How to write email marketing messages that get clicks

November 29, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: How-to Guides 

write email marketingEmail is fast, cheap, and if done correctly, incredibly effective. That’s why so many businesses, online and offline, want to use email as part of their marketing.

The downside is that unlike many other media, the technology for email marketing hasn’t progressed much over the last few years. In many ways, it’s gone backwards.

You never know what platform people will be using to access their email. You don’t know the size of their screen. You don’t know if they’ve turned off images or have a strict spam filter set up or if the email will even be delivered.

Compared to other types of marketing, email marketing can be pretty primitive. You can’t take anything for granted. And it’s wise to keep things simple.

So when you need to write email marketing messages, and you want people to click on a link (which is almost always the goal), you want to keep a few basic ideas in mind.

Consider the “from” line. What’s one of the first things you do when you get a letter by snail mail? You look at the upper left corner of the envelope to see who sent it. Right?

Likewise, when people get email, they look at the from line to see who sent it.

You can use a company name (From: SharperImage), personal name (From: Richard Thalheimer), email address (From:, department address (From:, anonymous address (From:, or just about anything you want.

Generally, however, people pay more attention to messages from people and businesses they know.

Write an attention-grabbing “subject” line. You can state your offer (Get 600,000 pieces of clip art for only $69.95), offer something free (Dow Jones Video Just For Asking), announce exciting news (Russian scientist discovers biological secret of love), appeal to the how-to instinct (How to find out anything about anyone), or ask a question (Want an easy way out of debt?).

The subject line is like teaser copy on an envelope. Its only purpose is to get people interested enough to want to know more. Be careful with spam filter trigger words, though.

Get creative with your subject line. Arouse curiosity by ending your line mid-sentence (To cut your travel costs in half just…). Establish a personal feel with the “forward” abbreviation (FW: Here’s something I think you’ll like). Create excitement with a “nuts” line (We’re going nuts trying to reach you). Create familiarity with a “whoops” line (Whoops – important correction to my last email). The possibilities are endless.

Get to the point quickly. Expand on your subject line in the headline or first paragraph of your email message. Telegraph your offer clearly and completely.

If your subject line says, “Get $100 off your utility bills,” your first paragraph could say, “Sign up now for a RISK-FREE 30-day trial of Shopper’s Discount and you can get $100 in FREE UTILITIES! We will send you $100 in Utility Cash-Back Certificates – good for gas, electric, cable TV, phone – absolutely FREE.”

Include a salutation. Many email messages work fine without a salutation — they’re more like short ads. But if you want your message to look more personal, you’ll need a salutation at the top or after a headline.

You can make it generic (Dear Friend, Dear Pet Lover, Dear Homeowner), but a personalized salutation is better whenever that’s an option. Simply include the word “Dear” followed by a field for the first name or first and last name of the recipient.

You can personalize your body text in the same way with names, places, locations, and various bits of information. Don’t overdo it, though, or you’ll raise privacy concerns.

Include at least three links. Unless you’re trying to sell something directly from your email, you will be sending your reader to a web page to complete the transaction. That means including a link that the reader can click on or cut and paste into a browser’s address window.

This link should appear at least three times: after the offer in your first paragraph, somewhere in the middle of the message, and again at the end. I’ve seen statistics that claim 95 percent of click-throughs come from the first two links, which is why it’s especially important to place links early in the message.

For newsletters, you can break your copy into several short items, each on a different subject with its own link.

Keep it short (usually). Prevailing wisdom says a prospect email should be from 200 to 500 words and a newsletter from 500 to 1,500 words. But don’t rely on that. I’ve seen successful email messages with anywhere from a few sentences to thousands of words.

In general, if you want to sell right from the email message, you need more copy. If you want people to click to a web page, keep it short and say just enough to get the click-through.

Don’t write like a spammer. Keep your tone friendly and informative. Avoid overblown language. Keep the exclamation points to a minimum. Avoid lots of all-cap lines, which is akin to screaming.

The most important thing to remember about writing email marketing messages is that while people will spend a lot of time with other formats, they get impatient with email. Everyone gets too much of it. And the default response is to just keep hitting the delete button.

So if there were ever a situation where you should forget any pretense of cleverness and just write simply and directly, it’s when you’re writing copy for email marketing.

Related posts:

  1. Merlin’s 5-step method for managing your email inbox
  2. 100 spam trigger words that can kill your email copy
  3. Email copywriting: an interview with Ivan Levison

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Smart Comments

3 Comments on How to write email marketing messages that get clicks

  1. on Nov 29th, 2010 1:39 pm
  2. Great tips! It’s so important to really brand yourself in your email marketing campaign. You nailed it with these steps.


  3. Joseph on Nov 29th, 2010 5:33 pm
  4. Once again, a very helpful post. Thanks, Dean.

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