12 Email Tips That Convince and Convert

by Peter Boyle

Last updated on July 27th, 2017

It’s startling, isn’t it?

That there are writers out there who – with a single letter or email – are able to increase sales ten fold. They’ve such a mastery of language that one letter could bring in tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We all know email is the leading channel when it comes to ROI, but few have the ability to achieve results. Sure, you might run a few A/B tests, tweak your headlines and throw in some killer CTAs to see some minor gains, but it’s rare to see the sort of results you read about in case studies or how to articles.

It almost seems like the best copywriters know something you don’t.

Well, I guess that’s kind of true. After all, they are the ones pulling in huge gains, right?

Fortunately for us, most of these pros are a little on the loose-lipped side! If you know where to look you can find the tricks of the trade that lead to huge gains. So, without further ado, here’s a quick run down of the actions you need to take to absolutely kill it with your email marketing.

The Absolute Basics

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to best optimize your copy, there’s a few basic ground rules you’ve got to understand. These are, without a doubt, the crux upon which the success, or failure, of your campaign depends.

1. Research

You’ll never find yourself sitting down to write an email and saying to yourself, “you know, I think I know too much about my audience”.

Research isn’t just advised, it’s a necessity. You need to know everything you can about your audience.

Not just the regular demographic information used to fill out audience persona, but also your audience’s purchase behaviors, their browsing habits and anything else that can help you pin point exactly what it is that’s going to convince them to take a chance on you.

As David Ogilvy, the closest thing to a deity copywriters have, once said:

research is the backbone of a good email campaign

Image Credit

2. Test, Test and Test Some More

Ah, yes. The old axiom by which CROs live their lives.

Test everything. It’s as true today as the day it was coined.

We all know it, and we all likely spout this little piece of advice a little too often. So why do marketing managers seem to think that they can simply set and forget their automated email campaigns?

They know ‘automated’ refers to the delivery process, right? It doesn’t signify an automatic sequence that will magically improve the effectiveness of your emails.

Keep an eye on everything from open rates and CTR to final conversions if you want the best possible chance of seeing huge gains.

3. Quality Beats Quantity

A vague statement to be sure. But it holds true in two areas of emailing marketing.

The first has to do with your list itself. It’s great to have a huge list, but only if they’re the right kind of prospects. A list of 20,000 cat owners is useless if you’re selling dog whistles.

The quality of your list will greatly influence the effectiveness of your campaign. Make sure your list is full of high quality, qualified prospects.

The second area of quality vs. quantity pertains to frequency. I don’t care how good your emails are, if you spam my inbox I’m unsubscribing. And I’m not alone in that sentiment either.

Graphic of why people unsubscribe from email marketing lists

To paraphrase pretty much everyone’s mother, if you’ve got nothing useful to send, don’t send anything at all.

So, enough with the general overview, let’s get down to the fun stuff.

Subject Line

How many of your emails do you open every day?

Me, I trash a lot of them. I read the subject line and take one of three actions:

  1. Open and read
  2. Trash it
  3. Mark as spam

In the space of a few seconds prospects will decide the fate of your email. If your subject line is lacking, well, then you’re going to end up as just another piece of spam or trash.

Graph of email open rates by industry

The above, from SmartInsights, shows that even the best email open rates don’t exceed 30%

The average consumer is bombarded with emails, sending and receiving just short of 100 every day.

Your subject line is key in standing out from the spammy, useless marketers and getting your content read. Here are a few golden nuggets of advice to ensure your emails are among the handful that get opened.

4. The Four U’s

The four U’s is a technique developed by Michael Masterson to create powerful headlines. It might have been developed with headlines in mind, but as Bob Bly points out, the formula works incredibly well with email subject lines.

The formula advises all subject lines should be:

Urgent – Urgency is an old tactic in sales and marketing. It ensures prospects act now instead of putting your email to one side to read at a more convenient time, because let’s face it, there’s never a more convenient time.

Unique – Do you want to read the same information over and over again? Of course you don’t. You want to read something new, if you’re sent an email which tells you what you already know, you’re not going to open it.

Ultra Specific – Copy can be useful without being specific, but a little specificity certainly adds to its impact. If you’ve got a quality list of qualified prospects, a specific headline will be well received.

Useful – We’re back to the old marketing favorite of outlining benefits here. Tell your readers what the email will offer them, outline how it will be of use.

5. Open Loop / Curiosity Gap

Ever noticed how a wet paint signs make you want to press your index finger against the freshly painted surface? Weird, right?

I guess we touch it because, whilst the sign says it’s wet, we need confirmation. We’re curious, and the only thing we can do to rid ourselves of this curiosity is touch the paint.

It’s this lovely little psychological trigger that the open loop plays on.

With an open loop subject line you give just enough away to pique the curiosity of your prospects. The information you present isn’t complete, the only way they’re able to address their curiosity and ‘close the loop’ is by opening the email.

Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers used this approach for a Quicksprout email campaign. The email read:

BOOM! This is How You Get Traffic… And Convert It.

Coupling the open loop with that attention grabbing ‘BOOM’ brought astounding results. This single email has a confusingly high 102% email open rate. That’s right, people were so intrigued they’d come back to open it again later.

Play on the curiosity of your prospects and provide just enough information to whet their appetite.

6. K.I.S.S

This should be the aim of all your copy.

We know about the power of brevity and how, thanks to the reduction in user attention spans, writing in a to-the-point manner is an absolute necessity.

With email subject lines keeping things simple and to the point should be your top priority. Often your prospects are only going to be able to read the first 40 or so characters of your subject line. The last thing you need is for your key wording or primary persuasion point to be cut off by the character limits imposed by your prospect’s email service provider.

Content Marketing Up studied the effect of headline length and found that short, descriptive headlines get more opens.

Study results on the best email subject lines

7. If all Else Fails, Do What Most Copywriters Do

Steal Borrow. Not word for word of course, but take a little inspiration from the emails that land in your inbox and catch your attention.

Use popular headline formulas, check out swipe files of effective headlines and adapt what you see to your own business.

Body Copy

Congrats, you’ve managed to hook attention and have your prospects chomping at the bit for the next awesome sentence. But where do you go from here?

How can you hold that interest and really show your prospects that this email is the best thing that’s dropped into their inbox that day, week, month or even year?

8. Establish Relevancy and Interest From the Get Go

“Hi [NAME], my name’s Pete Boyle and I think crappy, generic email ledes are the ultimate mood killers, especially if you’ve got a killer subject line!”

Seriously, it’s the worst.

The lede is the next most important element after your subject line. It needs to reinforce why the email is relevant to the reader and bolster interest.

GetResponse advise utilizing the Four Ps of Persuasion. Promise, picture, proof and push.

The latter three Ps are useful, but it’s the idea of making a promise in your opening that’s interesting.

People receive huge amounts of emails nowadays. In fact, according to the Radicati Group the average consumer sends and receives just short of 90 emails every day!

Study into how many emails are sent and received every day

Your subject line might be awesome, but with so much email traffic you need to really convince prospects that your email is the one they want with your opening paragraph.

Make a promise (that demonstrates usefulness) and make it relevant to your prospect’s needs.

The best way to ensure your emails are making useful promises is to:

9. Be Honest

There’s a lot of advice extolling the value of building a relationship and talking in terms your users associate with.

It’s good advice, but a lot of the time it goes just that little bit too far.

It often feels like marketers are trying to become the best friend of prospects, rather than a trusted advisor. You need them to trust you yes, but as a business, not as their friend.


Well, you ever had a friend try to sell you something? How awkward does that get! No one with half a brain wants to enter into a business deal with a friend. There’s just too much that could potentially go wrong.

Sonia Simone of Copyblogger advises:

“If you’re selling and you’re a business, don’t try and pretend you’re not a business. Because again, you’re going to create an expectation mismatch, and that’s going to get you marked as a spammer which is going to be a problem.”

Build a relationship and establish trust. But don’t go too far with it and take yourself out of the position of service/product provider.

10. Email for a Single Purpose

So you’re launching a new product, improved some features and just received more funding.

Why not bunch everything into one email?

Because it’s confusing.

Your emails need to have one clear purpose. Everything from the subject line to body copy and CTA should be focused on that solitary purpose.

Neil Patel reports that choosing a single offer and communicating it clearly helped Crazy Egg increase conversions by 30%.

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 16.10.52


They bring everything together. All that hard work of capturing attention, getting the open and persuading your prospects culminates in the final stage of your CTA.

They may be small, but they’re incredibly mighty. The general rules for great CTA optimization still apply, but with email there’s a few extra considerations.

11. Your CTA must Link to a Specific Landing Page – Not Your Home Page

It’s amazing how many businesses seem to make this mistake. You spend so long building desire with your email only for it all to unravel at the last minute by linking to a completely unrelated page.

It’s such a waste.

In his own newsletter, prolific copywriter Bob Bly calls this “the worst e-mail marketing mistake”. He goes on to say:

“Web site home pages are “generic” in that they are about the entire company. But the e-mail is about one specific product you want the recipient to inquire about or buy.”

“The result is a disconnect: the prospect deletes your e-mail without making an inquiry or purchase, because your e-mail copy and your web site don’t match up.”

12. Include a Secondary CTA

For some weird reason readers are always drawn to the post script section of emails.

This presents a great opportunity for you to either:

  1. Reiterate the primary CTA with yet another persuasive reason
  2. Add a secondary, yet complementary CTA to the email

The latter option is a little risky as it takes away from the golden rule of one email, one purpose. However, it doesn’t seem to have the same damning effect as on landing pages.

Check your emails for correspondence from any savvy marketer and I’ll wager one steak dinner that at least 50% of them have a P.S. with a CTA.

Here’s one I pulled from my own inbox that I received from Tomasz at KISSmetrics.

How to use a secondary CTA in email marketing

Create Your Own Swipe File of Email Awesomeness

The great thing with email is it’s so damn easy to research.

As you’re reading this I think it’s safe to assume you’re also subscribed to many of the webs top marketers. If you’ve been subscribed to them for anything over a week you’ve already got the start of a great swipe file.

Set up different folders and save the emails that have the most compelling headlines, best body copy and killer CTAs. You’ve now got your own personal swipe file you can consult when you need to pull out the persuasion and write a killer email.

Email marketing is still the undisputed king of ROI. Hopefully these tips will help you create some kick ass emails that are not only appreciated and enjoyed by your prospects, but also bring you the best return possible.

If you’ve any other tips or have a secret method for increasing the CTR or conversions from your own subs, drop a comment below and let us know.

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Peter Boyle

Pete Boyle is a conversion focused copywriter and marketing consultant. He helps brands increase their revenue through compelling copy and smart email campaigns. Click here to connect with Pete or download one of his free marketing guides.


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  1. Anonymous says:
    January 24, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    A lot of useful info in your article. Very much to the point. Thanks!

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