Rob’s actionable guide to a 43% email open rate

February 11, 2017

It’s been 142 days since I’ve written. For the past few months I’ve been learning how to launch a SaaS startup correctly. I’ll write a separate guide about this in a future post. Right now, I wanted to get something off my mind: how to write an email.

You don’t need to do everything. Each part you do will improve your emails, build your brand, & increase engagement. If you want those benefits, keep reading.

Why I started an email series

When I started the early access list for OnlineTravelMap, I needed to keep the site on people’s minds. I started a weekly email series because it’s a common way to achieve this, can be automated, and would enable me to do high-level customer development. Win-Win.

At first, the series was heinous. I provided trip tips (a saturated topic) and koala puns. That was September 2016. Over time, I tested different strategies for creating a better series. For reference, here are my open rates.

I knew I didn’t like getting spammed by ugly emails or when the emails are too wordy. Expanding on those points, I came up with these 4 attributes of high traction emails:

  1. Pick a Frequency
  2. Identify Your Content Strategy
  3. Follow an Email Structure
  4. Text layout

Before we start on #1, let’s get a couple things straight: there’s no excuse for misspelled words or bad grammar. Ever. Use spellcheck & reread your emails a couple of times or don’t send the email. More on rereading later.

Pick a Frequency

Do you want people to think of your brand as reliable & easy to work with? The first way to personify those traits is by sticking to an email schedule. Only email a specific day & time, and send a max 2/week.

Side note: notification emails are different because the recipient opts-in to them. The emails I’m talking about are ones from your company & you.

If you’re not sure what day & time would be best, ask your recipients. The time they give you is when they’d receive the email, not when you send them. If you can’t account for time zones & daylight savings time, don’t sweat it. It’s more important for the emails to be sent consistently.

Build brand dependability by scheduling your emails.

It’s OK to send a “Personal Note” or mid-cycle email once in a while. When you do send one, space it at least 48 hours from your normal emails.

Identify Your Content Strategy

“Content strategy” is one of those buzzwords you laugh at, then start using. Basically, why are you emailing people? It better be a damn good reason. Are you emailing them ways to save money? Are you teaching them something? Mine was to learn more about them & get feature feedback.

Ideally, the emails have a call to action, like sharing, replying, or clicking a link. When people interact with your emails, improves your reputation with the email provider. Unless the interaction is marking it as spam…

Whatever the reason for the email series, keep the read time to under a minute.

Basically, the email should be a gateway to further engagement. My emails questions like “Which feature do you like more, A or B?” followed by a color block with what features A & B are.

Recipients read the question, read the features, decide which they like more, and reply in less 30 seconds. Build an email series where the recipients know reading won’t take long but is still of value.

Follow an Email Structure

Emails should inherit some features of good web design. You can use the A.I.D.A.framework in emails too.

Keep the read time to < 1 minute. If it goes longer, use the email as a teaser & provide a link to your site for the full content. You could let them opt into full content emails there if they want, but it should be their decision.

Keep the subject short & sweet; no more than 10 words. Questions & numbers are catchy. Consider having a subject template, and reusing it for future emails such as:

“5 date night deals” or “3 ways to save on travel”

In this example, the templates are “5 ___ deals” and “3 ways to save on ___”. Use the template for the first 3 emails ( → dependability), then change it slightly like:

“Do you want to save $100 on groceries?”

Use #2 a couple of times, then switch back to template #1. Using a subject template builds predictability & reliability. The template will get boring, so introduce another template to keep their attention.

My subject templates are “Quick Question”, “Feature vs Feature”, and “Meet a Mockup”. #alliteration

The first thing in the body of your email should be your good-looking logo. Build your brand. It should be centered, readable, & not too large. The email’s first lines of text should be visible onscreen, especially on a phone.

BTW, it’s OK for the body to have a colored background, but it should enhance the reading experience in some way and not detract in any way.

If you can get to the point in 1 or 2 sentences, do so below the logo. If you can’t, then make them want to read more. You got their attention with the subject. Now, write 1 or 2 sentences that pique their interest & expand on the subject such as:

“Here are 5 deals from ABC Movie Theaters, Rob’s Comedy Club, Paint & Pinot, Preston Paintball, & Fancy Restaurant. Follow the link at the bottom for the full list of 15 deals.”

Now, present the main content. Change the background color, have a simple image, or bold/italics if possible. Keep it brief & subtle, but noticeable. Just like the other text, the writing should be compelling & easy to read.
In the closing, thank them for using your product, and give your name & URL. Below that, put your social media links, physical address, and unsubscribe link. The last 2 are law. And never ever confirm their unsubscribe with an email.

Do’s & Don’t of Text Layout

I know there was a lot in email structure. Now that you have the framework of the email, let’s talk briefly about how the text should look.

  1. Paragraphs should have a goal, like how you can provide deals, next week’s deals, or recent product improvements.
  2. Keep paragraphs to 2-3 lines & 2–4 sentences. If it’s only 1 line, it’s to emphasize the content, like a header. Use some of the 4th line if needed. Use the 5th to start losing their interest…

Having a goal drives the paragraph & having length restrictions makes sure you don’t ramble. If your paragraph needs all it’s content but it still 5 lines, here are some ways to shorten sentences.

& vs and: Using an ampersand can shorten a sentence & make it more readable. Don’t get excessive and use them in combination wisely:

“Check out these deals for food & drinks, and maybe see a show afterwards.”

– vs between: Use the 1 character dash instead of the 7 character word, “between”. If you’re comfortable with it, get rid of the spaces on either side of the dash, you rebel.

< & > vs less than & more than: If you think your recipients will understand them, use < and >. 1 character compared to 9.

Use emoji sparingly and only if your audience is cool with them.

My final piece of advice is reread the emails the next day & make any changes, then do it again the day after. By the end of the 3rd day, your email should be clean, to the point, & engaging.

It’s possible I’m over-complicating this, but these are what I used when writing the blog post you just read. =)

If you want to see what I can do with one of your emails, paste it in the comments.

Thanks for reading,

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