How to Create High-Converting Emails (From A–Z)
Email marketing can be one of your most effective marketing channels. In fact, according to a recent Litmus survey of 372 marketers, email marketing's return on investment is 38:1—far higher than you’ll ever achieve with ads.
But just writing an email and sending it to your list isn't going to deliver that type of ROI. There's a lot that goes behind crafting a high-converting email. If the subject line falls flat, the email never gets opened. If the design is off-brand, the message isn't conveyed. If the CTA (call-to-action) is buried, no action takes place.
Successful email marketing isn’t plug-and-play simple. But it doesn't have to be complicated, either.
Below we detail the steps you can take — for each element of your email — to increase opens, clicks, and conversions.
The Design of Your Email
First, a tip: Keep ReallyGoodEmails.com open in a new tab while you read this section. You’ll find sample email designs there for inspiration.
Next, remember that more often than not a minimalist design is your best friend. All of your customers and prospects have plenty of experience with marketing emails. Marketing emails are the new junk mail.
The more your emails resemble actual human-to-human conversations, the more accepting your audiences will be to reading them.
There are a host of email service providers out there. Klaviyo, Rejoiner, and Zaius to name a few. Who you choose often depends on your business type and goals (for example, Klaviyo is built for e-commerce). Generally speaking; however, we recommend Mailchimp for sending emails. It’s full-featured, reliable, and pleasant to use.
Mailchimp also has a series of clean, high-conversion design templates.
You can get away with using these templates instead of designing your own. In fact, we encourage it. Why? Because you shouldn’t over-design marketing emails: Design doesn't improve conversion if your copy and creative already hit their mark.
There is an exception to this rule, however. If you sell physical products that are visually appealing — think fashion or lifestyle brands — design can have a big impact.
More often than not, what overly designed emails do is call attention to what they are: email marketing spam.
Standard emails between friends and coworkers look nothing like marketing emails. They're short, simple, and design-free. So unless you’re conveying a fashion or lifestyle brand, skip it. You don’t want to design emails like this:
Similarly, unless you’re an e-commerce company with goods that can sell themselves purely through visual appeal, stay away from big graphic collages. Instead, use a simple, structured, and scannable format with clean sections like this:
You should even A/B test pure text emails like above with ones that implement some design, such as this:
A/B testing will allow data to determine which email types lead to higher clickthrough rates.
Most email service providers, including Mailchimp, have A/B testing features.
Writing Subject Lines that Make Readers Click
Many people have the urge to create clickbaity email subjects to get audiences to open their email.
Some examples include “It’s all over!” or “The end is here!” when someone’s product trial expires.
Don't do it.
When you write clickbaity email subjects, you win the battle (email opens) but lose the war (brand perception and the likelihood of people opening your emails in the future).
Plus, your clickbaity subject line may not even increase conversions.
That's because with all the spam people get nowadays, they have no patience for being tricked into clicking. They’ll punish you with an unsubscribe.
Keep your email subjects concise, simple, and self-descriptive. Now is not the time for cryptic messages that leave readers guessing. Here are some subject line examples you can use for inspiration:
- Soon after someone signs up for your product/service: "What you need to know."
- When a free trial period is ending: "Trial expired. Here's a one-time 20% coupon."
- When someone hasn't redeemed a coupon: "Your 20% discount expires today."
- For an abandoned cart: "Forget something? Finish checkout."
Optimizing Your Email's Pre-header Text
Email clients display the first 100 characters from your email right next to the subject line:
This is called pre-header text. Treat this as marketing copy — because it is: It’s an additional incentive for recipients to open the mail.
Be prepared to A/B test it over time — just like your email subject.
As with your email subject, be highly descriptive with your pre-header text. Consider it an extension of what piqued the reader’s curiosity in your email subject.
For example, if you sell digital cameras and send a 'getting started' email with the subject “What you need to know,” make your pre-header “How to take your first picture.”
Don't use “Getting started with your new 4K camera…” Skip the marketing speak and sales fluff. There’s too much of that in people's inboxes already. Here's your opportunity to stand out as no-nonsense and worth your customers' time. All you have to do is get to the point.
There are a lot of potential ways to optimize your pre-header text depending on your subject.
For "getting started" emails follow this formula:
- "How to [verb] your first [product output].
- Example: How to take your first picture
If you're sending a coupon email, use this formula:
- "This coupon saves you [$ amount] on [product]."
- Example: “This coupon saves you $15 on a 4k camera.”
One last tip: Always pair your pre-header text with your subject line when reviewing it. Your readers will see these two elements of your email at the same time. You want to avoid using the same words whenever possible.
How to Keep Readers Interested with a Powerful Header
Treat your email header just like your landing page hero section. The typical landing page hero section contains:
- A highly descriptive header and subheader
- An image that conveys the value of the product
If the recipient has to read anything beyond your header to know precisely what you’re trying to announce and why it’s valuable, your header wasn’t descriptive enough.
Let that sink in. Recipients are looking for excuses to stop reading. Don’t give them one; get them hooked ASAP.
Creating Conversion-Focused Content
If you’re an e-commerce business selling a physical product, make product images the focal point of your sections, like this:
If you’re a SaaS business, use your header text as the focal point of each section. In other words, make the descriptive header text big and bold so that it overpowers any text contained within that section’s imagery, like this:
SaaS companies should not begin emails with a large graphic unless that graphic has text on it (like in the image below). Choose text before images:
Whatever imagery you do use, keep it to a minimal size. Large images take up valuable space. Readers have to scroll past them, which motivates them to skim and skip the rest of your email.
Unless you’re an e-commerce company, your emails aren’t supposed to look like magazines.
Making Your CTA
So far we've emphasized the importance of simplicity in email design. That leads many to assume CTA’s should just be simple hyperlinked text.
Like this →
That's perfectly acceptable to do — and effective.
But it's also fine to create CTA buttons to help them stand out from the rest of the copy. Like this:
More importantly is the copy of your CTA. Here's the gist:
1. Avoid sales speak: Use “Download ebook” instead of “Get your free copy now!”
2. Specifically describe the benefit readers receive by clicking the CTA:
- “See it in action“ instead of “Learn more.”
- “Begin designing” instead of “Visit site.”
- “Browse winter jackets” instead of “Shop now.”
Why is being specific so important? Because for the recipient skimming your email, the CTA’s will stand out more than the paragraphs. And if all they’re reading is the CTA copy, they’re not going to click on vague messaging like “Learn more” if they don’t know what they’ll be learning.
Besides, few people want to learn anything. That takes effort on their part.
But if you have “Begin designing” as your CTA, even email skimmers will recognize it as a shortcut to getting to your dashboard and diving into the primary value prop.
Tip: If you use text-based CTA’s (i.e., text links), always put them on their own line. Don’t inline them in a paragraph or they won’t capture as many reflexive clicks from users who parse emails from top to bottom in one swift motion without reading through the sections.
Ending Your Email Right with Your Footer
If your average revenue per user (ARPU) is high enough to justify the support labor, every email should end by expressing your company’s willingness to provide support, e.g. “Need help getting started? Just reply to this email, and our team will gladly help you out. We respond quickly."
Of course, only state this if you actually do respond quickly.
And every email footer should allow for a one-click unsubscribe or link to a dead-simple unsubscribe form. Otherwise, people will “unsubscribe” by marking you as spam, and when that happens enough, your emails will increasingly be treated as spam by the spam networks all major email clients use. (It’s also illegal to not have an unsubscribe option.)
Keeping Your Email Marketing Optimized
By following the resources above, you should see an uptick in opens and clickthrough rather quickly.
But don't rest on your laurels. Complacency kills conversions. A/B testing is your best defense against a low ROI. Every element we outlined above is an opportunity to A/B test different variants.
Keep track of the results of your tests. That way you learn from them so that the next emails you send will outperform your previous ones.