Anyone who’s ever written a marketing email has asked themselves these questions:

  • How do I get my subscribers to open this?
  • How do I get them to take action?
  • Did they even *see* me in their inbox?

Not getting the results you’re after might make you want to visit your subscribers one-by-one and personally remind them to read your emails and click your links.




Fortunately, you don’t have to do anything so drastic. By following some basic rules of copywriting, you can dramatically increase your email engagement and get subscribers to take action.

Here are a few best practices you can start using in your email copy right away.

(Want to start sending amazing emails to your subscribers today? Try a 30-day free trial of AWeber. Test out our  ridiculously easy-to-use Drag-and-Drop editor and industry-leading deliverability.)

Use a Conversational Tone

Your goal is to communicate. This starts with everyday language, short sentences, and short paragraphs.

Famous writer Elmore Leonard said: “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.”

That’s a good rule. Your copy should read as close to spoken English as possible. It should be easy to read and easy to scan. Big words don’t make you sound smart — they make you sound like someone trying to sound smart.

So how do you know if you’re writing conversationally?

According to Copy Hackers, a conversion copywriting site, Dr. Suess is a good example of how to use short words and short sentences in a way that captivates the reader.

If you need more help simplifying your writing, check out Hemingway App. It flags overly complex sentences and assigns a reading level to your writing (the lower, the better.) This post, for example, reads at a sixth grade level. That’s about where you want to be writing.

Related: Learn from the Masters! 16 Successful Entrepreneurs Share Their #1 Email Tip

Avoid Jargon, Buzzwords, and Acronyms

Jargon, buzzwords, and acronyms are an epidemic these days — especially in the world of tech and startups.

Jargon and acronyms can alienate readers who don’t know what you’re talking about. You might as well speak gibberish to them. Instead of using these overly technical terms or abbreviations, be sure to use simple, easy-to-understand language and to spell out terms before you use them in acronym form.

As for trendy buzzwords: Try to think beyond them. Words like ‘pivot’ and ‘disruption’ are becoming cliches that make people tune you out and take you less seriously.

Instead, take the time to come up with simple alternatives:

  • Cohort = customer group
  • BoFU = Bottom of the funnel
  • Virality = popularity

This is really just the tip of the iceberg, though. Forbes has a list of the most obnoxious startup jargon — like ‘rockstar’ and ‘hacking’ — while TechRepublic suggests we stop using these 10 Buzzwords, like ‘curation’ and ‘freemium’.

Write a Killer Subject Line

Headlines have always been the foundation of good copy. In email marketing, your subject line is what gets you opened and read. Without a good one, you’ve got nothing.

When writing your email’s subject line, think about:

  • Personalization: By personalizing your subject line, you can increase open rates by 50%, according to Marketing Dive. That might mean incorporating a subscriber’s first name in your subject line to make the message feel tailor-made.
  • Curiosity: Evoking a sense of curiosity in the the reader can get that person to click through and open your email. Ex: Want a chance to win $100?
  • Scarcity: Promoting limited time or quantity items can create a sense of urgency around your email that piques interest and drives conversions.

If you need more help figuring out a home-run subject line, here are 6 subject line formulas that will improve your open rates.

Know the Medium

One reason that email remains the number one marketing channel is that it gives you the power to talk directly to your audience. You’re leaving money on the table if your copy doesn’t reflect this.

Why “batch and blast” with the same generic message to everyone when email gives you the power to personalize, segment, and automate? After all, automation can increase leads, conversions, and revenue…and it can save you time.

The stats prove it: Automated email messages average 70.5% higher open rates and 152% higher click-through rates than other marketing messages, according to Epsilon Email Institute.

And here at AWeber, we saw a 118% increase in open rates when we segmented our audience. We sent smaller groups of subscribers the exact information they were interested in, instead of sending our entire list the same exact content.

Set up automated emails that help make every email you send relevant, interesting, and timely. Click here for your crash course in email automation.

Write for People (because businesses can’t read)

The term B2B is misleading because you’re not writing for businesses — you’re writing for decision-makers within a business. Humans, in other words.

This is why we take the time to come up with buyer personas that reflect our customers’ unique needs. These people have emotions, so don’t just throw statistics at them. Don’t just use logic to appeal to their minds. Aim for the heart and connect on an emotional level.

In your emails, use emotion-based principles like reciprocity, commitment, and social proof (to name a few) to make an emotional plea to your readers.

Related: 95 Tools to Help You Be the Best Email Marketer on the Planet

Agitate Problems, Then Solve Them

Whether you’re outlining single email or an entire campaign, this is your formula:

  1. Identify a problem (P)
    Ex: Need an easier way to open cans.
  2. Agitate that problem (A)
    Ex: Isn’t it frustrating to use a hand crank can opener? It’s slow, hard work.
  3. Present your solution (S)
    Ex: With the electric can opener, you can open aluminum cans in seconds with no effort.

TV infomercials absolutely nail PAS. A voiceover identifies a problem: “Do you always end up making way too much pasta?” Then a montage in black and white agitates the problem with people tripping over big tangles of spaghetti in the kitchen. Finally, we get the solution: A happy family eating just the right amount of pasta, thanks to the Pasta-Matic.

Obviously, there are other reasons not to copy what infomercials do, but they give a larger-than-life example of this formula in action. The key is to be relevant. There are millions of problems out there, and most of them don’t matter to your reader.

The problem has to be real, not just an excuse to talk about your product. In an email, your copy needs to express a genuine understanding of what this problem means to your potential customers — and then swoop in with a simple solution.

Don’t Be Too Salesy

You don’t have to be salesy just because you’re selling something.

Email readers have a good sense for “salesy” tactics (like when you try to get them to click on a CTA with misleading copy), and 9 times out of 10, it will alienate your audience. These days, people have zero tolerance for interruption, pressure, tricks, and manipulation. The reason: Research shows online attention spans are shorter than ever, and therefore most people have developed a strong detector for these time-wasting tactics.

But you still want to sell to them. What can you do about that?

Simple: Tell stories instead.

Storytelling is the opposite of being salesy. You can still drive traffic, convert, close, and all of those nice things without resorting to cheeseball tactics. The great thing about storytelling is it’s actually less work than being salesy. You don’t have to resort to tricks and hacks. You simply communicate in a way that’s clear and interesting.

Stories (be it personal, fictional, etc.) are how our brains evolved to learn new information. According to science, we’re hardwired to take in stories. By harnessing this powerful form of communication, you’re putting tens of thousands of years of evolution on your side.

Parting Wisdom: Don’t Stop Learning

A final catch-all tip: never stop learning. Writing is a skill that takes time and practice to master.

And continue to read content by great writers. We recommend Ann Handley’s newsletter. She’s an author and AWeber customer who sends interesting, smart, and beautifully-written stories in her newsletter Total Annarchy.

For copywriting tips, sign up for AWeber customer Henneke Duistermaat’s Enchanting Marketing emails. 

For the basics of grammar and composition with books like Eats, Shoots & Leaves and the classic (but always relevant) Elements of Style.

Want more copywriting and email tips delivered to your inbox? Sign up for the the AWeber blog newsletter and get actionable email-specific advice week after week!

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