Email copy requires time, strategy, creativity, and a keen eye for details. But email copywriting doesn’t need to be an activity that you dread! Breaking down each copy component of an email can simplify, streamline, and clarify the writing process. By doing so, you might just discover how much *fun* writing email copy can be!
The following guide provides a bird’s eye view of email copywriting strategy, but also dives deeply into each piece of email content, its purpose, and how to optimize each component so they all work together.
Step 1: step back
Before you open up a blank doc, first take a step back and ensure that you (and all stakeholders) are working off of a strong foundation and understanding of your brand voice. Bonus: This agreement will help guide you craft copy across various campaigns beyond just email.
If you haven’t determined a brand voice or are starting out from scratch, this is the PERFECT time to do so. You can still compile this even if you’re in a time pinch by addressing the following questions:
- What are two or three words that encapsulate your brand? Take your time with this one; once you finalize this, it will guide your entire content strategy. From there what tone do those words set? For example, some companies want to be considered fun, edgy, and witty while others want to provide a more serious or contemplative demeanor.
- Think about how you want your recipients to feel and think when they read your copy and does your writing tone reflect that? Do you want recipients to remember your brand as cheeky, traditional, or somewhere in between? Brand voices will vary by industry or service. For example, a company such as Strava attracts a niche audience of active and athletic followers so speaking with plenty of slang relevant to runners and bikers is likely to resonate. While a more traditional software company will probably focus less on niche slang and more on clear, universal messaging that focuses on the benefits to the user.
- Do you have a content style guide? Setting some style guidelines saves time in the long-run and clears up any disparaging thoughts on writing styles. Our content style guide here at SendGrid includes sections on brand voice, grammar/punctuation reminders, common word confusion, frequently used terms, product notes, spelling and capitalization, and proofing.
Once you’ve worked through a version of the above steps most applicable to your program, you can start implementing these email copywriting best practices.
Break up the pieces
Each email copy component serves a specific purpose (ultimately to persuade the reader to continue reading to the next copy element). As you start to plan out email copy, keep in mind the high-level purpose of each copy piece:
The subject line serves as the first touchpoint, greets your recipients, and sets the tone for the rest of the email. It needs to pique interest and enough curiosity so that the reader instinctually wants to learn more. It doesn’t need to explain everything in the email, it just needs to garner enough interest for a click.
The preview text provides additional context past the subject line and ultimately serves as the transition phrase or last piece of copy a reader sees before they decide to open an email. Because of this, preview text is just as relevant as the subject line.
Once a recipient opens an email, the headline within the email should align with the expectations they form while reading the preceding copy. If this doesn’t happen, you risk losing the reader’s attention and their trust with your emails.
The body copy should provide all those supporting details (as succinctly as possible) needed for a recipient to move onto the CTA. In fact, the reader should already have an idea of what the CTA will say because you’ve set it up to transition smoothly.
The call to action (CTA) is typically styled as a button so it can stand out from the rest of the copy and draw attention to its instruction (action). If you’ve convinced a reader to stay engaged through the CTA, there’s a good chance that they are interested, so spending a little extra time on ensuring that you’re providing well-crafted CTAs makes the decision to click that much easier.
With the context above, let’s dive into each piece individually and see how you can improve your email copywriting.
Subject lines and preview text
Just like meeting the parents or showing up for your first day in a new job, first impressions are critical—especially so in email. And the subject line is your first impression with your recipients. The inbox is a digital social arena and manners are not only appreciated, they are expected.
The “from name” is itself a content piece. Consider using a first name in your from line. Here at SendGrid we’ve A/B tested versions of this and using a first name from SendGrid won out.
Writing interesting subject lines (especially if you are in a time crunch) can be challenging. Consider the following tips when you’re in the middle of writing your subject lines:
- Leverage basic human desires and curiosities.
- Use strong, exciting, and even unexpected (when appropriate) versions of action verbs.
- Be provocative. This may not be a go-to strategy, and it’s important not to go overkill, but if you provide a subject line with controversial messaging, you will at the very least pique interest.
Here are some examples of some clever and persuasive subject lines that apply to the themes above:
The Ladders is an online job board and resource for employers and job-seekers alike:
Freshly is a healthy food delivery subscription service:
And Fallout Fitness is an online fitness program catering to surviving The Apocolypse:
Don’t forget about your preview text! This is the copy beside the subject line. If you don’t write customized copy, most ISPs will pull the beginning of your email body copy. This is a great chance to provide some explanatory language if you have a subject line that gets creative so that readers will definitely know what’s inside the email once they open it.
Perfecting your subject lines and preview text requires practice. The more you write them, the more you become comfortable with them. Don’t be discouraged, keep tweaking, A/B test different versions, and you will start to see improvements!
Body email copywriting
If you’ve convinced a recipient to open your email, the copy inside the email is crucial to maintaining and building credibility, trust, and appreciation (value). But how many words do you need to achieve this?
Depending on how many stories you have within your email, you can adjust the word count accordingly. But always try to convey your meaning in as few words as possible.
If you only have one, take a little more time to explain your content. But if you have several stories, try to make your content as short as possible (without missing the meaning of the story!).
Although images are not technically copy, they are certainly part of your overall content and should be strategically selected to enhance your email copywriting.
One of the cornerstone characteristics of good copy—whether it’s in an email, an advertisement—or longer form content pieces, is to achieve a 1:1 experience for your user. As you write, think about your copy coming across less as a billboard message and more like a conversation you might have on a bar-stool.
And how you write to your recipient makes all the difference. Think of email copy as a conversation and write as though you were explaining or telling a story to a friend or colleague.
The body copy is where the meat of your information or story lives. Write succinctly, but ensure that you’ve explained the point cleary and that the transition to the CTA is as seamless as possible.
Strategies for email headline copywriting
After you’ve written the body copy of an email, you can more easily write its headline. Although headlines are some of the shorter content pieces in an email, they can oftentimes be the most challenging.
Protip: Being concise is one of the harder aspects of writing!
Although you need to be clear about what the topic is about, be cautious about writing too literal of a headline. The headline does not need to cover everything within the story. In fact, there’s rarely space to do so. Choose one angle or point to highlight.
While you’re writing, remember that action words and verbs, much like subject lines, will always serve you well. If you’re feeling stuck on the headline and want to be creative, consider applying a simple strategy.
- Take a well-known pun or saying and spin it for your angle or industry.
- Use a little alliteration: sometimes using alliteration can come off corny, but if you choose smart, strong words, it will at least be fun to read.
- Boil down your story to 3 words and brainstorm angles related directly to those words. Choose your favorite version afterwords.
The headline has one job: to convince the reader to move onto the copy. There are many ways to achieve this, so experiment with what works best for you and what resonates with your audience.
Call to action
In a perfect world, you have enough time to write the perfect CTA that would knock Hemingway off his bar stool. Reality: you’re likely working on a deadline and the CTA is the last piece you need to write so you usually end up with little time to dedicate to this.
But consider that the CTA is one of the most crucial pieces of email copywriting because this is the moment that a recipient decides whether or not they are going to click (convert) and continue to engage with your brand.
Keep the following in mind when you’re writing CTAs so your time is well spent:
- Use action words–again, verbs are your closest friends, adjectives are frenemies, and adverbs should be avoided when possible! Focusing on action words keeps your copy clean and succinct so there’s no confusion for your reader.
- Ensure that the copy in your CTA and the link that you send your reader to makes sense and doesn’t feel like “trickery.” The link you send recipients to should also be crystal clear and not force users to overly navigate to get to their intended destination. Directing users to a personalized landing page works well to achieve consistent messaging.
- Go with something familiar—although it may feel uncreative, if you’re really in a pinch, using the more canned “learn more,” “read more,” or “get the coupon” will meet your recipient’s needs and may be better if you don’t have enough time to create a hand-crafted CTA.
For more on writing your best CTA, as well as some A/B testing strategies to guide you, check out SendGrid’s A/B Testing and CTA strategies best practice guide.
Editing email copy
After the final touches are put on your CTA, you can move along to the editing and testing email phase. Because there are a lot of independent content pieces pulled into an email, consider reserving two rounds of edits before you send.
The first edit reviews how the pieces work together and whether the email has become a persuasive, warm, and engaging email. This is a great time to ensure that a piece like the subject line still fits in with the entire email now that you’ve written it.
Once you’ve decided that all the pieces fit, this is where the second round of edits come in where you ensure that grammar, punctuation, and spelling and links are correct.
Enlist another set of eyes to review the content so they can provide any additional perspective. And while you’re editing, remove all unnecessary words such as adjectives and throat clearing phrases.
Throat clearing phrases are those introductory phrases that aren’t required for the sentence to work. Some common throat-clearing word and phrases include: however, moreover, and in fact.
For other tips and suggestions on how to ensure your email campaigns, are mistake-free checkout, Your Pre-send Email Checklist.
Email copywriting takeaways
Email copywriting is a mixture of art and science. There is a formula that will position you to succeed, but just following it won’t cut it in today’s noisy email marketing ecosystem. Bring in your own nuanced touch and perspective and appreciate that writing takes time—when you let yourself commit to and dedicate time to improve, you will usually find the words you’ve been looking for in the end.
Although there seems to be a lot to keep track of, if you keep these themes in mind, you’ll be more likely to write effective email content:
- Be relevant, be valuable – achieve this by providing personalization when it makes sense and imagining that you are the recipient, not the sender.
- Be consistent – your brand voice is a lot like your email sender reputation. Once it’s gone, it’s hard to get back.
- A/B test and measure your content – measuring and testing is really the only way you’ll know if you’re reaching your audience and what type of message they prefer.
- The shorter, the (usually) better – use action words and clear and simple language. Once you’ve said what you needed to say, stop.
Now that you know best practices, it’s important to remember that email copywriting is only one, albeit critical piece of an email marketing strategy. If you want to learn about other aspects of email marketing, such as personalization, testing, and strategies, read our 2018 A-Z Email Marketing Best Practice Guide.