How to write more effective email content

Build Your Audience
5 min read

Email is your bread and butter. It's how you connect with your readers, gain authority, and sell new products. It's powerful. But because it carries so much weight, it can also be intimidating.

Have you ever sat down to start writing your email sequences and completely froze? Putting words to the screen can suddenly seem impossible if you let yourself think too much on potential outcomes. Yes, you do need to think about the future and how best to teach, pitch and sell yourself and your product, but I can promise you that focusing solely on the outcomes won't end up making a enjoyable email experience.

So don't sit too long in the potentials and focus more on the reader's experience. When they see your subject line in their inbox, how will they feel? Will they be interested and intrigued? Will they feel like you're talking right to them? Will they learn?

Here are a couple tips I use when I sit down to write an email to my readers:

Keep it causal

Finding the best way to write a sentence can be extremely frustrating. For me that’s usually when writer’s block comes in. It’s not what to say, but how to say it. I find myself writing and rewriting a single sentence a bunch of times to find the right style. Often the result is a pompous sounding message.

That doesn’t work at all for email.

While emails are performing a professional task, you should still keep it light and informal. Being in someone's inbox is like being invited over for dinner. Don't be the Debbie Downer or overstay your welcome. Make sure you keep it casual and always add value to conversation.

No one wants to read a stuffy newsletter. When it comes to your marketing messages, a sense of humor can go a long way. Keep things light and informal. Remember – the inbox is a very personal thing for a person. It’s like being invited into the living room of your reader. Make sure you’re a good guest by being open, conversational, and offering value. The minute you start to lecture or get long-winded, you lose your audience.

Emails should sound like they're coming from a friend.

Most emails you receive (that you want to read) are from friends. So I started looking through the emails that I sent back to my friends and found that the style was incredibly relaxed (surprise!).

The headlines weren’t all in title case with a marketing sounding message (“How To Write Emails That Get Read”), they were usually something quick and simple (“A few email tips”). The first word was usually capitalized, but not the rest.

Simple and informal.

Maybe this was the best voice to use? I started to try to write like I would write to a friend. If I was telling a designer friend about my new book, how would I talk about it?

This worked a little better, but I still really struggled. Then a single word changed my writing style. Well, really a name.

I started to write every email I sent like this:

“Philip, “

Yes, I put someone’s name at the top. Not just anyone, I wrote it to a specific person. Philip is my brother-in-law and I’ve been helping him learn design over the last couple years (he’s quite good now). I often send him design resources, so now I write my emails like I am talking to him.

That actually works for almost all my writing. By picking someone specific to write to that I think it will really benefit from what I'm writing, I know what level to write for and it comes much more easily because it's more informal. It also helps me avoid writing it over and over again because of writers block.

I knew my strategy was working when I received this text message from Philip after a recent email to my list.

“So the email you just sent out sounded like it was written to me specifically. The only thing that gave it away was that it was answering a question that I didn’t remember asking.”

Nice. That’s exactly the goal. So find one person who best represents your audience for that email. Write and teach to them specifically, then remove their name from the top of the email (otherwise that would be confusing).

Teach everything you know

The best emails are the ones that provide immense value to the reader. If your entire email sequence consists of “sell, sell, sell” then you’ve entirely missed the point. Instead you want to use education to help your reader. As you write each email, ask yourself, “Will this content help the recipient improve their life or work?” If not, don’t send it.

Eventually you can work in a sales message, but not until you’ve been teaching for several emails. Joanna Wiebe from Copyhackers says to have at least three educational emails for each sales email. The more you help the reader, the more they will trust you, and the more likely they will be to purchase from you.

When you do eventually work in a sales message it should still be helpful by itself. Tell stories and use examples. Have a narrative for your email beyond “buy my product.” I received a reply to one of my sales emails a few weeks ago that said “what I love about your sales emails, is that I find myself wanting the product even before I’ve fully realized you are making a sales pitch.”

That’s how it should feel if you are teaching and providing value throughout all your content.

Your turn.

Are you ready to start writing emails that people are excited to read? Just remember to keep it casual and informative. Be their friend and you'll quickly see how that will help you build more trust than anything else.

Happy emailing!

Nathan Barry

In previous careers Nathan has been a designer, author, and blogger. After learning the power of email marketing he gave up a successful blogging career to build ConvertKit. Outside of work Nathan spends his time playing soccer, woodworking, and chasing after his two little boys.

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