How to Write Emails (that people will actually read)

Today I dropped in on a webinar for the art of email writing (not exactly copy writing heh), taught by Colin Nederkoorn, CEO of

The first question everyone was asked was, “what’s your biggest fear when writing an email”. The number one fear was essentially sending something that wouldn’t be relevant (whether it is manifested as emails not being read, or opened).

Emails should reflect the values of your business. Virgin does this pretty well. They are edgy in all of their touch points: from the airplane interior, to their website, to their email subject line (which is “Think of us as a friend with benefits”).

Email Decisions

People try to understand who and what an email is about by looking at the email from address and subject line. A good way to humanize the from address is by saying, “Colin from”.

Colin suggests never sending an email from a noreply address. If you don’t give them an opportunity to respond, you miss out on a great opportunity to get their feedback.

Subject Lines

There are two types: clarity, and intrigue. Clarity subject lines contain enough information so that you don’t even have to open the email, e.g. “Colin Nederkoorn (@alphacolin) is now following you on Twitter!” vs “You have a new follower on Twitter!”; “Your order of  “The Walking Dead, Book 4″ has shipped!”.

Intrigue subject lines make you think and make you really curious. e.g. “What would you do with an extra hour every day? “; “How to get lost of sales leads fast”. Avoid sounding spammy by avoiding all-caps and certain words, and making sure the “from address” sounds legitimate as well. The Daily Skim has some good subject lines.

Fancy HTML or Plain Text? 

A plain text email looks more personalized and from a friend. Plain emails make it easier for people to hit reply as well. A highly stylized templated email makes people hesitant to reply because the template starts to break up. A long plain text (long form copy writing) email also works well for unique, expensive products. In general, send text when you want people to reply, you’re building a relationship, or offering help or assistance.

HTML can add visual professionalism and reinforce brand identity. The ART SY email displays different pieces of art, in a visually pleasing way, and makes more sense than if the email were in plain text. Stylized invoices and reports are also a good time to use stylized email templates. In general, use HTML when you have lots of visuals, want to look official, organize complex information, or sensitive user information.

Do You Have a Photoshop Addiction? 

It’s usually better to design for email versus trying to send something that would have been designed for print.

Test For Mobile! 

Something like 45% of emails are opened on mobile. So make sure it looks good on mobile. Some good templates can be found here: and here:

Content: Choice

How much choice should you give? Most emails look like a content buffet, but typically its better to only give your readers only one main choice, so that it’s clear what readers need to do. This is mostly true, but not always. In general, make decisions for them when onboarding them into your product/service, when asking them to correct an error or update information, or when decisions are high-regret and complex (like financial decisions).

There was a restaurant-deal website that added offers to each email. As they went from 4 to 12 offers, overall revenue per thousand emails sent increased by 300%. Sometimes depth of choice adds legitimacy, or piques curiosity. In general, these decisions are low-regret.

Content: Voice

People don’t care about you, don’t care about your business, they only care about themselves. Frame your email around why your email’s content is useful for the reader. Use AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Also, don’t worry about the fold. If you are writing compelling content, then people will know to go beyond the fold to reach your action.

Two Things to Do Today

Send a surprise personalised email, and start a newsletter! Send a surprise personalised email 30 minutes to 3 days after sign up. Start manually, and start experimenting!

The newsletter can build trust, teach your audience things of value whether or not they ever pay you. Your product can be a cross sell from the newsletter. Send at least 3 to 4 a month, so that they don’t forget about you.

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