8 Ways to Improve Your Email Copywriting

Last month I shared some copywriting tips from freelance copywriter and SEO marketer Jacob McMillan. They must have been pretty good because the open rate for last month’s newsletter was the highest open rate for any issue I’ve ever sent out — and I’ve been sending out this newsletter since 2012.

So I thought I’d go back to the well and prime some more good copywriting stuff from Jacob. Here are 8 tips from Jacob for writing great inbound marketing email copy.

#1. Figure out who you’re writing to.

Or in other words, identify your target audience. This is really Marketing 101 but it’s surprising how many marketers don’t bother with this critical first step. Just as important, determine what you want recipients to do after they read your email.

Once you identify these things, “make sure every part of the email is focused on resonating with the ‘who’ and persuading them to do the ‘what,’” Jacob says. “If any part of the email doesn’t seem like it will resonate with the target audience or move them toward the objective, delete it.”

#2: Write a short and snappy subject line.

Jacob calls subject lines “the headlines of the email world.” There are countless headline writing strategies, but Jacob emphasizes one that’s probably the most critical for inbound marketing emails: length.

He points to a study that found the sweet spot for email headlines is between 6 and 10 words. These had an open rate of 21% in the study. The longer the headlines, the lower the open rates — so when in doubt, shorter is better than longer.

#3: Make a clear promise in your subject line.

There’s nothing fancy or creative about this strategy. You simply tell readers what they’ll gain and why they’ll benefit by opening and reading your email. For example, in this email I promise to share tips to improve your email copywriting  … and here they are!

MarketingSherpa decided to test promise-based email subject lines with creative subject lines. The emails with straightforward, promise-based subject lines won hands-down, generating a response that was 541% higher than the emails with creative subject lines.

#4: Align the body copy and subject line.

This gets to the heart of why promise-based subject lines generate such higher response rates than creative subject lines. It’s all about alignment, according to Jacob.

“Promise headlines use the body content and the overall content deliverable to form a promise,” he says. “The subject line is taken straight from the summary of the body copy, which means they are going to automatically be in alignment.”

#5: Tell a story in your email.

Everybody loves to read and hear stories. This is true even in a B2B context — in fact, you could argueespecially in a B2B context. “Stories seem to uniquely outperform other types of content via the medium of email,” Jacob says. “Given the limitations of email content, stories outshine nearly anything else you can stack up against it.”

Statistica surveyed B2B marketing leaders to determine the most important factors in email marketing success. “Engaging and compelling storytelling” was ranked just behind “audience relevance” and well ahead of factors like originality, SEO and reusability.

#6: Use “power” words in your copy.

Jacob says that certain words “tend to evoke sharper emotions and have a larger effect on our mental and emotional state. This is why using power words in your email copywriting can help you influence readers to have the desired response or take the desired action.”

Emarketer Sumo.com says that power words like “instantly,” “mistakes” and “hilarious” are key to evoking high-arousal emotions and triggering curiosity. They’re the reason you respond to clickbait ads even when you know what you’re going to get. Here’s a list of 401 power words from Sumo.

#7: Avoid spam trigger words.

Spam filters are programmed to look for words like “free,” “home based” and “opportunity” in email subject lines and move these emails into the spam folder. Jacob says that while using these words doesn’t guarantee that your email will get dumped in spam folders, it’s still a good idea to avoid them when you can. Here’s a list of common spam trigger words from Hubspot.

However, all bets are off if you’re running a spammy email marketing campaign. “The best solution for avoiding the spam folder is to send worthwhile emails and maintain good email marketing practices,” says Jacob.

#8: Be willing to experiment.

All the research in the world and every best practice in the book will only get you so far when it comes to writing effective marketing email copy. As Jacob puts it: “At the end of the day, it’s all just a guess until the data comes in.”

Creating effective inbound marketing email programs requires trying different things to see what works best. The easiest way to do this, according to Jacob, is to split test subject lines. Most email service providers include this capability.

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