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Copy That Converts: Email Marketing Best Practices That Drive Growth


October 25, 2021


When we think about email marketing, we often focus heavily on the overall design and visual elements. But with so much attention given to design, email marketing copy tends to be overlooked, undervalued, and treated as an afterthought. 

With consumer attention spans shorter than ever and an increasing amount of noise from competitors, news, and other media, copy can be your key to standing out. And whether you’re in a B2B, B2C, or ecommerce role, prioritizing effective and engaging copy is a crucial component of any successful email marketing campaign. 

To help you make the most of your email marketing copy, we rounded up some helpful insights and practical tips from a few of our A+ lifecycle marketing consultants. Here’s what you can expect to learn in this article, as well as introductions to Stephanie Griffith, Amy Mangueira, and Jared Stivers, our featured experts.

Stephanie Griffith is an email marketing consultant with a focus on B2C and SMS marketing. She’s worked with brands like Bath & Body Works, Abercrombie, and Thinkful.

Amy Mangueira is a lifecycle marketing consultant specializing in B2B and marketing automation technology. She’s helped grow brands like Pill Club, Eventbrite, and Skillcrush.

Jared Stivers is an email marketing consultant with a background in ecommerce and B2C marketing. He’s managed email marketing for companies like Banana Republic, ModCloth, and Thrilling.

Hooking Customers with Effective Subject Lines

The subject line of your email is the first information your customers see. And if your subject copy isn’t appealing, it might be the last thing they see from you. This introductory text almost solely determines whether your email gets opened, so it’s important to get your subject right and draw readers into the next step of your sales funnel.

“Subject lines are a place for a brand to have fun in addition to communicating need-to-know information quickly so subscribers can make a split decision on opening the email,” said Stephanie Griffith, a B2C email marketing consultant.

Like all good copy, subject lines should be clear, concise, and compelling. But there’s one element that is just as important as the words, if not more—the sender. People tend to make quick, intuitive judgments on whether to open an email based on who it’s coming from. Is the sender a brand or person they know? Do they seem trustworthy? Is the name recognizable or relevant to your focus area? Putting in the work ahead of time to establish a strong brand and lay the foundation for a positive relationship with your customers can make them more likely to open your email when it lands in their inbox.

The actual content of your subject line will vary depending on the industry, brand, growth stage, and goals of your campaign. But broadly speaking, there are some general themes that work best for different audiences.

Everyone loves a discount

When targeting B2C and ecommerce audiences, nothing grabs attention like a discount or sale in the subject line. Offering any percentage off will start to bump up your open rates and conversion rates. But 20% and above is what really makes a difference. Discounts work across most industries and can be particularly successful in certain areas, including fashion and health/wellness. They can also be useful for re-engaging customers after cart abandonment or browser abandonment.

It’s common to see great results from subject copy that focuses on discounts and sales for most audiences. But this tactic should be used much more sparingly in B2B marketing than in B2C and ecommerce. Decision makers don’t want to see that something is always on sale. However, highlighting a customized sale or sign-up offer can be particularly impactful, according to Griffith.

There are also merits to leaving a bit to the imagination. During major sales periods, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you don’t necessarily have to put the exact percentage off or sale price in the subject line. It’s often enough to just let people know that you’re having a big sale and that will drive them to open the email.

Subjects should solve a problem for B2B audiences

While discounts can be effective for B2B audiences, the best way to appeal to this group is by letting them know you can solve their problems right in the subject line. 

“If the subject is written to address a pain point or potential solution, that empathetic approach will compel recipients to open,” said Amy Mangueira, a B2B email marketer. “The beauty of B2B is that we can really develop our email content to be specific to individual personas, industries, and accounts. Including stat-driven copy about their needs can really grab their attention.”

Be smart about using secondary elements

Alongside the sender and subject copy, there are other ways to draw in your audience. The use of emojis in subjects can be a bit polarizing, depending on who you ask. But our experts agree that when used appropriately (think: creatively and sparingly), emojis can provide a fun pop of personality and help your email stand out. Emojis shouldn’t cause your messages to get caught in spam filters, but monitor your results just to be safe.

Preview text, or the snippet of copy that shows after the subject before you open an email, offers valuable space to give the reader more information. But be careful—it can be difficult to determine the right amount of copy because email providers often pull as many characters as is needed to fill the full preview space, which varies greatly depending on the device.

If you add too much preview copy, your text may be cut off in a way that’s confusing or embarrassing. But if you don’t add enough, the provider could pull non-optimized content from your email, like code or URLs, to fill the space. One way around this issue is to use a simple code hack to automatically generate blank space after your preview text. While this is a good solution for most cases, it’s important to check that it works successfully across email clients, apps, and devices—and be sure to monitor for deliverability issues or spam filters, since email providers change those settings on a fairly regular basis.

Tweaking Email Copy for Conversion Rate Optimization

Email is a series of microconversions. Each element—from the subject line and sender to the first paragraph and CTA button—plays a role in guiding the recipient through the sales funnel. And each piece must be tracked, measured, and optimized on its own as part of the overall flow.

“Every metric needs to be considered when thinking of conversion rate optimization,” Mangueira said. “First you need to have collected baseline data so you have a gauge of what works well and what doesn’t across open rate, click-through rate, and conversion rate. Next, you need to look at the email against the baseline data and work to improve the weakest microconversion first.”

Understanding each element’s individual role, as well as its impact on and interaction with the overall purchase funnel, is key for conversion rate optimization.

“Email’s job is primarily to inspire subscribers to take the next best action of getting to the website or intended landing page,” said Griffith. “You can have the greatest email in the world, but if the landing page experience falls flat you’ll lose that potential sale or conversion.”

Mangueira commonly sees marketers make the mistake of looking at an email’s performance, drilling right down to the conversion rate, and trying to optimize by changing up the entire strategy.

“For example, if your email had terrible opens, you need to start with open rate and conduct some tests to improve that first,” she said. “If you see that your open rate was good but your click-through rate was super low, it’s time to evaluate your template and do some testing with content elements.”

Keep in mind that supporting elements—like landing pages and SMS messages—that come before and after the email should be used to expand on your email copy and be cohesive with other marketing communications.

Remember the bigger picture

It’s also important to think about individual emails from a holistic perspective in terms of the overall intended function. For example, the goal of a one-off email is quite different from that of a series of emails. 

“With one-off emails we need to be a bit more realistic with what we expect—you cannot send one email and expect floods of people to come requesting appointments with sales,” Mangueira said. “If it’s a series of emails, sometimes having your content focus on the buyer’s journey is helpful, starting with more awareness content, like a ‘learn more’ infographic, and moving towards the bottom of the funnel, like prompting them to connect with a sales rep.”

Also think about the timeline of your conversion process. B2C and ecommerce purchase funnels tend to be faster and as such, generate results more quickly, which allows you to tweak things in almost real time. B2B is often a multi-touch, longer timeline, and the optimization process is typically slower as a result.

Common causes of poor conversion rate results

There are many things that can negatively impact your conversion rate, but here are a few common ones we’ve seen that you should watch out for:

Lack of clarity

Good marketing should be easy to understand and seamlessly guide users through the purchasing process.

“Common sense goes a long way,” said Jared Stivers, an email marketing consultant with a background in ecommerce. “Make sure your email is targeted correctly, your discount code works, and the hand off from the inbox to the website to the checkout flow is smooth. There’s an elegance in simplicity and in being direct.” 

Confusing messaging hierarchy

Your headlines and other pertinent information should feature clear messaging that’s highlighted by solid design principles. It should also be easy for customers to find the details they need to help make their purchase decision. Eliminating probable pain points or answering common questions toward the top of your hierarchy can avoid snags or pauses that could cause your customer to lose interest.

Uninspiring product description and depictions

Assuming you’re working with a product that people actually want, your email copy should present it in a way that’s appealing and accurate. The best way to showcase a product depends on what it is; while a bulleted list of features may work for a SaaS app, the same approach probably won’t work for a pair of fashion boots. The right combination of copy and imagery can inspire people to take action and move deeper into the funnel.

Generic landing pages

Even if your email is great, customers will start to fall off if your landing page isn’t equally great and relevant. Your CTA button or link should never just dump people to a general website page. The landing page should feel like a continuation of your email, with a clear headline that directly relates to the copy that brought them there. And just like your email copy, the landing page copy should be concise and point the reader directly toward the next action you want them to take.

Because landing pages have more space than email, you can also feature credibility-boosting content like reviews or demo videos.

Tell Customers Exactly What to Do with Direct CTAs

For most email marketing messages, the overarching goal is to deliver traffic to your website. But it’s not as simple as slapping ‘Visit Website’ on a CTA button and watching the conversions roll in. 

“You have to connect before you go in for the sale,” Mangueira said, especially for B2B audiences. “This is true whether you’re selling a product, service, or simply asking someone to download a whitepaper. Start your email copy off with a compelling question or attention grabber that screams ‘We get you’ right from the start. Then elaborate a bit by educating or putting yourself into their shoes. Then, provide the solution with your CTA.”

Unspecific CTAs like ‘Click Here’ don’t work well to compel recipients to act. If you want users to sign up for an event, say it—try ‘RSVP Now,’ ‘Sign Up Here,’ or ‘Register.’ Or if you want them to browse your product catalog, try things like ‘Shop Now’ or ‘Explore the Collection.’ Educating your audience on exactly what you want them to do can reduce friction and confusion.

What’s the Difference Between Good Ecommerce, B2C, and B2B Email Copy?

No matter what industry or audience you’re writing for, your copy should be rooted in your brand voice and messaging guidelines. And while each industry has its own norms and language, your goal should be to talk about your product the way your customers understand and speak about your product.

“The best copy is the copy that resonates with your audience and aligns with your brand to get the most critical and engaging information across,” Griffith said.

However, there are some differences between how you should approach email copy for each audience.

Similar approaches for ecommerce and B2C

Both ecommerce and B2C tend to target individuals making purchases for themselves or their families. The buying decisions they make are personal and it pays off to take a conversational and relatable approach.

“You have to understand that target, find those heartstrings, and write email copy that makes them want to buy,” Mangueira said. “It’s often short, sweet, and layered in products. The price points tend to be lower, therefore there is lower risk, and consumer retailers often have a ton of perks like free shipping, flexible exchanges, etc.”

Copy for these audiences shouldn’t be too technical or lengthy. It should feel similar to how your product is talked about in everyday life and zero in on what really matters to the customer.

“If you can distill your value proposition and main selling points down into a few compelling words or phrases, you have a better chance at driving the conversion more quickly,” Griffith said. 

B2B is all about the details

B2B copy is often more complex than ecommerce or B2C. Because these emails are typically targeting busy professionals that likely have to answer to internal and external stakeholders about their purchases, your copy has to work a bit harder to make the sale. The price points are usually higher too, which often means your email is one part of a larger journey to warm up the customer and turn them into a sales lead.

Although it may seem like there’s little room to be fun or playful with B2B copy, that’s not quite the case. Your copy can still be personal and human, but it should have a greater focus on selling the solution. 

“Being too technical is not really a problem with B2B,” Stivers said “You want lots of specific details. When you see marketing for B2B it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to you unless you’re in the industry.”

Knowing the pain points and challenges of the industry you’re targeting can make or break the success of your email. If you can pop into your customer’s inbox and show them that you understand exactly what problem they’re facing and have the perfect solution ready to go, they’re much more likely to take that next step toward a purchase.

“Having that knowledge is an immediate credibility booster, positions you as a subject matter expert, and helps to build trust,” Mangueira said. “You have to understand their business, understand how your company fits in, and most importantly, keep up with the trends.”

B2B targeting can be tricky

Getting your email in front of your ideal C-suite target audience is not an easy task. Most people in those positions have assistants that handle the majority of their communications and they often rarely look at their own inboxes. So how can you get around that barrier?

Focus on value. With B2B targets we’re able to get more detailed information about their persona than we can with ecommerce or B2C customers. Tapping into LinkedIn, company whitepapers, and other professional resources can offer valuable insights. The more you can understand the C-suite mindset and challenges, the better equipped you are to craft value-driven copy that cuts through the noise.

Another way to learn what B2B audiences want—ask them. 

“The more you can speak to people that have insights, the better,” said Mangueira. “Do interviews with clients, talk to their peers and competitors, understand what makes them tick.”

Improve Your Copy Through Testing

When it comes to email copy best practices, the “best” approach is really the one that’s most effective for your specific situation. So how do you determine what’s best? Test, adjust, and test again. But as any good marketer knows, in order for your test to be meaningful, you should only change one thing at a time.

“Testing length, tone of voice, and messaging hierarchy is a great way to determine what makes your audience tick so you can define the best copy from there,” Griffith said. “Best practices is a bit of a misnomer, as it suggests there are tried-and-true methods that should always be used and offer little room for change. While there are certainly some fundamentals, we want to prioritize testing, learning, and iterating to figure out what works best for the current audience in the context of the time we are in.”

There are plenty of AI-driven tools out there that claim to optimize your email copy without wasting any of your precious time. But those can often lead to robotic or irrelevant copy that tanks your conversion rate. Although tools can be helpful, they’re no replacement for quality human-written content crafted to appeal to the target audience's distinct persona and emotional needs.

Once you have the copy nailed down, it’s also important to work closely with your sales team to understand the most effective time frame, number of touch points, and cadence of communications that will resonate with your customers.

Choosing the Right Person to Write

Email copy can be written by people across different roles, most often by the email marketing team, but also sometimes by a copywriter. Regardless of who’s writing, copy should be informed by the rest of your growth marketing team and your sales team.

“Generally it’s critical that someone who understands the email channel as well as the brand voice be involved,” Griffith said. “In a perfect world, a dedicated email copywriter is a great solution here, but oftentimes small teams require collaboration between multiple departments.”

Striking the right balance between understanding the granular details of email copy specs (how long should that subject line actually be?) and writing with a compelling brand voice is key. Email copy shouldn’t be siloed—sometimes it takes the insights of your sales team funneled through a creative copywriter to arrive at the ideal copy.

And remember that it’s not just the email copy you need to keep in mind. The same tone and messaging should be carried out on your landing pages, social media, and anywhere else people interact with your brand. Staying in close touch with the teams responsible for those pieces can help keep everything cohesive and running smoothly.

Shifting Trends

Whether it’s the pandemic, greater online accessibility, more people working from home, increased mobile device use, or more detailed attention to social issues, email marketing trends have changed in recent years. People have less time and patience than ever before for poorly targeted marketing and bad copy. If your copy isn’t personally relevant, it’s no longer going to cut it.

“The pandemic, in addition to a historic election and rising social justice issues, definitely challenged copy best practices and put an increased focus on making marketing more empathetic and human in nature,” Griffith said. “The trends that I’m seeing are the ones that are much more personal and conversational.”

The B2B industry has seen a significant jump in the reliance on email since many live meetings, conferences, and events have been paused because of pandemic shutdowns. But because nearly everyone has shifted to email, it’s become much more challenging to stand out in people’s inboxes. Along with taking an insightful and human approach to B2B copy, some marketers have started offering creative perks to get attention like sending emails with offers for free lunch via UberEats if you sign up for a webinar, or even dishing out free trials just to get the conversation started.

There’s also been an increased effort to make email marketing more accessible. Millions of people experience vision or hearing impairment, color blindness, and dyslexia, and if your email copy doesn’t take their needs into consideration, you could be missing out on tons of potential customers. 

Simple changes can help ensure your email reaches people living with disabilities or impairments, like:

  • Including captions or transcripts for all video or audio elements
  • Testing color combinations for contrast and visual legibility
  • Having a clear hierarchy of information with accurate headers
  • Adding alt text to all images
  • Avoiding distracting or confusing animation
  • Making sure your email is designed to work with keyboard controls and screen readers
  • Avoiding image-only email designs

Email Copy Mistakes to Avoid

While we’ve already covered some common things that can cause your email copy to perform poorly, there are some additional glaring missteps that you want to watch out for:

  • Clutter: Your email shouldn’t look like an old department store mailer; use appropriate white space and arrange your copy and images in a way that is easy to follow. 
  • Inconsistent voice: Don’t sound like one person in your email and then speak from a totally different voice on your landing pages. Consistency is key.
  • Gimmicks: Avoid misleading tactics like adding ‘Re:’ or ‘FWD’ in your subject lines. It will annoy your customers and might even get you flagged for spam.
  • Poor taste or offensive language: Double check that your copy doesn’t contain anything that could be interpreted as insensitive or harmful.
  • Bad promo codes: This one is simple—your discount codes have got to work if you want customers to use them.
  • Broken tokens: No one likes to be called the wrong name. QA test to ensure your tokens work and include a default in case there are any errors so you don’t start your email with ‘Hi {{NAME}}!’
  • Ignoring unsubscribers: Just because they don’t want to hear from you (as much) doesn’t mean you can’t leave on a good note, like this example from The Sill.
  • Not thinking mobile-first: Even if you’re creating your email on a giant iMac, it’s important to test it out on the devices that your customers will see it on, likely a mobile phone.

Complement with Design

Good copy is important, but without good design it’s not going to drive the results you want.

“Make sure it's obvious that the image and the copy support each other,” Stivers said. “We’re not thinking creatures that feel, we're feeling creatures that think. When we’re subjected to marketing there's a feeling first before we read and we either get it or don't like it right away.”

Work with your designers to ensure the visual hierarchy matches the informational hierarchy of your copy. Aim to use the highest quality product photos and videos, and just like your copy should match your brand voice, the design should match your brand visual identity.

Real World Examples of Companies Doing Email Copy Right

Now that we’ve covered everything you need to know to get started writing copy for your ecommerce, B2C, or B2B brand, you might be looking for some inspiration. 

Here are some of our favorite real life brands that are doing email copy right:

  • Patagonia, Reformation, and Everlane—These socially conscious fashion brands have a clearly defined, minimalist approach to copy with bold headlines and supporting text and images that highlight the unique features of each product.
  • Asana—Their emails are simple, visual, and straight to the point while serving as a practical guide. 
  • Docusign—This workplace staple is great about sending really valuable content. Their sales emails often have subjects like “Are Electronic Signatures Safe” with a short read attached. Then they make it easy to get started with their product.
  • Shopify—The ecomm service does an excellent job helping businesses find more ways to sell their products using the Shopify platform and they clearly tell that story with a “how-to” approach in their email.
  • Google—Their “how-to” emails are packed with actionable information and practical tips.
  • Aura Bora—Features super playful copy and spins some of their snarky reviews in a really funny and relatable way.
  • Clevr Blends—Excellently balances copy and imagery, and is very educational on ingredients and benefits.
  • Muddy Bites—Takes a cute branding approach with fun copy personified by “Buddy the Bite” mascot. Did a great job of communicating recent shipping delays so customers knew exactly what was happening. They did this via email, SMS, and on the product page so people would not place an order and then find out it was going to be delayed.
  • Maude—Uses short, impactful copy paired with tasteful imagery. Their newsletter is very educational and informative, and consistently branded via “the maudern” as their subject line so you know exactly what it is.
Pategonia email marketing example
Everlane email marketing example
DocuSign email marketing example
Google email marketing example
Asana email marketing example
Do you need help crafting the perfect email marketing copy to drive results for your ecommerce, B2C, or B2B business? Send us a line at hello@rightsideup.co and we’ll match you with one of our expert email marketers. 

Jes Parker is a writer and content marketer with experience creating B2B and consumer-facing assets that build brands and make complex concepts more human. She has worked with companies and nonprofits like Highstead Foundation, Trust for Public Land, Harvard University, the Museum of the City of New York, and Times Square Alliance to craft accessible and engaging content strategies.

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Let's talk growth

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