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How to Write an Effective Marketing Email

A blond-haired man with a headset sits at a desk typing on a laptop.

Email is a crucial tool for modern business marketing, but knowing how to craft your message is essential. More than an estimated 347 billion emails are sent and received every day, so your marketing email has a lot of competition for reader attention. You need your email message to stand out, make its case quickly and spur readers to take action. We’ll show you how to do it in this article.

Marketing Email Basics

Whether you’re trying to reconnect with established customers or grow your business by reaching out to new ones, certain basic principles apply when writing any marketing email. You want your message to be memorable, easy to understand, and make the the reader want to engage with your business. To succeed in your own email marketing campaign, use the following tips:

Manage your subject line

Your subject line is the single most important part of your marketing email. As the only text of the email shown before opening a message, the subject line (and the related preview text) sets expectations about what the email contains. If you can’t entice your recipient with a solid subject, they might not open your email at all, so you need to make it count.

  • Be clear: It’s usually best to give your recipient a good idea of what’s inside your email in the subject line. If a subject line is vague or misleading about an email’s content, you may irritate your reader and make them think twice about opening anything from your business again.
  • Don’t get cut off: Most email inbox interfaces don’t give subject lines a lot of space. If your subject line goes on too long, it’s liable to be cut off partway, leaving it partially unreadable and less likely to be opened. Keep your subject line under 40 characters, usually about five to seven words total. (In fact, “usually about five to seven words total” is seven words itself, and exactly 39 characters, so aim for that length or shorter).
  • Personalize it: If you use special email software to manage a list of subscribers (or use the similar Mail Merge function in Outlook), you should have the means to personalize a mass marketing email to match customer names, including in subject lines. This is a great way to seize your reader’s attention. A well-written subject line addressing a recipient by name will always be more effective than keeping it vague and robotic.

Take advantage of preview text

Most email software shows preview text after the subject line, either directly following on the same line or below it. By default, this text is pulled from the start of the email, so it is often referred to as “preheader text,” but many email services can change the preview text without affecting the visible content of the email inside (you can even do this yourself if you understand a bit of HTML coding).

This additional line is a super-important part of your email, as it is visible like the subject line, and can be used to further grab reader attention. Good choices for the preview text include:

  • building off the statement made on the subject line with additional information
  • further personalizing the email with details relevant to the recipient
  • summarizing the content of the email inside

The amount of preview text shown in an email interface varies, so it’s best to keep it short, 90 characters or less. You can even make your preview deliberately short (or completely blank) to make the subject line stand out more in a busy inbox.

Short, simple body text

The main text inside an email is called “body text.” You should keep this simple and not bombard the reader with information. You might assume a thorough email with lots of details about what you’re promoting is what a customer wants, but the opposite is usually true. Lengthy messages full of long paragraphs will overwhelm the reader, and more often than not, end up unread in the trash folder.

  • Be brief: In general, aim for between 15 and 25 lines of text, or about 150-250 words total. That’s enough length to make a pitch without overloading your readers, and within a range that some marketers have found results in an optimal click-through rate. Only go longer if you think it’s necessary to make your pitch (especially if you’re asking more from a reader than simply clicking a link, like attending an in-person event). However, in most cases, if you can’t get your pitch under 250 words, you’re trying to say too much at once.
  • Stay focused: There might be a lot going on that you want to tell your customers about, but that doesn’t mean you should try to fit it all into one email. Generally, it’s best to limit your email to a single topic, like a sale, a special offer, announcing an event, or revealing a new product. Don’t try to the mash all that news together into a single mega-message. Instead, plan your email releases in advance, so you can send a series of messages about all the exciting happenings at your business, giving each individual subject room to breathe and time in the spotlight.

Give customers a reason to act

Any marketing email needs a call to action, a part of the message that encourages the reader to do something. You might write the most eloquent email message of all time, but it won’t do you any good if the reader’s engagement ends there.

Calls to action are a direct prompt to your reader. They are links or buttons, and usually have text reading things like “Buy Now,” “Learn More,” “Sign Up” or “Start Now.” CTAs should bring your reader to a landing page, like a sign-up page for the service you’re marketing, a relevant part of your store’s website, or an event’s RSVP form.

You should have at least one primary CTA in your email. You can use a single one at the end of your email, so your reader is fully informed before you ask them to act. Or you can use multiple secondary CTAs elsewhere in the body copy, such as links to a specific product or related information.

Improving Marketing Email Effectiveness

While not directly the “writing” side of email marketing, here are a few things you can do to further improve your email campaign’s effectiveness.

A picture is worth 1000 words

Images are a great addition to an email. Graphics can convey additional information, help demonstrate your brand, or highlight a specific product, service or event. A well-chosen graphic will make your email memorable.

However, just like with body text, there’s a risk of overload with graphics. You should avoid overusing them in a single message. One large image or a few small supporting graphics should be more than enough for a marketing email.

Manage your message frequency

You want to be a steady presence in your customers’ inboxes, but not an obnoxious one. Sending too many messages could get your emails labeled spam, or just annoy your reader with their frequency. You don’t want your business associated with a negative professional image, after all. Send email too rarely, customers might forget you exist. How do you find a balance?

While there’s no perfect formula for how often you should email that works for every business, generally it’s considered best to send two or three messages a week.

Measure the impact of your message

It’s important to understand whether your email is working the way you want it to. Measuring email analytics is the best way to get that information, but even just informally comparing website hits or sales in the time before and after an email is sent may be enough to draw some conclusions.

An even better approach is to use A/B testing, sending out two versions of the same email with a single variable changed to different segments of your email list, and determining which has the best results for your business. A/B testing over time is a great way to define your customer base and to which approaches they are most responsive.

Use multiple, personalized message streams

While you should aim for a consistent vibe with your email marketing, you don’t have to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. Once you have an idea of which customers are responsive to which types of messaging, you can send out entirely different email to different parts of your email list.

For example, if you’re a small retailer selling sportswear, and your A/B testing and market research suggests two distinct groups of customers, one that responds to outdoorsy gear with a neutral approach, and another that gravitates towards gym clothing and brighter, louder colors. In a case like that, tailoring your approach with two distinct sets of email promoting the same thing in separate ways may reap benefits for your company.

Additionally, if you have specific customer information like their names, previous purchases or location, you can focus your email by using automation to draw that information from a spreadsheet. It might take a little more work to set up, but customers will respond more to an email that feels personalized to them than one that feels like part of a generic list-wide email blast.

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This entry was posted in Opinion.