1. Write using benefits, not features. Features are the things the product has. The iPhone 4 has a 3.5-inch touch screen, 5 megapixel camera, 16 GB flash drive. I'm thinking great, but what does that do for me? Well, that means the iPhone 4 lets me easily take and store high-quality, print-ready photos – these are the benefits. As a marketer, you need to answer the recipient's question, "What's it going to do for me?" "How is it going to make my life easier?" Many businesses get caught up writing about themselves and all the nifty things they offer rather than how those nifty things will help their customers. Don't make that mistake.
2. Sprinkle in subheads. Attracting the attention of your readers using subheads is a tried-and-true tactic. It breaks up your thoughts and gets to the heart of what you're selling or promoting quickly. It lets the reader skim through the email yet still get the message you want to convey.
3. Keep it tight. You need to get to your point fast in small, succinct paragraphs. When was the last time you read an entire press release or news article in an email? No one likes to scroll and scroll and scroll (maybe unless they're shopping for shoes!); it's difficult and time-consuming. Include links off the page to more information so that if a reader does want more details, they can find it quickly and easily.
4. Use bullets. Bullets break up points or benefits so that, again, your readers can scan copy without losing any key takeaways. Bullets are great for email and Web writing in general.
5. Highlight customer testimonials. Nothing sells your product or service better than your customers, but getting the testimonial right is essential. "I love this product!" is not good enough. You need to get to the heart of why they love your product or cause. "I love this product because it saved me $500 in fees per year" tells a much, much better story. Don't forget to attach the customer's real name and city or company; it adds credibility to the quote.
6. Put the offer at the beginning of your subject line. Most email inboxes display 40 to 50 characters of the subject line. Avoid the common mistake of putting the offer at the very end, where it risks getting cut off. I don't care how cheeky or creative your subject line is; if your readers don't see what they'll get for opening your email, they're much less likely to click on it.
7. Write like you speak. If you're talking to a prospect or customer, you don't speak in long, boring sentences. Hopefully, you're concise, friendly and conversational. Maybe even a little funny. So should your email marketing copy be. No one wants to read a bunch of corporatese.
8. Include an obvious call-to-action. Your call-to-action is what you want your reader to do. If your emails are meant to sell a product or service, it could be a link or button to "Order Today," "Redeem Now" or "Start My Trial Now." Make sure the most important ones are above the fold. Some companies are afraid to be too sales-y in their emails, and as a result bury their call-to-actions at the very end or in the middle of text. I say, don't be afraid to get in your recipients' faces; if they signed up knowing they'll be getting promotional offers, they expect it and probably want it.
Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse, a provider of email marketing, social media, online survey and direct mail marketing solutions.