This post was contributed by Luke Tilsley, an ActiveCampaign Certified Consultant.

Writing an email can seem like an easy task but often you can find yourself getting stuck on even the most basic of things.

This guide to writing the ultimate email will explain exactly what any good email should contain as a minimum. Obviously, there will always be extras and ways you can improve upon the foundations, but get these right and your emails will succeed.
So let’s get started.

What is the most important part of an email?

The subject line! Why?
Because if the customer or contact isn’t made curious enough by the subject line to open your email then the content doesn’t matter.
There are many types of subject lines and each serves its purpose. Here are the most commonly used ones:

  1. Personalized
  2. Emotive
  3. Curiosity
  4. Urgency
  5. News
  6. Social proof
  7. Offer

1. Personalized subject lines

Personalized subject lines are a great way to encourage your contacts to open. By using their name or even a little snippet of information about that individual in the subject you’ll be able to stand out from the cluttered inbox.

2. Emotive subject lines

If your email is about a particular pain, make sure you highlight the pain in the subject line and capture the contacts emotive interest. For example:

“It hurts when people stop noticing your hard work doesn’t it?”

“Buying gifts is so difficult when you work full-time”

3. Curiosity subject lines

It’s human nature to want to understand things – we are born to expand our knowledge. For most of us, it only takes a little curiosity to make us want to engage with something.
Capture someone’s interest by posing them a question, or tell them you’ll fix a problem but don’t tell them how. Try something like…

“How to get more from Facebook Adverts while spending less!”

The more specific you can be, the better. “Find out how you can turn £1.49 into £100 in just 20 minutes” would be better than saying “How to make money quick”

4. Urgency subject lines

Creating a level of urgency can also be a great way to get people opening your emails. So for example:

Save £27 today, or just £5 tomorrow, the choice is yours.”

“Special offer on our Sofas for one day only! Don’t miss out!”

Each of these plays on the fact the customer only has a small amount of time to take up the offer being presented and therefore rather than scrolling past your email and saying they’ll look at it later they feel the urge to open it now.

5. News subject lines

If you have some big news these can also be great subject lines. Say you had a new website or a new menu. People like something new to read, and they like to be the first to know about something. Giving them something to know before others is a great way to build a relationship.

6. Social proof subject lines

Social proof emails can be a great way to tell your contacts what they’re missing without it coming from you. After all, people prefer the word of other customers above and beyond the word of the business selling.

7. Offer subject lines

If you are offering something, it’s okay to tell them in the subject line. Just remember if you give all the information away at once, then they won’t need to open. So try to hold a little back. Your primary goal is to get them to open the email, so tease the offer.
Once the contact has opened the email, they are likely to give you 5 seconds before they close it and move onto the next email. So you need to be ready to hit them with the big message as soon as they open it.
This means a strong powerful image and a great headline are a must. If you use a curiosity subject line, make sure you deliver the next bit of information straight after the open. Keep them engaged and don’t let up!

How do you create the body of your email?

Personalization is your friend so don’t be afraid to call them out by name.
Your first paragraph should…

  1. Set the scene
  2. Entice them
  3. Give more added value

This should be followed by a drop out CTA. A drop out CTA is for those that don’t want to spend lengthy amounts of time to get to the offer. If they want it, they take it.
Next, you have an audience that is willing to read the full email and these need to be given more information and value along the way to keep them engaged.
Add another CTA further down so they don’t have to go back up to get to the page you want them to visit. Keep it as easy as possible for the audience to follow the path you have set.

An example of using the CTA at the top and bottom of an email.

Add ALT tags to your images to entice viewers to download them, as still even now, your images may not load straight away. For example, they may have no wifi or even if they have, they may have images turned off within their email provider.
You need them to download the images because this is how you will know they have opened your email. (The 1-pixel, which I will explain this later).
Finally, make use of the P.S line as you’ll be surprised at just how useful a P.S line can be. Add a click out so you can record the clicks. And see just how many reach the bottom of your email.
Remember to have any relevant information like Terms and Conditions and why they are receiving emails from you.

Transparency is critical between businesses and customers.

If they need to speak with you it’s sensible to also have an email reference, so add this in the footer element or somewhere obvious so they can refer to it when needed.
You’ll need an unsubscribe link too as this is required by law. But most email providers won’t allow you to send without one anyway.
Make sure your email is not too image-heavy. A good balance of images and text keeps you from looking spammy. You can use something like Litmus to test your emails and make sure it passes the required filters. It will also allow you to see what the email will look like in different clients.
Outlook is usually the first place you need to check as they use the same rendering engine as Word and this sometimes breaks HTML emails. It also stops GIFs from working so remember this if you are using GIF images in your email.
Also, take the time to check your email on mobile as most of your contacts will likely view on mobile or iPad. In fact, more than 60% of people do in most cases.
Stacking is a big thing to be careful of on mobile as a two column email will stack in a certain way on mobile.
Test Test Test! Because once your email has been sent you can’t recover it. You get one try at each email, so get it right! You don’t want to be having to send a “Sorry we messed up” message. Despite good open rates, it doesn’t look good for your brand.

Tracking your email results

How does the email client know that somebody has opened your email… the answer is simple.
The 1-Pixel.
There is a small 1×1 transparent pixel on the email and when the contact loads the email. the 1-pixel loads and triggers an open within the system.
This is why you need the images to be downloaded – if they don’t, neither will the pixel. This causes issues in Outlook preview as you can read the email without loading the pixel – which means the contact has seen it but you’ll have no idea.

What’s the difference between CTR and CTOR?

CTR means Click Through Rate. And is measured against the total number of people sent the email so if you have a CTR of 10% and sent to 100 people that means 10 have clicked the link.
CTOR is Click To Open Rate. This is calculated by the number of people who click after opening an email. So if you sent to 100 people and 20 opened and then 10 people clicked you’d have CTOR of 50% because 50% of the people that bothered to open your email actually went on to click the link within.
This is a better way to work out how effective the content of the email is… since only 20 people actually saw it. So to measure against the full 100 makes no sense.
When checking the results of a subject line you should be looking at the whole 100 people so this is called OR – Open Rate. So if 20 people opened out of 100 then your email had a 20% open rate.

Segmentation of your list

When it comes to deciding who to send your email to, there are certain factors you should take into account. First, the message. Ask yourself:

  1. Is the message unique to a certain audience?
  2. Can it be personal? If so, should you be considering dynamic messaging?

Second, consider the fact that email is a numbers game. So the more people you can afford to send an email to, the better. However, segmentation is a fantastic way to ensure the right message gets to the right individual, leading to better conversions and engagement.
Here’s what you do:

  • Look at your customer data
  • Make decisions on how many people you would like to see the message
  • Decide how you will qualify those people

It could be that you qualify people first and that gives you your number. Either way, try to have a clear idea of why you are sending, as this will help you make sure your email reaches the best audience.
It’s worth checking average open rates within your industry and also looking at previous campaigns to determine what open rates you are likely to gain from your email. This will help you understand the size of the segment you would need to send to, to get the visibility you are hoping for.
And there you have it, a quick guide to writing a winning email. One final tip –if you haven’t already, write yourself a checklist, that way, when you write your email you can make sure you don’t miss anything.
Best of luck and happy emailing!
Measuring Happiness. Managing Performance. Marketing Smarter.
In the new relationship era, Luke Tilsley and The One Question help you make key business decisions, get better marketing results, build stronger customer and employee relationships and, ultimately, grow your business.