciding to open an email.
Ensure you choose an email address and name that your recipients will recognize. If they don’t recognize you, chances are that message will go to the spam folder.
4. Write an intro that packs a punch
Hook your reader from the get-go with a powerful first sentence! Then follow up a strong subject line with solid email copy that leads the recipient through the rest of the email.
Deliver on your subject line and preview text promises as soon as possible. For example, if you promoted 50% off in the subject line, don’t make your readers hunt through the email to find that deal—make it clear and obvious.
5. Focus on above the fold
You have 8 seconds or less to captivate and retain your audience—every scroll counts. Design your emails so that your above-the-fold content delivers enough (without giving everything away) to entice your reader to keep scrolling.
That’s easier said than done—which is why we wrote a step-by-step guide on How to Design Above the Fold Content for Uber-Good Engagement.
6. It’s all about the discount
While we’d like to think recipients open emails because of content strategy, brand loyalty, and elegant email designs, that’s usually just not the case. Email recipients want deals.
Our research found that offers and discounts are the most click-influencing (and memorable) aspects of an email. Deep discounts (40% or more), in particular, are more legit and click-worthy.
Marketing is all about give and take—and you’ll need to take hefty discounts off for your customers to give you their money.
7. Only send if you have something to say
Your words and emails should deliver value to your customers.
“To a great extent, email deliverability is self-fulfilling,” says Dale Langley, Twilio SendGrid Deliverability Consulting Lead. “If you send content that your audience wants to receive and that they find interesting, the algorithms will learn that your email should be delivered to the inbox.”
“If you send email that wasn’t asked for and doesn’t deliver value, your recipients will act in a passive or negative way, and the algorithms that control filtering will learn to deliver your email to the junk folder. Of course, there are other influencing factors that contribute to email success, but ultimately, if you send emails that people love, it will be successful,” Langley continued.
Learn more about getting your important emails to your customers’ inboxes in our latest Deliverability Guide.
8. Trim the hedging
Hedging is when you use qualifiers to undermine what you’re saying to be more polite or less abrupt. For example, when you start an email with, “I think we should …” or “It’d be nice if we …,” those are instances of hedging.
These simple phrases might seem like safe ways to express your thoughts but actually make you look uncertain and unconfident. Strip them from your email writing to help your email skip straight to the main point.
9. Work on your email signature
Your email signature is an important piece of real estate, especially on formal emails or professional business emails. Take time to refine yours to deliver the perfect elevator pitch.
Your email signature can be more than a salutation or simple signoff—it can also give your recipients more information and inspire them to take action.
Think about the time you put into designing your business cards. You wanted to ensure you found the perfect picture, contact information, and CTA—do the same with your email signature.
For example, here’s my professional email signature:
If you’d like, feel free to include social media links to your LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook profiles.
10. Keep it simple
Don’t overcomplicate your emails with multiple CTAs or big words.
Write your emails at a third-grade reading level.
Data from Boomerang found that third-grade reading level emails receive a 36% higher response rate than college-reading level emails and a 17% higher rate than high-school reading level emails.
When possible, simplify your emails, remove jargon, use bullet points, and cut the fluff—it’ll improve your response rate.
11. Don’t be afraid to get emotional
Sometimes we try to write our emails in a professional, almost robotic, manner. However, this doesn’t appear to help with response rates. Data from Boomerang found emails that had emotion (both positive or negative) had 10–15% more responses than neutral-toned emails.
12. Experiment with emojis
Emojis can be a bit polarizing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them. Our research found that younger generations are generally well receptive to the occasional emoji, while older generations are a bit more hesitant.
Experiment and see how your audience reacts. If you find subject lines with emojis tend to get higher open rates, try using them more often.
13. Write powerful CTAs
With all that going into an email, CTAs often become an afterthought. However, these are the most critical elements of your email—this is when you compel your audience to actually do something with your email message.
Whether you want your recipients to make a phone call, subscribe to a list, enter a phone number, or sign up for an event—make it clear what you want your reader to do with the email.
Polish your CTAs to perfection to inspire action. Need help writing more effective emails CTAs? Take a peek at our Guide to Email A/B Testing and Optimizing Your Call to Action.
14. Proofread again and again
Once you’ve finished writing your email, run it through a spell-checker and grammar checker to find the common errors. Then, give it another read through. Next, hand it off to a colleague or friend.
After you’ve had a few sets of eyeballs on your email, run it through a proper email test. Twilio SendGrid’s email testing tool goes beyond English grammar checking to find image and format rendering, URL spam testing, and link validation. It ensures your recipients receive your emails the way you designed them.
Start writing top-notch emails
Put these tips into practice, and you’ll be well on your way to writing stellar emails the first time, every time.
Need help with all things email marketing and emailing? We’ve got you covered.
Check out our Email Marketing Getting Started Guide to learn everything from nurturing leads to win-back campaigns to building your email list.
And if you want sample emails or email templates, check out our free email template gallery.