How to Write Effective Emails
You’re not alone. Writing good emails is hard. It’s hard because communicating effectively is hard, let alone attempting to communicate effectively over email.
Poor communication costs businesses billions of dollars every year, and on a number of occasions has even cost American lives.
For example, back in 1986 when the Challenger disintegrated just 73 seconds into flight killing all seven of its crew members — guess what officials sighted as being the key issue?
How many times have you said something in casual conversation and the person across from you responds with, “what do you mean?”
Or, better yet, how many times have you been trying to share an idea with someone and just settle for, “I don’t know, it’s hard to explain.”?
If effective communication is hard, effective email communication is nearly impossible. Or at least it was until you happened upon this article.
Building a Business Around Effective Email Writing
When I was first building my copywriting business I had no clients. So, I was forced to cold email. I would track down the contact information of CEO’s that owned companies I wanted to write for and would send them an email.
After sending out dozens of emails with literally no responses, I quickly learned a sad truth — I sucked at writing good emails. Which was ironic considering I was attempting to build a copywriting business.
But, instead of giving up, I started testing out different subject lines, opening sentences, call-to-actions, etc. I doubled down on what worked and scrapped what didn’t.
Today, I run an extremely profitable copywriting business — a business that was 100% built on one thing and one thing only — effective email writing.
In this post, I am going to share with you everything I know about writing good emails, that way you can close more sales, make more money and ultimately get responses from the people you want responses from.
9 Rules of Effective Email Communication
1. Double down on your email subject lines.
If you don’t remember anything else from this post, please remember this — writing good emails comes down to writing good subject lines.
When thinking about what subject line to use, a good rule of thumb is to play on human curiosity.
Imagine how you feel when one of your friends texts you “Do you have a second to talk?” or “Can I ask you a question?”
Chances are, you feel curious. You’re thinking to yourself, “I wonder what they want to talk about?”
The same goes for email subject lines. An effective email subject line is one that plays on the recipient’s curiosity. Something like, “Don, quick question” is a great subject line that makes someone curious enough to open up your email.
With that said, don’t be afraid to customize your email. Since I am a copywriter, one subject line I often use is “I found your pen.”
It sparks the recipient’s attention, it is different and it’s honest — I am a copywriter a.k.a a pen.
You can steal it if you want… but just don’t email the same people as me… wow, would that be awkward.
2. The most important sentence is the first sentence.
Joseph Sugarman is one of the greatest copywriters of all time and one thing he commonly preaches in regards to advertising is —
“The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence.”
This copywriting truth is fundamental when it comes to effective email writing. If you can’t get your recipient to read past your first sentence, they aren’t going to read your email, which means you’ve failed.
So, how do you get your recipient to read the first sentence of your email? You make it short, sharp and interesting.
Scroll back to the first sentence of this particular article. A big reason you have made it this far is because my first sentence pulled you in.
It was three powerful words, “You’re not alone.”
It was short, taking you a split second to read it.
It was sharp, meaning it was impactful and made you feel something.
It was interesting, making you read further to know “why” you’re not alone.
Apply this practice to the emails you send and you will immediately improve your response rates because your recipients will be reading further into your emails.
Now, keep reading and discover a hidden secret that will keep your readers reading past your second, third and fourth sentence.
3. Add cliffhangers throughout your email.
“THUD! THUD! THUD! The door wouldn’t open. Pedro frantically pulled out his phone and began to dial 911, then suddenly the doorknob began to turn slowly with a creak. Pedro’s jaw dropped as he saw the horror that now stood staring at him in the doorway. It was far worse than he ever could have imagined…”
Have you ever noticed how at the end of tv shows there will be a big dramatic scene that ends abruptly with no conclusion? This is called a cliffhanger and it is used in literature and cinema to keep the reader or viewer interested.
It is something I often try to use when writing good emails. For an example of a cliffhanger in copywriting, scroll back to the sentence right before the beginning of this section. What does it say?
“Now, keep reading and discover a hidden secret that will keep your readers reading past your second, third and fourth sentence.”
This is an example of a cliffhanger in copywriting. It works by keeping the reader interested. After reading the above sentence, you know if you don’t keep reading you are going to miss out on a hidden secret.
Cliffhangers are essential in achieving effective email communication because they keep the recipient reading until the very end.
Here is an example of utilizing a cliffhanger in an email.
You’re not alone. Every business owner wants to make more sales. It’s too bad many are unaware of arguably the greatest sales tactic of all time — one that I will share with you in a moment…”
Remember, effective email writing is about not revealing everything at once. If you keep your reader interested, you’re going to keep them reading.
4. Keep it short.
Effective email communication is about saying a lot with a little. I have never read an email that couldn’t be trimmed by at least 25%. As a writer, it is extremely important to have respect for your reader’s time — especially if you are inviting yourself into their inbox.
Nobody wants to read a 10 paragraph email. They don’t care and they don’t have the time. So, save the life story and the irrelevant details for your journal.
Generally speaking, I try to write the majority of my emails in 4–6 sentences. In terms of words, experts say between 50 and 125 is ideal for effective email communication. I have found that any longer than this and I lose my chances of getting a response from the reader.
5. Do your research.
Have you ever read a post on Medium where a writer (a term I use lightly) has spent 5 minutes spewing nonsense just to get a few shares? I don’t even know why I am asking that, of course you have.
How does this make you feel? It makes you feel annoyed with their ignorance.
It makes you feel frustrated because they wasted your time.
And finally, it makes you feel disrespected because they didn’t take the time to do their research.
The same can be said for writing good emails. If you are writing a sales email, do your research on the person you are emailing. Show them that you care enough about them and their time, that you have dedicated some of your time learning more about them and their company.
Educating yourself and doing your research is a necessity in effective email writing.
6. Read it out loud, always.
Back in 1999, Phillips Morris put out a study covering the economic effects of smoking in the Czech Republic. Their study found that smoking was good for government because it caused people to die prematurely which in turn cut back on pension and health care costs.
The public was outraged and for good reason.
If someone in Phillips Morris would have read the copy out loud, I guarantee it wouldn’t have been published.
They would have thought to themselves, “Oh wow, that sounds pretty bad. I don’t think we should publish this.”
Most of the ridiculous stuff you read on a daily basis is the direct result of people not reading out loud what they are writing.
When you have put together an email, before you send it, read it out loud to yourself. How does it sound? How does it flow? How does it make you feel?
7. Have a call to action.
You would be surprised how many times people send out emails without having a call to action.
“Visit my website”… “Let me know if you want to work together”… “let’s grab coffee sometime”… are not calls-to-action. Those phrases do not move the reader into action.
Here are a few examples of good calls-to-action —
“Can I give you a call this Thursday at 1 p.m. CST so we can discuss next steps?”
“Where is your sales team falling short? I guarantee I can offer a quality solution.”
“If you hop on the phone with me for just 10-minutes, I promise you will walk away with at least one new insight to improve your company culture.”
If you want your reader to do something, you have to ask them to do it. Period. While your reader is smart, they can’t read your mind. You have to tell them what you want them to do. Effective email writing is about triggering a specific action in your reader.
8. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.
A no response or just a flat out “No” is never actually a no. It’s just a no at that moment. Businesses miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars just because they forget or refuse to follow up with their prospect.
Persistence is a quality of effective email writing. I have emailed prospects 3 and 4 times before finally getting a project.
When you take the time to follow up with your prospect you aren’t being annoying — you are being thorough and you are being persistent.
9. Make it the best thing they read all day.
Think of all the poorly-written crap people read and consume on a daily basis. Think about the irrelevant listicles, cat memes and tweets.
I challenge you and your brand to be the best thing your prospect reads all day. It’s an empowering thought. The thought of creating something that is so impactful that the recipient tells his or her friends about it.
As soon as you realize the emails you send don’t have to read like oven-baked potato chips (nobody likes oven baked potato chips), the soon you are changing people’s day(s) for the better through effective email writing.
Oh, and if you need some help, I am a shout away at firstname.lastname@example.org. I know, not a strong call-to-action… but then again, this isn’t an email.
By Cole Schafer.