How to Generate Compelling Email Content

The Best Email Subject Lines

There are a lot of strategies for making an effective email campaign, but few of them pertain to the email itself. You can do all the right things to get your message to its recipients and ensure that they open it, but if you don’t craft your message well in terms of content and structure, the rest is a waste of time. To write compelling email content, you also have to think about how people read on their computers.

People Scan, they Do Not Read

People do read text once they have made sure it’s what they are looking for, but before that, they scan. It’s the same for web pages as it is with email. For some reason, we are all in a big hurry when we are online, and we want what we are looking for right away. As such, we have developed practices that are unique to looking at content online. We scan content instead of reading a web page or an email all the way through. A user experience study conducted by Nielson Norman Group revealed how 232 users looked at thousands of different web pages. It was found that people read in an F-shaped pattern while scanning. Other notable discoveries were as follows:

  • Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the top bar of the “F” pattern.
  • Next, users move down the page a bit and read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F’s lower bar.
  • Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a fairly slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eyetracking heatmap. Other times, users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. This last element forms the F’s stem.

This study pertained to web pages; however, it’s not that far of a stretch to say that users probably read their email content in the same way — at least those messages from senders they may not be expecting or don’t know very well. Given these facts about how people read online, you should make sure that you craft your email message to be scannable. If your message is longer than a paragraph, organize the information by splitting it up and placing headers that describe what the user will read below the header. Use keywords that your target audience may be searching for in your email. Use some of the same words that were in your subject line in the body of your email so people can find them easily.

Get to the Point

It is natural to be compelled to explain who you are and what you are doing emailing a prospect. That’s fine, but do it quickly and get to the point of the email. All that is really necessary is your name, your company’s name and perhaps the reason you are emailing. Next, get right to the value proposition, or, in other words, what’s in it for the recipient. No matter how you are contacting a prospect (whether by phone, Internet, or some other means), they are typically always thinking of themselves and their time, and they care very little about you and yours. This is the way we all think, so leave out all the fluff, and only include the parts of your message that will resonate with the prospect.

Give Them What They Want

People usually open emails because they think there is something compelling inside. Keeping with the theme that a prospect doesn’t care about you and only themselves, be sure the value proposition is delivered right away. If you have a special offer, let them know how to take advantage of it. If you have interesting news to share with them, share it. No matter what it is, make sure you deliver it right away and also make it easy for your recipient to get it. Some common mistakes are an inconsistent email body and subject line, value propositions that are buried in email text or drowned out by other elements and ambiguous conversion processes.

An Enticing Call to Action

You should always have a call to action in any advertisement and an email is no different. After you have explained the product, service or offer you are emailing a prospect about, create a compelling call to action that entices recipients to make a decision and act. Start your call to action with a commanding noun and create a sense of urgency. Be careful not to overdo it here. Cheesy or deceptive calls to action work more to turn recipients off than to get them to convert.

Put the Most Important Information First

We all know the basic conventions of a newspaper (even if we aren’t aware of them). Look at a newspaper written in any language and you can tell which stories are very important and which are not that significant. You know this based on the placement of the story on the page. These conventions make it easier for readers to know what to read first and what can wait for later. In your email, the most pertinent and useful information to your recipient must be placed first. This is important because your reader won’t have to scroll to find the important info, and if they end up not reading your email all the way through, at least the most important themes were conveyed.



Keep Your Message Short

This tip applies to a lot of marketing messages, but it is not an ironclad rule. There are obviously times when having a lengthy email is ok, such as when sending an email newsletter or when the target audience is expecting a lot of text. In general, though, if you are promoting an offer or trying to entice someone to buy a product or service, you need to keep the message short. Write as much in the body of your email as you think will be necessary for your prospect to convert.

Well-Written Content

When I mentioned well-written content, I’m talking about writing without errors. This is one of the easiest elements to control, and it is often overlooked or rushed. It helps to create an editorial calendar of when you will send out email messages so that they can be critiqued by another set of eyes before being sent. Poorly written content not only conveys the message that you are unprofessional, but it also makes people think you are careless. Poorly written content also undermines a prospect’s faith in you as a business person.

Test, Test, Test

This isn’t really a tip for creating compelling content, but you should always be tweaking what you do. Try emails with differing subject lines or copy. Use different keywords or different images, and experiment with different calls to action. In the world of marketing, few things are truly finished, and there is always a chance to go back and strengthen what appears to be done in order to get a better result. Remember to change things slightly and keep a record of what you did change so you can measure it. If you go about changing an entire email haphazardly, it’s hard to know what helped it perform better the next time around. Take advantage of tracking platforms like Google Analytics if you are sending people to your website.


How do you come up with compelling content for your emails? What strategies have worked for you?

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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