Jessica Wells Russell

We’ve all been there – you’ve just started your day, sat down at your desk with a piping hot cup of coffee, and you open your email. About half of your inbox is filled with junk – promotions for cheap travel arrangements, a free webinar from some publication you read months ago, etc. But buried in all that mess is an email that catches your attention.

The subject line is short and catchy. The body copy includes your name and other personalized elements that grab your attention. The offer is something you’re actually interested in, and the final call to action is a next step that you, as a member of the email sender’s target audience, will take.

It certainly isn’t easy to craft an email that so perfectly captures your attention and leads you on a path toward your eventual conversion. But with the right steps and attention to detail, you can create email marketing collateral that your audience doesn’t just breeze past and delete.

We’ve put together this ultimate list of email marketing best practices – starting with the subject line, and ending with a clear connection from the email recipient back to your brand.

Starting with subject line: Tips to boost open rates

Successful email marketing starts with the subject line. This is your opportunity to draw the attention of your readers, but you have limited space to catch their interest and provide them with a message that will encourage them to open the email. Research shows that 33% of people open an email based on the subject line alone, but I’d forecast that number to actually be a bit higher.

Keep these elements in mind when writing your email subject lines:

Keep it short and to the point

There’s a tricky balance that you need to strike with your subject line. Your message has to be long enough that it provides context and meaning to readers, but not so long that it extends too far past the readable subject line text that appears within recipients’ inboxes.

A subject line that trails off may prompt readers to click and open the email to read more, but chances are better that recipients will simply tune it out and move on.

For these reasons, it’s best to keep your email subject lines short and snappy. A study from AWeber found that 82% email marketers have found success with subject lines that are 60 characters or less. We’d even recommend keeping it a bit shorter than that, as on average, most email subject lines are around 43 characters long.

Test your message

Unsure how your subject line will land with your target audience or those within your email list? Your customer buyer personas can help you fill in many of the gaps, but it’s sometimes helpful to see with your own eyes how your subject line will appear in your recipients’ inboxes.

For that, there’s the Email Subject Line Tester, which allows you to input your suggested subject line:

Receive a score based on your subject line messaging:

And see a breakdown of how your content will perform:

Here, we run into another key tip for subject lines: choosing the right words. Certain “power words,” as CoSchedule’s Ben Sailer notes, can make a bigger impact with your audience and spur their action.

Best of all, this tool is free to use, so you can test and test until you find just the right subject line for your email marketing campaign and your audience.

Grab their attention with personalization or emojis

I can’t speak for every member of your brand’s target audience, but as a consumer, some of the emails that I open the most are those that take the time to include my name, or catch my eye as I’m scanning my inbox with an emoji. These types of subject lines simply stand out among all the other generic ones, and if a brand takes the time and effort to include these elements, chances are good that their email body copy will provide value and is worth reading.

When creating your subject lines, consider including the recipient’s name from your email list in the subject line. This is a bit more personal than just including it in the body copy, and can boost open rates.

In addition, and when it makes sense to, consider including a strategic emoji to capture readers’ focus. Obviously, this approach must be well thought out, and is best to use for lighter, more fun email campaigns as opposed to those that are straight news announcements.

Including an emoji in an email that leads recipients to your social media, for example, can be a strong strategy. And – good news! – companies that have included emojis in their email marketing campaign subject lines have reported a 56% increase in their open rates – and that’s something to write home about.

Body copy with something to say

Once you’ve harnessed recipients’ attention with a short and snappy subject line, it’s time to provide them with the meat of the meal – your email body copy.

Avoid large blocks of text

One tip carries over here – just as you look to keep your subject line short and sweet, you should do the same with your body copy. I myself have quickly clicked away or hit the delete button on emails that, when opened, are just a giant block of text.

Work to break up your text by keeping your sentences short and to the point. Consider including elements like bulleted or numbered lists to make content more scannable and easily digestible. Bolding, underlining or using italics for key words can also help you impart your main message as quickly as possible while making content easy to read for recipients.

The same AWeber study found that, on average, most emails include 434 words of body copy, which takes around three minutes to read. We’d recommend going even shorter here, and keeping the word count under 200, where possible, to help improve click-through rates and eventual conversion rates.

Give readers something of value

Early on in my writing career, one of my college professors said something that still resonates with me to this day. He advised that, after I complete a piece, I put myself in my readers’ shoes and ask if I’d want to read the piece myself. The message here is clear, and is something you should apply to your email marketing strategy and email content.

If you don’t find it interesting, or you wouldn’t read it yourself, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. As Sailer puts it, “Great copy won’t save a crappy offer.”

Something as small as including an informational tidbit – such as a juicy statistic related to your message – can make a big difference in keeping readers’ attention and driving up your click-through rates.

Even better, provide them with a next action to take, such as clicking a link to navigate to your social media page, or heading over to your blog for more details related to the subject of the email. Overall, you want to make it worth their while – and if you can lead them further into the sales funnel in the process, that’s a win-win. We’ll get into this a little more below.

Keep the focus on your recipients

It certainly isn’t difficult for brands to get a bit wrapped up in their own email marketing campaigns, especially when the purpose of those messages is to announce something new and exciting or provide a keen offer to consumers. However, it’s important that you don’t lose sight of the most important element – your recipient.

So when you’re crafting your email body copy, and particularly your main offer, be sure that your focus, and the value you’re providing, is squarely centered around the reader. Don’t just tell your recipients something about your brand – highlight and hammer home the benefit(s) it can provide for them.

Take for example, “Our software has these five key features.” The focus here isn’t the reader, it’s on the piece of software the brand is selling.

Instead, try, “Looking for these important features? Our software has you covered.” This shifts the focus away from the product being sold and back to the email recipient and his or her needs. It’s a small adjustment that makes a big difference for your email marketing copy, the readers in your email list and the overall success of your campaign.

Provide a next action: Don’t forget (and don’t be afraid!) of the CTA

The best email campaigns are those that don’t just offer up a message to readers – they provide an action to take after recipients finish the email. Including a call to action is key, and it can even be beneficial to place this CTA in more than one place within your email copy.

Take this email from MarketingProfs, for example, which not only incorporates a consistent CTA in multiple places within the email, but also follows our rules for keeping copy short and using bullets and other elements to break up the text:

The copy includes the CTA (“Go Pro”) to spur readers to sign up for a pro-level membership in the header, within the text and at the bottom with a CTA button. That’s three chances for readers to click and follow the CTA for more info about the Pro membership offer. And, as this example shows, including multiple, consistent CTAs doesn’t have to appear overly salesy, heavy-handed or promotional. Strategic placement is critical, and can help readers skim the content while offering them a next action.

Avoid being flagged by spam filters: General tips

Here are a few more email marketing best practices to keep in mind as you craft the messages for your next campaign:

Keep it consistent

Readers appreciate consistency, and this doesn’t just go for the actual CTA. It’s also helpful to maintain a sense of conformity between your email copy and the landing page or other asset that the email leads readers to.

Consider that your brand has just created a whitepaper that you’re particularly proud of. Your team also set up a gated landing page to support lead generation, and you’re now crafting the email copy that will coax readers to that gated landing page.

It’s beneficial for readers’ experience if your email content mirrors the messaging, tone and even design of the landing page and asset that you’re offering. In this way, the email content doesn’t just provide a small preview of the asset through its messaging and body copy, but the look and feel of the email will be consistent with what readers will encounter on the gated landing page and within the whitepaper itself.

Make sure it displays correctly on mobile devices

This one should go without saying, as mobile-friendliness has been a keen priority for marketers for years, even before Google told us so.

Now that over half of all emails (56%) are opened and read on mobile devices, nailing a mobile-friendly display for your email content is critical. This is especially true if you’ve included emojis in your subject line, or elsewhere in your email content – as Litmus pointed out, emojis display differently depending on the device and platform:

On a similar note, it’s also worth mentioning that certain older desktop operating systems don’t fully support emojis. On these platforms, your content could end up looking like this bottom example, as opposed to the top:

Consider researching your target and subscriber audience to discern how savvy they are, what types of devices they’re most likely to use and whether special characters and emojis are really best for your readers.

Create different types of emails that span the customer journey

Speaking of making considerations for your target audience, it can also be worth putting together different types of emails that align with varying phases of the customer journey. After all, sending a repeat customer an email meant to target a new subscriber can appear spammy and irrelevant.

On the other hand, sending emails that directly relate to where consumers are in their journey shows effort on the part of brand, and can help foster a stronger and more personal connection with the reader.

This approach can be taken with specific email marketing campaigns that include a target goal – such as the introduction of a new service, a double opt-in email to confirm signup, or to offer recipients an in-depth eBook in exchange for form-fill details on the gated landing page.

This best practice is also ideal (and particularly easy to pull off) within an ecommerce email strategy. Brands can use transactional emails – or messages triggered when consumers take certain actions – to maintain a connection with customers and mark points in their shopping journey.

I like to call this the “Oprah” strategy: Visited the brand’s site for the first time? You get an email! Made a purchase? You get an email! Registered for a subscription? You get an email!

And you get an email! You get an email, and you get an email! Everyone gets an email!

These transactional emails can also be used to remind customers about abandoned items in their shopping carts, coaxing them back to complete their purchase.

But transactional emails don’t have to be pigeonholed solely to ecommerce email strategy – they can work well in nearly any industry, helping to demonstrate the brand’s awareness and focus on its customers and the actions they take.

Use unique copy and email templates

Templates can offer a great jumping off point, or serve to help you get your own creative juices going. But a rigid, copy-and-paste style message is something that savvy customers can spot a mile away. In this way, it’s best to simply take cues or ideas from any email template, but then build upon it with your own unique content.

Don’t make them jump through hoops to unsubscribe

If somebody wants to leave the party, don’t stand right in front of the door.

It’s a fast turn-off for customers when they have to search endlessly for the unsubscribe button, or take several series of actions just to stop receiving messages from your brand. An unsubscribe doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve lost a customer. However, making this process needlessly difficult will certainly drive up those chances.

Email communication is on the rise, and is a beneficial way to reach out to your audience. More than 260 billion emails were sent and received in 2018, and this number will surpass 340 billion by 2022. Make your efforts count by following these email marketing best practices.