5 Rules for Writing a Kick-Ass Email

How many emails do you write a day? 20? 50? If you’re anything like us, you lose track by lunch. So it’s easy to think that email marketing is just an extension of a muscle you flex all day every day. But there are a lot (and we mean A LOT) of best practices, dos and don’ts, tips and tricks, insert your colloquialism of choice here, about crafting engaging emails that convert. We’re breaking down just a few of them to get you started with a kick-@$$ email newsletter. 

Start With a Healthy Email List

The process of creating and sending an engaging email newsletter starts well before you start designing and writing. In fact, the most critical component of any successful email marketing campaign has nothing to do with an eye-catching design or persuasive copy. It’s all about building and maintaining a healthy email list. 

There are plenty of elements of a good email list - so many that there are people in the world who spend their entire day ensuring the health of their CRM and the important data it holds. But it really comes down to one simple question: does everyone on your list want to be there?

HubSpot has a “sniff test” for determining whether your email list has gone bad that includes checking these five boxes: 

  1. Does everyone on your list have a prior relationship with your business? 
  2. Do you have an unsubscribe list?
  3. Did you purchase, rent, or lease the list from a third party? (Please, for the love of all things marketing, do not purchase an email list. Ever.)
  4. Will the people on your list be expecting your email? 
  5. Have you emailed each contact at least once in the last 12 months?

Write a Great Subject Line

Once you’ve determined who you want to send your newsletter to, you need to work on getting them to actually open it. Your subject line acts as your first (and all too often, last) impression. So while it’s tempting to dive into the fun and creative side of crafting your email (see the next tip), it’s important not to gloss over this or to treat it as an afterthought. 

If you’ve been writing emails for a long time you might think that you can craft pure gold off the top of your head. And maybe you can. But for the rest of us mere mortals, here’s a trick. Try brainstorming at least 10 (it’s better if you can get to 20) subject lines for your email. Forcing yourself to come up with options will help you step outside of the box and to craft something really eye-catching. It also helps to have a few guidelines to keep in mind when writing subject lines: 

  • Keep it short. Most email clients will cut off subject lines by about 50 characters. If you can’t get your whole message across in less than 40, keep working. 
  • Contrary to popular belief, you can include caps and emojis in your subject lines (you won’t get spammed) but it’s still best to keep them to a minimum. Too much of a good thing just comes off as spammy. 
  • Personalize it! Your readers aren’t stupid, they know you aren’t sitting there typing one-to-one emails to your entire email list, but taking the time to personalize your subject lines (and all your content for that matter) still does the trick for grabbing people’s attention. 
  • Avoid clickbait at all costs. Your subject line should be relevant to the content in your email. If it’s not, you just about guarantee that your readers will not be opening future messages from you. 
  • Finally, take a step back and ask yourself one very important question. Would you open this email?

For a few (dozen) examples of great subject lines crafted for today’s readers, check out Campaign Monitor’s 2021 Best Practices. We also highly recommend checking out Coschedule’s free headline analyzer tool. It’s a lifesaver, even for seasoned pros.

Design an Engaging Template

The ins and outs of branding strategy and marketing copywriting are rabbit holes that we can’t get into in this post, but of course, we have some best practices we can share. If you’re using an email marketing program that comes with pre-designed templates, consider starting with one of those and tweaking it to match your brand. A lot of really smart people have put a lot of research and time into creating those templates and generally, they’re a great place to start with your design.

You’ll definitely want to update the template to fit your brand though. No one likes a cookie-cutter email. Try to deliver a consistent experience across all of your digital efforts - from your website to your social media profiles to your email designs. That way, when someone sees your work, they’ll learn to immediately recognize it as yours - and brand recognition is always the goal when you’re talking design.

A few other technical details to consider:

  • The standard across email clients for the width of your design is 600px.
  • Use web-safe fonts (here’s a list courtesy of Constant Contact). If you want to use branded fonts - and you should if they’re a big part of your overall look and feel - try including them on custom images so you don’t risk technical issues.
  • Consider your photo use. A significant percentage of your readers may have disabled images in their inboxes so make sure they don’t lose the whole message of the email without them (and be sure to use descriptive alt text for every image you do use).
  • Make your copy scannable. Big blocks of text are terrifying. Break up your message into headings, subheadings, bullet points - whatever it takes to get your point across in a few seconds or less. 


We won’t spell that out for you, but you get the picture. In email marketing - as in all persuasive writing - it’s best to keep your messaging clear and concise. People are busy and their inboxes are full. If you capture someone’s attention long enough to get them to open your email, don’t waste their time with fluff. Constant Contact says emails that are about 200 words long have the best click-through rate. If you’re reaching out to your audience less frequently - say in a monthly newsletter - you have a bit more freedom in your word count, but limit each highlight to 200 words or less - and preferably less.

Don’t waste your precious word count being overly salesy or flowery, just be helpful and get to the point. It also helps if you have one simple goal in mind for your email. What is it you want people to do? Is it to sign up for an event? Download a content offer? Buy a product? Tailor the entire email around that message and include ONE easy-to-understand call-to-action. Giving people too many options just confuses them.

Test, Test, Test

Please, we’re begging you, do not blast your email to your entire database without first sending it to yourself and checking it on both desktop and mobile. Apple, Gmail, and Outlook have really cornered the email platform market, so at least check your design in those formats to make sure everything looks groovy. And the testing shouldn’t end when you click “send.” Once you’ve crafted and sent your masterpiece, make sure it had the intended impact by monitoring these five key metrics

So there you have it, folks. A quick and dirty guide to sending emails people will be happy to open. And a happy audience means more moolah in your pockets. Want to start printing money using email? Send us one

Read On

What is an E-newsletter, and Why Should Your Business Have One?

Marketing: the endless components and moving parts can make it a bit difficult to decide where to...

The Only Three Reasons You Need to Pay Attention to Graphic Design

Are you currently creating content for your business? Writing a blog? How much time do you spend...

How to Find Online Images for Your Blog Post and Website — Legally

Not everyone has the budget or desire to hire photographers to fulfill their image needs. While we...