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Article first published in November 2015, updated April 2019

According to research by Microsoft, smartphones have left humans with such a short attention span that even a goldfish can hold a thought for longer.

Researchers, who surveyed 2000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others, found that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds today.

A goldfish is estimated to have a nine-second attention span.

This growth in smartphone usage and the subsequent reduction in attention span has significantly increased the importance of great writing. If you can’t write a great subject line that captures people’s interest, then you’ll never get them to open your campaign. And, if you can’t explain your offer quickly and easily, you’ll never get them to click-through and purchase your product.

How Do You Run an Effective Email Campaign?

So how do you write a high performing email campaign that gets opened and clicked?

Read on to learn about each stage of writing an email, as well as some tips and best practices you can put to use in your next campaign.

Chapter 1

What makes a successful email campaign?

As with most things in life that are worth achieving, there’s no easy answer to what makes a successful email campaign.

There are a number of variables that go into email marketing quality. Only by combining all of these elements together can you hope to create an email campaign that goes above and beyond your expectations.

Consider the following tips to help ensure that your email campaign is effective.

1. Use a familiar from name

The “from” name is one of the most prominently displayed elements of your campaign when it arrives in your subscriber’s inbox.

On many desktop and mobile clients, it’s displayed with a larger text and heavier font to help people quickly identify who the email is from.

Given its prominence, it’s probably not surprising that 68% of Americans say they base their decision to open an email on the “from” name.

So how do you optimize this critical part of your campaigns and help boost your open rates into the 30%+ range? The key is matching it up with your audience’s expectations.

For instance, imagine you subscribed to an email newsletter from the BuzzFeed website. Would you expect to receive emails from “BuzzFeed” or from “Dan Oshinsky”? Given that you’ve signed up for these emails from the BuzzFeed website, chances are it’s the former, even though it’s actually Dan who is creating and sending their campaigns.

2. Write a short, benefit focused subject line

After the “from” name, the subject line is the second most prominent element in the inbox when it comes to driving opens.

On most devices, the subject line is formatted with darker, heavier text in an attempt to make it stand out among the other details of the email.

Given its prominence in the inbox, it’s inevitable that it will have a significant effect on open rates. So how should you be optimizing your subject line to drive conversions?

The first thing to consider is length. Although research has shown that the length of subject lines doesn’t have a huge effect on open and click-through rates, it is advisable to keep them under 30 characters long to ensure they appear in full on both desktop and mobile devices.

Beyond length, there are a number of power words you can include in your email subject line to help improve open rates. These include:

First word: Open % ChangeLast word: Open % Change
[firstname,fallback=customer], what’s this?14.68%
Year, eg. 20143.89%2.84%
Month name, eg. June3.25%3.34%

As you can see from the above table, personalization (represented above by the dynamic tag “firstname,fallback=customer”) has the largest positive effect on open rates, while the inclusion of personal pronouns such as “Your/You/You!” shows that speaking directly to your subscribers is an effective way to increase open rates.

While it’s great to consider length and include proven power words, it’s important not to over-optimize your email subject lines to try and milk a few extra opens. Tricks like including
FWD:” or “Re:” in your email subject lines may get people to open your campaigns, but, when they realize it isn’t a genuine forward or reply, they’ll be disappointed and likely not read on and/or click-through, defeating the purpose of sending the campaign.

So make sure that, regardless of what optimizations you make to your email subject line, it’s still an accurate description of the content in your email or your subscribers will be left disappointed upon opening your email and likely not open another campaign from you again.

On top of matching the From name to subscribers expectations, it’s also important to consider the number of characters you include in your “from” name, as many mobile devices have a limit to how many they display.

Device NameNumber of Characters Displayed
iPhone 632
iPhone 523
iPhone 423
Samsung Galaxy S432

*Results can vary based on your chosen copy as well individual user settings and preferences like font sizes and email clients.

3. Write compelling preheader text

The preheader is the short summary text that follows the subject line when an email is viewed in the inbox

Pre-header text is a critical component your subscribers use to decide whether or not they open your campaign and engage with your content. So how can you optimize your preheader text for mobile devices?

Given that the preheader text appears next to the email subject line, the two need to work together to tell a cohesive story, rather than be thought about as two separate parts of your email campaign.

Derek Halpern does a great job of this in the announcement campaign for his latest webinar.

As you can see, the subject line talks to a very specific audience (people who don’t yet have 1,000 subscribers) and, while it makes the email super appealing to those people, it does limit its appeal to others.

So he counters this by using the preheader text “Got more than 1000? Open anyway…” to address the other recipients who have more than 1000 subscribers already.

By using the subject line and preheader text together, Halpern makes the email appealing to a wider number of recipients and increases the chance they’ll open the email and click-through.

4. Write simple, compelling body content

With your well-thought-out “from” name, subject line, and preheader text driving opens, it’s time to focus on click-through rates with quality body content.

Good writing isn’t about using any particular magic words, but about getting your audience to understand your offering and the benefits it brings them in the simplest way possible, as that’s what drives people to purchase.

Examine this campaign from Freshbooks announcing the launch of their new Fundbox Integration feature:

Freshbooks does a great job of making it crystal clear what the product does and what the benefits are for the user (get cash for unpaid invoices). There’s no jargon or buzzwords, just some simple content that makes it clear what the offer is.

While your product may be different, there are a number of formulas you can use to help you write great email content. The PAS, 4 P’s, and BAB formulas are all easy to follow frameworks that help marketers like you write high performing email campaigns by positioning your product or service as the solution to your customer’s pain points.

5. Optimize your button

The buttons you use in your email marketing campaigns are the final step towards getting someone to click-through from your campaign and visit your website, and the words you choose for them can play a big part in determining whether someone will click-through or not.

But what do you write to ensure your button gets clicked?

The key is to use the button to reinforce the benefit you promised your reader throughout the rest of the email.

A good example of this is the campaign for the premiere of one of Showtime’s new television programs, Penny Dreadful.

Instead of using generic button copy, Showtime utilizes the button copy to reinforce the exclusivity of this event by reminding its readers this is not just any television episode, but a season premiere.

Here at Campaign Monitor, we’ve done several A/B tests comparing benefit-focused copy to generic copy and, each time, the benefit-focused copy has increased click-through rates by about 10%.

On top of using your button copy to reinforce the benefit, it can also help to use it to reduce perceived barriers. You can do this by removing friction words.

Friction words are those that imply your reader has to do something they don’t necessarily want to do.

Common friction words include:

  • Download
  • Apply
  • Order
  • Submit

Think about it for a second, nobody wants to spend time downloading or applying for something, they simply want the end benefit downloading or applying for the item brings.

So, to reduce the perceived effort of your readers, replace these friction words with frictionless words like “Get” or “Learn” and follow them up with a benefit statement (I.e., “Get your free account”).

When Michael Aagaard at ContentVerve tested this, he saw a 14.79% increase in conversions just by changing one word.

6. Evade the spam filter

If you’ve gotten every single step right up to this point, it could all be for nothing if you don’t avoid the spam filter. The spam filter will take all of your hard work and file it away, never to be seen by human eyes.

To evade the spam filter, you’ll want to make sure that you refrain from the overuse of any spam-friendly language. This could be such innocent words as “buy” or “free.” Spam filters will pick this up and assume your email is spam.

Another way to avoid the spam filter is to ask your mailing list to add you to their contacts. By being a part of their contacts list, you’ll be whitelisted and all of your emails will automatically go through.

Chapter 8

How to leverage your writing to build brand loyalty

One thing that the five steps above all rely on is your writing ability, but not simply its lucidity and adherence to grammar.

The tone you take in your writing can truly transform your email campaign from a marketing ploy to feeling like an actual correspondence between two friends. Once you nail the tone you’re going for, your emails will be more immersive and readable than ever.

When it comes to nailing this tone, you’ll want to look at your brand and your target demographic. If you’re a medical brand, taking a lighter, joking tone may not quite fit with your image. Nonetheless, there are ways to use writing to take serious subjects and make them compelling.

If you need help figuring out which tone works for your brand’s emails, email marketing software can provide helpful analytics and insights into your customers’ desires.

Source: Really Good Emails

In the above email from Soylent, you immediately notice the wry tone in their writing, which beckons you to read more because you want to see just how wry it gets.

Once readers get a sense of your writing, they’re more likely to check out future emails. It’s up to you to break the stereotype of marketing emails merely being for shoving products in people’s faces.

Give them something they’ll want to read and they be more likely to tune in to the next email, and the good will from the writing will result in more sales. In addition to nailing the right tone, you might consider using A/B testing to figure out which writing style works and which doesn’t.

By putting an emphasis on writing, you’re also telling the customer that you care about every aspect of your product and marketing campaign. This is isn’t simply something you’re putting out to reach a certain percentage of click-through rates, but something of quality that a lot of thought went into.

Chapter 9

Wrap up

The steady growth in smartphone usage and the subsequent reduction in human attention span has meant that great writing in your email campaigns is more important than ever.

If you can’t write a killer subject line that captures people’s interest, then you’ll never get them to open your campaign. And, if you can’t explain your offer quickly and easily, you’ll never get them to click-through and purchase your product.

So, next time you’re creating an email campaign to announce your latest product or feature, use the 5 best practices mentioned above to help you write high-performing email campaigns that get opened and clicked, and ultimately drives sales and revenue for your business.

Learning how to create an effective email campaign is only the first step to email marketing mastery. The next step is mobile email marketing. Here’s how it’s done.

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