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How to: Write the perfect marketing email

Don’t let poor copy ruin your email campaigns. Claire Chapman, copywriter at The Marketing Practice, reveals five steps to email success

Your data’s cleansed. Your segmentation’s agreed. And your messaging has been researched and perfected. 

So the last thing you need is a poorly written email to be the downfall of all the hard work done to reach this point. 

The conflicting sources of advice available online, and perhaps even from your colleagues, can make writing a marketing email seem like a minefield. And there are certainly no hard and fast rules – your approach needs to be tailored so it works for your specific audience and goal. But there are a couple of tried and tested techniques to give your email the best chance of avoiding the feared ‘delete’ button. 

Here are five top tips to follow when writing a marketing email:

1. Know your audience

Don’t tell a retail business the challenges facing their sector, or over-explain technology to an IT professional – they live it every day. Give people answers. Put yourself in their shoes and ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ And if you can personalize then do so. It nearly always leads to better opens and click-throughs.

Get straight to the point and avoid jargon. You’ll be amazed how often upon re-reading your email you’ll discover you can delete the first sentence. 

Avoid exaggerated or unrealistic promises, and always lead with benefits. Think about the typical heat map – we tend to scan top left and down – so: “You can save 46 per cent in email costs…” not “Our industry-leading email solution could save you…” 

Short is good. Don’t panic if it only takes a few lines to say what you need to say. Your readers will thank you – it saves them time after all. One hundred and fifty words and three paragraphs is fine. Bolding key words, using sub heads and bullet points all help to break up the copy. And use active language, not passive: John Doe completed the tax return, not the tax return was completed by John Doe.

2. Design

Decide if your email is going to be designed or plain in style. Do you want box outs and a banner headline, or more of a personal, one-to-one communication? Choose a strong headline that summarizes the point of your email. Make it short and don’t try to be too clever – it’s about getting across the value of your email so people keep reading. If your headline is within a banner image use alt tags: it means if the pictures don’t load, the reader can still see the text. 

Avoid crowding hyperlinks and try not to use more than three in one email. Use explanatory link copy i.e. make your people more productive and cut costs – only hyperlink click here if it’s clear where the reader is being taken.

Use images sparsely. They are slow to load and transfer on mobile devices, and must be ‘enabled’ to be seen in many email clients. Try to place them towards the bottom of the email or to one side. 

3. Call-to-action

Is there one clear call-to-action, prompting a natural next step? If there is more than one, are they different enough – one ‘hard’ and one ‘soft’? Less is better – focus on one if you can, and try never to go over three. Why should they act now? Try to add a sense of urgency and make sure the value is clear. If you’re inviting them to a meeting, make a summary agenda of that meeting the call-to-action, and ensure it is visible at the point where your prospect has become convinced to take action. Make sure the next step is an easy one. Offer to call them, or invite them to reply to the email or click through to a relevant landing page. And make sure a phone number is clearly visible. 

4. Subject line

It’s the one thing that will prompt or dissuade us from opening an email. The subject line needs to be short, clear and persuasive. Try to limit the subject line to 50 characters and put the most compelling point first – you don’t want your best bit to get cut off by the recipient’s email program. Think of it as a newspaper headline. 

A pre-header is the third line down when you view an email in the preview pane on your smartphone. The first line is usually the sender, and the second is the subject line. It makes an email more mobile friendly. But you probably won’t need it if you are sending a personal email. It helps to increase open rates by showcasing more of what’s in the email. It enhances the subject line, prompting the reader to open the email by adding a little more detail. Try to limit the pre-header to 80 characters. Only write both the subject line and pre-header once you’re happy with your email copy.

5. Deployment

For the best results, try to understand what devices people read your emails on; the best time and day to send; and who it should come from. This understanding comes from testing. Test sending emails at different times and on different days. At The Marketing Practice we have found that sending pre-9am and post-5pm gets better results. And send it from a real person instead of a company or function – so cchapman[at] rather than content[at] If you’re following up on an earlier email, like an invitation to an event, don’t be afraid to use the ‘FW:’ function. It often increases opens as it stands out in people’s inboxes and adds a sense of urgency. But don’t overuse it, and only use it honestly. Never fake a ‘FW:’ or a ‘RE:’ – you’ll end up in the spam folder.

Don’t let poor copy ruin your email campaigns. Claire Chapman, copywriter at The Marketing Practice, reveals five steps to email success