This is more than just a post on conversion copywriting for email. It’s your ticket to confidently take on email projects that would have previously given you pause. Made to teach you from the ground up, this resource is inclusive of everything you need to know about conversion copywriting for email. It’s so inclusive, in fact, we nearly published it as a book. So bookmark it now and refer to it to answer all your email-related questions. This is part II of IV.

So you now know how to build an email list of hot, interested leads. (Right? Unless you missed part I of IV: Definitive Email Guide – in which case, check it out here.) Otherwise, buckle up to see how to maximize gain from those hot new leads.

How to Skyrocket Your Open Rates and Blast Your Competition Out of the Inbox

Pop quiz:

How many emails do you get in a single day?

A quick search of my inbox reveals I get about 54.

If you were the average office worker (don’t worry, I know you’re anything but average), your answer would be…

…A whopping 121 emails.

121 people competing for your attention. (And that’s from a 2019 study which also projected that number will grow every year.)

And if every email has just 250 words, that means it would take you about 4 hours to get through every email.

Half of your workday.

Which can only mean: no one reads every single email in their inbox.

Or else they’d be fired. (For their crippling inability to prioritize.)

What about your email? That email you worked so hard to get into your subscribers’ inboxes?

After dealing with emails from their colleagues, clients, family members and friends, they likely won’t even find time to open your brand’s email. Unless, of course…

You give them a really good reason to open your email.

This is why optimizing every element of what goes into your subscribers’ inboxes is so important:

If you do everything I’m about to show you, you’ll be ahead of 80-90% of the emails you’re competing against in the inbox.

Let’s break down how to make your email stand out in today’s unreasonably crowded inbox.

New email. Who dis? 

You don’t open emails from just anyone, right? That’s why – before we talk about the star child that is the subject line – let’s talk about the overlooked From Name.

I’d even argue the From Name is more important than the Subject Line.

Just look at today’s inbox:

Apple Mail on iPhone, Gmail on desktop, and Outlook on desktop.

The From Name is the most prominent piece in every display.

Apple Mail on iPhone and Gmail on Desktop are the most popular email clients and they make up nearly 90% of the market.

As you can see in the image below, the From Name is how you identify the Promotions Tab (where most brand emails go):

As brand reputation proves to be more important to consumers than subject lines, who’s emailing you is becoming more important. So how do you tackle this important element?

Don’t ignore the golden rules of From Names

So while you need to ensure your brand is recognizable in the emails you send, don’t be afraid to play around with From Names.

For example – it might make sense for an ecommerce sales announcement to come from a different sender than a welcome message.

But as far as brand recognizability?

You want to stay consistent.

Why?

Because the real secret to high open rates is
sending emails that people anticipate,
wait for and always open when it hits their inbox.

You want your audience looking for your recognizable From Name so they know to open their favorite newsletter.

Take Ben Settle for example:

Ben sends his subscribers a daily email. (And sometimes a many-times-a-daily email.)

Many of us wouldn’t dream of emailing at that frequency for fear of annoying our audience. But Ben Settle has such a strong relationship with his list, and an email that is so sought-after by his audience, that if he misses a day, he gets frantic emails from his audience asking where his newsletter is.

The best way to fix your open rates?

Up the quality of your newsletter.

Your From Name becomes a signal of that quality. It makes you recognizable and memorable. 

But… what should you make your From Name?

Especially if your name and your brand name are different… then which should you go with?

If you have a brand that doesn’t really have an individual person behind it, it may make sense to make your brand name your From Name – since that’s most recognizable.

This is most often the case for my ecommerce clients. Their subscribers don’t know their personal names, and seeing an email from an individual they don’t know could blend into the noise.

So, for them, brand name is the way to go.

Now, if you have a reason to use a person’s name, there’s an easy solution: use both.

Option #1: “First Name” / from “Brand Name”

Option #2: “Personal Name | Brand Name”

How to get people to open your emails

If your From Name & your reputation with your email list sets the overall range of your open rates, then your subject lines are what determines whether you have a Good Open Rate day, or a Bad Open Rate day.

Let’s take a page from the book of Gen Z and aim for “No bad days”. (Which is probably better email marketing advice than life philosophy…)

Consistency in the Subject Line kills open rates.

The subject line is how you attract attention. It’s how you get your average subscriber – the one that kinda likes you but doesn’t open every single thing you send – to click that email. (With open rates typically in the 10-30% range, the people who don’t open make up the majority.)

Sending a new and unexpected subject line could finally turn the heads of subscribers who’ve been skipping your emails.

The thought of needing to write a New and Exciting! subject line every single time can be daunting.

Here are two quick tips you can follow to help you write an effective subject line every time.

Subject Line Tip #1: Keep your subject lines conversational

If you were to write an email to your friend, what would you put in the subject line?

Would it be “Happy Honda Days!”?

Probably not. You don’t talk to your friends like a brand.

You would probably write something more like: “found pictures!”

Genuine email from my real-life mom.

Well, your subscribers are now officially your friends. And your Subject Lines to them should reflect your close relationship.

That’s what Obama did when he was campaigning in 2008. He sent a subject line that brought in millions for the campaign.

Can you guess what the winning subject line was?

A single word…

hey

That’s right.

No fancy frills, or false urgency. Just a simple “hey”.

Keep this in mind when you’re writing your own subject lines, and try something equally informal.

Subject Line Tip #2: Use visual cues

Another reason why Obama’s “hey” worked so well is because it’s outrageously short.

Not just short enough to fit in the inbox. Or short enough to make a succinct point.

It’s 3 total characters.

Because in a Promotions tab stuffed to the gills…

Standing out visually is huge.

Neuroscientists found that novelty (like unexpected visual patterns) is almost as effective at capturing our attention as physical need.

And while short worked well for Obama in 2008, it’s a pretty overused tactic now in 2022. So don’t rely on that alone.

Thankfully, there’s a myriad of ways to stand out visually:

And to help you out, here’s a bonus sample from my Data-Backed Subject Line Templates. These data-backed templates use four psychological triggers that research has shown to dramatically increase open rates: Salience, Personalization, Curiosity, and Scarcity. The templates below are from the first psychological trigger: Salience, or standing out in a crowd.

Note: these were created for my ecommerce clients, but can be adapted to suit anyone.

And, remember: Don’t repeat past formulas

We went over this earlier, but it’s worth reiterating.

When you use these 2 tips to create a subject line that HALLELUJAH boosts your open rates like crazy…

Don’t be tempted to use it again.

At least until you can be reasonably sure they’ve dissolved from mind. Six months later? A year? Test your presumptions.

Like Harry Styles trying to make a comeback after One Direction…

It’s too late. You’re old news.

You won’t get the same results again.

Instead, scroll back up to Subject Lines Tips #1 & 2 and make something all-together new. You’ll get far better results.

I believe in you, Young Copyhacker. Do Joanna Wiebe proud.

Tease the email without giving up your opening hook

If you want the final edge that will put your email ahead of 99% of the other emails in your inbox…

Then, let’s talk Preview Text.

Now, a word of warning: it’s harder on some email platforms than others to add preview text.

In fact, not every email client even displays preview text. So make sure you don’t include anything there that isn’t also in the email body.

If preview text is difficult on your software, and you’re just starting out with email marketing… don’t sweat it.

Your subject line and From Name are 95% of the battle. This is just for people who want to dial-in that last little bit.

And to help you with this, I want to show you the #1 mistake I see with preview text.

And that is giving away the curiosity your subject line built by revealing the answer in your preview text.

Look at this example to see what I mean:

Curiosity created… and destroyed.

Now, I can archive this email without ever needing to open it. Sorry, Grammarly.

And to make sure your From Name, Subject Line, and Preview Text are undeniably irresistible, I recommend using:

Exit Intelligence’s Email Inbox Preview Tool.

Use it to become an Open Rate Jedi.

Before You Hit the Send Button…

One last thing.

Let’s talk: send time.

Until you’ve got your From Name, Subject Line, and Preview Text dialed-in, I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about when you send your email.

It won’t have the same impact.

Thankfully, there’s a way to quickly and easily predict your optimal send time. Simply use your website’s data.

In a nutshell: when people are more likely to be on your website, they’re also more likely to open your email.

So you can create a Custom Report in Google Analytics to discover this send time for yourself.

Here’s a walkthrough of how to do this

So you can test sending your emails at your website’s high-traffic times.

Quick-Start Deliverability: What Kills Open Rates (and What to Do Instead)

Now, you’ve got your email out into the wild and hopefully, it’s crushing those open rate KPIs like a frat boy crushes a can of Natural Light after he shotguns it.

Now, how do you keep those open rates consistently high? How do you optimize the technical side of email, so you know your emails are actually getting into your subscribers’ inboxes?

Ah yes. The dark side of email marketing…

Deliverability.

But don’t worry. We’re not going to get too deep into the technical weeds — with SPF records and DKIM authentication.

Instead, we’ll take the 80/20 approach to deliverability. And focus on the 5 most important rules.

#1: DON’T buy lists

I don’t know who still needs to hear this, but please don’t buy your email lists.

Email blasting people without their permission can be legally complicated, so you’re putting yourself at risk. But also… it’s generally ineffective.

At best, those “subscribers” you just spent cash on will ignore you. At worst, they’ll mark you as SPAM and you’ll permanently damage your sender reputation and your deliverability.

And yes. You can effectively do outbound outreach without buying lists – check out our later section on effective cold emailing. 

#2: DON’T go crazy with your subject line

One component of your email deliverability is how “SPAM-y” your writing is.

If your subject line reads “CLICK HERE NOW TO GET $10M FROM THE LOST OF PRINCE OF NIGERIA!!!!”

You can bet Gmail’s ears will perk up.

While this is not as important as your sender reputation, it’s still a factor to keep in mind. Especially when you want to use language urging people to engage…

You want to make sure you don’t go overboard and push too hard.

Try to limit how many red flags you indicate to SPAM filters in your subject line (and your email’s body too):

#3. DO include text in the body of your email

Don’t send an image-only email.

This email from Nadaam (a brand I subscribe to) ended up in my SPAM folder. Because it’s entirely made up images. And Gmail refuses to display them, since it thinks this is SPAM.

You need to make sure you’re including actual text in your email, separate from your images. At least 20% of your email should be text-based.

And for every image you use, be sure to add “alt text” that communicates the meaning of your image with words.

This helps people on email clients like Outlook (that don’t download many images), and most importantly, makes your email accessible to visually-impaired people who rely on text-to-speech to hear what’s on their screen.

#4. DO comply with GDPR, CASL, CAN-SPAM

Email is one of the more regulated marketing channels. And if you’ve ever gotten an urgent email about a revenue agency that needs your social security number right now, you’ll know why.

GDPR, CASL, and CAN-SPAM are the different regulations from the European Union, Canada, and the United States, respectively. And since most of us are emailing citizens from all 3 areas, we need to comply with them all.

Most email marketing software makes it easy to automatically comply with regulations (you can’t send an email without certain required fields), but the one you may miss is GDPR’s granular consent requirements for your opt-in:

If you target EU citizens with your marketing, make sure you’re complying with the rules here.

#5. DO list hygiene

And the activity that will by far have the biggest impact on deliverability is this:

Every month, clean your list of anyone who hasn’t opened or clicked your email in the last 6 months.

That’s it.

Assuming you’ve been emailing your list regularly, this broad definition works pretty well. (You’ll get all the hard and soft bounces, and just unengaged subscribers in there.)

If you haven’t been emailing your list regularly, or you don’t want to lose so many subscribers, you can try sending an email giving them a chance to re-opt-in.

For an exact step-by-step of how to reengage your subscribers, nab your free reengagement playbook from email expert Nikki Elbaz here.

You can get more advanced with how you clean your list in the future, but if you do this one thing, it will make a huge difference.

And with all of that technical stuff out of the way, let’s get into how to optimize the body of your actual email.

The Techniques the Pros Use to Multiply Click-Through Rates and Make the Sale

This is where the rubber meets the road.

You’ve got people on your email list.

You’ve got eyeballs on your emails.

Now, you’re in the paint, you’re finally in the red zone, you’re seconds from the finish line…

That may be too many sports metaphors…

But you’re going to feel as if you really did score a basket, get a touchdown AND win an Olympic gold medal, all at once…

When you check your Stripe account after an optimized email send.

Let’s get you the kind of click-through rates, conversions and dolla’ dolla’ bills that can be business life-changing.

Life-changing results like…

3x’ing paid conversions for Wistia.

Or, writing emails that bring in $500k for a launch for Teachable. (And that’s no hypothetical. Those results are straight from Marian Schembari, a student of 10x emails.)

What would it mean to you and your business to get those kinds of results?

Follow this guide and you won’t have to guess. You’ll be livin’ it.

We’re going to break this down to the 4 essential parts of creating an email built for conversions:

  1. Planning your email
  2. Conversion copy
  3. Conversion design
  4. And how to earn bonus points (for the extra-achievers out there)

And we’re going to make things simple with a handy-dandy checklist.

Use The 9-Point Checklist for Maximum Email Conversions to plan your email, craft it, and double-check your strategy before you hit send.

Let’s walk through how to use this checklist for maximum effect.

PART 1:  Planning your emails

If you’re anything like me at 22, you hate planning.

I mean why plan a move to Central America… when you can put all your things into a 5’ x 5’ storage unit and book a one-way flight to Cancun?

(Based on a true story. And yes, I am currently accepting offers for the movie rights.)

But while I’m still a big advocate of spontaneous travel (I’ll never forget my 6 months abroad), when it comes to email marketing, the planned & strategic approach will serve you much better. 

For two very good reasons:

Number 1: planning your email is how you avoid the dreaded blank page.

…Now what?

Second, and most important, it’s how you get crazy results.

1. Does your email have one well-defined goal? 

This essential step is usually overlooked. With content calendars & best practices telling us… “You should be writing an email today” …it’s easy to forget what our business’s actual goal is from sending today’s email.

Frequently, the answer to your goal will be quite simple:

But not every email will have revenue as the main goal. There are many use cases where immediate money isn’t the main goal:

  • A newsletter email that’s promoting your brand’s content marketing might have CTR or Avg. Time on Site as the primary KPI
  • A sale email might focus on Profitability over Gross Revenue to measure the impact discounting has on the bottom line
  • And a welcome email might focus on Open Rate to make sure that we’re developing a strong reputation with our subscribers

Make sure you know what your email’s single goal & relevant KPI are.

Or else, you’ll end up with an email with no clear action for people to take, and your results will suffer.

Having a clear, well-defined goal is how you side-step this common mistake.

2. Does your email have one CTA that drives toward your One Goal?

Now that we have our One Goal defined for our email, we need to find the right call-to-action that will drive toward that goal.

Now, some of you may have this question:

Well, what about when I send a newsletter email?

If you’re a fan of the curated newsletter, you might experience lower clickthrough rates.

But that’s okay if your goal is to maximize open rates instead. Meaning your goal is engagement with the email itself.

If you ever send an email where clicking through is the more important metric, you may want to consider paring down to drive readers toward one action.

3. Have you identified your One Reader?

Your One Reader is sort of like your “ideal client” – but specific to copywriting.

After the VOC research that you learned about in Conversion Copywriting Lessons, you should already have what you need to define your One Reader.

And specificity is key here. If you sell makeup, sure, you’re selling people who use makeup. But how do your customers use your makeup and why do they choose to purchase from you over your competitors? What makes them unique?

This is an important part of the planning stage because we need this in place before we start writing copy, and it helps us with the next step:

4. Did you segment your audience (where possible)?

Segmentation is a big topic in email marketing, and for good reason.

Look at this chart from MailChimp comparing segmented vs. non-segmented email campaigns:

You can increase your email marketing metrics… across the board.

Segmentation improves open rates by 14%, clicks by 100%, and even decreases unsubscribes by 9%.

I want you to get those same results, so let’s cover how to segment your audience. And we’ve already done the 2 key steps that will tell us what segments we should be using:

  1. You defined your email’s One Goal (and KPI).
  2. You wrote a clear description of your One Reader.

Now, to determine how to segment your audience, keep those two steps in mind.

In Jo’s mastermind, she once told us this:

Age only matters, if it matters. Income only matters, if it matters. Occupation only… well, you get the idea. Basically:

It only matters, if it matters.

But, what did she mean by that?

Let’s say you’re selling eyeshadow palettes. And after doing your VOC research, you find your One Reader is a makeup artist. Okay, so does their gender matter?

Probably not. We know they use their makeup on a wide variety of models and clients. So, they need makeup for all genders.

Meaning you could send the same email to all segments.

If we were selling men’s and women’s shoes though, data on the gender of our customers would be incredibly valuable.

Which means you should send a different email to men than you send to women.

So, does demographic data matter? Sometimes it matters a whole lot. But oftentimes, it only matters a little bit, or not at all.

That’s why – instead of focusing on demographic data that may or may not be relevant – in my ecommerce email template, I identify what Stage of Awareness the One Reader is in. Because that always matters in ecommerce.

Just like Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) always matters in SaaS. Or Potential Deal Size (PDS) always matters in B2B.

Segmentation is highly contextual, which is why there are no clear-cut across-the-board best practices.

You have to see what technical segmentation capabilities you have available to you through your ESP (ActiveCampaign, Drip, ConvertKit, Klaviyo, etc.) and remember Joanna’s Golden Rule:

It only matters, if it matters.

Advanced tip: Some platforms like ActiveCampaign, Drip, ConvertKit and Klaviyo let you use conditional content to dynamically populate your message based on your subscriber’s behavior:

So you don’t need to write a different email for every segment. Instead, you can use your email software’s built-in segmentation to adapt your message to the individual subscriber.

PART 2: Writing irresistible emails that drive action 

This is a repeat of the steps outlined in Conversion Copywriting Fundamentals, but it’s good to review these points before you hit send to make sure you’ve got the right pieces in place so your email is built to convert.

Review your email to make sure:

5. Do you have voice of customer data for your One Reader?

And have you strategically woven your VOC into the language of your email?

6. Have you used a persuasion framework (from conversion copywriting fundamentals)?

My favorites are AIDA and PASOP, but here’s the full list for you to choose from.

And to prevent the #1 biggest mistake I see in email copy, always check…

7. Does the CTA tie into the headline tie into the subject line?

You know why you’re emailing your list, but do they? Burying the purpose of your email in one line of body copy won’t cut it.

You’re introducing friction and asking your subscribers to do work to figure out why they should convert.

Make it crystal clear. It may seem painfully clear to you, but it will only serve your audience to make the benefit apparent.

And when you write your CTA, make sure you focus on instant and specific value.

PART 3: Looks matter (kind of) 

8. Does your email have a clear visual hierarchy & whitespace in design?

Research supports the idea that simpler design performs even better in email.

The “letter-style design” email on the right — with plain-text and fewer design elements —
increased conversions 181% over the control.

Your emails look different in different browsers and mail apps.

For example, Gmail – one of the most popular email clients – clips emails at 102KB. Outlook won’t display images from contacts it doesn’t recognize. And the most popular email client, Apple iPhone, is mobile-first and will struggle to display an email that’s not responsively designed.

It’s a minefield out there.

You can use an app like Litmus to see how your email will display across different clients, but simplicity will make your life easier.

Keep your email design simple, with plenty of white space, and a clear visual hierarchy that makes it clear where they should be clicking:

9. Is your CTA as close to Above-the-Fold as it should be?

You want your call to action to be as early as possible, but not too early.

If that’s too vague for a left-brained thinker like you, then remember the goal you defined in #1 and the One Reader you defined in #3.

Your goal defines the ending Stage of Awareness (i.e. Most Aware for a purchase, and to the next Stage for a single email in a sequence). And you define your beginning Stage of Awareness for your One Reader. Which you do based on VoC and understand what’s driving them toward your solution.

For example, if they know they have a problem (ie. they’re tired every morning and they realize life can be better), they’re likely Problem Aware. If they know they have a problem and they are actively seeking a solution (such as sleep aids or better alarm clocks), they’re likely Solution Aware.

The farther apart your beginning and ending SoA, the longer your email.

In the extreme cases…

A long sales email to a cold audience who’s never heard of you is going to be a lot longer. And a nurture email to an audience who is very familiar with you can be incredibly succinct.

But if you’re ever worried that your email is too long, you can always add a CTA above & below the fold.

And for those of you who love extra credit…

BONUS: Can you use multi-media elements, e.g. GIFs, videos, etc.?

I know, I know. Multi-media can seem advanced.

Thankfully, tools like CloudApp and Wistia are making it much simpler than it used to be. And its impact on CTR can be profound.

Like when Dell tested a version of its email that included a GIF…

And CTR increased by 42% (with a 109% increase in revenue).

Yeah, those aren’t casual numbers.

Remember: you can use this checklist for every email you send. Emails to a colleague AND emails to a list. (And when we go over the different kinds of emails – automated, campaign, professional, and cold – later in this guide, you’ll be glad to have this checklist by your side to give you your best results.)

Emails that check all the boxes

Example #1: Ian Brodie

Even in a mostly plain-text email, Ian is able to rely on the interest generated from a video screenshot to generate higher click-through rates. And he uses curiosity in his call-to-action link “The Secret of Effective Lead Magnets” to make clicking-through irresistible.

Example #2: Airbnb

Airbnb knows the importance of having host publishing their listing — so they make the process incredibly easy. The headline grabs the outcome of publishing (soon you’ll be able to host… and make money) and the copy below makes it clear that Airbnb will help out however they can to help you publish. 

Suddenly, setting up the listing doesn’t sound so hard. (And if there’s still a question you’re confused about, there’s a few questions you can explore on your way to publishing.)

And with all of that under our belt, we’ve got everything we need to be in the top 1% of emails out there – and win the inbox. Next we’ll break down all the different kinds of emails – campaign, automated, cold, and professional – to help you know what type to send, when. Maximizing your newfound email copywriting wisdom.

Read part III of IV: Let’s See It In Action: Email Copywriting for Every Kind of Email right here.