Writing a High-Performing Email


Introduction Imagine you’ve got a new product or feature you want to tell your subscribers about....


Imagine you’ve got a new product or feature you want to tell your subscribers about.

You sit down to create the email campaign, but you have no idea what to write. How do you write a subject line that gets your email opened? And how do you explain your new product to your subscribers in a way that will get them to click-through and buy it?

Writing high performing email campaigns can be a challenge, but it’s critical to your success as a marketer.

So in this guide, we’ll teach you how to write a high-performing email campaign that your subscribers will open and click, and will subsequently drive sales and revenue for your business.

The importance of great writing in your email campaigns

According to research by Microsoft, smartphones have left humans with such a short attention span that even a goldfish can hold a thought for longer.

According to researchers, who surveyed 2000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others, the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds today.

A goldfish is estimated to have a 9 second attention span.

This growth in smartphone usage and the subsequent reduction in attention span has significantly increased the importance of great writing. If you can’t write a great subject line that captures people’s interest, then you’ll never get them to open your campaign. And if you can’t explain your offer quickly and easily, you’ll never get them to click-through and purchase your product.

So how do you write a high performing email campaign that gets opened and clicked?

In the tips below, we’ll walk you through each stage of writing an email, and give you tips and best practices you can put to use in your very next campaign.

5 tips for writing a high-performing email campaign

1. Use a familiar from name

The From name is one of the most prominently displayed elements of your campaign when it arrives in your subscribers inbox.

On many desktop and mobile clients, it’s displayed with a larger text and heavier font to help people quickly identify who the email is from.

Topshop - Familiar From Name
Given its prominence, it’s probably not surprising that 68% of Americans say they base their decision to open an email on the From name.

So how do you optimize this critical part of your campaigns and help boost your open rates into the 30%+ range? The key is matching it up with your audience’s expectations.

For instance, imagine you subscribed to an email newsletter from the BuzzFeed website. Would you expect to receive emails from ‘BuzzFeed’ or from ‘Dan Oshinsky’? Given that you’ve signed up for these emails from the BuzzFeed website, chances are it’s the earlier, even though it’s actually Dan who is creating and sending their campaigns.
Buzzfeed - Familiar From Name
On top of matching the From name to subscribers expectations, it’s also important to consider the number of characters you include in your From Name as many mobile devices have a limit to how many they display.

Device Name Number of Characters Displayed
iPhone 6 32
iPhone 5 23
iPhone 4 23
Samsung Galaxy S4 32  
As you can see, although it varies based on device and screen orientation, keeping your From name under 23 characters will likely mean it will display in full regardless of the device or screen orientation the recipient is using.

2. Write a short, benefit focused subject line

After the From name, the subject line is the second most prominent element in the inbox when it comes to driving opens.

On most devices, the subject line is formatted with darker, heavier text in an attempt to make it stand out among the other details of the email.

Topshop - Focused Email Subject Line
Given its prominence in the inbox, it’s inevitable that it will have a significant effect on open rates. So how should you be optimizing your subject line to drive conversions?

The first thing to consider is length. Although research has shown that the length of subject lines doesn’t have a huge effect on open and click-through rates, it is advisable to keep them under 30 characters long so as to ensure they appear in full on both desktop and mobile devices.

Beyond length, there are a number of power words you can include in your email subject line to help improve open rates. These include:

First word: Open % Change Last word: Open % Change
[firstname,fallback=customer], what’s this? 14.68%
Invitation 9.45% 7.69%
Introducing 7.36%
We 5.87%
A 4.09%
Your/You/You! 4.07% 6.20%
Year, eg. 2014 3.89% 2.84%
New 3.26%
Month name, eg. June 3.25% 3.34%
Special/Specials 2.75% 2.08%
News 1.31% 2.22%

As you can see from the above table, personalization (represented above by the dynamic tag ‘firstname,fallback=customer’) has the largest positive effect on open rates, while the inclusion of personal pronouns such as ‘Your/You/You’ shows that speaking directly to your subscribers is an effective way to increase open rates.

While it’s great to consider length and include proven power words, it’s important not to over-optimize your email subject lines to try and milk a few extra opens. Tricks like including ‘FWD:’ or ‘Re:’ in your email subject lines may get people to open your campaigns, but when they realize it isn’t a genuine forward or reply they’ll be disappointed and likely not read on and/or click-through, defeating the purpose of sending the campaign.

So make sure that, regardless of what optimizations you make to your email subject line, it’s still an accurate description of the content in your email or your subscribers will be left disappointed upon opening your email and likely not open another campaign from you again.

3. Write compelling preheader text

The preheader is the short summary text that follows the subject line when an email is viewed in the inbox

Birchbox - Compelling Header Text
Pre-header text is a critical component your subscribers use to decide whether or not they open your campaign and engage with your content. So how can you optimize your preheader text for mobile devices?

Given that the preheader text appears next to the email subject line, the two need to work together to tell a cohesive story rather than be thought about as two separate parts of your email campaign.
Derek Halpern does a great job of this in the announcement campaign for his latest webinar.

Derek Halpern - Compelling Header Text

As you can see, the subject line talks to a very specific audience (people who don’t yet have 1,000 subscribers) and while it makes the email super appealing to those people, it does limit its appeal to others.

So he counters this by using the preheader text “Got more than 1000? Open anyway…” to address the other recipients who have more than 1000 subscribers already.

By using the subject line and preheader text together, Halpern makes the email appealing to a wider number of recipients and increases the chance they’ll open the email and click-through.

4. Write simple, compelling body content

With your well-thought-out From name, subject line and preheader text driving opens, it’s time to focus on click-through rates with quality body content.

There seems to be this perception among marketers that good writing is a magical art. As if professional writers know a whole bunch of words everyday marketers don’t that will magically turn prospects into customers.

The truth however, is quite the opposite. Good writing isn’t about using any particular magic words, but about getting your audience to understand your offering and the benefits it brings them in the simplest way possible, as that’s what drives people to purchase.

Take a look at this campaign from Campaign Monitor customer Freshbooks, announcing the launch of their new Fundbox Integration feature:

Freshbooks - Compelling Email Body Content
Freshbooks do a great job of making it crystal clear what the product does and what the benefits are for the user (get cash for unpaid invoices). There’s no jargon or buzzwords, just some simple content that makes it clear what the offer is.

While your product may be different, there are a number of formulas you can use to help you write great email content. The PAS, 4 P’s, and BAB formulas are all easy to follow frameworks that help marketers like you write high performing email campaigns by positioning your product or service as the solution to your customer’s pain points.

5. Optimize your button

The buttons you use in your email marketing campaigns are the final step towards getting someone to click-through from your campaign and visit your website, and the words you choose for them can play a big part in determining whether someone will click-through or not.

But what do you write to ensure your button gets clicked?

The key is to use the button to reinforce the benefit you promised your reader throughout the rest of the email.

A good example of this is the campaign for the premier of one of Showtime’s new television programs, Penny Dreadful.

Instead of using generic button copy, Showtime utilizes the button copy to reinforce the exclusivity of this event by reminding its readers this is not just any television episode – but a season premiere.

Showtime - Optimize CTA Button
Here at Campaign Monitor, we’ve done several A/B tests comparing benefit-focused copy to generic copy and each time the benefit-focused copy has increased click-through rates by about 10%.

On top of using your button copy to reinforce the benefit, it can also help to use it reduce perceived barriers. You can do this by removing friction words.

Friction words are those that imply your reader has to do something they don’t necessarily want to do.

Common friction words include:
  • Download
  • Apply
  • Order
  • Submit
Think about it for a second, nobody wants to spend time downloading or applying for something, they simply want the end benefit downloading or applying for the item brings.

So to reduce the perceived effort of your readers, replace these friction words with frictionless words like ‘Get’ or ‘Learn’ and follow them up with a benefit statement (I.e. Get your free account).

When Michael Aagaard at ContentVerve tested this, he saw a 14.79% increase in conversions just by changing one word.

ContentVerve - Increase Conversions - Optimize CTA Button

In conclusion

The steady growth in smartphone usage and the subsequent reduction in human’s attention span has meant that great writing in your email campaigns is more important than ever.

If you can’t write a killer subject line that captures people’s interest, then you’ll never get them to open your campaign. And if you can’t explain your offer quickly and easily, you’ll never get them to click-through and purchase your product.

So next time you’re creating an email campaign to announce your latest product or feature, use the 5 best practices mentioned above to help you write a high performing email campaigns that gets opened and clicked, and ultimately drives sales & revenue for your business.




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#DIGITAL: Writing a High-Performing Email
Writing a High-Performing Email
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