Writing emails is one of my unexpected pleasures. Here are a few things I’ve learned about the ideal process, followed by some samples.
1) Define your audience. This is a huge cliche, the truth of which should never get old. If you can afford to conduct real research and create personas, do it. If you can’t, do your best to seek out first-hand, credited, academic sources that challenge your assumptions about who your audience is and what they need.
2) Create purpose. Why am I getting these emails? Along with the standard and required unsubscribe, include a very short explanation as to how your recipient got on the list and what you hope they’ll get out of it. This is even more important if you bought a list of people who don’t know you. People get way too many emails. Make yours valuable.
3) Don’t bomb my inbox. Here are some tips from Constant Contact on how often to send emails. I have a personal pet peeve about sites that make me register for something, send me a confirmation before I get the thing, but then also send me the thing. Do what you can to streamline the signup process in general. Remember to think like the customer: they don’t care if you have one system for registration, another for enrollment, and yet another for marketing automation. They will care if every one of these sends them an email.
4) Use a preheader, and make it a good one. Some email apps look for the very first line in an email and include it as a preview, called a preheader. The following is not a good preheader: “To view an HTML version of this email click here.” “Dear Fred,” is also not a good preheader. Control the language that fits in this space to make sure it encapsulates or entices.
5) Write irresistible but not annoying subject lines. There are differing opinions on length here, I’ve seen 65 characters or less mentioned in a few places. I tend to send a test email to my iPhone and someone’s Android and see how it looks. Here’s one of several email subject line testers (the site looks like it was published in 1999, but it actually spits out some really useful information about your test). The most important thing is to make your subject line impossible to ignore, but not misleading once it’s opened, and make sure it doesn’t trigger spam filters. Also make sure it’s not spam. Pro Tip: Sign up to get emails from Buzzfeed and from the gold standard of content marketing blogs, the Hubspot Blog. When you start getting the emails, send them to a special folder allowing you to scan the subject lines en masse. You’ll learn a lot about what works. Listicles are obviously a big thing.
6) Keep it short and include a prominent call to action. Again, why am I getting this email? Give me a call to action to help explain that, one that also serves your own business purpose, which is to deliver something of value that also gets you conversions. I like to include a text CTA in the first line or so if I can, because it’s easy for the recipient to find it again later. I like to make the text descriptive of what the recipient is going to receive. I don’t do “tap here for…” If possible, it’s also nice to have the CTA reinforced as a highly-visible button of some kind. Definitely repeat the CTA a couple times in different forms (two or three) but don’t include too many CTAs to different things (e.g., don’t include a whitepaper, a tool, a contact form and a newsletter signup CTA in one email). Some experts insist on having only one action target per email.