How to write effective marketing emails

Photo of British mailboxes representative of effective email marketing

For any email to be effective, it must have a specific goal and capitalize on establishing trust with your audience.

Design and Decisions Dictate Success

Before we look at how to write effective emails, let’s start with a few quick points.

As human beings, we crave interaction. Emails are an opportunity to interact with your audience on a one-to-one basis. As I have mentioned before it is the only communication medium that remains private. If your emails are useful and engaging, they can be incredibly effective.

But, they have to overcome the information overload we are all exposed to every day. This is especially true of marketing messages as we have become experts at ignoring these.

Long-term success with email depends on if the recipients trust you. The content of your emails must give them a reason to do that. It must have the same tone of voice and personality you use in your other content marketing. Remember that you are a real person having a conversation with another person.

For any email to be effective, it must have a specific goal. Every decision taken about the email’s design and content must address that goal.

You must design your emails for mobile devices first. It is best to use a single column design and keep it under 600 pixels in width. Your font size should be 14 pixels high at a minimum. They should be standard web-safe fonts like Arial, Tahoma, Verdana, etc.. 22 pixels is a good minimum for your titles.

So, what should you put in your emails? The essential elements of a successful email are similar to what should go into a successful blog post. If you read my earlier post, How to make sure your blog posts are the most, some of this will sound familiar.

What to put in your emails

Your emails will, usually, consist of these elements:

  • The Subject Line
  • A Captivating Visual
  • Headline
  • Subheadings
  • Body Copy
  • Additional Visuals
  • A Call to Action
  • Sharing Options
  • Legal Requirements

The Subject Line

The subject line is the most important part of your email. It will determine if it will be seen, opened and read. Your subject line will hook the reader or be ignored. You should spend more time on it than the rest of the post combined. As with any content marketing, you must know your audience and what will appeal to them.

Even if your email list is an opt-in one, where people have subscribed to it themselves, only 20% of subscribers will open your emails on average. If you have bought or imported your list, the percentage will be even lower.

A great subject line can increase that 20%. It tells the viewer why they should open and read your email. It makes a unique promise to the reader. In general, it must offer usefulness or spark curiosity. If it is superb, it might do both. What can you do to hook your potential reader?

There are many techniques for writing effective subject lines. A good place to start is with what Copyblogger has noted as the Four “U” approach:

  • Useful: Is the promised message valuable to the reader?
  • Ultra-specific: Does the reader know what’s being promised?
  • Unique: Is the promised message compelling and remarkable?
  • Urgent: Does the reader feel the need to read now?

Other subject line techniques are positive and include:

  • targeting your readers as individuals (personalization) or very specific groups (the more you segment your list the more effective your emails will be).
  • asking a question. The frequently asked questions people ask you every day are perfect for this.
  • letting your readers see that you understand them and are on their side.
  • making a promise that you fulfill in the body of the email.
  • positioning your company against your competition.
  • being short and specific.

Or the techniques could be negative:

  • taking a pain point and twisting the knife in it.
  • playing on your audience’s fear of missing out.

A Captivating Visual

Keep your visual(s) to a minimum. Only use them if they are critical to your message. Still, they are almost as important as the subject line. Your primary image or the freeze frame of a video (you will link to) must captivate the viewer’s imagination and create an emotional connection. You must know your audience and the types of images that appeal to them.

Your images must create curiosity. When used thoughtfully, consistently and strategically your visuals are also part of your branding.

Keep in mind that some email clients (like Gmail) hide images by default. The rest of the email should be able to stand on its own independent of a visual. Never, ever use a single image with superimposed text as the body of your email.


Your headline should be a restatement of your subject line. It makes your central point.


These mini-headlines are what viewers scan when they first open your email and make a split-second decision about whether to read it. They should show what the email is about and what it will do for the reader.

Body Copy

Your body copy (the words in your paragraphs) is what you want your visitors to read. The first 100 or so characters are the most important as many times they are what show up in the preview of your email.

Depending on the email’s goal and message its copy will do a variety of things. Use copywriting and persuasion tactics in whatever you are going to do.

In general, you will use your copy to provide useful information that solves their problems and makes their lives better. It is where you will vividly and specifically highlight the features and more importantly the benefits of your solutions. You will show how your products work and get your audience to visualize themselves using your products.

It will relieve your audience’s pain points. It is what you use to address and overcome objections to making a purchase. Your body copy will make the fear of buyer’s remorse go away. It will channel your audience’s desires into the products you provide that offer satisfaction.

Your email’s information should be easy to understand and immediately usable. You must speak in everyday language. Use the words that your prospects use. Put yourself in their shoes. Write to one person, your ideal client for the email’s message.

Write short sentences and add humor when possible. Your body copy is where you make the case for why your reader should do business with you. Your message should allow the product to sell itself.

You should also write for scannability. Use bold text to highlight your keywords and important points. But keep this to a minimum. If you are making a series of points, use a bullet list. Try to keep each bullet point limited to one line.

Use short paragraphs and space them out. Have one idea per paragraph.

Call to Action

The CTA is where you get the reader to take action. Many times this is to click through to a page on your website. This landing page on your site must be designed to work hand-in-hand with the email and vice-versa. They are part of the same design process.

Your call to action might be to contact you, or it might be to go to your online store and then commit to a purchase. No matter what the CTA is, it must be irresistible. The button (or link) should stand out from the rest of the email but not clash with it. It should have enough size and space around it so it is easy to tap on a mobile device.


You could include a postscript that restates your the heart of your message. Repetition never hurts.

Image of a sample email

Sharing and Caring

Providing links to your social media accounts is a good strategy. Some people might rather follow you there even if they unsubscribe from your list.

You should have the capability for the reader to share/forward your email, get in touch with you, and to unsubscribe from your list. These are usually provided in the footer by your email service provider. They also provide all the things that keep your emails legal and in compliance with spam laws.

Your template should also include a from name, from address, and to field in addition to a subject line. The from name should list your company. The from address should list a real person at your company instead of The to field should list the recipient’s first and last name instead of their email address.

Again, your email service provider lets you set these up. You should provide a link for viewing the email in a browser. You should also let recipients know why they are receiving your emails.


You should now have a better grasp on how to write effective emails. Remember email marketing provides more ROI than any other marketing tactic. Do it right and (on average) you will get up to $40 in revenue for every dollar spent on email marketing.

But to be successful with your email marketing you need to analyze your results and test your designs, messages and subject lines with A/B testing. Keep doing what works and drop what doesn’t.

What will stay essential

  1. Your subject line should promise something useful that arouses curiosity and hooks the reader.
  2. You should use the best practices of copywriting in your body copy.
  3. You should always include a specific call to action that is irresistible.

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Reuben Walker

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Reuben is Ringmaster of Mobile Atom Media and its division Mobile Atom Code. In addition to his content specialties, he is also a full-stack developer.

An ABJ graduate of the University of Georgia and MA graduate of Georgia State University he lives in Orlando, FL with his wife and English labrador. He received his full-stack certification from the University of Central Florida.

For great curated and original content on entrepreneurship, content, design, and code follow him on the social media platform of your choice via the icons in this site’s footer. Or join the 42,318+ followers of his Flipboard Magazines.