3 Copywriting Best Practices for Your Email Campaigns

Associations, Communications Strategy // Follow these quick tips for copywriting best practices in your email campaigns, including how to write better subject lines.

Caitlin Struhs
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When you send a marketing email with a weak subject line or awkward copy, the interaction with the recipient ends right there – with your message in the digital trash. Even if you convince someone to open your email, how compelling is your content and the offer? It’s easier said than done in an era where we obsess over “Inbox Zero” and contend with complicated spam filters.

Copywriting often tows the line between formulaic and nuanced. But when it comes to email, there is clear methodology for constructing great copy and getting those messages opened. If you haven’t read it yet, check out Mixpanel’s recent article and research on how to write email subject lines. They found the current median for subject line characters is 42, and the average open rate for emails in their report was 19.9 percent.

For now, follow these quick tips to produce stellar email copy:

1. Keep it short.

You don’t have to give an executive summary of your annual event in the upcoming promotional email. It’s more important to align your message with the content. Be clear and succinct. Based on research and our own experience, we’ve found less than 50 characters for desktop and less than 30 characters for mobile is a good baseline.

Shorter is better for subject lines, but not monumentally better. According to Mixpanel’s research, there’s a slight downward trend as characters increase. We should keep it brief when we can, but not close ourselves off to a particularly snazzy, longer subject line if the occasion calls for it.

Both short and long serve a purpose. Here are two examples of different but effective subject line copy:

  • Version A (long): The 2018 ABC Annual Conference in April is bigger than ever! The event will feature 5 new tracks: Marketing, Sales, Graphic Design, Tech Trends, and AI.
  • Version B (short): 5 new tracks and 100 sessions – the ABC event has something for everyone. Join us.

If you’re worried about cutting corners on valuable information, link out to a landing page with a fuller version of the content. Readers won’t get overwhelmed, and still have the choice to “see more.” An added benefit: the landing page clicks tell you which readers were interested in the content and took action, and that helps with future content development and campaigns. Clicking is the holy grail for email marketers, making it easy for you to curate the reader’s experience.

2. Test and refine.

Based on testing from search marketing expert Ayat Shukairy, you can improve conversion rates up to nine percent by A/B testing your copy. Run tests regularly to make sure messages resonate with your audience:

1. Experiment with different lengths, tone of voice, and style in your subject lines. The command, “Register today to get $100 off!” is different than the question, “Are you joining us for the XYZ event in May?”

2. Create two versions of your introduction copy to see how sentence structure and phrases perform.

3. Move the CTAs or other copy around to see how placement affects clicks.

Remember: Always account for selection bias. According to Convince & Convert, roughly 33 percent of recipients open a message based solely on the subject line. About 69 percent will mark an email as spam based on that subject line.

3. Double-check the copy.

It sounds obvious, but we’re only human – we all miss the occasional typo. But we should take our clean copy seriously. Global survey results found 59 percent of participants said they wouldn’t use a company with obvious grammar or spelling mistakes on their website.

Bonus: personalize it.

If your subscriber lists are up to date, add a personal touch when appropriate. Mixpanel found the personalization proxy in subject lines (Example: “Hi [Name]!”) had a 21.9 percent open rate. Even more relevant, it found using “you” in your subject lines (try general copy, too) yielded a 22.8 percent open rate.


Caitlin Struhs

Account Manager, Pulp + Wire

Caitlin is an Account Manager at Pulp + Wire. She builds, manages, and leads marketing and communications teams across B2B and B2C markets.

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