Creating effective email content

In this article April Mullen, Director of Brand and Content Marketing at SparkPost, dives into what makes the perfect marketing email, drawing on knowledge from industry experts and her own experience.

Practice often makes perfect when it comes to creating emails. But that’s easier said than done. It’s hard to decipher the myths from the facts, which is why tapping into advice from industry experts like Ann Handley will help uncover the truths, and debunk the lies.

Create a captivating email subject line

An intriguing subject line and brand recognition in the inbox are your first chances to impress readers enough to engage.

The key here is to incite enough curiosity to get the click, but with balance. There’s nothing worse than a clickbait headline that leads to an email that bears little relevance to what its subject promised. Email marketing is all about delivering on your promise, whether that’s knowledge, a discount, or something else of value to your subscribers. Likewise, avoid cryptic heads in your emails.

What leads to a connection for one brand might be a ticket to the junk folder for another. So test, test, and test again. See what works in terms of length and tone, and don’t be afraid to monitor what your rivals are doing.

Avoiding the spam folder

Your sender reputation is the most important factor. Send content to people who have subscribed to hear from your brand and actually want the content you are sending them. That may sound simple, but it’s the most impactful strategy to avoid being flagged as a spammer.

Punchy pre-headers

This is the chunk of text that appears underneath or next to the main subject line in some email providers and devices. It’s an opportunity to add a little more information to someone browsing their messages so you can get that valuable click.

This leads to my next point – go for a punchy introduction. Even if they click on the email, some readers might not get beyond the first paragraph. Try to pack as much information as possible in the first sentence, with the secondary information following after.

A clear call to action (CTA) is crucial when writing short emails. If you’re asking your audience to do something, it should be very clear when scanning an email. Don’t make them hunt for what to do, or you won’t get that conversion.

Getting the right length

The rise of the email newsletter in recent years has highlighted that readers will, in fact, consume longform content in an email.

Longform email newsletters should deliver an explosion of ideas, but at the same time be presented in a short form way – with lots of subheads, illustrations, and other ways of breaking up the text.

Make sure it’s personal

A skilled email writer can personalise emails in a number of ways. Segmentation is important here. Write different versions of your emails by product, persona, etc. while all the time trying to picture your reader. Who are they, what do they do, and how would you like them to respond to your email?

Another tip is to use merge variables, but be authentic. Don’t use someone’s name or company in places where you wouldn’t naturally say that.

Watch your language too. Don’t be afraid to generously use the word “you.” It creates a more conversational email, and in my experience, encourages readers to respond.

Test, test, and test again

Always have someone else read your email before it sends. An extra pair of eyes on your copy is the simplest form of email quality assurance. It isn’t all about catching typos – a good editor can also help you take out the parts of your email that readers will skip.

Spend some checking the links too. If they don’t work then the chances of your emails being successful are virtually nil. Finally, see what the email looks like in different formats and on different devices. Someone using Gmail on a mobile is going to have a very different perspective than someone on Outlook on a Windows PC.

Cynics have been proclaiming that “email is dead” for at least… 15 years now. Yet email continues to drive engagement, demand, and ultimately revenue year after year. It’s the workhorse of marketing. It is a fabulous tool, and in an era when first-party data is becoming ever more valuable, if used effectively, it might just be the most important communication platform you have.

April co-founded Women of Email, a professional network aimed at promoting leadership among women within the email marketing niche and has over 15 years of experience working in email for brands, agencies and in martech. She has also won multiple industry awards, including DMNews’ 40 Under 40 list in 2018 and DMNews’ 2019 Marketing Hall of Femme Women to Watch list, and has been a member and contributing writer on since 2019.


April Mullen is a proven marketing leader currently focusing on brand and content marketing at SparkPost, a MessageBird company. With 15 years’ experience on the agency, martech and brand sides of marketing, she understands the complexities and challenges that marketers face.

April is a passionate advocate for helping and mentoring others. She’s always willing to help lend advice for a conference pitch or to discuss career decisions. Because of her love for helping others, April co-founded Women of Email, an organization with over 6,000 members on six continents that is aimed at driving positive change within the industry and professional growth for women in digital marketing. She has been published in industry publications and frequently speaks at conferences and webinars. Mullen was named to DMNews’ 40 Under 40 list in 2018 and DMNews’ 2019 Marketing Hall of Femme Women to Watch list.

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