When you’re elbows-deep in applying visual tweaks to your HTML email design, it’s very easy to forget how important writing quality, punchy copy can be. Tailoring email copy to your audience is not a matter of ensuring your message is readable even with images turned off, but presenting it in a style that your readers will respond to. In this post we’ll highlight some considerations when writing effective email copy, including tone, personality, keeping it concise, offering value to the reader and testing.

Start the conversation

You don’t have to be an expert copywriter to engage audiences, simply someone who understands the objectives of your campaign and can adapt their language to suit. We do this in everyday life – how you talk to a new client will, in most cases, be very different from how you address your partner or friends. And just like real life, being authentic and conversational is key to creating dialogue, regardless of whether you’re selling fashion to teens or life insurance to retirees.

With this in mind, consider the unique voice of your email communications and keep it consistent. Will your campaign convey the personality of a marketing team, senior management, a product user, or a friend? Each of these roles (and many more) will use their language differently and have a different kind relationship with the reader. Flipping from one persona to the next simply doesn’t work.

Get to the point

The Internet has many times over been blamed for turning us into lazy, keyword-seeing readers. Whether or not this is a result of mental shortcutting or backlit screens, keep your copy clear and concise. The majority of readers will not read the entirety of your email, let alone large blocks of text. So, highlight key points in your copy, use visual devices like colour and space and ensure that the message is immediately tangible – after all, you only have a few initial seconds before your reader decides to discard your email… Or read on.

Inspire action

At this point, it’s worth considering the importance of a strong call-to-action – what’s in it for the reader, anyway? Sell with value – outline the benefits of your product and the useful ways in which it can be used. Identify common pain-points and how you can overcome them. As many clients look towards fostering a level of engagement that goes much deeper than simply counting click-throughs to a landing page, compel recipients to explore your site, request more information, try new things and return for more.

Test, learn and improve

Finally, test and refine your email campaigns. Proofread, run your email copy past another set of eyes, ask for opinions. Progressively refine your copy using A/B testing, by comparing subject lines, differing calls to action and body content, all while delivering the most attractive email to your subscribers.

The quality of copy is critical to the success of a campaign, yet with the visual attraction of HTML email, often gets simply relegated to a design afterthought. Remember your objectives and ultimately, how you’re going to measure the success of the campaign – you can define your brand’s relationship with the reader, inspire action and learn more about your audience, simply by giving your copy some consideration and seeing it from recipient’s point of view.

Have a tip to add? These are only a few hints as how you can improve your copy and ensure more responsive subscribers, so please add your own tips and suggestions below.

  • Bryan Quilty

    As far as I can tell, copy is one of the most over-looked and short-sighted aspects of email marketing. It’s obvious with most of the newsletters I receive; the copy is not taken seriously and in turn, not engaging. The school of thought is to more or less blurt out the message or announcement without any incentive for the end user to pay attention, much less click-through.

    Less IS more. Great post.

  • indie_preneur

    It’s just like having a Content Strategy when it comes to your website copy. Design is still the only thing (usually in my experience) a client sees, but we as designers need to do a better job of expressing the importance of both design AND copy for the success of an email.

    Great article by the way.

  • Natalia Ventre

    Thanks for the tips. The designer can’t do it alone, good copy is necessary to the success of the campaign.

  • Ros Hodgekiss

    Thanks for all your positive comments, @indie_preneur makes a great point – that as designers, we should ensure our clients understand the importance of well-considered copy. Even if we can’t write it ourselves, it’s worth finding someone who can – a product expert, end user or keen customer – and ensuring that time is allocated to this task.

    We’ll be looking into similar issues in this blog in the coming weeks, so keep on reading and commenting – we’re always keen to hear your feedback in this blog.

  • dave rau

    As designers and creators, we must respect the reader! That means shaping information from more than just a visual perspective. Designers should work with clients in improving text to clarify and strengthen the message; we can serve a valuable role as designer/editor.

    Designers have a wonderful opportunity when starting a project because we bring fresh eyes and perspective. We can use our reactions to the text as starting points for improvement: looking for gaps, points of confusion, ways to reduce noise and unnecessary words, stripping text to its core essence, while still having personality.

  • Karen Fiddes

    This is great advice and the subject line is very important indeed – can make all the difference in my opinion. We have had some great results from more “intriguing” subject lines!. A great campaign should of course combine the best in both design and copy writing and agree that the second element nearly always gets overlooked. Good copy can also help improve your chances of running the gauntlet of spam filters – always check copy for “watch” words that may leave e-marketing campaigns foul of firewalls and filters.

  • Debra Roberts

    In the world of retail healthcare and medical aesthetics it’s important to provide multiple ways for readers to respond to your message.

    1. Be sure to include your business phone number.
    2. Testimonials and Reviews are profoundly well received and clicked on by readers.
    3. I also like adding a link to directions – for a brick and mortar retail location it’s all about driving prospective clients / patients in the door!

  • Web Design Gold Coast

    This is great advise thank you! Writing effective email copy is something that we as a company have been working on and critiquing. It’s definitely something you have to continually get better at and remember that it’s about engaging with your clients and building trust and a relationship… Thank you again!

  • Ros Hodgekiss

    These are all awesome tips, thank you! Everyone’s comments have been really informative. Debra Roberts’ perspective on writing for the healthcare sector really broadens this discussion even more, so lets keep the ball rolling.

    I’d love to know how designers cater for audiences across different industries – writing for a fashion brand must certainly require very different techniques than say, writing for a client in manufacturing. Tell us about your audience and what you do specifically to engage them. I’m keen to hear your responses to this!

  • Michael O’Connell

    Great post. One of the big issues is ‘trying to do it all’. Often the email creator is responsible for design and copywriting. That’s where the benefit of a second set of eyes comes in. It’s tough to ensure the Quality of your own copy.

  • Charlie

    Copy content and copy length are vital. We read 25% more slowly with our heads up so eloquent prose does not work online. Bullet points with benefit statements, not blah blah about features and a decent call to action and you are in good shape. Send it on tuesday or wednesday if it’s B2B for ther best results.
    Probably the least expensive customer acquisition tool on the planet.

  • Glenn Walker

    The best and most effective copy writing tip i have ever received. Write in the second person. YOU should replace WE at every turn. One thing that works for me, as a mental exercise (but not a world view), is taking a cynical approach when writing copy. The reader is inherently selfish and doesn’t care about me, my organization or my client. They want to hear how what I am sending relates to their needs. It’s kind of dark but i find it helps me avoid navel gazing copy.

  • Glenn Wlaker

    Another thing that help, put the copy in notepad or other plain text tool, print it off and read it in plain back and white. nice design templates are icing on the cake. All icing and no cake makes you sick.

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