The 4 Essentials of Writing Effective Email Copy

The topic of email copy is nothing new to the HiP Blog.  We’ve written a couple of posts on email copy as it pertains to deliverability.  As such, we’ll be the first to tell you that deliverability is a key to the success of an email campaign.  But as important as it is to get into the inbox, it’s what you do when you get there that really counts.  After all, it’s the human recipients who pay the bills.

For an email to serve its purpose, it has to be delivered, noticed, opened, read, and clicked.  Delivery is really just the beginning.  Once delivered, the rest of the process depends on the actions of the recipient.  The email copy is your primary tool to get a human reader from A to B.

To be effective, email copy has to capture attention, explain, and persuade, all within a short window of attention.  As you might assume, this can be challenging.  The most effective email copy shares a handful of common characteristics.  Here are the four essential traits.


1.  Write in Second Person

Your email copy should put emphasis on the recipient rather than the brand.  Accordingly, you should be using more of the word “you” and less of the word “we”.  A simple test is to count the number of times “we”, “us”, or “our” appear in your copy and then count the number of times “you” or “your” appear.  If the former number exceeds the later, you should consider revising.

The last thing you want is for copy to read like a broadcast.  Readers want to feel valued as an individual, rather than just another list member.  It’s the difference between being written to and written at.  Writing in second person creates a connection by forcing focus on the reader.  It creates a more personalized, one to one effect.  This effect can then be enhanced with additional personalization efforts.


2.  Be Interesting

It may seem obvious, but a surprising amount of email is sent with paragraphs of bland jargon and product features.  Though recipients may be capable of understanding such information – and may eventually become interested in such details – it’s not the kind of thing that will capture attention; in fact, it’s much more likely to do the opposite.

Attention-getting copy is rooted in good storytelling.  It’s told with personality and it often employs common storytelling techniques.  For example, it may use rhetorical questions to lead the reader or create suspense by withholding and teasing key information before a big reveal.

Good email copy has a focus on benefits over features.  Rather than telling recipients what a product can do, tell them why it matters.


3. Make it Scannable

As our guide to scannability will tell you, the best web content is simple and to the point.  The same goes for email copy.  Each email should have a single overall purpose and several short, topic-focused paragraphs.  On average, paragraphs should consist of two to three sentences and the entire email should be no more than three or four paragraphs.

The purpose of the email should directly relate to a desired action.  This outcome should be highlighted with a corresponding call to action.  Bolded letters, headings, and bulleted lists can be used to call attention to other key points.  Links can perform a similar function, though, for maximum effect, they should be used sparsely (roughly one per paragraph).

The goal is to create an email that can convey key information at a glance.   Many would-be readers will scan an email before deciding whether to read or move on.  If the email is scannable, a quick look will give them a good idea of the content and allow them to make a more informed decision.  It also allows readers to pick out the information that matters most to them.


4. Be Relevant

Email recipients want copy that’s relevant to them.  It’s important to recognize common attitudes, experiences, and pain points among your target group.  You need to understand their problems (recognized and unrecognized) and their stage of the buying cycle.  If you understand the various elements of your target’s current state, you can speak to these points and thereby create copy that resonates.

In some cases, your audience provides information on their current interests or concerns through engagement.  If they give you such a point of reference, use it.  For example, if you’re sending an email in relation to a newsletter sign-up or white paper download, reference that in the beginning of the email.  You can even go a step further by making inferences and recommending supplemental content.

When you understand the target audience, you can provide value related to their needs and opinions at that time.  If the value is truly timely, recipients will be more receptive.  You can provide this value in a variety of ways, depending on the audience and their readiness to buy.  It can take the form of content, advice, a discount, or a trial, to name a few.



Let us know what you think:

  • What gets your attention within an email?
  • What would lead you to ignore or delete an email?
  • What other factors make for good email copy?



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