Jeff Keleher

One of the most appealing aspects of email marketing is that once you get the whole process up and running, it can be a largely hands-off affair. Your email automation platform sends out new communications at specified times and follows up with recipients based on predetermined criteria – all without marketers needing to take an active role in the day-to-day work.

But you can’t take that same approach to email copywriting. While it’s relatively easy to fire off a bunch of emails without giving much thought to the phrasing, language and style used, you’re hobbling your email marketing strategy by doing so.

Effective email copywriting improves engagement and supports the most telling metrics like open rates, click-through rates, click-to-open rates and conversion rates.

If you feel like your own email writing skills could use a bit of refinement, we have a slew of email copywriting tips to help craft more polished emails from top to bottom.

1. Understand what email copywriting entails

You need to account for every piece of text that will appear on the screen, whether it’s in the body of the email or the subject line sitting in your audience’s inbox.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? There are actually a lot of different pieces to consider:

  • Subject line.
  • Preview text.
  • Greeting.
  • Email body.
  • Call to action.
  • Closing.
  • Signature.

You must carefully craft every piece to encourage the recipient to open, read and click through your marketing email. If not, that delete icon is always just a click or tap away. Worse yet, recipients might decide to unsubscribe from your newsletter or email list if your copy consistently misses the mark.

2. Appreciate the benefits of email in content marketing

You can’t write an effective email if you don’t have a specific goal in mind. As far as lead generation is concerned, no touch point or marketing channel can really hold a candle to email. It’s a direct line to your most plugged-in sales prospects, assuming you have a well-curated email list.

Your recipients should be individuals who provided their contact information when downloading gated content, registering for a webinar or signing up for your email newsletter. They have already demonstrated an interest in your content and what your brand has to say. Email is an easy way to give them the latest updates, nurture your relationship and guide them toward making a conversion.

Still not convinced you should be pouring resources into email marketing? Consider this:

  • 99% of consumers check their email on a daily basis.
  • 80% of businesses believe email marketing increases customer retention rates.
  • 73% of millennials prefer communicating with businesses over email.
  • 59% of consumers confirm that their purchasing decisions are influenced by marketing emails.
  • 40% of B2B marketers say email newsletters have the biggest impact on the success of their content marketing strategies.

Most important of all, brands that have well-crafted email marketing strategies, including segmenting prospects into different email lists, often see significant revenue increases. In some cases, companies have reported as much as a 760% rise in revenue thanks to email marketing.

Now, you probably won’t see those kinds of eye-popping results unless you’re building an email strategy from scratch. Refining your approach, including how you write and compose emails, will have a big impact on the ROI you see.

3. Identify the main components of an email

Compared with white papers, eBooks and even blog posts, emails require a very limited amount of text, but that doesn’t make them any less difficult to write – at least, to write well.

To be a good email scribe, you need to focus on the details and obsess over every word and phrase to ensure you’re getting clicks.

That holds true for other forms of marketing copywriting as well, of course, but as an email copywriter, you need to be even more detail-oriented given the small amount of text you have to work with and the sliver of an engagement window that’s open to you.

In essence, you have to learn to say a lot while writing very little.

What goes into strong email copywriting? You can break it down to several areas of focus:

  • Relevant topics.
  • Strong subject lines.
  • Personable tone.
  • Clean copy.
  • Neat layout.
  • Actionable closing.

It’s a lot to take in, but a good way to approach email copywriting is to simply ask yourself “Why?” at every step of the process. Reflecting on your creative decisions can help refine small nuances that may seem insignificant but actually have a huge impact on engagement.

4. Give your audience what they want

It doesn’t matter how good your writing is; if you don’t discuss the topics that matter most to your audience, they will not open your emails, much less read them or click.

Two-thirds of consumers say they will unsubscribe from an email list if brands cover subjects that are irrelevant or uninteresting. That’s the second most common cause of unsubscriptions, trailing just behind receiving too many emails.

Two-thirds of consumers say they will unsubscribe from an email list if brands cover subjects that are irrelevant or uninteresting.

Before you start writing your next newsletter or drip campaign email, think hard about your audience and what they care about. What is it going to take to grab their attention in a crowded inbox filled with work emails or personal correspondences? Understanding who your recipients are should guide every decision, from the tone of the voice to personalized subject lines.

Segmenting your email lists into different demographics can help direct these efforts and create more focused emails for select audiences. When your email campaigns delivers a message that resonates with your different customer personas, you’ll start to see tangible results like increased click-through rates, conversion rates and sales revenue.

5. Write eye-catching email subject lines

Your subject line is your email’s chance to leave a first impression, so make it count. If it doesn’t pique readers’ interest, they’ll simply delete the email without a second’s hesitation.

Nail that subject line, however, and your prospects will go up significantly: 35% of users say they open emails based on subject lines alone.

You want to grab their attention right off the bat, so go with a subject line that’s punchy yet compelling. Entice the recipient with as few words as possible. Overly long email subject lines will get cut off when they appear in an inbox. Not that it matters – the reader probably stopped paying attention by that point anyway.

So, remember, keep it short and sweet. 5 to 7 words is a good rule of thumb for email copywriters to follow.

Also, avoid making any kind of sales pitch in your email subject. Overly promotional language comes across as spammy, and will absolutely not get people to open your emails.

Short but intriguing. Compelling but not salesy. How can you find these seemingly impossible perfect balance?

Here a couple of copywriting tips to help you out when crafting a killer subject line:

Address a pain point or concern

People are pretty discerning when it comes to emails, so your subject line needs to give them a clear reason to click on it. If recipients think they could benefit from reading your email, they’ll open it.

Wait, didn’t we just say not to pitch readers? Yes, but there’s a difference between helping potential customers and promoting products or services.

Take a look at this IKEA subject line:

“Get more kitchen space with these easy fixes”

Nowhere does it mention IKEA products. It simply offers a way to address a major headache for many homeowners. Will at least one of those “easy fixes” be some kind of space-saving tool to organize your kitchen? Yeah, probably. But there’s nothing inherently promotional about the prompt.

Here’s another approach that taps into an audience’s biggest fears and concerns, courtesy of Ladders:

“7 crazy interview questions you’re not ready for”

In this case, recipients are job hunters who need help preparing for interviews. A pretty stressful position to be in, I think we can all agree. Ladders’ subject line here plays on the inherent uncertainty of these situations. You can’t possibly know what you will be asked during a job interview and maybe, despite your best efforts, there are questions you never even thought to prepare for.

Is there a dash of fear-mongering in this subject line? Sure, but it’s effective and it doesn’t go overboard. Most of all, it’s a good example of a brand understanding its audience and how to craft a subject line that appeals to those individuals.

Take advantage of FOMO

Whether your reminding prospective customers of an expiring sale or an upcoming webinar, be sure to stress the exclusivity of those offers in your subject line. People hate missing out on things, so if they feel a sense of urgency, they’re more likely to act.

Kate Spade really knows how to craft an urgent subject line. Take a look for yourself:

“don’t forget! enjoy an extra 25% off sale styles”

“last chance for up to 75% off!

“final hours! up to 75% off during our surprise sale”

You can give readers a little prod without being pushy. A friendly reminder that webinar slots are almost gone, a sale is ending or a checkout cart has been abandoned can help re-engage potential customers.

Make it personal

No one wants to feel like they’re just another name on your email list. Customizing subject lines to communicate directly with recipients can help grab their attention and their interest. Email templates allow you to place a reader’s first name at the start of a subject line to give each one a personal touch. Here’s how Social Media Examiner does it:

“More than just learning, Molly”

Using more direct language and a second-person voice can facilitate that personal connection. Subject lines like “Are you coming to our conference tomorrow?” can be mass-produced while seeming more familiar and intimate.

Personalized subject lines can do wonders for your email open rates. Marketers have found that their open rates increase 17% when they create subject lines that are directed toward specific recipients.

Don’t forget the preview text

Preview text gives recipients a better idea of what an email actually contains. This is where click-baity subject lines run into trouble because no matter how intriguing they seem, that facade will fall away pretty quickly when the preview text shows they can’t back up whatever promises they make.

Use that space to add extra context to your subject lines and give readers a preview of the email body. Be sure to test every email to check how preview text appears in different email clients.

6. Craft compelling email body copy

You’ve gotten over the initial hurdle of getting recipients to open your email, now it’s time to win them over with the meat of your email: the body copy.

Brevity is your best friend

Like subject lines, email bodies should be short and concise. Don’t overwhelm your audience with a ton of info or large blocks of text to wade through. Treat your email like an invitation to explore more comprehensive content.

Give readers a taste of blog posts, eBooks, infographics and other assets with a quick preview or by highlighting a particular talking point. But save the in-depth breakdowns for other content.

This Camellia email serves up a master class in cart abandonment emails, using the fewest words possible to communicate quite a lot:

The little marketing copy that’s present:

  • Quickly reminds the customer that their cart is still full.
  • Offers extra incentive to make a purchase with an exclusive discount.
  • Builds urgency by making it time-sensitive.

The way Camellia uses product images here is smart too, giving readers a visual stimulus that is more likely to get a response than a text-based list.

Deliver on your subject line

A misleading or overpromising subject line is guaranteed to frustrate users, dooming your email to a one-way trip to the trash bin. Repeat offenders will probably drive readers to unsubscribe from their email lists and newsletters.

The same rules for subject lines apply to your email body: highlight benefits, stress urgency and try to develop a personal rapport with the audience.

Your email content should offer something tangible that the reader wants or needs. Case in point, this webinar invitation email from Autofunnel:

It clearly highlights not only what the webinar will cover, but how those issues and talking points will help attendees. That’s the kind of carrot that convinces people to register.

You can even take a similar approach to more untraditional formats like whitelist emails. Whitelist requests are tricky to navigate since you’re asking users to take extra steps to keep the conversation going. To motivate them to whitelist your brand, you have to make it worth their while.

Take a look at this United example, which couches its request with concern that the recipient is going to miss out on deals, flight details and other information in the future:

Regardless of the type of email you’re sending, be sure to make your message valuable to your reader. They took the time to open your email – don’t let them regret it.

Develop a personal voice

We talked earlier about how effective personalization is key to building engagement through email. A big part of that is having a brand voice, style and tone that’s friendly and approachable. That brand style should permeate every piece of marketing copy you produce, from blogs to email newsletters.

There are all kinds of approaches you can take to create a brand voice, and they all have their place, depending on the type of marketing copywriting. White papers, for example, favor a more academic style. When it comes to email campaigns, though, shelve the buttoned-up, formal voice in favor of something with a little more personality.

Act as if you are speaking directly to the reader. With that in mind, write your email body as if you are actually having a conversation with your audience.

Just like with subject lines, sticking with the second person is a good way to engage readers and make them feel like you’re speaking directly to them.

Avoid awkward sentence structures, stilted language or industry jargon that no one would ever dream of ever saying out loud.

Finding the right balance between a warm, personable voice while maintaining your brand’s professional composure isn’t always easy, even for seasoned email copywriters. But a good way to review email body copy for tone is to read it aloud to yourself. Does it sound like a natural conversation? If so, then you’re golden. If your marketing copy sounds robotic or awkward, then it’ll probably read that way too.

Virtually any type of email can be punched up with a conversational style. Don’t believe us? Check out these examples:

Welcome emails

This Zappos welcome email works overtime to build a relationship with new registered users by leaning on a second-person voice (although, the sign-off might be a bit much for our tastes):

Sales and promotional emails

This Postmates email creates a friendly vibe while sticking with a promotional message from start to finish:

Transactional and receipt emails

Don’t be afraid to maintain that personable, warm tone throughout every correspondence, even those that are traditionally more formal, like a transaction receipt.

This ConvertKit email provides all the transactional details one would expect to find in a sales receipt, but it packages everything in a conversational voice that helps build a rapport.

Re-engagement emails

Urban Outfitters takes an irreverent approach when users decide to unsubscribe from its email lists. Thanks to its fun, quirky tone, what could be an awkward interaction removes any friction and leaves things on a positive note.

Use a tidy layout

Readers should be able to quickly scan your email and spot its major talking points. A jumble of text is going to be a slog to read through, and chances are your recipients aren’t going to bother.

Break up your email body copy with headers, bulleted lists and images to guide readers’ eyes down the page and avoid overwhelming your audience.

Custom images can draw attention to specific data points you want to highlight or a brand message you want to reinforce. They also help establish your brand’s visual style, which helps with awareness and recall.

Leave it to a graphic design company to highlight exemplary email layout techniques. This email newsletter from 99designs uses sparse copy, custom-made images, eye-catching CTAs and negative space to cleanly package a lot of info into a short email:

7. Guide your readers with strong finish

Closing out your email with actionable next steps is key. Every email should end with some kind of CTA that continues engagement, builds on your relationship, drives conversions or even creates a sale.

  • Add a CTA button directing readers to content pages.
  • Include a link to an upcoming conference or industry event.
  • Invite recipients to reach out personally via email or phone.
  • Offer an exclusive discount or promotion.

You can even embed CTA buttons and links into your email signature, like so:

Just leave your audience with some way to keep the conversation going.

Email Copywriting Do’s and Don’ts

Keep these marketing copywriting tips in mind when creating your next email campaign:


  • Research your core audience and target your marketing copy at those prospects.
  • Write short, punchy subject lines that grab your audience’s attention.
  • Personalize subject lines and body copy whenever possible.
  • Review how preview text appears in different email clients and mobile devices.
  • Deliver tangible value for the reader.
  • Write in a warm, conversational voice that resonates with audiences.
  • Break up email newsletter text with dynamic visuals and a varied page layout.
  • Give readers actionable next steps through CTAs, promotions and contact information.
  • Conduct A/B testing and analytics reviews to measure email campaign performance.


  • Write overly long or promotional subject lines.
  • Skip easy opportunities to personalize email marketing copy for each recipient.
  • Overstuff your email newsletter with too much info.
  • Fill your emails with huge blocks of text.
  • Use a formal writing style that comes across as cold, stuff and academic.
  • Leave your reader hanging with no followup step to continue engagement.
  • Grow complacent with your email marketing campaigns and risk perpetuating failing strategies.

Email copywriting requires a tremendous amount of work and an unwavering attention to detail. But it’s all worth it. Take the time to write compelling emails from top to bottom, and your email marketing campaigns will start producing better results in no time.