Lesson 2

Email Marketing Course (Day #2): Writing your Emails

Is Your Email Running Naked Down the Street?

You received an email from me today because you enrolled in the free email marketing course: How to Write Emails That Actually Convert email course.

Do your readers know why they’re receiving an email from you?

The Growing Importance of Context, Continuity and Consistency

We live in a world where you get added to an email list just because you accepted someone’s random LinkedIn connection request. 

Context has never been more important.

That’s why I like to answer the, “Why am I receiving this email?” question that is undoubtedly on my reader’s mind as quickly as possible. Even when they’re familiar with your brand… you still need to state your purpose as quickly as possible.

  • Why me?
  • Why this particular email?
  • Why now?

Ry Schwartz agrees that context and continuity are clutch:

“Always continue the conversation that got someone to sign up in the first place.

It seems obvious, but when someone opts-in, there’s an inner dialogue/motivation that immediately preceded that action.

A need.

A craving.

An ‘I refuse to deal with this anymore’ problem.

Your job as a marketer is to accurately reflect that motivation back… add ‘meaning’ to the click by stating what it says about them, and powerfully lead them through the next steps… yes, even if that means *gasp* making a paid offer.

If you don’t know their intent or motivation… ask. 🙂  

Otherwise, you’re getting friendzoned faster than the chess club captain on prom night.

Most marketers are oblivious to this, and will start sending random ‘look at me I’m so cool’ indoctrination sh*t, which is tone-deaf to the real REASON someone signed up.

Or worse, sending monthly ‘newsletters’ which is the equivalent of saying ‘I know you came here with a problem you believed I could solve… but I’m just gonna ignore that and send you updates from my life you probably don’t care about whenever the feeling stikes’.

In short:

When someone opts-in, ask yourself:

  • What was the motivation behind the click?
  • How can I reflect that back and add more meaning (i.e by signing up, what outcome are they showing commitment towards)?
  • What are the next steps in fulfilling that desire/overcoming that problem? How can I lead that with confidence and purpose — even if it involves pivoting to an offer or buying opp earlier than I’m comfortable with?”

“When someone opts-in, there’s an inner dialogue/motivation that immediately preceded that action.  A need.  A craving.  An ‘I refuse to deal with this anymore’ problem.

There’s a third “c” you need to be familiar with: consistency.

Strive to have consistent messaging, consistent language, consistent formatting, consistent frequency… you get the idea.

This allows you to set expectations and establish a voice. There’s nothing worse than reading an email, knowing it was written by Marketing Underling #4.

How to Write a Click-Worthy Subject Line

Once the three c’s are covered, you can move on to crafting an irresistible subject line. Now, I could teach an entire course on subject lines alone, so I’ll just equip you with my subject line checklist for now:

  • Is it clear? The subject line must set an accurate expectation for what’s inside.
  • Is it a little mysterious? Just because the subject line is clear doesn’t mean there’s no room for a little mystery.
  • Is it simple? If you want to avoid your subject line getting cut off, stick to 50 characters or less. Though, I’ve personally found that length is rarely an open rate factor. Whether short or long, you should use plain language that is simple and concise.
  • Does it highlight a struggle or a goal? Resist the urge to use self-serving subject lines. Not only do they raise red flags for human and bot spam filters, but they also don’t perform as well. Instead, highlight a struggle or benefit.
  • Does it include any stoppers? A period, for example, is known as a stopper. Anything that might “slow down” a reader is a stopper. This includes complicated words, certain grammar points, etc. Generally, you’ll want to avoid these.

Subject lines are designed to entice people to read, not to entice people to open. This is a small, but significant distinction to keep in mind.

Keeping those checklist items in mind, feel free to try out some of my favorite subject line tests and formulas:

  1. List it. We all know people love lists. Hey, BuzzFeed’s listicles might get a bad rap, but lists often drive up those open rates. Example: 101 Email Marketing Tactics to Try.
  2. Open up. The more you’re willing to open up personally and humanize your brand, the better. Admitting to a fault or failure, for example, can be very effective. As can sharing experiences and lessons from your personal life. Example: What I’ve Learned from 10 Years in Email Marketing.
  3. Ask. Asking a direct question is a great way to start a conversation and engage readers. Often, when you read a question, you will answer it in your head. It’s so involuntary that you often won’t even notice you’re doing it. Example: Do You Remember the Worst Email You’ve Ever Received?
  4. What if? This format can be used to create a sense of fear or to merely pique interest. Example: What If You’ve Been Sending Lame Emails All Along?
  5. Social proof. Sometimes the best way to sell yourself is to have someone else do it for you. That’s where social proof subject lines come into play. They’re most commonly associated with case studies. Example: Talia’s Email Course Increased Our ROI by 900%
  6. X said Y. Where X is a respected authority figure and Y is a surprising statement or uncommon opinion. Example: Talia Wolf Said Email Is Dead. 
  7. Urgency. No one wants to miss out, which is why creating a sense of urgency can spur action from even the most disengaged reader. Example: Registration Closes in 24 Hours.

Of course, there are many other tests and formulas you can use.

Subject lines are the email equivalent of headlines, so put some serious thought into your selection. I recommend coming up with a bunch of different subject lines (10-15) for each email you send. As you send more and more emails, keep an eye out for patterns and trends that will emerge for your specific audience.

How to Optimize Your Preview Pane

The subject line is just one element of the overall email preview pane, though. There is also the “from” name and the preview copy.

When it comes to the “from” name, you should go with what feels natural for your brand. Generally, I recommend:

  • Using the company name if you’re a large, well-known brand.
  • Using your first and last name if you’re a one person show.
  • Using your first name at company name if you’re a startup or small agency.

Why? Large brands will want to capitalize on that brand awareness and authority. Smaller companies and solo entrepreneurs will want to focus more on building a 1-on-1, more personal relationship with the reader. Joanna and I use names in a certain way, while Ross does in another:

As for the preview copy, keep two key things in mind:

  1. Context is just as important here.
  2. If your subject line is your headline, think of your preview copy as your sub-headline.

Note how Zapier uses their preview pane to remind you why it’s worth opening their email:

It’s difficult to give hard and fast advice for perfecting your preview copy because the way it’s displayed changes so significantly depending on the email service provider (ESP). Sometimes you’ll have a few sentences, sometimes it won’t display at all.

Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media offered his preview pane optimization tips, as well:

“Little mistakes can cost you a lot of opens. Here are two:

  • Making your sender name a company name rather than a person’s name
  • Leaving your email preheader text as ‘To see this in a browser…’ or ‘To unsubscribe…’

Fixing these two tiny things takes seconds and makes a huge difference in how you come across in the inbox. I recently suggested this to a friend. Her open rates went from 14% to 22% with no other changes. So be a person and make sure the preheader is descriptive and benefit-driven.”

Alright, so…

Let’s say the preview pane has won her over and now the reader is ready to, well, read.

The Art and Science of Storytelling

The time has come to finally start writing the actual email.

Storytelling is a big part of writing an effective email, so if you’ll allow me one last deep dive, let’s look at the science of storytelling.

Everyone loves a story, scientifically speaking.

Don’t believe me?

Have you ever started watching a movie that was really, really bad, but you couldn’t seem to just turn it off? Me too.

It’s because our brains are wired to finish stories when we start them. That’s why we all hung around long after shows like 24Prison BreakWeeds and Dexter got less-than-great. We needed to know how it ended.

It’s why you’ve probably never met someone who has only read one or two Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings books.

Now think about how much easier it is to love a protagonist vs. a company. People like Sheryl Sandberg and Elon Musk come to mind. It’s easier to make a connection with a person than a company? No surprise there, but it’s another element that gives storytelling tremendous power.

Finally, stories are deeply emotional.

We were all sad when Mr. Feeny dismissed class for the last time on Boy Meets World and when all of the keys were on the counter during the last episode of Friends.

Through storytelling, you can evoke emotions and persuade your readers into action.

If you’re just getting started with storytelling, there are two common formulas you can try:

  • PAS (Pain, Agitation, Solution): This formula is very simple and relies on the idea that we’d rather avoid losing something than gain something new (this is known as loss aversion). By agitating the pain you solve, you can easily persuade people into action.
  • AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action): This formula is very natural. So natural that you’ve probably used it many times before without knowing. But desire is usually overlooked. Don’t forget to make people really want what you’re offering.

How to Write Email Copy That Actually Converts

When it comes to writing truly compelling email copy, Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers and Airstory recommends starting strong right out of the gate:

“Open with a hook! Too many emails start off with some long attempt at an ‘intro,’ as if we’re in high school English class. You don’t need an intro; in fact, you shouldn’t have an intro. You need to drop your reader directly into the most interesting, attention-grabbing part of the email. Chances are good that your hook (or ‘lede’) is buried somewhere inside your first-draft of an email. To pull it out, try this: Read through your email line by line, and start each sentence with, ‘I never thought it was possible, but ________.’ Fill in the blank with the content of the sentence. If the sentence doesn’t complete that phrase well, it’s not your hook / lede. If it does, consider opening the email with that sentence.”

Ry Schwartz encourages specific, true-to-life language and an objective placeholder sweep:

“The best way to bring your ‘copy to life’ is to… well… bring your copy to life.

Meaning, anchor your messaging/ideas/arguments in a hyper-specific reality they already ‘get’ and resonate with.

This is where specific language plays a big part.

Nobody watches TV — they binge watch House of Cards with a hint of resentment that Kevin Spacey fucked it up for everybody.

Nobody has a ‘morning routine’ – they pretend to meditate for 5 minutes using the Insight Timer app while their mind cycles through the next stack of superfoods they’re gonna dump into their Bulletproof Coffee.

Also — do a ‘placeholder’ sweep.

Meaning, scan your copy for words that are placeholder for a deeper, more dimensionalized experience.

If you’re using words like ‘pain’, ‘struggle’, ‘enjoy’… or anything that can be used to sell a fucking ShamWow… you’re not trying hard enough.

How does that pain/enjoyment/struggle ACTUALLY show up? What does it look/feel like? What’s the inner dialogue around it?

That’s how you produce ‘OMFG he/she gets me’ moments that are the precursor to any conversion to begin with.”

Choosing the Perfect Length for Maximum Conversions

At this point, you might be wondering how long your emails should be. Honestly, there’s no right or wrong answer here. There are no black and white rules to help you decide.

You’ll have to test different lengths to see what works. At GetUplift, long emails work really well. For your company, long emails might tank. You just won’t know until you try.

Whatever you do, drop your assumptions about email length. People like to say that no one reads anymore, especially in the inbox, but it’s just not true. They will read if you convince them what you’ve written is worth reading, so pack a punch at the beginning, like Joanna recommended.

Once the email is written, it’s time to spur some action.

Crafting a Call to Action That Actually Inspires Action

When I’m thinking about email calls to action, I use the following principles to guide me:

  • Be as clear as possible. The reader should know exactly what will happen next if she clicks on your call to action. If there is any uncertainty, it’s not clear enough and you risk losing her.
  • One email, one call to action. For every email you send, have one core goal in mind. This is a very rarely observed principle. You’ll normally find many different calls to action competing with one another. It’s ok to have “nice to have” secondary goals, like more followers or Facebook shares, but make sure your core goal is prioritized in terms of both visuals and copy.
  • Don’t rush it. Place the call to action where it makes the most sense. Don’t rush it in the name of getting it “above the fold”. First of all, the fold is very difficult, if not impossible, to define for email. Second, no one is going to click through until they’re ready. Do the work, do the persuading and add the call to action when you feel the reader is motivated enough to actually click it.
  • Make it stand out. There’s no perfect color for your call to action. Or perfect font. Or perfect size. You could throw a text-based call to action in there for all I care. What matters is that the call to action is prioritized and contrasting.

Writing an email is like living in the wild, wild west. Sure, there are some principles and formulas you can lean on, but it’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of testing. For the most part, it’s just a lot of uncharted territory.

So, I will leave you with the wise words of Tarzan Kay, email copywriting expert:

“When it feels like you’re running naked down the street and 85% of the world thinks you’re insane to be doing what you’re doing….that’s when you know you’re starting to get the hang of it.”

<– Back to lesson 1

Next up (day 3): Designing your emails –>

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