How to write emails that people will actually read

Nick Harland
May 2022

You'll find loads of email copywriting tips on the internet, but these are a little different. Here's how to write emails that people will open, read and take action on.

Emails are pretty good, really. You basically have a direct line to someone’s inbox - which is much more valuable than, say, a social media post on someone’s timeline.

But if that person doesn’t like your email, they won’t just click off the page like they might do with a blog. They could unsubscribe and cut off that line of communication forever. So you’ve got to be careful, you’ve got to be clever, and you’ve got to be good. 

Here are 10 tips for writing emails that people will open, read and take action on.

  1. Shorten, shorten, shorten

How many emails do you get a day? Probably too many. So now we’re adding yet another one to the pile, you can’t waste people’s time. It has been bloody hard work persuading someone to sign up to your mailing list and then to open your email, after all. 

So when they start reading it, you’ve got to keep their attention. That means your email copy has to be short, succinct and to the point. Don’t blabber on for hundreds of words, because people will just delete your email and unsubscribe. If you think your email is already short enough, it’s probably not. Shorten it to within an inch of its life, and only then should you think about sending it.

  1. Grab their attention with an emoji

Yeah, yeah, yeah. This sounds like a copywriting tip straight from nursery, but emojis in subject lines are a proven and effective tactic. And you can see why. They grab people’s attention and instantly help your email stand out in an inbox. 

Of course, emojis alone aren’t going to improve your email copywriting, but they’re a simple and effective way of grabbing people’s attention. Which is the first step to better email copywriting.

  1. Address the reader directly

You’ve gotta be careful not to go full cringe when it comes to email personalisation. Some companies email you fully convinced that you’re their best mate, so dial that down a bit. Instead, including their name in the subject line or first line can work. And always address the reader directly - don’t speak in generalities. Use 'you' and 'yours', not 'we' and 'ours.'

  1. Be specific

Emails aren’t the time to be wishy-washy with your copy. If the reader is getting a discount code for your shop, tell them how much. If they’re getting a free download of a copywriting guide, tell them what’s in it. If you have 10 email copywriting tips to share, tell them you have 10 email copywriting tips. Certainty eliminates doubt and builds trust.

  1. Focus on the benefits for the reader

Why should the reader open this email? How are they benefiting from it? Keep those two questions in mind as you write your copy and you won’t go too far wrong.

  1. Create a sense of urgency

It might be a decent idea to also inject a sense of urgency into your email. If you have a special offer, limit it to a 72-hour window. If you have some advice, tell them how readers can act upon it immediately (and that they should). 

  1. Break blocks of text up with images

If you do need to write a longer email, and you just can’t shorten it anymore, then that’s fine. Emails should generally be quite short, but there will obviously be occasions where you just need a little more leeway. If you do, try breaking up blocks of text with images and GIFs. It’ll help maintain the reader’s attention and persuade them to read the whole thing.

  1. Write a headline that triggers emotion

Whether it’s intrigue, nostalgia, excitement or anger, your headline has to trigger some sort of emotion in the reader, else they won’t click on it. Triggering emotion in the reader really is the secret to good copywriting - but how do you do it? 

Well, I like to think about different emotions and then write headlines that connect with them. You could write different headlines to trigger different emotions, and play with them from there. Again, ask yourself if your headline would trigger an emotion in you. If it doesn't, go back and try again until it does.

  1. Demonstrate actual value

Again, we’re gonna go back to the whole ‘THERE ARE 79 BILLION EMAILS SENT EVERY DAY’ argument. With so many emails to plough through every day, yours has to be of some value to the reader. So have a bloody good reason for sending it. 

Give them a free download. A discount code. Some actual helpful advice. Don’t just email them to say you’re thinking of them, or you hope they’re staying safe. If you don’t have a legit reason to send the email, don’t send it.

  1. Proofread, test and revise

Writing your copy is the easy bit, ladies and gentlemen. Don’t you dare hit send before you’ve proofread it, because spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are basically just bad for business. 

After you’ve sent it, test what works and what doesn’t. Try different variations of copy. Double down on the stuff that works. These email copywriting tips are based on our experience, but they’re not foolproof, so be prepared to try different approaches.

Nick Harland