37 Tips for Writing Emails that Get Opened, Read, and Clicked

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We’ve all been there …

You’ve carefully crafted an email. You’ve polished each sentence. You’ve racked your brain for the very best subject line.

You hit publish with a sigh of relief. That’s done.

But when you look at your email stats, you notice that the opens aren’t as good as you’d hoped, and the click-throughs are disappointing. It’s depressing.

Does it feel like a big challenge to get people to open and read your emails? And then to go on to click through?

It doesn’t really need to be so hard. You’re about to learn the most important advice I’ve found for writing emails that get opened, read, and clicked.


How to create emails that are eagerly anticipated

Quick question:

Which email do you look forward to receiving most: an email from your best friend or an email from a massive corporation? And which of those two emails do you prefer to read?

Easy choice, isn’t it?

So, when you’re emailing your list, what do you do? Do you write as if you’re addressing a huge, faceless crowd of people? Do you write just like a massive corporate marketing department would?

If you want your subscribers to look forward to your emails, you should consider behaving more like a friend.

You know, like, and trust your friends … right?

Try toning down that corporate look, and create a more minimalist email design. Write in a conversational, respectful voice.

Follow these 8 essential rules for friendly, eagerly anticipated emails …

  1. Stop talking about your list. Stop talking about subscribers. Write as if you’re emailing one person only. It instantly makes your emails more personal.
  2. Quit wasting people’s time. Only email when you have something truly valuable or helpful to say.
  3. Be useful. Don’t just email when you need something from your readers. Be helpful. Be generous. Be friendly. Be like real friend.
  4. Use your actual name as your from address. Put your name and reputation on the line. That’s more personal isn’t it?
  5. Be trustworthy. Let people know what to expect. Yes, sales messages should be part of your email marketing, that’s fine. Just be clear about it when they sign up.
  6. Don’t be creepy. Feel free to personalize emails, but don’t repeat people’s name too often, because it makes you sound like a call center script.
  7. Be on their side. Remind people that they’re not alone. Tell them you understand their struggles. Empathize with them, and ask how you can help.
  8. Give people a reward for reading. Make sure people benefit from reading your emails. How? Share a useful tip. Make them feel better. Inspire them.

How to get your emails opened

Most inboxes are congested — filled to the brim with uninteresting, boring emails.

Your emails are easily drowned out in overflowing, noisy inboxes across the world. And Gmail tabs have made it even more difficult to get noticed.

How do you write appealing subject lines that make you stand out … that seduce people to open your emails?

Email subject lines need to attract attention, just like headlines do. Here are a few tips on that:

  1. Promise something good. If people know specifically what they’ll learn or how exactly you’ll make them happier, more informed, or better at business, they’ll be itching to read more.
  2. Use power words. Sensory and emotional words attract attention, and make your subject lines stand out in crowded inboxes.
  3. Use a number. Because digits — like 4 or 37 — stop wandering eyes.
  4. Pique curiosity. Don’t be afraid to occasionally use bizarre words. Tickle the information gap, or violate the information gap. Your readers will be keen to find out more.
  5. Point out common mistakes. Because nobody wants to be perceived as silly.
  6. Quit cleverness. Simple, specific subject lines beat clever alternatives every time.
  7. Experiment. Be a rebel and try something new. Dare to be different. You’ll be surprised by what works and what doesn’t.
  8. Learn from the masters. Subscribe to excellent email lists and analyze their subject lines. You’re guaranteed to learn something.
  9. Stop following meaningless stats like optimal subject line length. No average reader exists. Build a real relationship so your readers anticipate your emails and they’ll open them because they recognize your name — even when your subject line sucks.

How to write engaging emails

So, you’ve got people to open your emails. Now what? How do you keep their attention? How do you keep them reading your emails word for word?

Follow these 11 tips for emails that will captivate your readers:

  1. Write fast. Because that’s how your enthusiasm and personality come through.
  2. Keep it short. Edit your emails with rigor. Long and unwieldy emails slaughter your readers’ interest. Challenge yourself to cut your text by half next time you edit.
  3. Ask questions. Imagine having a face-to-face conversation with your reader. You’d ask questions in that situation, wouldn’t you?
  4. Don’t follow a strict formula. Blueprinted emails quickly bore the boots off your readers.
  5. Add a personal touch. Because you’re trying to get readers to know, like, and trust you, aren’t you?
  6. Don’t automate your greeting. Try warm wishes, best regards, or greetings from sunny England. Mixing up your greetings makes you less robotic, and more personal.
  7. Use the word you. Because it’s one of the most persuasive words in the English language.
  8. Develop a natural voice. Stop thinking about email marketing. Consider your emails to be a way of talking to your customers or readers.
  9. Add personality. Use words and expressions only you can use. Be human.
  10. Stop being dull. Understand the telltale signs of boring writing. Write short, strong sentences. Be to the point. And break high school rules.
  11. Quit being selfish. Don’t be cold-hearted. Genuinely care about your readers.

How to sell in your emails

You’re not just writing emails for fun, are you? As a business owner you have to sell to stay in business (whether you like it or not).

So what’s the best way to sell without selling your soul?

Follow these 9 tips to convert more email readers into buyers:

  1. Don’t sell before the prospect is ready. Become a friend and trusted source of information first; and your readers will more readily buy from you.
  2. Highlight benefits. Don’t sell your product. Instead, sell the benefit it offers your customer.
  3. Show what readers will miss. Most people are risk averse. They want to avoid inconveniences, glitches, and complications. Consider rephrasing the benefits of your offer as a problem you’ll help to avoid.
  4. Don’t follow a strict formula. Because formulaic emails sound robotic and are boring as heck.
  5. Work toward your aim. Tell interesting stories that lead to your sales message.
  6. Present a clear deadline. It prevents people from procrastinating.
  7. Insert multiple links (to the same page). Because it increases your chances of people clicking that link.
  8. Have an impeccably clear call to action. Tell your readers exactly what you expect them to do next, and remind them why it’s in their best interest to buy.
  9. Use the power of the PS. Remind people of a deadline. Or repeat what they stand to lose if they don’t take up your offer.

The harsh truth about your emails

Everyone’s inbox is overflowing. Nobody is keen to receive more email.

You should be honored that people have opted into your list and are happy to receive your messages. Each subscriber has given you a hard-earned vote of confidence.

But be careful. Never take anyone’s attention for granted. Because everyone’s time is precious.

Week in week out, you have to prove your value to your email subscribers. Know your readers so well that you can empathize with their struggles. Ask questions. And offer help.

Write as if you’re emailing one good friend, because that’s how people will get to know you, like you, and trust you.

When you’ve earned those three things, you’ve earned the ability to push send and grow your business.

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Reader Comments (48)

  1. says

    hi Henneke

    Good tips!

    I’m testing new email tactics and your post came right on time :)

    I noticed that lengthy subject lines get more engagement and click through compared with shorter ones…

    Did you experience something like this from your testing as well?

    I’d love to hear more from you…

  2. says

    Thanks, Henneke,

    An “impeccably clear call to action” is hard for many people. I have many clients who want to give their readers options–they throw in every possible call to action they have. It’s hard to get them to believe that one clear call to action is better than lots of weak ones. I’ll have to show them your list!

    Your list is great. Thank you for putting it together.

    • Henneke says

      Yep, I know exactly what you say.

      Also, many people are nervous about being direct and try to be overly polite, but that doesn’t work.

      Forget about “if you’d like to order”, just say “get your this or that now”.

      • says

        You’re so right! I’ve had that discussion (probably word-for-word!) with several clients.

        I think people don’t realize the differences in social cues in writing vs. in person. We soften a lot of what we say with phrases like “if you want…” But in writing, that becomes extra clutter to get through. It doesn’t actually sound softer and it just makes more to read and hides the real message.

  3. says

    Those are really great tips Henneke, Thnx. And the new Gmail tabs are really changing email marketing. But I believe if someone is a loyal follower they will see your emails no matter what.

    This is why I encourage double optins. Most of my subscribers come from my blog and they open my emails without hesitation because no one forced them to be there, they chose to opt-in for more info. I believe it’s how you got the email that will determine the open rate in most cases but not in all cases though :)

    • Henneke says

      Exactly. When your subscribers yearn to read your emails, they’ll find them no matter whether they land in their inboxes. Good point!

  4. says

    There are hundreds of e-books and overpriced full of hype courses teaching e-mail marketing. Many of them say so much and deliver very little. Yet this simple, short, very powerful article is all you need to be successful e-mail marketer. Makes you think, doesn’t it.

  5. says

    Hi Henneke,

    Thanks for these reminders about writing emails that get read, opened, and clicked.

    It’s important to use verbiage your prospects will understand. Skip the jargon and be real.

    Also, please do not hard sell. It comes off as desperation.

  6. says

    Oh My God! Henneke, you’re crazy man!

    I love the keep it short tip. People are busy, so writing long emails won’t help at all… Keep it straight, concise, and clear….

  7. says

    Love this. Very good info. Especially the “Write Fast”. My email marketing sucked until I started writing quickly as if I were speaking to a prospect.

    That’s when I started to find my voice.

    • Henneke says

      Yep, I have exactly the same experience. My best emails are the emails I’ve written fastest.

  8. says

    Thanks for a standout article, Henneke.

    All of the tips you’ve outlined here are super important and relevant, but if I had to pick just one to focus on, it would be the first tip: Write as if you’re emailing one person. There are emails I get that do that so flawlessly, I almost forget I’m not the only person receiving the email!

    Then again, there are a couple of marketers whose lists I’m on who send emails that start off with “Hey Gang,” or “Hey Guys,” but it’s just me here, and not 5 or 6 people standing around my workspace reading the email with me. : )

  9. says

    Just the tips I needed at the moment when we are testing our emails we sent to our 20,000+ list for one of our London client’s. The use of number is something we never did before, but will be testing in our next email we wend to our list next week.

    Thanks for sharing the top notch tips to get the emails opened and build more engagement.

    • Henneke says

      Yes, good point. Catchy is good, but overly catchy can make it sound spammy. But that also depends on the ‘from’ name and the ‘conditioning’ of the reader (what has come to expect from this sender?).

  10. Sheetal Sharma says

    Good stuff, really helpful for young marketers like me who are new in the field of email marketing.

    • Henneke says

      Glad to hear. Click the various links, and you have a mini-course on email marketing! :)

      Good luck, Sheetal.

  11. says

    This is just brilliantly written, thank you so much for sharing – I do a lot of emailing campaigns, and haven’t even thought of some of the things you have mentioned. Tons of thanks

  12. says

    Informative post !! Marketing via email is a tricky matter. It is powerful, but easily abused. It is easy, but really difficult. But these tips, tricks and secrets make it easy and powerful for us.

  13. says

    On #13, I find it ironic that “perceived” is spelled incorrectly. :) But maybe that means you should add one more item to this list, and that’s that you need to be willing to admit when you made a mistake and be willing to fix it. People love sincerity when it’s actually real and not forced.

  14. Anthony says

    Thank you for the excellent article. Only thing that would make it better is some real live examples of email and subject lines that work.

  15. Jatin chhabra says

    Hi Henneke, Points covered by you are really interesting. So we can assume that one should write & help subscribers as a friend . I’m planning to open my own blog website on Hotel Consultancy and my aim is to create an interested readership before I went to sales part (between 6-12 months). So, instead of posting a blog and start sending email won’t be a good strategy. I think I should wait for a dozen or 2 subscribers and then go for email circulation to the interested audience.

    • Henneke says

      Before I started my own blog, I guest posted to generate subscribers to my list.

      I made the mistake of not emailing my subscribers and left the list to go cold for a few months. I don’t think that’s a good idea, because when I started emailing, a lot of people didn’t remember who I was and immediately unsubscribed (or worse: hit the spam button).

      You don’t have to start a blog immediately. You can build an email list before you publish blog posts. But be sure to stay in touch even if it’s just a quick email twice a month.

      Does that answer your point?

  16. says

    Write Fast, Keep it short and make it impeccably clear with one call to action…hear you loud and clear, thats really says alot it reminds me of Ben Settle’s headline “Write Drunk, Edit Sober” Lol.

    …email marketing is hella tricky and i’m still learning alot about copywriting, permission and email marketing.

    Although, most times i do find it difficult to hard sell a pitch. But on reading through your article i definitely see your point.

    And most definitely start toning down the call to actions and organize them into one powerful call to action.

    Thanks for sharing, it was a delightful read as always.

  17. says

    This article is by far one of the most interesting and fun articles that I have read in a long time. I say fun because the points mentioned here are simple and easy to read. They are not long passages that speak a lot and tends to lose focus. On the contrary the points mentioned here were in short crisp sentences that did not bore me but made my read a pleasurable one. Thanks!

  18. says

    May I add this little tid bit? If your email is inviting someone to an event. Always ALWAYS include the day of the week as part of the date of the event. Everyone has days of the week that are off limits because of work or family commitments. Don’t make the prospect look at their calendar to see if the 10th is a Tuesday or a Wednesday. :)

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