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5 tips to write effective e-mail copy

E-mail best practices series part II

SUMMARY: While some people love Spam™, the canned-meat product, no one likes spam, those annoying, unsolicited e-mails that seem to arrive by the dozens.

Because e-mail is a popular way to share information quickly and inexpensively, it’s important to write copy that invites people to read further—and that doesn’t even remotely resemble spam. 

In our series on Best Practices of E-mail Marketing, this article provides Five Tips to Write Effective E-mail Copy.

1. Add essential elements.
Every e-mail message, whether newsletter, subscription confirmation, announcement or bulletin, should include five elements:

  • Working opt-out link
  • Company name and physical address
  • Working “contact us” link or phone number
  • Recipient’s e-mail address
  • Link to “Preference-Update” page

Tip: Group these elements in an administration center and put it in the same place (usually at the bottom) of each e-mail. This makes it easier for respondents to unsubscribe, change preferences or contact you, which may keep them from clicking the "report spam" button.

Bonuses to add:

  • “Link to Web version” is best placed at the top of your e-mail. If you have a Web site, create a page with the same content as your e-mail and link to it from the e-mail. This provides the full version of your e-mail to those who might view your e-mail in preview panes or have image disabled.
  • Include a “Permission Reminder” for those who might have forgotten they signed up to receive your e-mail and may consider reporting it as spam.
  • If you have a privacy policy, link to it in your footer.
    The header and footer of your e-mail are not just for your recipients to read. Assume an abuse-desk engineer at a major anti-spam organization has just received a copy of your e-mail as "reported spam." He or she will analyze your e-mail for clues it is legitimate and opt in. The more details in your header and footer you can provide the better.

2. Tone down message content.
"Free" won't automatically get a message blocked or filtered, but aggressive language and excessive punctuation or capitalization such as "Click here now!" will. You may not always avoid content that triggers spam filters. But you can moderate the impact.

Tip: Place sensitive language in an image instead of in text copy or links. Reduce the number of "click here" commands.

3. Get to the point early in your e-mail.
If you ever read your e-mail in Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo or any other provider, you know the entire e-mail isn't always visible without scrolling down. Much of the screen is used for information and advertising, so little space remains for your e-mail. Before writing an e-mail, be aware of how much of your message will appear on the first screen and make that information count.

Tip: All primary information including the offer and call to action must be telegraphed at the top of the screen. Add a deadline to spur immediate action.

4. Pay attention to your subject line.
If your list is large enough, test your subject lines before the main “send.” It's almost impossible to predict which subject line will work best without testing. 
Be careful about the words you choose for the subject line. The use of marketing or sales words in your subject line can lead to your e-mail being filtered. In other words, it might look like spam. Even if your message gets past e-mail and spam filters, your subscribers might see it as “spammy” and delete it.

The key here is to achieve recognition.

Tip: Use your church name or newsletter name. Say something to help the recipient recognize this e-mail is from a trusted source. Keep your subject lines less than 50 characters long.

5. Run your content through a content checker.
Who likes spam anyway? Because of the huge amount of spam, e-mail filters are becoming more and more aggressive. E-mail and e-mail newsletters are being filtered at both the gateway and ISP level; then they must get past individual spam-filter settings. This is a huge problem for e-mail marketers and newsletter publishers who write direct e-mail marketing campaigns.

Tip: Consider running your e-mail content through a content checker to see if it triggers spam filters. Many free Web-based content checkers are available, including this one provided by Lyris:

To discover more about how e-mail filters work, read about SpamAssassin (considered one of the most effective spam filters) and how its rules are configured at:

E-mails—with their proven higher-response rates—can compliment existing marketing practices at local churches. They can be sent at a fraction of the cost of direct mail and deliver higher response rates that can be tracked and measured.