The Complete Guide To
In this guide, I’m going to teach you everything you need to know to consistently write high-converting email copy.
If you are looking to:
- Grab attention with great headlines
- Increase open and click-through rates
- Create wildly effective sequences
- And gain a stronger understanding of email marketing
Then you will absolutely love this guide.
Let’s dive in.
What You’ll Find In This Guide
Click below to skip straight to the desired section:
- The Three Components Of An Effective Email
- 10 Data-Backed Email Copywriting Tips
- The Two Primary Uses Of Email Copywriting
- How To Write Email Copy For Inbound Marketing
- How To Write Email Copy For Outbound Sales
- Next Steps: Offer Email Copywriting As A Service
Or simply continue reading below…
The Three Components Of An Effective Email
Whether your goal is to build a relationship with the reader or convince someone you’ve never met to consider your brand, there are three things every great email will include:
- An understanding of the target audience
- An attention-grabbing headline
- Focused body content with a specific goal
Without each of these components, your emails won’t be effective.
Let’s look at a quick inbound example. This is an email I sent out to my blog subscribers.
I wanted to start with this example, because it should immediately eliminate some of your misconceptions about what an email needs to be.
There’s nothing fancy or exciting about the headline (“didn’t you say it should be attention-grabbing!?”).
You won’t read this email and marvel at my literary or psychological genius.
This email won’t get me on a list of “Greatest Copywriters In 2020”.
But I don’t care about any of those things.
Here’s what I care about.
What qualifies as a “great” open or click rate will vary from list to list and industry to industry, but for this list, these numbers indicate a massive response.
And it all goes back to that first component: understand your target audience.
I know who my readers are… and I know what they care about.
Component #1… check.
An “attention grabbing headline” simply means that it needs to catch their eye in a crowded inbox.
That has a lot more to do with the topic and who is sending the message than it does with anything else.
Copywriters – especially new copywriters – are very interested in earning potential and want to know what other copywriters are making.
I address that directly in the subject line.
Component #2… check.
The goal of this email was to get people to read my blog post on copywriter salaries, and the body of the email is short, to the point, and focused on that objective.
Component #3… check.
There are more creative and interesting ways to accomplish these objectives, but I wanted to establish right from the beginning that the point of email copywriting isn’t creativity, and you don’t have to be a wordsmith to get great results.
Brennan understands that nobody in the history of the existence has ever been excited to receive a cold email pitch. That’s pretty much the only thing he knows about his audience, so he leans into it.
Component #1… check.
Next, he goes with a surprising, humorous subject line that is guaranteed to grab attention.
Component #2… check.
Yet again, he understands that his audience does not have time for his pitch, so he makes it as quick as possible, using ONE line to segway off the headline, ONE line to create context for the offer, and ONE line to make the offer.
Component #3… check.
Now that we’ve looked at what makes a great email, let’s review some quick, data-based tips to help you write better email copy.
10 Data-Backed Email Copywriting Tips
Before we dive into the more conceptual and comprehensive stuff, I recognize that you may just be looking for some quick, data-backed tips to help you write better email copy.
Here ya go!
1. Identify “who” and “what” before you start writing the email.
“Who” are you writing to?
“What” do you want them to do after they read the email?
It’s difficult to measure the impact of market research on ROI, but given that $76 Billion is spent on market research every year, it’s safe to say there is a consensus on the importance of understanding your customers.
If you don’t understand who you are speaking to, and what you want them to do, should you even be sending an email?
And when you do identify these two things, make sure every part of the email is focused on resonating with the “who” and persuading them to do the “what”.
If any part of the email doesn’t seem like it will resonate with the target audience or move them toward the objective, delete it.
2. Keep subject lines short and snappy.
Subject lines are the headlines of the email world, and while most of the usual headline writing strategies apply to subject lines, there’s one extra factor to consider: length.
According to an in-depth study by Retention Science, 6-10 words is the sweet spot and going even shorter than that is better than going longer.
What works best on average is never a guarantee of what will work best for you, but this provides a very simple metric to begin testing around. Experiment in the 1-10 word range and see how it affects email response.
3. Make a clear promise in the subject line.
One of the best ways to write a subject line is to make an honest promise.
This is my go-to technique for inbound marketing emails.
- Learn how to write a wildly effective value proposition in 5 simple steps
- These are the resources that helped me cross $100k for the first time
- Weird and interesting findings from my first big blog launch
There’s nothing fancy or clever about these headlines. They are clean, strong, reliable, and honest.
They’re the jedi of headlines.
A few years back, the MarketingSherpa content team decided to test out 10 subject lines written for creativity against 10 subjects lines that just made a clear, straightforward promise.
They sent these subject lines out to 45,000 email subscribers, and the clear, promise-based headlines got a 541% better response.
I’ve personally used this “strategy” across multiple blogs and niches, and it turns out that making a clear, simple promise and then delivering great content works with pretty much every audience.
4. Use the subject line to create a curiosity hook.
If clear promises are the jedi of headlines, then curiosity hooks are the sith.
They are often more powerful in the short term but will be defeated by promises in the long run.
This is perfect for outbound sales or other email contexts where you need to get the email opened at all costs, and you are willing to risk alienating the audience after they open it.
- Quick Question
- A snowball in hell has a better chance than me…
One marketer survey found that ulta brief, curiosity-focused subject lines generated open rates around 60%.
The problem is that curiosity is really fucking powerful… and it can write bigger checks than your content is able to cash if you aren’t careful.
Ultimately, it’s a trick, and you can’t build a relationship by tricking your subscribers into opening each of your emails.
That’s why the Dark Side always loses in the end.
5. Just ask a question in the subject line.
The subject line question is like Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy. It’s a bit basic and a bit boring, but it gets the job done.
This is the strategy I used in my opening example to snage a nearly 40% open rate. In fact, once I had sent the follow-up email to those who didn’t open the first, the total open rate ended up crossing 50%, with nearly 20% clicks.
Just like the rebel forces were searching for a jedi to save them, your audience is searching for answers to specific questions. By using one of those questions as your headline, you are essentially promising to answer it in the content, which is why this technique falls into the jedi category.
- How much do copywriters make?
- Is your business feeling stagnant?
- Are you tired of working hard and not losing weight?
The key here is that you need to treat these questions like the promises they are being interpreted as. If you aren’t going to answer the question, don’t ask it.
And speaking of questions, how good was that 3-point-spanning analogy.
6. Align the body copy with the subject line.
Your email copywriting can really only be split into three parts:
- The subject line
- The body copy
- The call to action (CTA)
At this point, you should realize that, all else equal, 6-10 word promise-based subject lines are the way to go for inbound marketing emails.
But as we move down to the body copy, we need to understand WHY promise subject lines perform best in inbound marketing. What makes these subject lines over 500% more effective than the alternatives?
The answer is alignment.
Promise headlines use the body content and the overall content deliverable to form a promise. The subject line is taken straight from the summary of the body copy, which means they are going to automatically be in alignment.
The alignment is the main point here.
If you can maintain alignment between the subject line, the body copy, and the CTA, you can try new things and stray a bit from the promise subject line, assuming you want to.
And on the other side, if the promise you pull out of the body copy isn’t really the main point of the copy, you are going to lose a bit of alignment, which can hurt the trust you are trying to build.
7. Tell a story in the body copy.
The power of storytelling isn’t unique to email. Its influence on our brains is potent in virtually any form.
But stories do seem to uniquely outperform other types of content via the medium of email. Given the limitations of email content, stories outshine nearly anything else you can stack up against it.
In a large survey by Statistica, B2B marketing leaders placed storytelling as just behind audience relevance as THE most important factor in email marketing success.
Storytelling let’s you directly influence the emotions of your readers and align those emotions with what you want them to feel as they encounter your point, insight, or call to action.
8. Use power words when possible.
Speaking of aligning emotion, when it comes to marketing and persuasion, not all words are created equal.
This primarily has to do with emotion. Certain words tend to invoke sharper emotions and have a larger effect on our mental and emotional state.
This is why using power words in your email copywriting can help you influence readers to have the desired response or take the desired action.
There is probably no brand in existence better qualified or with better data to identify power words than the Sumo brand, so if you are looking for some MVP words for your email copy, check out their list of over 400 power words.
9. Avoid spam trigger words when possible.
Listen, including the words “Free”, “Problem”, or “Success” in your email isn’t going to automatically move it to the spam box.
That said, understanding what words tend to trigger spam filters can be helpful, particularly if you’re in an industry that tends to get moved to the spam folder more often than not. And this massive list of email spam trigger words from Hubspot might come in handy.
That said, keep in mind that avoiding certain words won’t be enough if you are running a spammy email marketing campaign. The best solution for avoiding the spam folder is to send worthwhile emails and maintain good email marketing practices, like we’ll talk about in this guide.
10. Take advantage of split testing and experimentation.
One of the main differences between intermediate copywriters and advanced copywriters is that advanced copywriters know they are guessing.
You can research your audience all you want.
You can follow all the best practices.
You can implement every copywriting tip in the book.
But at the end of the day, it’s just a guess until the data comes in.
If you want to really optimize your email performance, you have to be willing to try different things and see what works best.
The easiest way to begin doing this is by split testing your subject lines, as most email service providers these days allow you to test different headlines.
But that’s just the tip of the experimentation iceberg. The more you are willing to try new things and track the results, the better your emails will perform.
The Two Primary Uses Of Email Copywriting
Now that we’ve covered some quick ways to improve your email copywriting, it’s time to dive into the more complex process of understanding email marketing. If you don’t understand the core philosophy and marketing goals behind the emails you write, there’s only so much you can accomplish via a few writing tips.
First of all, when someone says “email copywriting”, they aren’t referring to basic work communication taking place via email.
They are nearly always referring to email used within a marketing context, and in that context, there are really only two main uses for email:
- Inbound Marketing
- Outbound Sales
Either you’re using email to communicate with and nurture people who you’ve already attracted to your brand, or you’re using email to grab new people’s attention and turn them into a warm lead or customer.
These uses are VERY different.
And since I promised you a COMPLETE guide, we’re going to cover both in this article.
Inbound marketing is the current king of marketing, so let’s start there.
How To Write Email Copy For Inbound Marketing
If you aren’t familiar with the term “inbound marketing”, it is a style of marketing that attracts customers to the brand by creating content they want, solving problems they already have, and offering solutions they are looking for.
That’s a fancy way of saying that inbound marketing is about giving people want they want, so that they come to you (rather than the other way around), and then they come back to you again and again.
Email is often used as the focal point of this relationship.
First, you get the email addresses of people you most want to connect with, either by inviting them to subscribe to your blog or providing a notably attractive piece of content in exchange for their email address.
From there, the relationship takes place over email.
Because email is reliable. Once you have someone’s email, you can reach them until THEY decide they don’t want to hear from you anymore. You aren’t the whim of a 3rd party platform’s algorithm.
You send an email. They get the email. Pretty much every time.
And in inbound marketing, you are going to send a lot of emails. Here’s how that might look:
- You send an initial “Welcome Sequence”, which includes one email per day over 5 days, and introduces the new subscriber to your brand, your best resources, and possibly your lowest priced paid product.
- You send one email every week with interesting comments, links to great 3rd party resources, in-email helpful content, or a link to helpful content hosted on your website.
- Every three months, you send them a “Product Launch” sequence of 5 emails over a one week period pitching a paid product or service.
The bigger your audience, the more you might segment the list and offer a variety of different products, sequences, etc. But it doesn’t have to be any more complicated than this.
Now that we understand the context, let’s dive into everything you need to write great email copy within the context of inbound marketing.
1. Understand Your Long Term Audience Relationship
Inbound marketing is all about long term relationship building, and understanding that goal is critical to writing effective email copy.
There are two primary ways this comes into play:
When you are building a relationship with someone, nothing you say or do is in isolation from everything else.
It all connects.
The same should be true of your inbound relationships. You should be taking your subscribers on an intentional journey, each part of which connects in some way to the others. There should be a consistency to it, and each piece should be relevant to the overall journey.
The mechanism you use to get people on your list should be relevant to the content you are going to send them later, and all of that should be relevant to any products you plan to sell them down the road.
Let’s look at my own business as an example.
The main way I get people onto my list is through my freelance writing blueprint:
This is extremely relevant to the content they are going to get through my blog and via my emails:
And it’s also very relevant to my two product offers:
The same people who are interested in one piece will be interested in the other pieces.
The second critical component is trust.
And this is where you have to understand something a little counterintuitive to people with a traditional marketing background.
The immediate response isn’t as important as the long term response.
In a relationship, the decisions you make either build trust or deteriorate trust. In an inbound marketing relationship, the emails you send and how they are written can also either build trust or deteriorate trust.
What if you got an email from me with the subject line: “How I made $30,000 in one minute.”
That would sound pretty intriguing.
You’d probably open it.
Now imagine you opened that email and I explained how I landed a $30,000 client. The process of selling the client took months, and I tied it into the “one minute” subject line by saying something like, “I sent them the invoice and then boom, one minute later, I had $30k on it’s way to my account.”
You might be offended by the obvious bait and switch.
You might be a little annoyed but not really care, because you just learned about someone closing a $30k client.
You might think it’s funny.
Regardless, I would have just eroded your trust in my brand.
You would begin reading my subject lines with a grain of salt, and if this behavior continued, the “wow” factor of hearing from someone making a lot of money would wear off, and you’d open fewer and fewer of my emails over time.
If I don’t understand this relationship is long term, I might sacrifice long term trust for short term performance, and that’s what we want to avoid.
Now that we understand relevance and trust, let’s dive into the details.
2. Promise Something Desirable In The Subject Line
The subject line is the sign to your store.
If the sign doesn’t first get the reader’s attention and then motivate them to come in, it really doesn’t matter how great your store is or how compelling your deals and offers are.
The challenge with email is that you have to stand out in this:
… and you really don’t have a lot to work with in terms of grabbing attention.
There are a few things you can try from a visual perspective:
- ► Symbols
- 🤣 Emojis
- ALL CAPS
But these don’t really do THAT much, and if they don’t really fit your brand, they can come across as gimmicky.
Ultimately, your most MOST powerful asset in grabbing reader attention is your name.
If readers associate your name with helpful, amazing content, they will click on your emails regardless of the subject line.
The #1 brand that I most read and most recommend is Brian Dean’s Backlinko blog.
Look at Brian’s subject lines.
They are literally just keyphrases.
I have no doubt they work just fine for Brian, but they could be a lot better.
For me as a reader, though, it doesn’t matter, because I know when I click on something from Brian it’s worth my time.
THAT is your most powerful weapon in grabbing inbox attention.
And the best way to develop that trust is to make promises with your subject lines and then deliver the goods in your emails and content.
Growth Tools founder Bryan Harris does a great job with this.
Most of his subject lines either make a direct promise or imply some sort of promise.
And when you dig into the content, it always delivers on that promise.
Notice that all these subject lines so far have dealt with relatively mundane topics. They aren’t going for shock value or trying to show you something you’ve never seen before.
Sometimes, you might have some that makes for a really intriguing headline.
- How I turned a $2k /month contract into a $30k /month contract
- How I made my client $415,305 profit in 9 months
- How do I beat $500+ Million companies at SEO all by my lonesome?
These are headlines I’ve sent out in the past that performed well, and it’s easy to see why. If you can cite real data, share an original experience, or play off a popular brand name, all those things can make your subject lines really powerful.
But I don’t want to teach you that as THE standard, because the truth is, you aren’t going to be doing wildly noteworthy things every week. Those big topics are maybe once a quarter or even once a year.
Most of your subject lines will be straightforward. They’ll cover more mundane promises.
And that’s okay.
As long as your content is relevant and you are building trust… it’s not just okay… it’s great!
You don’t have to rediscover the wheel. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with using some proven formulas to write solid subject lines.
Here’s some great formulas you can use:
- Are You Experiencing [Problem]?
- Here’s The Secret Behind [Desired Result]
- I’m Going To [Deliver Desired Benefit/Solution]
- How To [Achieve Desired Result}
- What Everyone Needs To Know About [Intriguing Topic]
Remember: relevance and trust.
3. Fulfill Your Promise & Tell A Story In The Body Copy
Email body copy is like the Wild West of marketing.
There are no rules, and there are no formulas.
I’ve seen literally everything under the sun, and I’ve seen most of it done pretty well.
The issue here is that there are a TON of goals that can be attempted via an email:
- Teach a subject
- Create anticipation for a future email
- Support a point from a previous email
- Share a blog post
- Introduce a product or resource
- Update subscribers with important news
- Thank the user for a signup or purchase
- Provide testimonials or proof
- Sell a product
- Offer a discount
- Countdown an upcoming event
- Etc, etc, etc
In looking through hundreds of emails, I’ve identified a few trends that seem to hold true across various content types and goals.
A: The most important thing is delivering on the promise from your subject line.
This goes back to what we talked about earlier.
Some of the best subject lines in inbound email marketing simply make a promise, and the MOST important component of the body copy is delivering on that promise.
You can deliver on the promise directly in the email, or you can deliver on it via the click-through link, like in my previous example:
There’s also the matter of HOW you deliver on the promise.
Did you copy/paste a salary average from another blog post, or did you dig through 1,000 salary listings and compare how location and career stage affect salaries.
Or in other words, did you grab and share something easy and obviously regurgitated, or did you invest effort into creating something valuable that they can’t get anywhere else?
We’re obviously talking about overall content quality here, and whether or not you make promises in your subject line, the ongoing content of your email content and email-driven continent is going to determine the quality of your subscriber relationships.
B: Storytelling works really well in email copywriting.
People love stories, and many of the most successful email copywriters pack their emails with interesting stories.
Take Ramit Sethi, for example. Nearly every one of his emails begins with a past tense “I statement”.
“I was reading…”
“I put everything…”
“When I started my business…”
Ramit resonates with his readers by framing every point and lesson through the lens of personal experience.
We know from psychology and neuroscience that storytelling is a powerfully influential form of communication. When a reader connects to the characters and events in a story, the brain creates oxytocin as if we were involved in the story.
So when, like Ramit, you share a story about a challenge you faced and how you overcome it, it invites the reader into your shoes and lets them share in the “brain high” of overcoming that challenge, making your proposed solution all the more real to them on an emotional level.
As you might guess, the story angle is especially powerful when a consistent personality is driving the brand, as it becomes an ongoing story, where you learn more about the person speaking to you each week, rather than a loose collection of tales
C: Original content works really well in email copywriting.
One of the challenges of inbound marketing these days is that tons of brands in nearly every niche are competing against each other, and there are only so many important topics to cover.
The most important stuff has been covered numerous times in numerous places and continues to be covered by every emerging brand in the niche.
Email is not immune from this reality.
You aren’t the only email in your subscribers inbox, and if they are interested in what you have to say on certain topics, they are likely learning about the same topics from some of your competitors as well.
This is why ORIGINAL CONTENT is so powerful.
Original content is content that your competitors can’t replicate. They may be able to produce similar types of content, but key pieces of the content are unique to you and your experience.
The personal stories we just talked about are one example of original content.
Nobody can replicate your unique and perhaps even slightly exaggerated experience. It’s original, and thus, when you send it into a subscriber’s inbox, you know they aren’t reading that same story from anyone else.
But stories are just one example. There are many other ways to deliver original content:
- Share case studies
- Run industry surveys and share the results
- Conduct studies and share the analysis
- Do something most brands in your niche aren’t doing and talk about it
You want people to associate your brand with quality, but what REALLY makes your emails must-read material is sending them something nobody else is sending them.
This is why Orbit Media’s team invests a ridiculous amount of time conducting original research for articles like this piece on average bounce rates.
This post drove a 27.7% open rate and 7.4% click-through rate, an impressive figure for a 16,000 person email list, and far and away their best performing email for the quarter.
It’s why Backlinko periodically commissions large scale studies, like this page speed study that analyzed over 5 million web pages.
Better open and click rates are just one of numerous benefits that come with producing noteworthy content, but the email response illustrates the increased attention and value that people have for this type of content.
D: The length of content in the email and after the click should be inversely proportional.
Email body length can vary from really short to really long.
For example, insanely successful blogger Jon Morrow uses email primarily to direct people to a website page.
His emails rarely run past a single screen, whether he is sharing a blog post:
… or pitching a product:
Meanwhile, Ramit Sethi does things a bit differently. Ramit rarely sends a blog post that doesn’t extend for multiple screens. In fact, his most successful email of all time is so long, I had to host it on a separate URL. Click here to see what I mean.
In other words, when it comes to email copywriting… anything goes.
You can make it short. You can make it long. You can tell a story. You can sing a song.
The only consistent trend I’ve found is that the length of your email should be inversely proportional to the amount of copy you expect them to read after they click (assuming there is a click).
If you are sending them to a blog post, a long form sales page, or another resource where you are asking them to read, you should make the email itself short and to the point.
If you aren’t asking them to click or the landing page after the click is brief, like checkout page or short landing page, then you can ask them to invest their reading time within the email itself.
I’ve noticed that trend across numerous popular newsletters, and it makes sense.
There’s no reason to require people to do a bunch of reading twice in a row. Say what you want to say either before or after the click.
E: The best way to write email body copy.
The best strategy for writing body copy is to identify a good example that does what you are trying to do with your email, and then use it as a template.
Here’s some great places to find tons of examples:
Here’s the best process I’ve found for writing great body copy.
- Pick a good example
- Identify what each section of the email is trying to say or accomplish
- Use that as a template
- Map out each section and what it needs to say or accomplish
- Write the email
- Send the email
- See what happens and adjust
Ultimately, you have to find what works for each unique audience.
4. String Together Great Emails To Create Strategic Email Sequences
Now that we understand how to create great emails, it’s time to put some of them together to create strategic email sequences.
There are a number of sequences that nearly every business should have:
- A Welcome Sequence
- A Product/Service Sales/Launch Sequence
- A Cold Subscriber Re-Engagement Sequence
If you have an email list, you probably need all three of these sequences.
There are a variety of other sequences you might need as well, depending on your business model:
- Webinar sequence
- Product validation sequence
- Onboarding sequence
- Abandon-cart sequence
- Purchase upsell sequence
- Event signup sequence
- Training sequence
This isn’t a complete list, but it covers most of the major sequences.
The tricky thing with teaching someone how to write an email sequence is that the possibilities for it are endless.
Let’s look at the Welcome Sequence.
Here’s marketer Bjorgvin Benediktsson’s recommended welcome sequence:
Here’s the recommended sequence from Gregory Ciotti at HelpScout:
Some people are even less specific. Here’s affiliate marketer Pat Flynn’s recommended model for mixing content and engagement in a welcome sequence:
Your Welcome Sequence can be 3 emails long or it can be 10 emails long.
It can try to sell a product or it can seek some other form of engagement.
It can provide unique content in the email or channel people to blog posts and other forms of off-email content.
So how do you figure out what to do for your own sequences?
Here’s my recommendation as a veteran copywriter who has been writing copy professionally for over 8 years.
Go find someone with a high performing welcome sequence and use theirs as a template.
Never try to write from scratch.
There’s no reason to.
There are people out there who have spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars optimizing their email sequences. For many of them, you don’t even need to subscribe to see their sequences. They will tell you all about them in blog posts highlighting EVERY key piece of their sequences.
Find something you like and then map out it’s pieces and the objective for each piece.
What is each email trying to accomplish?
Here’s an example of copywriter Will Hoekenga breaking down one of Ramit’s launch sequences:
Then dive into each email itself.
What does each paragraph within that email do? What effect is it trying to have on the reader?
Here’s an example I did from one of Brian Dean’s Product Launch emails:
My current favorite resource for putting sequences together is DripScripts.
DripScripts is a free tool that provides complete templates for 6 different email sequences, including the 3 universal sequences every business needs.
The tool provides example text for each email while highlighting what each piece is doing and what to replace it with when rewriting for your own business or a client’s business.
Here’s an example. This is the first email from the product launch template.
I used this email template myself for my Write Minds launch that resulted in over 110 applications.
As you can see, I followed the template pretty closely:
Again… I’m a veteran copywriter who has been writing copy professionally for 8 years. I get paid thousands of dollars to write stuff like this.
And I like to start working from templates, because there is absolutely no reason not to. I COULD write a solid sequence from scratch, but I would RATHER benefit from the time and money marketers with larger budgets have invested into their own sequences, and steal a big chunk of that value for myself and my clients.
That said, if I was working off someone who wasn’t offering their copy as a free template or inviting people to mimic their work by sharing it in a blog post, I would take care to not have any direct wording crossover. I would mostly be looking at objectives and structure, like with my analysis of Brian’s email.
If it works for me, I’m willing to bet it will work for you too!
How To Write Email Copy For Outbound Sales
Now that we’ve covered inbound marketing, it’s time to tackle the much less complex world of outbound sales.
Outbound sales has a single, very simple objective: start a conversation.
Unlike with inbound marketing, we don’t need to worry about long term trust building or providing continuous value for outbound sales. Ultimately, it’s a numbers game. We are simply trying to get in front of a large group of potential customers, catch the attention of as many as possible, and get a small percentage to respond.
And that means we are free to fully embrace the Dark Side in our pursuit of starting that conversation.
There’s only three things we need to focus on in outbound sales.
- Maximize opens via the subject line
- Maximize response rate via the body copy
- Maximize response rate via your follow up emails
A lot of copywriters, business owners, and rookie sales people think that outbound sales is about convincing people to buy from you.
Think of it like this.
If you’ve achieved product/market fit (or service/market fit), that means there is a large segment of people out there who need what you have to offer. Many of them are actively looking for it. Many of them WOULD be looking for it if they had the time, but they are procrastinating on it instead, focusing on more urgent matters.
Your goal is simply to get your offer in front of them and make it really easy for them to say, “Oh yeah, I need that.”
Here’s what I mean.
Remember that cold email example from the beginning of the article?
You might look at that and go, “Lol cute, but I’d never respond to that. Nobody ever responds to cold emails.”
You also probably aren’t looking to hire an email copywriter.
Here’s the response Brennan received:
This is what you are looking for in cold email: the small percentage of people who need what you are offering.
And if you can maximize your open and response rates, you can also maximize the percentage of that group that you reach.
1. Maximize email opens via the subject line.
We’re back to the same challenge when it comes to the subject line.
We have to stand out in this mess:
We don’t have much to work with here.
We have the copy itself and then a few potential gimmicks to help us stand out visually:
- ► Symbols
- 🤣 Emojis
- ALL CAPS
There is no real downside to using gimmicks like these in outbound, so test them out in your campaigns. The only potential issue is that some audience segments will be turned off by some of these (particularly emojis), and so using them could work against you.
Ultimately, however, the heavy lifting will come down to the subject line.
Curiosity is your main weapon here:
- Quick question
- Don’t open this email
- A snowball in hell has a better chance than me…
- Need a fat guy?
- Ding! You just made a sale.
Another option is to reference a brand or person they will probably know.
- [Their competitor] just made $1M off this.
- [Someone they know] told me to message you.
- [Influential person] thinks you’ll like this.
Hell… you can even just make up a person and pretend they’re real.
- Bob told me to send you this.
- Has Jenny sent you this yet?
- Dan mentioned we should connect.
If you have the time to do some light research, you can also reference something they made.
- Follow up on your blog/video/podcast
- Question about [headline/topic of recent content]
- You mentioned something interesting in your last post
Remember, we just want the open. We don’t really care about how they feel as they open it.
YES… a lot of people will be annoyed.
They will be annoyed REGARDLESS of the subject line.
Remember, the goal is simply to get a small percentage of people who need what we are offering to open the email, see the fit, and respond.
2. Maximize email response rate via the body copy.
Okay, so we got them to open.
This isn’t inbound marketing.
Your readers do not want to spend their time reading your email.
And if you want them to respond to you, you need to respect that reality.
You want to do three things with your outbound email body copy:
- Pivot off the subject line
- Provide context
- Make the offer
Each of these should only be one line in length… two maximum. We want to be as brief as possible.
You CAN be longer, and I encourage you to experiment, BUT in my experience, the shorter the better, provided you do all three things above.
A. Acknowledge and pivot off the subject line.
Clickbaity, “gotcha”-style subject lines are great at getting opens, and if you pivot off them correctly in the body copy, you can avoid a lot of the more negative reactions that come from people who feel tricked.
This is a bit of a lazy pivot.
“Thanks for opening my email despite the suspicious subject line…”
Usually, you want to be a bit more clever, but it works here because the subject line is in reference to the sender and the email itself. He’s talking about himself: “A snowball in hell has a better chance of surviving than I have of converting this email.”
It’s kind of funny and it leans into the elephant in the room.
In this example, the Fay immediately confirms that she watched a specific piece of content I’d created and directly addresses a challenge I had mentioned in the video.
This accomplishes both the pivot and context objectives at the same time and does it in a personal way that lets me (the recipient) know that while this is a cold email, she’s done her research.
B. Provide context for your outreach.
Listen… there’s cold email and then there’s COLD email.
Most people don’t really mind being targeted cold if they feel you are targeting them specifically.
NOBODY wants to be targeted by someone who has never heard of them and just bought their email as part of a big, faceless list.
Providing context, even THIN context, establishes that you have a legitimate reason for knowing who they are and reaching out to them.
In Brennan’s example, he found them on Clickbank. In Fay’s example, she watched a video of me.
In the example below, ecommerce copywriter and Write Minds member Austin Kelly leads the email off by establishing context.
There’s no better context for an ecommerce business owner than positive reviews, so Austin starts there and then ties it into the subject line afterword as a lead-in to his offer.
Of course, the most powerful context you can have is the context of a referral. And while the fact that you are sending a cold email means you don’t have an actual referral, you can still play around the referral concept by referencing mutually known people or brands.
In this example, Nathan is a business owner who Bryan talked about in a post where he recommended the guy’s product.
Bryan then becomes the referral-like context for the outreach, even though he is not actively referring me to Nathan.
C. Make the damn offer.
The last piece of the equation is to make your offer.
Don’t be vague about what you are offering or asking for. Just make the damn offer.
This is pretty solid. Brennan might make it even better by asking, “When’s a good time to chat?” so there’s a clear response request, but the offer is still pretty clear, as are the next steps.
In my example, I’m a bit more vague on the offer, as the goal of this email is to land a larger, more complex project that would be customized to the recipients unique needs. Accordingly, I reference high level results as something I’m capable of providing and then simply ask to chat.
The “Lemme know!” at the end is there to clearly request a response, and as an aside, the overall casual tone of this email is designed to imply that I’m in the recipient’s network and this isn’t a cold pitch.
Here’s the tail end of Fay’s pitch from earlier.
Fay goes a bit longer than I normally recommend, but she knows in this case that proof is going to be a big factor, so she devotes some space to highlighting what makes her special.
3. Maximize your email response rate via your follow up emails
Follow up can be the key to getting responses from cold sales emails.
Because you are NEVER going to the recipients top priority.
Even if they need what you are selling, they open your email, and the have a favorable internal response, there is a high likelihood that they won’t reply to you right then and there.
They might click back and continue through their inbox. They might hit “mark unread”. They might get a call or other notification while reading it.
There’s lots of reasons that all of us don’t immediately respond to emails that we HAVE to respond to, let alone emails we can easily ignore.
This is where follow up comes in.
Here’s what longtime sales expert Steli Efti has to say about follow up:
“I have a simple philosophy: I follow up as many times as necessary until I get a response. I don’t care what the response is as long as I get one. If someone tells me they need another 14 days to get back to me, I will put that in my calendar and ping them again in 14 days.
If they tell me they are busy and they don’t have time right now, I will respond and ask them when they feel like a good time would be for me ping them. The key here is to actually keep following up. If someone tells me they are not interested—I leave them alone.
But here is the kicker—if they don’t respond at all, I will keep pinging them until they do. And trust me, they always do. :)”
Here’s what Steli recommends for follow up:
- Day 1: First follow-up
- Day 3: Follow-up
- Day 7: Follow-up
- Day 14: Follow-up
- Day 28: Follow-up
- Day 58: Follow-up
- Once per month ongoing
Here’s a few follow up email templates recommended by Close.com:
Example Template #1:
“Hey [first name], how is it going? Can we schedule a time to talk this week?”
Example Template #2:
“Hey [first name], we got some new press coverage [link]. I’d love to pick up on our conversation. When’s a good time to chat?”
Example Template #3:
“Hey [first name], can we hop on a quick call Wednesday 4 p.m. or Thursday 11 a.m.?
Most people hate doing cold email follow up. Even people who are willing to go through with cold email are often unwilling to follow up as persisently as they need to.
If that’s you, understand two things.
First, the follow up is where the money is. If you don’t follow up persistently, you aren’t going to get results with cold email.
Second, it doesn’t have to be a drag. Have some fucking fun with it.
Tell me you didn’t just smile reading that email followup.
You grinned like a kid opening a Christmas present. Don’t you deny it!
You don’t have to be as cool as Austin in order to get great results with cold email.
But if you find yourself hating the process… have some fun with it.
Embrace the Dark Side.
Next Steps: How To Offer Email Copywriting As A Service
I hope you’ve found this guide helpful.
If you’re a freelance copywriter trying to learn how to offer email copywriting as a service, I’ve put together a free email mini-course on how to do just that.
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