Email Copywriting – 5 Tips to Improve Your ROI

As a certified copywriter, one of the jobs I love the most is crafting email sales letters for clients. I love it because it combines graphic art, technology, and immediate analysis in with copywriting.

While writing email marketing copy is very similar to writing direct mail copy there are several nuances that are unique to email marketing. And, as you might have guessed, I have several tips to make these nuances work better for you and your email copywriting project.

Don’t Get Caught Up With – Or Caught Up In – Spam Filters

Unlike direct mail copywriters, email marketing copywriters have to worry about spam filters and spam folders and delivery issues. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many small business owners get so caught up in worrying about spam filters that they become absolutely paralyzed when it comes to actually writing their copy.

My suggestion is to write your email copy just like you would “regular” copy. Write it out on a pad of paper, or in your word processor. Never start writing your email copy in your email program.

And let your thoughts flow just as you normally would. Pretend you’re writing a sales letter to go out in the postal mail. After the copy is totally written, then you can go back and edit it for the spam filters.

Shorter Copy Works Better

In direct mail copywriting, we always say long copy sells. The longer the copy, the more information provided, the more features and benefits that are packed in, the better the sales response.

But in email, long copy doesn’t always work. On the internet, 3 minutes is an eternity. Your prospects don’t want to spend 5, 4, or even 3 minutes reading your sales message. If your subject line draws them in, but they open the message to find 4-screens full of prose, chances are they won’t even start reading.

The purpose of your email sales copy should be to “sell the click”. You want your reader to click through to your website. Because the psychology of reading websites is different from the psychology of reading email messages, you’ll be able to provide the meat of your information on your web page.

Par down your email sales copy to as few words as possible. Identify the most important benefit of the product or service you are offering and highlight it in your message. But don’t provide all the information. Leave the reader wanting more, and use that curiosity to entice him to click through to your website.

Does Your Landing Page Message Match?

In direct mail marketing, your prospect might read your sales copy and wait hours, or even days, before checking out your website or calling your 800 number for more information. With email marketing, the time lapse between reading your email message and viewing the rest of your promotion (your web page) is virtually non-existent. Therefore, it’s critically important that you have a seamless flow between your email message and your landing page.

If the sales copy, graphics, or sales pitch in your email message does not match the sales copy, graphics or sales pitch on your landing page, your reader might assume he has clicked through to the wrong website. And he might simply leave without making a purchase.

Make sure you repeat the same elements that you used on your landing page in your email message. And make sure that you speak with the same tone of voice. Often, marketers speak informally in their email messages, and then revert to corporate speak on their web pages. Avoid this, as it leads to prospect confusion.

Use Images to Support, Not Convey

The use of graphics in email marketing is vastly different from the use of graphics in direct mail marketing. That’s because, from the readers’ perspective, viewing graphics in email is optional.

The majority of email programs, PDAs and smart phones have graphics in email turned off by default. That means that your reader will not see your graphics unless he manually goes through and changes his program setting – which many users don’t know how to do, or don’t want to do. Many email readers feel “safer” with their graphics turned off.

Unlike direct mail, the images in your email message can not be used to convey the actual message, since there is no guarantee your prospect will actually see the image. Instead, your graphics should be used as a supporting element.

It’s helpful if you write your message as a stand-alone, either on paper or in your word processor, before converting it to HTML for your email message. That way you can ensure your message makes sense and is 100% usable without relying on your graphics.

Never use graphics as your only click-through hyperlink. If you’re using a button saying “click here for more information” always include an additional text link.

And don’t forget about Alt tags. Just as in regular HTML web pages, your HTML email messages do support image Alt tags. Be sure to include Alt tags with all of your images, and make sure they are descriptive enough to be useful for your readers who aren’t viewing the actual image.

Write Your Subject Line Last

It’s true that your email message subject line parallels the headline in direct mail copywriting. And it’s also true that the headline is considered the most important element in direct mail copywriting. But I believe your email subject line is even more critical than a direct mail headline.

That’s because, with direct mail, your reader will be viewing the rest of your page as he scans your headline. You still have the opportunity to pull him into your message with the use of bullet points and graphics and subheads.

With email marketing, the majority of your readers will not be using a preview pane. You don’t have the luxury of pulling the reader into your message with other elements. The entire weight of getting your message read relies on your subject line.

Because your subject line is so crucial, it’s absolutely imperative to get it right. I’ve found it very helpful to write the subject line last. After the landing page has been developed, after the email message has been written, after all the graphics have been created, you’ll then have an abundance of information and elements to use in brainstorming subject line ideas.

While email marketing shares many similarities with direct mail copywriting, there are several aspects that are unique to email. By understanding and improving these, you’ll be able to increase your email open rates, click-throughs, and ROI.

Karen Scharf, small business marketing consultant, works with small business owners and entrepreneurs. She offers several papers, reports and checklists, including her FREE 4 Simplest Tactics for Increasing Your Customer Base and Growing Your Bottom Line. Download yours at

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