Email copywriting the 10 commandments to get money

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Email copywriting is resurgent.

Print is dead.

The postman doesn’t deliver much printed copy at all, yet your inbox is bursting at the seams.

Well that’s how it seems to me in 2016.

Remember when Ed Miliband, to much ridicule, carved Labour’s election pledges on a stone – the Ed Stone, the gravestone of his political career?

I do and I cringed then and cringe now when I recall it.

It was meant to signal permanence of pledges, though, with it being carved in stone.

The seven commandments painted on the wall of the Great Barn in Orwell’s “Animal Farm” represented the idealistic start of Animalism.

To take a leaf out of these books and, further back, Moses on Mount Sinai, I’m going to share the 10 commandments of email copywriting, in detail.

You can also get this from my website as a handy, abridged, PDF crib sheet to download, save, print and use when composing email marketing campaigns.

Here goes …

Emails are a fact of life.

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Companies have latched on to email capture – search for information or content online and you’re often asked to submit an email address to access something.

Same with free public wifi.

John Lewis, Intu, Starbucks, McDonald’s and Costa are not offering wifi as some altruistic freebie, but to encourage you to go in these places, purchase goods and capture your email address for marketing campaigns.

Saw this in France too over the summer – I’m still getting emails from Super-U for logging on to their store wifi daily to update Spotify, check emails etc.

You are probably similar to me, given that you’re reading this – you may have 5 or 6 email inboxes which receive over 100 emails per day, and that’s excluding the stuff marked as Spam and Junk.

We are inundated with emails – some of it welcome, some unwelcome.

So why do businesses insist on sending so many?

Well, it’s free, there’s no postage costs.

It’s measurable – if you use Mail Chimp or Campaign Monitor you can evaluate the success rate of A/B email campaigns, sent with different content, at different times.

Emails build loyalty, trust, brand awareness and they enhance relationships, encourage repeat business and ultimately lead to sales through purchases.

Emails are not going anywhere soon – but is your email copywriting good enough given that it’s vying for attention in a crowded inbox?

What are your clickthrough rates, open rates from email?

Do you even know?

Well I think you should – if you’re serious about growing your business.

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Now, as promised, I’ll summarise my 10 commandments of email copywriting, right here, right now, and you’re then able to scroll down to each section as you work your way through these golden rules.

I’ll expand on each of the 10 commandments of email copywriting after, to give the devil his detail, and as stated before, these are now condensed into a manageable PDF download.

  1. SUBJECT LINE
  2. PERSONALISATION
  3. COPY AND SUBJECT LINE MATCH
  4. PRIORITISE
  5. BE RELEVANT
  6. SECOND PERSON
  7. TALK BENEFITS
  8. LOVABLE
  9. BREVITY
  10. CALLS TO ACTION

Easy bit done, now the hard bit, breaking it all down and helping you to greater success in email marketing campaigns.

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1. SUBJECT LINE

This is the first thing an email recipient sees and, like viewing a house, the recipient makes a rapid decision on whether to open the email or not.

You have to get the subject line spot on.

I can spend an hour on a Subject Line and Blog Title because that headline determines clicks and opens.

Just as when an envelope lands on your hall floor, the writing on that envelope often determines what you do with it.

Do you open the envelope, ignore it or rip and recycle?

An email subject line, or an envelope, is a gatekeeper, a gatekeeper that determines whether you get any further.

A bad subject line, a weak subject line will not get your email copy opened and read.

So how do you do this, Stuart, I hear you ask?

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Okay, here’s some points:

  1. Length – experiment with short and long subject lines. The optimum length for an email subject line is 50 characters (it’s 55 for a blog post title). This isn’t set in stone though – try a 10 character email subject line or 150 characters – see what works best.
  2. Verbs – your email subject line needs to lead with an active verb: “Introducing”, “See our” “How to”. A passive tone to a subject line is to be avoided. Get active verbs in there.
  3. Questions – ask them. Your email recipients should be contacted as they are looking for answers to questions. “Do you want to increase your Twitter engagement” is better than “Here are some ideas for your Twitter account.”
  4. Emojis – should you use them in a subject line? I think so, depending on the message and recipient. They’re ubiquitous in instant messaging like BBM, iMessage, What’s App and Snapchat so shouldn’t they be in email copywriting?
  5. Punctuation – avoid at all costs in a subject line as they can trigger a spam filter and result in your carefully crafted, scheduled email landing in spam.
  6. Special characters. Vertical bars to break up a subject line | Like this | Don’t trigger | Spam filters – hence their use in email signatures, LinkedIn profiles and Twitter bios.
  7. Personalised – the subject line is more likely to grab attention and be opened if the recipient’s name is in there: “Paul do you want to increase your Twitter engagement” is much better than “Do you want to increase your Twitter engagement”
  8. Localised – again if you localise a subject line, it’s seen as more relevant. One I’ve used successfully is along the lines: “Martin do you want your business in Norwich to climb Google”
  9. Numbers – use numbers not letters in a subject line. What looks better – £100 or one hundred pounds in an email title? Use numbers.
  10. Countdown / deadline – an email subject line can create urgency – “Free delivery ends at midnight”, “No joining fee for the next 7 days”. Don’t overdo this though as customers who receive your email can get the DFS syndrome – the offer will be on again tomorrow.
  11. Include your brand name “Paul would you like a free blog post from Get Pro Copy”
  12. Get to the point – your email subject line has to match the copy below – I’ll refer to this again later – don’t waffle in the title.
  13. Deliver – deliver on the email subject line content.

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2. PERSONALISATION

As well as personalising your email subject line, the body of your email needs personalising.

Repeated throughout the copy, a name can have a huge impact.

It’s statistically proven that a personalised email is 50% more likely to be opened – get it in the subject line and in the email copy.

Look at these examples from hubspot to see great email personalisation in action.

Marketing is about relationships. What better way to market your propositions than via personalised emails.

It takes time, course it does.

If you’re emailing a possible sales contact, you may have to do some digging, some research to find out who to contact.

You can phone up and ask, you can search online, you can use tools like Duedil to prospect for names.

LinkedIn too is a fantastic networking platform for you to utilise and build a network for email marketing and personalisation.

It pays though not to go overboard.

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Four mentions of a name is more than sufficient in an email:

  1. In the subject line
  2. In the opening sentence of the email body.
  3. In the text itself.
  4. In the Calls to Action (more on those later).

 

3. COPY AND SUBJECT LINE MATCH

This is a pet hate of mine and I’m certain I’m not alone.

What are your views?

Here’s the scenario: an email lands in your virtual tray with a great subject line, a personalised opening and you scroll down to read.

And then?

The sinking realisation that the body of the email, the email copy, bears no resemblance to the subject line.

In news circles it’s called Clickbait.

It baffles me why companies still do it as it basically discredits the work they’ve clearly put in with the great title and personalisation.

Match the copy with the subject line.

Match the subject line with the copy.

Deliver.

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Otherwise what happens, is damaged credibility- the next time that recipient receives an email from you, they are less likely to open it than if they found the previous email did not deliver.

A great email copywriting professional will ensure that the two deliver – the title and the content.

I got one the other week – the subject line purported to be about Brexit on the property market, but the content was all about accurate valuations.

The two were not married up and I felt their email copywriter had dropped the ball, or whoever had composed that particular email.

I won’t labour further – just to reiterate that a cleverly devised subject line, personalised, to get it opened and read, can be totally undermined by contradictory or irrelevant content.

If you want to talk about accurate property valuations, fine, but don’t mislead me and others with a clickbait headline on Brexit.

Save your Brexit subject line and create compelling copy to match it.

4. PRIORITISE

I mean two things by this.

Plan an email campaign, a series of emails or a one off in priority order.

You might determine 20 topics to email your database about and decide that 25% of these should be overtly selling, the other 75% establishing your credentials as a thought leader in your business field.

Prioritise the running order – what do you want your recipients to know first?

  • Are they sequential?
  • Can they stand alone?

If they’re sequential, are you going to build a thread, a jigsaw, until at email 20 the big picture emerges?

Or do you want something more fluid than an email narrative?

Do you plan to refer back in the body of an email to a previous one and also forward – to show your strategy and readers the big picture?

Can each email be treated as a separate entity?

Right, here’s my perceptions of the pros and cons of sequential v discreet.

Sequential will lead to increased opening and CTRs if your first few emails hit a sweet spot.

You may capture an audience who will want to know more.

Conversely if your email data collection swells daily, you may want to rethink the sequential strategy.

No one wants to read a novel from chapter 4, miss the opening Act of a Shakespeare performance, or skip 20 minutes of a film’s opening.

If your emails are designed to be read 1 to 20, great – but make sure the defined recipient list remains static.

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The second meaning of prioritise is something I do in email copywriting – it’s the sequencing of ideas.

An email is not a dissertation, it’s not a 5000 word article.

Emails build loyalty, trust, brand awareness and they enhance relationships, encourage repeat business and ultimately lead to sales through purchases.

Your copy in the body of the email has to be prioritised.

A rule of thumb is to have a Call to Action at the end – but that’s something I’ll talk about later in Commandment 10.

First, you need to objectively assess the order of your email – the order of vocabulary, the order (and range) of sentences and paragraph coherence and cohesion – these are things I taught successfully as a Leader of English and the lessons apply to email marketing and email copywriting.

Given that most emails are now read on mobile devices – smartphones and tablets – with less screen estate than a desktop, prioritising to make sure your key content and desired actions are seen at a glance are vital.

On a mobile device just half of an email can normally be seen – that first half needs to be so compelling to encouraging scrolling. On a desktop, you see it in its entirety and can skim and scan as a whole.

Just as your website needs to be rendered for mobile, your email copywriting needs to be rendered too for smartphones and tablets.

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5. BE RELEVANT

It’s a bit like making the subject line match the copy scenario, but with added weight.

You are writing to a recipient and you need to be relevant in what you’re saying.

This means not only getting the personalised recipient right, but making sure the email copywriting is relevant to their needs.

I’ve sat in many meetings over the years where agendas have been veered from and people go off on anecdotal angles.

It’s human nature, of course.

Email copywriting is not about Any Other Business – for it to work, it needs to engage the recipient.

You’ve got the subject line sorted following my A to M points above, you’ve personalised it, ensured copy and subject line match, you’ve prioritised and sequenced, now you need content relevant to that reader.

Great relevant content.

Unique content.

Engaging content.

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Let’s take a scenario.

I’m a new estate agent, with a growing portfolio of properties, active and popular social media pages, a growing database of opted-in subscribers but I want to email subscribers about a special Spring or Autumn price package.

I define recipients.

I come up with a pithy personalised subject line:

“Mr Walton, do you want to sell your home in October for just £495”

I then need meat on the bones of that subject line promise.

I’ve set a price and date point – £495 and October suggesting limited time and a need to act.

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Now what my copy needs is a step by step, compelling list of relevant points to get that recipient either phoning or emailing you, or forwarding it to someone they know who is thinking of selling.

Now what needs to be avoided is self-glorification, don’t give it the Big I Am about why you’re better, talk about what you do to sell that property for that fee, what they will get for just £495.

Relevant content would include: package details, several calls to action, contract length, outbound links to a contact form, footer signatures with your social media accounts, details of portals used, testimonials.

Now that email could quickly develop into a blog post – not what you want.

Great email copywriting should compel a recipient into a desired action – in this case, picking up their mobile or replying or forwarding the email.

Urgency is already embedded in the idea with October, this could be narrowed down to a couple of weeks, but given that selling a home is not an impulse decision, this would not be recommended.

A decision to sell a home takes months and the process of choosing an estate agent often takes weeks.

Your email needs to embed in the psyche of that home seller so they choose you and not the 10 other estate agents in town, and many others who are online or hybrid.

The content needs to be concise and relevant, to fit on smartphones and desktops, at a glance.

Now that isn’t easy.

It’s where I can help though.

 

6. SECOND PERSON

1st person singular – I.

1st person plural – We.

3rd person singular – he, she, it.

3rd person plural –  they

2nd person?

You.

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Marketing and advertising is arguably the only text medium where you use second person.

A novel, a play, poetry could not be written in second person, neither could non fiction.

There are examples but they are rare.

Email copywriting demands second person.

It’s a direct address to the reader.

That subject line again:

“Mr Walton, do you want to sell your home in October for just £495?”

is personalised, time limited, specific, asks a question and uses second person pronoun twice in you and your.

Your email copywriting technique needs to perfect the You voice.

Your readers want to feel it is speaking to them and if you’re not accustomed to writing in second person in emails you need to be.

Emails can be transactional, promotional, direct, formal, informal but email copywriting to sell a product or service, to engage customers in your thought leadership, needs to be largely based on second person.

An email I’ve just received has the subject line:

“Who wants a bargain?”

The body of the email has one sentence amongst one featured image:

“Get a pair on your feet tomorrow for £1.”

It made me click through.

This is standard practice from corporate businesses as I flick through my email inbox.

Is your email copywriting using the second person?

Yours needs to be, that’s for sure.

 

7. TALK BENEFITS

Talk about what you do, not what are you.

An email is not a potted autobiography, a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter bio, a Facebook About, a Curriculum Vitae, it’s an email marketing campaign.

You can save these all for emailed newsletters, your social media pages and your “About” section on your website.

Talk benefits.

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You’re selling a service, talk about reviews you’ve received, awards you’ve garnered, formal and informal feedback.

You tell your recipient what makes you different, why they should choose you first for their service.

What makes your service better, without disparaging rivals.

Get to the point too – keep it relevant, prioritised and concise.

You can test opening rates with different ordering of the benefits of using you.

If your emails have a good opening rate from a weekly email campaign, you can personalise this further by reinforcing benefits daily to those recipients who are opening your emails.

Your database can be subdivided into smaller lists for different email campaigns.

One email could take 2 hours for an email copywriter to create – but this is less expensive, more measurable and more environmentally friendly than a postal print campaign.

It can be adapted too at the last minute – if some news breaks that will affect your marketing.

Very few businesses are one of a kind, in fact you probably have others selling similar products or services close to you, with consumers having wide choice.

I called it talking benefits, when I could have termed it USPs.

Unique Selling Propositions.

What are yours?

Is it local expertise, is it a qualified and experienced team, is it friendly service?

The secret of email copywriting is to stand in someone else’s shoes – just as Atticus Finch taught this idea of perspective and tolerance to his daughter Scout in “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

Price is never the sole reason people buy, remember that.

It may be down to convenience, quality, friendliness, customer service.

Your email marketing needs to tap into the psychology of your recipient – what drives and motivates them.

Subscribe to competitors’ offerings and compare what they’re selling as their benefits in email campaigns.

Email copywriting, like your social media pages, your telephone manner, your testimonials, needs to make you stand out from the competition.

What is the benefit of buying a product or service from you?

Address it in the email copy.

Talk benefits.

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8. BE LOVABLE

I’ll start this section with a patently bleeding obvious statement:

“People do business with people they like.”

So obvious it shouldn’t need stating.

Your company, the services it offers, its products, needs to be liked.

Your email copywriting needs to go further and make you lovable.

How though?

Your brand needs to make you the relationship provider, the value proposition, the news sharer, the thought ambassador, the sales closer.

Your email needs to cocoon prospects in warmth and this warmth needs to radiate from your social media pages which will gain likes, followers, shares and reach increasing your cuddliness.

Lovable doesn’t mean soft.

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It means imparting value in many ways:

  • Online contests
  • Freebies
  • Opt in forms on your website to capture web visitors
  • Attractive calls to action in emails and social media updates
  • Building relationships

Think of email copywriting as part of your online networking – you wouldn’t go physically to a network event, have a few brief chats and hand out business cards and return home anticipating immediate responses.

Email is no different – it takes time, energy and perseverance to build a loyal following.

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A great email copywriter will make you lovable, so people want to read your emails because you stand out from the white noise of the competition.

The most successful email campaign I’ve run had a 85% open rate and resulted in 10 enquiries about my work.

That one email took me two hours to construct – and you know if you’re running a business, you won’t have that sort of time to spend on one email, let alone a sequence of 20, using the 10 commandments I use as email copywriting rules.

That email offered a freebie, a time limited invitation for something for free.

It was personalised, the subject line was mirrored in the copy, it was brief, relevant, sequenced and it was clearly lovable, given its metrics.

 

9. BREVITY

Who said, “A picture can paint a thousand words?”

Do you know?

I’m not sure.

What I do know though is that whoever muttered that pithy statement is spot on.

Brevity in email copywriting is key.

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The minimalist approach may be just:

  1. Personalised subject line.
  2. No copy or just one line.
  3. Images.
  4. Call(s) to Action
  5. Signature with social media links.

You can expand on B of course –  but be brief.

An email ideally needs to be read at a glance on a smartphone without necessitating undue scrolling.

I’ll leave this brevity section here – deliberately brief.

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10. CALLS TO ACTION

This final section won’t be brief, as along with the subject line, it’s arguably the most important aspect of an email market campaign.

Email copywriting needs to be focused on the Call or Calls to Action.

Put simply, it’s what you want recipients to do.

You tell them what to do.

You don’t suggest it, hint at it, but tell them what to do next.

The traditional way of closing an email was to end with a Call to Action, but I’ve learned that a CTA closer to the beginning of email copywriting copy has better results.

Let me explain.

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A promotional email pings through to your phone whilst you’re out and about.

You glance at the subject line and the sender and make a split second decision whether to:

  1. Delete.
  2. Ignore.
  3. Read.
  4. Read later.
  5. Forward.
  6. Respond.

If a Call to Action comes at the end, below the smartphone screen parameters, that recipient won’t know what you want them to do.

If it appears near the subject line, they are subconsciously more likely to take action.

Classic emails doing this are restaurant promotions – I get them from two companies largely who offer substantial discounts if I click and get the voucher code.

Acquiring the voucher code is not them being philanthropic – they then direct me to book a table within the time span of this code.

That call to action is named in the subject line and at the top of the brief email.

It’s kept above the fold, so to speak.

These two restaurants don’t go on and on about themselves – I already know what they’re like.

I trust and like their food.

They offer a simple click for a discount and table booking.

The email also comes through at strategic times: after breakfast and often at or near the weekend when many people’s time is less pressing.

I reckon we, as a family, use these promotional email offers about 30% of the time.

Your company, whether it’s selling food, shoes or bath taps, can do the same.

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Offer free delivery, offer discounted 24 hour delivery, offer an extended guarantee.

This could be the main or subsidiary call to action.

Calls to Action are measurable if you use an email marketing campaign provider.

You can see what impact they’re making and whether they need altering, removing or strengthening.

Going all grammatical again, like in the second person pronoun section, calls to action often include imperative verbs or commands.

Here’s some examples of commanding CTAs:

“Book a table now.”

“Call now.”

“Find out more.”

“Visit a store today.”

You can have less demanding CTAs:

“Choose a size.”

“Pick a colour.”

“Watch this video.”

You can measure the success of each as CTAs and amend future email campaigns accordingly.

A Call to Action can be something common too:

Add to Basket / Cart

Download our free guide

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Reserve a place

A great web designer can create buttons in different colours for your Calls to Action and again you can measure the impact of colours, shapes, text font and sizer etc.

Green and orange buttons (perhaps linked to our driving psychology) are statistically proven to work best.

But: do you go green rectangle or orange circle?

How many words are right for the button text?

Should it be second person, like the body of your text, or switch to first person:

“Add to your basket”

or

“Add to my basket”

“Get your free e-guide”

or

“Get my free e-guide.”

Which do you prefer and which would your recipients prefer?

The answer is 1st person.

Calls to Action can imbue urgency – those two restaurant emails only last five days and then they’re gone and I’m back to full price meals, if we choose to dine there.

Are you using subsidiary Call to Action buttons in email copywriting?

Are you differentiating these from the primary one?

How are you doing this?

Is it by:

Colour?

Shape size?

Text size?

Does your CTA contain the compelling word “Free”?

Copyblogger refers to words like free as click triggers.

Other click triggers include:

  1. Testimonials
  2. No credit card required
  3. Key benefits
  4. Data points

Test the placement of your CTA button or buttons in email campaigns.

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What this post has covered is the 10 commandments of email copywriting.

I hope you’ve found it useful as a resource for email marketing.

It now features as an abridged PDF download on my website and social media platforms for you to use as a checklist when composing email marketing campaigns to sell your products and services.

Best regards

Stuart Walton

 

4 Comments

  • Chris Arnold says:

    Informative, easy-to-read and constructive. Great job, Stuart. I, though, have a question.
    Mention is made of the use of punctuation in the Subject Line. The advice is to avoid for reason of Spam Filters. And yet, the example of using personalisation , “Paul, do you want…” In the Subject Line does appear at odds with the use of punctuation. I am sure it’s just me, but please clarify. I wouldn’t usually use personalisation in the Subject Line. If I do, to punctuate, or not? That, Stuart, is the question.

    • Stuart Walton says:

      Thanks Chris and a very good spot. You’re right I should have not have included punctuation in the example you cite. Natural instinct of punctuating kicked in, as the rules of email copywriting are different. I’ve now amended it too. Thanks again!

  • chris arnold says:

    Thanks for clarifying, Stuart. I learnt a lot.

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