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Creating Email Content

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    Messaging and Automation

A great email subject line has the power to truly change the success of your campaign.

Writing great subject lines

The subject is the first thing your readers see. Even if they don’t open your email, it still has a lot of power as it gets your brand in front of your customers.

It’s been said that you should spend up to 80% of your time crafting your subject line. This might sound excessive but if your readers don’t open your email then they certainly won’t click and they certainly won’t convert.

The subject line is all about context. A good subject line will setup the rest of your email and increase not only the open rate but the conversion rate.

So, where do you begin?

The modern subject line

Subject lines used to be a simple 120 characters or so. These days, email clients are smarter.

Here is what an email subject line looks like in a Gmail inbox:


…here is what an email looks like in the iOS app Mailbox.


You’ll notice that in both cases there is more to the subject line than just ‘the subject line’ of 120 characters.

We like to call this the modern subject line. It has three components: the ‘from address’, the actual subject line and the first few lines of the email.

This is important as there are now three elements you can play with to improve the impact of your subject lines. You need to be aware of how you can use all three to your advantage.


Here are three key things you must do (particularly now that you know about the modern subject line):

  1. Don’t put you company name in the subject, wasting valuable space. Do put it in the ‘from address’. Seeing email subjects like “[Vero] Check out our latest product updates” used to be common place. A much smarter approach is to adjust your from name and write something like ‘Chris from Vero’.
  2. Ensure the first few lines and the title of your email content are relevant. Many email templates have text similar to ‘View in browser’ right at the top. This is the line that shows up in the ‘preview’ section of your recipients’ email clients.
  3. Test all three components. Make sure you send yourself a preview before you send out your campaign. Open it in some modern clients and ensure it looks good.

Three quick tips for a great subject line

You can spend hours thinking about the psychology behind a good subject line.

Subject lines are the most important part of your email! Spend a *lot* of timing writing and testing yours: personalization and context are usually key. You need to make sure your readers not only open but actually engage with your email and the subject line sets all of this up.

Via Joanna Wiebe of CopyHackers.

To give you a head start, here are three quick tips you can put into practice straight away:

1. Generate curiosity, fear or greed

Fear, curiosity and greed are all emotions that get your customers opening.

Asking questions, making your readers feel like they are missing out or telling them how they can double or triple something are all things that work.

Take this example from Kiva:


Wouldn’t you open that?

2. Use contextual data, not just a name

A lot of subject lines use readers’ first and last names. This makes sense and it’s a good practice but, if you really want to improve opens, think about what other contextual information you have on hand that you can use.


This example from LinkedIn has a ton of context.

If you see a friend’s name in the subject line then you are likely to respond to this and open it. Likewise, if you see someone you don’t know has been checking you out, you want to know who they are.


Another great example comes from EasyJet, who use the flight booking reference as part of the subject in this marketing email to make customers feel as though the message is imperative for them to open.

When emailing in series it is most effective to reference each of the emails in your series using the subject line. This helps build momentum and helps ensure your recipients are waiting for your next email.

This helps improve your open and click rates as your series campaign progresses. Here’s a great example of the success you can achieve from Kareem over at SocialWOD.


A great example of this in practice comes from GetResponse. As simple as including “Part X” in the subject line, GetResponse ties together each emails in their welcome series via the subject line.


The ultimate trick to get writing subject line gold

The best tip you can use to improve your subject lines is practice.

This may sound tedious, so here’s a trick from the awesome team at Upworthy to make your life a lot easier.

Write 25 versions of each subject line.

With a little practice, this will take something like 10-15 minutes. I’m sure you’ll agree that 10 minutes of your time is well spent if it increases conversions even just 10%, particularly if it’s a permanent, automated campaign.

Here’s an example using the awesome, free tool, Hackpad


The reason this works is desperation.

The closer you get to that 25th version, the less easily things will flow. As they say, “necessity is the mother of all invention” and it’s usually these final 5-10 subject lines that produce magic.

Coming up with content that matters

Coming up with content is one of the trickiest aspects of putting together your email marketing campaigns. After all, it’s human nature to worry that what you’ve written isn’t perfect.

The two words you need to keep in mind when writing your content are trust and context (there’s that word again).

The best way to engaging and convert customers is to build trust by sending emails that matter to them as individuals. Always ask yourself “would I like to receive this email”.

Focusing on trust and context will make writing your emails a lot simpler. Understanding the target segment and writing educational content that builds trust means you don’t have to be perfect: people will forgive a lot of little errors if you’re giving them something useful.

Two great examples of email campaigns that build trust and have great context come from WPEngine and Net-a-Porter, two businesses in entirely different verticals.

WPEngine‘s educational email course on why speeding up WordPress is important and why it’s tricky is a great example of an email that has a specific goal, has content that is perfect for that audience and focuses on building trust.


Despite being in a totally different business, Net-a-Porter‘s digital newsletters (called ‘The Edit’) are fine examples of email campaigns that give the reader a ton of great information in a package that is relevant and powerful.

Rather than just sharing picture-after-picture of new products, Net-a-Porter highlight what is in season and give tips on how to look your best. This is educational and much more effective as a sales tactic. Plus, it is much more enjoyable to write and share.



One of the tricks to writing great content, particularly great educational content is to consistently put yourself in your customers’ shoes and think creatively. Just like the trick of writing 25 subject lines (in section one above), it takes time to come up with a fresh angle that presents your information in a way that works.

A big part of this is in the research. Customers love data and they love it when you share real insights. If you do the heavy lifting and uncover facts your readers won’t uncover on their own, you’ll win them over instantly.

Relentless research. Looking for that hook or angle that is fresh and meaningful. You start with the person, then the product, then the market. And don’t give up until you have that aha moment. Even if it takes you weeks.

Via Demian Farnworth of CopyBlogger.

…yet, with all that, you might still be worried about whether you’ll write something that resonates. You might be concerned you’re not an ‘expert’ copywriter.

When you think about it, you spend way more time thinking about your problem area than 99.9% of the people you’re emailing. This is YOUR area of expertise, virtually guaranteeing that you’ll always have something great to say to your customers if you simply share your knowledge.

The simple fact is that you spend 24 hours a day thinking about your business and its subject matter. Combined with great research, this means you’ll always have something insightful to say.


Calls To Action (CTA) that work

If the subject line is super important for getting email opens, the call to action is probably the most important element to ensure you get conversions.

‘Don’t make me think’ – I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase. The best CTAs don’t make people think, but minimize hesitation – “now what?” – and guide visitors to the next obvious step. Your goal is to make it clear what the next no-brainer step should be. How likely they are to take action depends on whether a) they notice the CTA to begin with, b) the next step is obvious and makes sense, and c) they see value in that next step.

Via Peep Laja of ConversionXL.

We’ve come up with an acronym to help you ensure your email and the call to action (CTA) get results. That acronym is CRAFT.

So, to ensure your CTAs are awesome, make sure they are:


A no brainer, big buttons with a lot of color can really help your email conversions. A great example of this in practice is to check out these fluoro green buttons from Pingdom.


It’s pretty hard to miss those.

That’s exactly what you want: no way for your customers to miss the point of the email. We’ve included a resource at the bottom of this chapter: an HTML button you can use in your campaigns. It’s email-ready and free to use, so embrace it.


The most important factor when it comes to the call to action is ensuring that what you’re asking the customer to do is consistent with the subject line, the body of the email and the ultimate goal.

This should hopefully be taken care of relatively easily as you follow the plan you set up for your email marketing in chapter three.

If you know the goal for each of the campaigns you’re writing upfront then the tips in the rest of this chapter (above) will ensure you’ve written a subject line and email content that are relevant to that goal and consistent with your ultimate call to action.

Without tracking our customers’ actions we’d never realize the true potential of our email campaigns. Tracking events not only allows us to optimize for better conversions and activation rates, it also gives us the flexibility to send targeted emails that reflect what users have actually done.

Via Jake Peterson of Segment.com.

This example from LinkedIn is the perfect example of relevance. It’s based on a highly-specific trigger, it has a logical subject line that relates directly to the content and there is nothing else to do except click through and take the action LinkedIn desire.



An actionable call to action is one that is specific. You don’t want to use ‘waffley’ copy and you don’t want a call to action that is vague. In this instance the term ‘actionable’ means clear, or direct.

An actionalble call to action is extremely clear and the recipient knows exactly what they’re going to get when they click that big button.

Often the best way to do this is to play with the format of your email. Amazon provides a simple example to show this in practice:


Rather than using a button that says “Rate this book” and getting the customer to click-through and do the rating on-site, Amazon ups the ante and makes the call to action more actionable using a series of links lead to direct ratings of the book in question.

By removing a step and making the links deeper this approach is a great example of how formatting can make your calls to action more actionable.


We’ve all heard the maxim ‘ask and ye shall receive’. When it comes to successful email marketing, this is totally the case.

Being forceful sounds harsh. The point here is to ensure you include a call to action! This is too easy to forget.

Make sure you do actually ask your customers to take action. If you don’t, they won’t. It’s as simple as that.


Targeted means one thing: have a single call to action!

Whether you’re sending a plain text email, a rich text email or something with a lot of HTML, 9 times out of 10 you’ll do better of focusing on a single call to action.

This does not mean that there are no exceptions to the rule. Some sales emails or ‘daily deal’ style emails from retailers will work well by including links to different sales or sections of their website but, in most cases, even these emails generally have a single goal.

Even better: repeat your CTA if you can. A good way to do to this is to repeat the CTA at bottom of the email. The footer, signature or postscript (the P.S.) are all good places to do this.

Here’s a great example from a webinar invitation. Although this email uses long-form sales copy, the email repeats the call to action (using different wording) toward the bottom of the email.

This is very effective:



Up to 60% of readers have images disabled in their email clients (either by choice or default). That’s a massive portion of your potential audience! Using ‘buttons’ that will show even when images are disabled is a great way to ensure you get the maximum conversions you can.

Here’s an example of an HTML button you can use for free. You’ll notice it looks and feels just like a colorful image-based button but it is, in fact, 100% HTML. This is perfect for all those customers that have images disabled!

Here’s a link to a copy of the button code you can use immediately and a copy of the code, so you can see it in the flesh:

<!--Start button-->
<table width="240" border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="8">
<td class="vero-editable" style="border-radius: 5px; -moz-border-radius: 5px; -webkit-border-radius: 5px; -khtml-border-radius: 5px; font-size: 16px; font-family: sans-serif; color: #333333; margin: 0; padding: 0; text-align: center;" bgcolor="#33CC33" height="35"><a style="font-weight: bold; text-decoration: none; color: #ffffff;" href="https://getvero.com">Check out your cart →</a></td>
<!-- End button-->

Learn More

Goto Chapter Five: Tracking Email Campaign Performance

Back to The Ultimate guide to Email Marketing

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