How to Write a Marketing Email: 17 Steps to More Conversions
Table of Contents
Here at Demand Curve, we’re always running experiments to find out what converts best. We do it with our landing pages, sales funnel, email marketing, you name it.
The results can be shocking. Here’s an A/B test we ran as part of our email outreach:
One email completely crushed the other. Guess which one.
We’re kicking off this article on how to write a marketing email with that example because it encapsulates a lot of the advice you’re about to read. The winner (at right) is concise. It’s approachable. It’s written how we speak.
It does exactly what it needs to do. It engages the reader and invites conversation—which could turn into conversion.
That 20-word email might seem ridiculously simple, but it actually follows a rigorous four-step process for creating marketing emails:
Each has its own sub-steps—there are 17 total. Leading email marketers use these steps to increase conversions and ramp up their growth engines. Follow them to have high-converting, high-ROI email marketing campaigns.
We’ll show you how.
Prep your email campaign
A common email marketing mistake we’ve seen: diving right into creating your email.
We get it. You want to start converting prospects. You want to be efficient, and efficiency can often seem at odds with diligent prep work.
But in the long run, it’s not. You’ll increase your efficiency—and your conversions—if you take the time to do a bit of planning for your email campaigns. Here are five prep steps to take.
(If you need to start creating your email ASAP, here’s where we talk about subject lines. But again, we don’t recommend skipping these first few steps.)
1. Know your customer personas
When you’re sending a personal or professional email, you write for the recipient. You’d write a very different email to a prospective employer vs. your best friend from school.
The same applies to marketing emails. The first—and most important—question every email marketer needs to answer is: Who am I writing for?
Answering that question means creating customer personas. Here are some characteristics and demographics that personas include:
- Job title
- Favorite brands
- Psychographic details like values, goals, and challenges
From those kinds of details, you can understand who your emails should resonate with—and the tone you should write them in.
Knowing your audience(s) will also help with email segmentation. You can craft messaging that connects with your specific buyer personas, to keep engagement and ROI high.
Example: Say you’re an email marketer at an insurance company. New homeowners are interested in your home insurance policies, and pet owners love your pet coverage. Your emails will be much more effective if they speak to those personas:
- New homeowners get a helpful email about settling in.
- Pet owners are reminded that their vet bills will be covered.
That’s much more compelling than a blanket email to all your personas, talking about all your insurance types.
Bonus: Personas are a great source of email content inspiration too. If you’re ever not sure what to write about, you can look at the sites your unique personas frequent. What do they read on Reddit? What do they Google? Who do they follow on Instagram?
P.S. Our Growth Program has step-by-step guidance on creating customer personas.
2. Define your brand voice
We’ve seen far too many marketers start writing emails before they define their brand voice. Emails then feel detached from the company and the products it sells. It’s sloppy—and it converts poorly.
In contrast, defining your brand voice has lasting conversion benefits. Over time, a strong brand yields strong brand loyalty.
If you’re launching email marketing campaigns, chances are you already have your brand design in place, including your logo, colors, and typography. Take some time to establish your brand voice too.
Once you have your customer personas, you’ve already done most of the work. You know who you’re speaking to.
To further clarify what your brand sounds like, we like this framework from Intercom:
We always sound: x. We never sound: y. So that our customers: z.
Here’s an imagined example for the brand Warby Parker:
We always sound: approachable
We never sound: snobby
So that our customers: consider us a helpful source for eyewear
Here’s how that might turn into a real brand email:
3. Research what your competitors are doing
This one’s easy: Sign up for your competitors’ email lists. Competitor listening isn’t as critical as customer listening, but it’s up there. You want to know how the competition is speaking to your market, and what they’re offering.
But that doesn’t mean you should do something just because your competitor does it. You aren’t them. Your product provides unique value.
4. Know what types of campaigns you’ll be running
Before creating your marketing email, understand the type of campaign it will fit into.
Types of triggered email campaigns:
- Sales drip campaign
- Gated content drip campaign
- Welcome or onboarding nurture sequence
- Abandoned cart or browse sequence
- New customer post-purchase
- Customer reengagement
Types of transactional emails:
- Account signup and management emails
- Thank you email
- Shipping updates
Types of ongoing emails:
- Cold outreach emails
- Letters from company leadership
- New product releases
- Content shares
- Deals, giveaways, and exclusive offers
- Seasonal specials
Note: Sales and marketing emails are often discussed separately. We’re including sales emails here because there are so many overlaps in terms of how to make them good.
Although the email-building guidelines we’ll go over below work for all campaign types, we recommend thinking through how email type affects email content. A letter from your CEO will naturally have very different language from a limited-time offer.
5. Set a goal for your email
The final prep step: understanding your goal for your email.
To create a great marketing email, it’s not enough to know who you’re creating it for. You also have to know why you’re creating it.
Is it to get a review from a new customer? Promote a seasonal special? Share a white paper your team wrote? Reclaim an abandoned cart?
Set one clear goal per email. Be specific. When it comes to goal-setting for individual emails in a campaign, precise is better than general. “Get a review from a new customer” is a stronger goal than “increase social proof.”
It’s perfectly fine—and encouraged—to have big-picture goals for your email marketing strategy too. Some common ones are: driving conversions, generating word of mouth, and building brand trust.
But as you’ll see in step 11, your email’s goal will inform its call-to-action (CTA) button. So it’s best to make it specific and actionable.
Want to make sure your emails actually get read? Check out our Own the Inbox video course from former Grammarly email marketer, Drew Price.
Build your email
Now that you’ve done the prep work, you’re ready to start creating your marketing email.
For every email you build, keep three questions top of mind:
- How does the subscriber benefit from this email?
- Why would they open it?
- Why would they click in it?
Always put yourself in your reader’s shoes. When done right, email marketing is a form of empathy.
6. Craft an irresistible subject line
The first part of a great marketing email: an inviting subject line.
A weak subject line means your email won’t get opened, and the rest of it will be irrelevant. A strong one is the first step in the open → click → convert process.
Actually, the surest way to get opens isn’t with a stellar subject line. It’s with stellar past email content. Quality content leads to high open rates on future emails.
But subject lines are still one of the most important parts of crafting a good marketing email. Here are four elements of a strong email subject line:
- It’s appealing: Have a hook to avoid blending in with other emails. Note that it’s not enough to be widely appealing. Your email needs to appeal to its specific recipients—which usually means segmentation and personalization (more on both at step 12).
- It’s concise: Mobile devices will typically display around 30 characters. It’s okay to have a longer subject line (up to ~50-60 characters), but if you do, front-load the most important information.
- It’s self-evident: Don’t make people guess why you’re messaging them. Be transparent—and relevant. If your subject line doesn’t align with your email, you might get a bunch of opens, but they won’t result in clicks.
- It’s compelling: Every subject line should motivate at least one action: clicking on the email. That’s asking a lot of people with flooded inboxes and busy lives.
To inspire action, consider the three triggers that cause people to open emails:
- Self-interest: Offer email subscribers something that's going to help them. Example from Spotify: “Playlists made just for you”—save them time and effort.
- Emotional interest: Spark positive emotion. Example from Typeform: “You're invited to the premiere”—make them feel special.
- Relational interest: Get them to like you, trust you, and want to hear what you have to say. Example from Allbirds: “Leave a lighter footprint”—build connections to the brand and mission.
Takeaway: Make sure subscribers truly have something to gain from your emails, as teased by the subject line. Always think about how what you’re sending benefits the person on the other end.
Examples of effective email subject lines:
Bonus tip: To get the highest ROI out of your email campaigns, create multiple subject lines, and A/B test them on ~10% of your list. Then set up your email software to send the iteration that receives the highest open rate to the rest of your list. We've found that small iterations on your initial subject line work best because they require less time to write.
7. Choose a sender name that readers want to hear from
Besides the subject line, recipients see two other things before opening an email: who it’s from and a brief snippet of what’s in it.
Both the “from” field and the preview text tend to get overlooked during email building. But because first impressions matter so much, we recommend spending just a bit of time on each.
The sender name matters more than you might think. The same statement will resonate very differently depending on who it’s coming from.
An email with the subject line “your upcoming appointment” is probably helpful if it’s coming from your dentist. It might be unsettling if it’s from a name you don’t recognize.
Rule of thumb: If it makes sense to include a person’s name in your “from” field, try it out. It adds a personal touch and can come across as less promotional than a brand-name sender. But we recommend doing two things:
- Ask, what do recipients expect? If it would be confusing, weird, or off-putting for your email to come from a person’s name, stick with your brand name. An email from Showtime should say it’s from Showtime, not Mike, a marketer who works there.
- Run an A/B test to see whether a person’s name, brand name, or combination (like “Ivan at Notion”) results in more opens. More on this at step 17.
Email clients will usually display 20-30 characters in the sender field.
8. Complement your subject line and preview text
Too often, email preview text has less-than-exciting copy: “not rendering correctly?” “responsive image,” “view in browser,” “logo height=‘auto.’”
Instead, use this space to complement your subject line. Underscore that reading your email is a worthwhile action. Use language that reflects—but doesn’t just repeat—your subject.
Some email clients don’t show preview text, and some mobile devices cut off preview text at 40 characters. So although we recommend making the most of your preview text, it’s not the best place to put something that you really want subscribers to see.
9. Follow email marketing design best practices
Once people open your email, they’ll reflexively decide if they’re going to read it, skim it, or bounce (and archive). So your email design needs to be simple and clear. Feature a clean look that includes plenty of negative space.
Here’s an A/B test we recommend running, if it’s appropriate for your brand and email type: plain text email vs. designed email. Although designed emails let you showcase your brand, sometimes straightforward text emails have better results.
That’s because they look more authentic—like they’re coming from a person, not a business. Think of it as the email equivalent of a YouTube video with high production values, compared to a TikToker dancing in their bedroom. The TikTok dancer has more authenticity and is more likely to connect with viewers on a personal level—and go viral.
Tips for designing an attractive email:
- Make it easy to read and skim. Use a standard typeface with large-ish typography.
- Stay on brand. That includes fonts, colors, and images.
- Remember that most subscribers will be viewing your email on a mobile device. All the more reason to keep your emails simple and uncluttered. Single column > multi-column on mobile. In fact, you might want to create a mobile-first email. Instead of designing for desktop—the standard approach to email building—design for mobile, then adapt that design to desktop.
- Use email templates to prevent problems with alignment and proportions. All leading email service providers (ESPs)—like SendGrid and Klaviyo—have them.
Email image tips:
- Make sure images aren’t too small (they’ll look fuzzy) or too large (they’ll take too long to download and could mean your email goes to spam). Your ESP’s help center should have guidance on image sizing, but in general, avoid going above 1MB.
- If you have them, include original images to avoid stock-photo goggles: a stock photo–induced condition that makes all brands look the same. Original photos come across as more genuine.
- Add alt text to images. Alt text helps screen readers describe image content to visually impaired subscribers. It’s also what will appear if an image doesn’t load properly.
10. How to write your email copy
Your email copy serves a specific purpose: drive people to take action on your CTA.
Here’s what typically works best:
- Be aggressively concise. Don’t waste your subscribers’ time with unwarranted fluff.
- Fulfill the expectation you set in your subject line: Deliver on your promise.
- Promise even more value that’s only delivered when subscribers click your CTA.
Here’s an example of a good marketing email:
What Casper nails:
- The subject (“welcome to Casper”) dictates that this is a welcome email. And the body fulfills that promise.
- The email copy is a concise single paragraph—with no fluff.
- The use of a second-person pronoun (“you’re”) makes the reader the subject.
- Social proof highlights a community of a million well-rested sleepers.
- The brand voice is playful, helpful, and comforting.
You can see how this email does its action-driving job. It promises better sleep and provides a way to get started: by clicking the “let’s get sleepy” CTA.
(We’d actually vote for using a more specific value prop as the CTA copy, like “get a great night’s sleep.” But we'll go over CTAs more shortly, at step 11.)
Email copywriting: The one thing you need to know
There are a ton of copywriting frameworks out there. To name a few, there’s:
- AIDA: attention-interest-desire-action. AIDA is the classic copywriting framework. Writers use it to grab a reader’s attention, nurture interest, build desire for their product, and motivate action.
- PAS: problem-agitate-solution. Identify the problem, agitate it (e.g., by dramatizing it), and provide the solution.
- 4 P’s: promise, paint, proof, push. Make a promise to readers, paint a picture of what their world would look like if that promise were fulfilled, provide proof to back up the promise, and push (or, less forcefully, invite) readers to take action.
- KISS: keep it short and simple.
We’ll sum them up for you: Help your readers. And do it succinctly.
That’s what all great copywriting is. It’s brief and beneficial.
It doesn’t waste readers’ time, and it has something—whether that’s information or entertainment—that’s of value to them.
There are other things you can do to strengthen your email copywriting. But because another useful writing principle is “show, don’t tell,” we’ll use examples to illustrate them.
Examples of good email copywriting
Here are some emails that we think work well, and why.
- Use vivid language. Think “power” words that pack a punch and imagery you can picture (like your favorite musician serenading you).
- People think in terms of narratives, so approach email copy like a storyteller. Consider how you might tap into readers’ emotional interest. 4ocean does this well by creating a sense of connectedness through their copy and photo.
- Keep it personal and approachable. Write like you’re in a conversation, not like you’re giving a speech.
- And of course, keep it brief, to the point, and beneficial.
Email copywriting don’ts
As you write your email, avoid these mistakes:
- Misaligning your subject line and email body copy. Always stick to your purpose.
- Including anything that’s not pertinent to the action you want subscribers to take.
- Burying the lede—get right to the point.
- Using jargon, unless that’s how your target audience speaks. Write how they talk.
- Including language that could get your email marked as spam, like “free” and “act now.”
- Using all capital letters or too many exclamation points.
Need content inspiration?
If you’re not sure what to include in your emails, go back to the prep stage. Think through who your personas are, the types of content they consume, what your brand offers, what the competitive landscape looks like, the kind of email you’re creating, and your email’s goal.
But if you need a creative boost, here are some possible content topics to share. These won’t work for all email types, so consider the context.
- User-generated content (UGC)
- Social proof
- Notable stats
- Relevant products for cross-selling
- How to’s
- Special offers
- Thought leadership
- Lifestyle content
- Case studies
11. Include actionable CTAs
Your CTA buttons should encourage subscribers to take action. And that action should fulfill your email’s goal.
- If your goal is to get clicks to a new blog article about spring fashion, your CTA might be “discover the latest looks.”
- If your goal is to increase webinar signups, a possible CTA would be “book your seat” (which we think is a bit more motivating than the standard “register now”).
- If your goal is to get feedback, your CTA might be “take the 1-minute survey.” Adding a time frame clarifies the commitment level.
Note that all of the above examples are specific and directly relevant to the page at the other end of the click. We call these calls to value. Instead of generic prompts, they provide clear value to the reader.
To increase your CTA click-through rate (CTR):
- Keep your language actionable but not effortful. Think of how you might replace “heavier” words like “download” or “complete registration” to reduce friction (e.g., “get” or “sign up”).
- A/B test your CTA word choice. The previous bullet point might not work for your audience—maybe they really want to download something. See what happens when some of your subscribers see “download” and some see “get.”
- Ecommerce CTAs tend to be “shop now.” That’s generally fine, since it aligns with the goal to sell more items. To differentiate ecommerce CTAs slightly, you might try variations like “shop our new additions” or “shop [collection name].”
CTA design recommendations:
- Make CTAs high contrast, so they stand out from the rest of your email. They should pop visually even during a quick skim.
- If you’re taking a plain-text approach to your email marketing, simple hyperlinks will work just fine.
Examples of good CTAs
12. Give your emails a personal touch
We’ve covered the key points of how to write a marketing email by now. But one aspect of email content is so important that it merits its own section: personalization.
Should you segment your emails? Yes, 100%. You can find a ton of list segmentation tips here.
Should you personalize them too? Also a definite yes.
The most common way to do that is with mail merge tags, like *|FNAME|* for “first name” in the subject line or email body. Merge tags are a standard ESP automation tool, and email marketers are already taking pretty solid advantage of them.
So in this section, we’ll focus instead on a lesser-used feature: dynamic content blocks.
Dynamic content changes based on who gets an email. You can use it to show slightly different messages to your audience based on their behavior and preferences.
Although most ESPs offer dynamic content, brands rarely make the most of it. You can dramatically improve click-through and conversion rates—without having to create multiple versions of the same email.
A few use cases:
- Promos: Give only first-time customers a gift when they buy an item from their abandoned cart.
- Net-promoter score (NPS) survey: Ask subscribers to fill out a survey to get a 20% off coupon code. Remind people who completed the survey that they have an unused coupon.
- Referral programs: If subscribers haven’t referred anyone to your product yet, ask them to refer someone to unlock a reward. But ask people who've already made referrals to refer more people for an even better reward.
- Email newsletters: Pitch your product's most relevant feature based on the specific blog posts subscribers have read.
When you find a high-converting block, you can add it to other email flows like new subscribers, first-time purchases, and post-purchase. At every stage in the customer life cycle, show people the offer that’s most relevant to them.
13. Include legal requirements
You’re legally required to have an unsubscribe link in every email. You also need to send emails from a valid email address attached to your domain name.
Don’t overlook this. Aside from ensuring that you don’t break the law, legal best practices improve email deliverability—meaning your emails wind up in more inboxes.
Once you’ve created your email, the hard part’s out of the way. From here, it’s just a matter of finalizing, shipping, and iterating.
14. Proofread and test your email
Before shipping out your email, make sure it’s clean.
Proofreading and testing tips:
- If you can, give yourself a few hours (or better yet, a day) between writing your email and proofreading it. Fresh eyes are much better typo-spotters than eyes that have been staring at a piece of text. Read your email aloud, and have a colleague read it too if someone’s around to help.
- Send a test email to yourself, and review it on mobile, tablet, and desktop if possible. Test all links, and make sure your graphics, formatting, and alignment look right. You can also use a tool like Email on Acid to do a complete pre-deployment check.
- Don’t forget to check how your email looks in your inbox, including the “from” field and preview copy. Check your email’s microcopy too, like legal disclaimers.
If mistakes slip through, don’t sweat it. We’ve all made them.
15. Send it out
When your email is ready to ship, press that button.
“Shipping it” often involves adding your email to its respective campaign in your ESP.
Here are some tips for the best email send times for a few different email types:
- Welcome email: Don’t send your welcome message out as soon as someone signs up for your email list. Delay it by 15-45 minutes. The delay removes the subscriber’s mental connection between their signup and your email, bypassing the reflex to ignore.
- Post-purchase email: Build anticipation during the time frame between purchase and delivery. Possible content types include UGC of real customers using your product or an invite to join your community.
- Abandoned cart email: Wait 1-3 days before sending an abandoned cart email. Sooner than that, and you’re marketing to shoppers who might have proceeded to purchase anyway. Longer, and there’s a decent chance they’ll forget about their interest in your product.
- Drip emails: Base your drip email frequency on the speed of your customer life cycle. Give prospects space and time to think about purchases with longer life cycles, like SaaS B2B.
Get better over time
Email marketing doesn’t have a start and a finish. It’s a loop. After your email goes out, its results should inform your next one.
16. Analyze your email marketing
Our article on email marketing KPIs goes deep on the email metrics we recommend tracking. Here, the main point we want to make is that you should consistently check how your emails are doing. What is their CTR? How do open rates compare to clicks (click-to-open rate)? Is their conversion rate on par with expectations?
Use your findings to iterate and optimize. Improve the content of your emails based on the results you're seeing.
- You find that customers tend to share your thought-leadership emails on social media more than other email message types. So you start adding more C-suite opinion pieces to your blog—and sharing them through email.
- Your product announcement emails tend to generate more conversions when they’re preceded by “coming soon” previews. So you build anticipation into product launches with more social teasers and content marketing.
17. Test and optimize your emails
Another optimization tactic, which you’ve seen throughout this article: Run experiments on your emails.
Most email marketing software has built-in A/B testing tools, which make it incredibly easy to test subject lines, sender fields, CTA copy, etc. It’s an effective way to practice conversion rate optimization (CRO) on your campaigns.
Say you run a split test for your hair-product company. Half your subscribers see the CTA “get the guide,” and the other half see the CTA “learn how to cut your own bangs.” The first CTA gets half as many clicks as the second. So you start using the second for everyone.
We recommend testing only one element at a time. If you test variations on CTAs and subject lines at the same time, for instance, you won’t know which change really drove results.
That’s it! The good news is that by following these steps, you’ll improve your emails in both the short and long term. Your emails’ content will be stronger now, and their performance will be stronger over time.
After all, a successful email marketing strategy—like all good digital marketing strategies—is all about building a growth engine. One that lasts.
Want to make sure your emails actually get read? Check out our Own the Inbox video course from former Grammarly email marketer, Drew Price.
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