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How to build the perfect email: Copy

How to build the perfect email: Copy

Most email copy is dreadful and consists of overlong, chunky paragraphs of guff that no one ever reads. Writing copy for emails is a different skill again from writing for the web and an art in itself.

Here are a few useful tips to guide you:

1)    Consider who your email is from

Decide whether your email is appearing to come from an individual or from a department. Personal emails (those with a nice picture of the CEO, a little signature and a personalised ‘From’ address like ‘bobsmith@corporation.com) can be effective. However, few customers are daft enough to believe it was really penned by said CEO. Australians in particular have a thing for shoving the head of the company into every communication, no matter how hideous he or she may be. Generally I prefer straightforward ‘department’ emails.

2)    Subject line

Since day dot, I’ve worked to the rule that an email subject line should be 32 characters, including spaces, so that it doesn’t truncate in some email clients. That said, some PDAs chop of the subject line at 17 characters. The best thing to do is experiment with length and subject matter and see what works best for your brand.
When writing email copy, I always create at least three options:
a)    Straightforward – stating the offer with no messing about.
b)    Compelling – including some sense of urgency.
c)    Intriguing – something obscure that piques the user’s interest.

3)    Branding

Your first piece of branding appears in the From address, which is what most people see first. Don’t waste precious characters repeating your brand name in your subject line.

4)    Spam words

Firstly, you don’t need to worry about keywords in emails. They’ll never be searched by search engine spiders so they don’t matter. But do we need to be wary of spam words.

The list changes constantly, but common sense dictates that if you pepper your email with rude words, even unintentionally, you’re going to get a negative score from the spam monsters. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid using bad words. Sometimes you just end up using them by accident; for example, you’re ‘enlarging’ your business capabilities or your architecture company is proud of its magnificent new ‘erection’.

My advice is to review your subject lines carefully and see if any word could be misconstrued as spam.
Here are some other things to avoid both in body copy and subject lines:

  • All words that relate to sex or pornography.
  • All words that relate to cures or medication.
  • e.x.t.r.a. punctuation.
  • g a p p y t e x t.
  • Digits.
  • CAPITALS.
  • Financial symbols.
  • Exclamation marks.

Email example – Sydney Opera House

One of the better examples of an email newsletter, The Sydney Opera House Mail gets a few things right:

1) HTML link to view online version (but this could be written in a more succinct way and unfortunately it’s missing any offer or ‘add to safe list’ details).

2) Prominent link to core website.

3) Brief snippets of copy.

4) HTML copy throughout.

5) Contextual links (for the most part).

Obviously, newsletters lend themselves to snippet copy more easily than sole emails, but still the same principles apply – short, snappy and lots of formatting.

Want to know more about email? Read

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