It’s morning. 8:32 a.m. Your customer logs into her computer. Inbox: 28 new email messages. Which ones does she delete immediately? Which ones does she open first?
Which one does she read through to the end?
Writing for email is tricky. People read differently on their computers. Most are in a hurry, scanning quickly through headers, looking for something that catches their attention and calls them to action. Time is short, and the delete button is but one key away. Anything that looks at all untrustworthy is scrapped immediately. How do you ensure your email is one of those she opens first? Or better yet, how do you ensure your content is compelling enough to win a new customer?
Common-sense rules for writing compelling email content:
Write to your reader
Before you begin, take the time to know your reader. Effective, targeted marketing means you are speaking to a defined audience. If you believe your audience is everyone, rethink your strategy. You should have two or three target audiences at most. Is your reader a middle-class female who lives in the Midwest? Ask yourself questions about her and step into her shoes. Read the magazines she reads and understand who she is. Then, tailor your message to her voice and her needs.
Craft an interesting subject line
Think of your subject line as your critical first (and sometimes only) impression. It’s the line that determines whether your reader will read on or delete. The best way to craft a subject line is to deliver one that is concise, incites curiosity or offers something of value.
Make the line no longer than six or seven words. Leave your company name out of it and save it for the “from” field. Avoid using all caps or exclamation points (in email language that’s “shouting” and may trigger SPAM filters). Some examples of good subject lines: 10 rules for marketing success; Experience our new brownie sundae; Register for October classes before they’re full.
Give them the good stuff first
A journalist writes in an “upside down pyramid” format, giving readers the most important information first. Writing for email is the same. Like newspapers, every email has a fold, or bottom of the screen. All of the most important information should be visible above the fold when the email opens, without scrolling. That includes your identity, the title of your communication and the first paragraph of your message.
Engage your readers immediately with a powerful first paragraph. Show benefits and value at the outset. If you have multiple subjects, provide a table of contents so the reader sees the future content without having to scroll. Make readers curious, but avoid “burying” the call to action in the fourth paragraph (many won’t get that far). The best way to ensure your content is viewed above the fold is to test in a variety of email formats and browser sizes.
If you want to use a graphic image header in an HTML newsletter, ensure the image isn’t too tall or too large to open quickly. Most readers get impatient waiting for an image to load. If you do have a graphic header that requires time to load, make sure engaging text comes on screen immediately at download.
Keep it short and relevant
Most email readers have short attention spans (we’ll say it again). When writing emails, consider that readers are scanning for quick information to determine when and if to delete. Using headings will help readers scan easier (and miles of text-only content will only make them scroll faster). To keep email newsletters short, consider including one paragraph from an article, then linking to the website to read the rest. Some quick suggestions for writing: make headings eight words or less. Limit sentences to no longer than 20 words.
Ensure the “from” field is recognizable
Because of rampant SPAM and viruses, customers are guarded about what they open and from whom. If the “from” field is from an unfamiliar source, chances are it will be deleted immediately.
Usually, the best “from” choice is the company name. Once you’ve chosen a name for the “from” field, stick with it in every communication – including the confirmed opt-in email and welcome letter. Your goal is to become a familiar resource that customers will want to open (because you’re providing such valuable content).
No typos or inaccuracies
A restaurant recently sent an email to all its customers. The subject line blared: try our new fresh tmatoe salads. Ouch. Big typo. Big credibility loss. You may notice typos are rampant in SPAM. Of course, everyone makes mistakes. Spelling, grammatical errors and inaccuracies can be avoided by running your complete email draft by three other detail-oriented editors. Slow down, and take the time to engage in a thorough review process. You’ll ensure your message is clear, credible, and effective.