Email Marketing Essentials: Writing Effective Emails | Kate Kiefer Lee | Skillshare

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Email Marketing Essentials: Writing Effective Emails

teacher avatar Kate Kiefer Lee, Writer and Editor, MailChimp

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Your Project


    • 3.

      Core Principles


    • 4.

      Voice and Tone


    • 5.

      Written Elements of Email


    • 6.

      What to Write


    • 7.

      Core Types of Email


    • 8.

      Editing Tips


    • 9.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Join Mailchimp's Kate Kiefer Lee and learn how to write a marketing email that helps you — the small business owners, freelancers, and startup teams — accomplish your business goals.

This 28-minute class covers:

  • best practices for writing online
  • how to optimize each written element of a marketing email
  • content ideas for achieving your business goals
  • tips for editing before you hit "send"

The way you write your emails can have a huge impact on how they align and achieve your business goals. Whether you're kicking off a new campaign or looking to revamp your strategy, use the tactics in this class to make the most of email!


Mailchimp is an email marketing service provider founded in 2001. It has 9 million users that collectively send over 15 billion emails through the service each month.

Seeking an introduction to email marketing? Check out Mailchimp's first class on Skillshare, Getting Started with Email Marketing.

Meet Your Teacher

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Kate Kiefer Lee

Writer and Editor, MailChimp


Kate Kiefer Lee is a writer and editor at MailChimp and a former magazine editor. She has written for publications like Forbes and A List Apart, and spoken about web content around the world. She teaches people how to write like they talk.

Twitter | Portfolio| Newsletter

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1. Introduction: Hi. I'm Kate Kiefer Lee. I work on content and communications at MailChimp. I'm a writer and editor and co-author of the book Nicely Said. Nicely Said is a book about writing for the web with style and purpose. This class is about email marketing essentials and writing effective emails. We'll cover some principles for writing on the Web, best practices for writing great emails, and some tips for editing your emails before he sent. You don't have to be a writer to take this task. This class is for anyone who sends email, whether you own your own business, you work on an email marketing team or you work for an agency and send email on behalf of clients. We'll cover some tips and strategies that will help you on your way. You don't really need any prior knowledge to succeed in the class, but an understanding of your business goals and your brand personality would be helpful though it's not a essential. MailChimp is an email service provider. We had eight million customers around the world who use MailChip to send more than 15 billion emails every month. We'll look at a bunch of examples from MailChimp, but whether or not you use MailChimp, this class will help you write better email. For a more general introduction to email marketing, you can also check out MailChimp's first class on Skillshare, Getting Started with Email Marketing. This class will give you the tools to create effective written communication via email. 2. Your Project: The project for this class is to share a marketing email that made you do something. Whether you purchased a product, clicked through to read an article, or RSVP'd or bought tickets to an event, or even share the email with a friend. Pick any email that inspired you to take some sort of action. This project should only take a couple of minutes, maybe up to 15 minutes. In the project gallery, share an image of the e-mail that inspired you to do something. Write a few words about what it was that made you take action when you saw that email, and you can also share a link to the archive of the email online. I encourage you to comment on the emails that other people post too. What we're trying to do here is build a gallery of effective well-written emails that we can learn from. 3. Core Principles: Before we jump into writing specifically for email, let's talk a little bit about writing for the Web in general. Email is just one part of your marketing mix, it's one type of content that you publish online, and I'm going to share some principles and tips to make your writing more effective. My number 1 writing principle is be clear, clarity comes first. It comes before cleverness, it comes before personality. It is important that when you're writing for any Web project, that you know what you want to say and you figure out how to say it in a way that people are going to understand. It helps to start with a question. Start with, "What do I have to say to my readers? What do they need to know?" Then, read your draft back to yourself and say, "Does this answer the question?" Sometimes it's helpful to read it out loud. You can even use some sort of a text-to-speech tool to have it read back to you in a different voice. That's especially helpful because that's the way some people are going to experience your content in the first place. It's also important to be concise. When you're writing for the Web, use short simple words and sentences and write in a way that people will quickly be able to understand. So instead of using words like compose or author, you might want to say something like write. Instead of saying purchase or acquire, consider saying buy and use that same principle when you're writing sentences. Another part of being concise is avoiding fluffy language that you don't really need in your sentences. So, think about words like artisanal, powerful, revolutionary, those words don't carry a lot of weight, they don't mean much so you can go through your draft and take out any fluffy language. When you're writing on the Web, every word counts and every word should carry a lot of weight. So be careful with adjectives and modifiers. It's easy to overuse descriptive words and leave your readers feeling unsatisfied or not really believing whatever it is that you have to say. So when you find fluffy language like that, replace it with concrete concepts and ideas. Before you sit down to write anything, ask yourself, "Who is going to be reading this? What do they need to know? What do they already know?" Write to them where they are. Filling in any gaps for them, explaining any concepts that they might not understand, and most importantly giving them the information they need and only the information they need. Write how you speak. The general communication principles that you follow in your everyday life things like be nice, be friendly, be polite, use transitions. All of that applies to your writing, too. A simple please or thank you goes a long way. One of the biggest challenges I see with Web writing is people trying to say too much at once, and include too many concepts, too many ideas, too many things on one page or in one email or in one message. This is a problem because it makes it hard for people to take in whatever it is that you're trying to say to them. They don't know what matters most, they don't know what to read first, and it can be overwhelming for the reader. There are a couple of things you can do to avoid that problem. First, you can use an outline. Outlines don't have to be overwhelming or complicated, you can write a very simple outline. It can be a bulleted list, it can be a couple of key concepts that you want to include in your message, and just check your message against that outline, against those concepts and make sure you're communicating whatever it is you want to say. You can also use an editorial calendar if you find that you're having trouble focusing your message and you have a lot to say at one time. An editorial calendar can help you portion out your messages so you can address one thing at a time. The other big challenge I see when it comes to Web writing is people overwriting and focusing so much on the way that they're saying, what they have to say, that they completely lose sight of their message. Effectiveness is more important than entertainment. When we're writing for the Web, we're communicators. We're not writing for writings sake, we're not writing to entertain people, we're trying to communicate specific ideas to specific audiences. So, focus first on clarity, focus on your goals, and your style will follow. What I love about conversational writing is that anyone can do it. Whether you're a professional writer or a new writer, maybe a reluctant writer, you can take the communication skills that you already use everyday and translate those to the page. There's nothing else you need to learn. This isn't about grammar or writing rules and regulations, it's about making sure that your natural human voice comes through in everything you publish. As you work to refine your style, keep in mind that you're the expert. You know your business, you know who you are, you know your strategy, and you know what's going to make your business successful. What we're talking about today is making sure that all of that comes through in your writing, so that everything you publish can be as effective and as engaging as possible. 4. Voice and Tone: Now, we're going to talk a little bit about voice and tone. Your voice is in the fiber of your content. It's who you are. It's a reflection of your values and the people behind your company. Your tone on the other hand is always changing depending on the situation, depending on who you're talking to, and what you're talking about. So, this applies to your emails too. For example, if you're sending a receipt or a transactional email with really important information, you're going to be a little bit serious, straightforward, get right to the point. But if you're sending a marketing email about a product launch or an exciting announcement, you may be a little bit more playful and lighthearted. As you work on your voice and tone, make sure that you're writing with intention, that everything you say is genuine and precise. This also speaks to the principle that we talked about earlier, which is being clear. One of the things to watch out for there is jargon. If you communicate that way around the office, you might be inclined to use industry jargon in your content too, but it usually doesn't resonate with wider audiences. Your readers may not understand acronyms or buzzwords, there are other things like that that you might say at the office. To write effective emails, you need to understand not only your message but also your company's voice. One of the most helpful ways to understand and define that voice is to create a simple voice and tone guide. A voice and toned guide covers your company's personality. You might include brand traits and a little bit of information on how you communicate with your customers. You can also break it down by content-type and talk about how you adapt your tone and communicate in a way that's appropriate for each individual situation. You probably send several different types of emails that contain different types of messages. Looking at marketing emails specifically, there's usually more room for personality there and you can be a little bit playful. As an example, MailChimp's voice is friendly, it's straightforward, it's occasionally playful but we constantly adapt our tone depending on whatever it is we're writing. If you're not a writer, the good news is there aren't any rules when it comes to voice and tone. Every company's voice is a little bit different and it's fun to figure out what works for you. One thing to keep in mind is that your voice will evolve over time and this is true for your email too. When you start out with your email marketing, you may be focused on community building and brand loyalty and then as you get bigger and send to more people, your voice might change as your audience changes and that's perfectly fine. Great brand voices share these qualities; they put customers and readers first, they reflect the company's culture and values and they don't sacrifice clarity for cleverness. Remember that brands are not people, they're made up of people. So your brand's voice should be a natural reflection of the people behind your company. 5. Written Elements of Email: So now let's dive in to e-mail marketing. I'd like to start by talking about the five written components of an e-mail. They are: Subject Line, Preheader, Headline, Body Copy and Footer. We'll talk about each of these on their own, and then talk about how they all come together to make a great email. Subject Lines are extremely important. Think of them as an invitation to open your email. When somebody is checking their inbox, all they see is your Subject Line, so it has got to be compelling, and it has got to convince your readers that what you have to say is important. Let's go over a couple of tips for writing effective Subject Lines. First, tell what's inside, don't sell what's inside. Some people respond to sales copy in a subject Line, but most people prefer that you say what's inside the e-mail. That brings us to the second tip, which is be descriptive, use specific language to describe exactly what you're emailing people about. So for example, if you're sending e-mail for a music store, instead of sending an email with the subject line, new music, say something like, New Bruce Springsteen record in stock. That catches people's attention. You can also play around with localization and personalization. Localization would be including a place name, like a city name, in your subject line. Personalization would be including your reader's name in the Subject Line. So, if you are emailing your subscribers about a sale in a particular city, it can be helpful to include that city name in your Subject Line, and you can include people's first names with a simple merge tag in Mail Chimp. Our research suggests that localization and personalization can both be helpful when it comes to engagement. Think of when you're looking through your own inbox, if you see your name or the name of the city where you live, that's likely to catch your eye. We get a lot of questions about length of Subject Lines, and our data scientists have found that length doesn't really have a big impact, one way or the other, on engagement. But a good rule of thumb to keep in mind, to make it easier for people to read your Subject Lines on different screen sizes, is keep it to about 50 characters or less, and 50 characters for context is about half the size of a tweet. As a side note, you can also add emojis to Subject Lines if you use Mail Chimp. I don't recommend replacing words with them or using them as essential parts of your content, because different email clients meet them differently. But they can be really fine to add at the beginning or end of your Subject Line for a little personality. You also want to avoid using all caps and exclamation marks. Sometimes if you're really excited about what you have to say, it might seem like a good idea to put your Subject Line in all caps or use a bunch of exclamation marks, but it makes people feel like you're yelling at them and it also triggers spam filters. The Subject Lines that work best for your company, will depend on your subscribers and their preferences. So pay attention to how your engagement changes over time as you change your subject lines. It's really important to test your subject lines and make sure they're effective for you. You can also run an AB test on a campaign level, to decide which of two subject lines works best for a particular campaign. Almost any email service provider offers this feature. When you're AB testing, it helps to make your two Subject Lines as different as possible to get the best results, so you can make the length different, or the content of the Subject Line different, depending on your message. If you're a mail Chimp customer, you can use our Subject Line researcher tool, where you give us some words or phrases you're considering using for your Subject Line, and we'll give you an estimate of how well those words or phrases are going to perform, and whether or not you use Mail Chimp. You're invited to go to and look at our blog in our resources section. We've got tons of research on Subject Lines, and how well they perform for different industries. The second written component in an email is the preheader. The preheader is the first thing people see in their email client after your Subject Line, and it also appears at the very top of your email campaign. You can think of the preheader as something between a summary and a teaser. It can have a little bit of personality and entice people to read your email, but it should also summarize what the email's about. The preheader is usually longer than the Subject Line, and it should be very different from the subject line. They should compliment each other and work together to encourage people to read your email. The third written component of an email is the headline. The headline is completely optional, you don't have to include one, it depends on the design of the email. But if you do include a headline, it's usually different from the Subject Line. Whereas, the Subject Line is an invitation to open the email in the first place, the headline calls attention to the hierarchy of the email itself. It is the most obvious thing people see when they do open your email. When someone is already reading your email, you can entertain them a little bit more, so if your Subject Line is very descriptive, your headline might be a more traditional copy writing headline style, like you might see in a newspaper or magazine. The fourth written component of any email is the Body copy. Every email has Body Copy, whether it's extremely short or extremely long. Your Body Copy should help you accomplish the goals that you set when you put together your e-mail marketing strategy. This is where all of those writing principles and tips that we were talking about earlier come into play. It's important to be clear, be concise, and be human when you're writing your Body Copy, because at the heart of your e-mail. If you don't have much Body Copy, you can kind of put it all in one place. But if you're working with a lot of copy, then try using signposts like, headers, paragraph breaks, and visual elements, to help guide people through your e-mail and understand what to read and when. Keep in mind that people are scanning and skimming your e-mails, so make that easy for them to do. The most important thing to include in your Body Copy is the call to action, it could be a button, it could be a link asking someone to make a purchase or attend an event, or read an article, or anything else you want your readers to do. The final written component of an email is the footer. Every marketing email is required to have a footer. At Mail Chimp, our customers have to include a mailing address, a link to your Web site, and an obvious link where people can unsubscribe from your newsletter. Even though these are mostly legal requirements, you can still add a little something extra if that's a fit for your brand's voice and tone. For example, you can include a little image at the end of your email, or a link to something fun. Even though there are at least five written components of any email, they should all work together towards your one message. So, when somebody first encounters your email, they see the Subject Line, and then your preheader text, they open the email and they see your headline, your Body Copy, a call to action, and then finally, your footer. All of these things should support your main message. 6. What to Write: I hear from a lot of people who want to send great email. But, they have a million things going on. They struggle to find the resources and the time to create content for email. Remember that your email content doesn't have to be new, you can re-purpose and re-package existing content that you already have. There are a couple of ways you can do this, you can re-use blog posts and structure them in a Newsletter format or in some sort of a link roundup or you can automate that using RSS to e-mail. You can also use imagery from places like Instagram or Pinterest. You probably already have a lot of great content there that your e-mail subscribers would love to see. If you're focused on building community and brand loyalty, you can send behind-the-scenes update of what's going on at your office. Maybe you're working on a new project or developing a product. And when you finish a project, show off your completed work. You can use photos, project summaries or even formal case studies in your e-mails. You can curate other people's content in your e-mail Newsletter too. If you have a topic or theme that relates to your industry, send that roundups. So, things that you're reading, things that can help your subscribers. Just make sure you attribute all of the links and sources. Keep in mind that your e-mails don't have to be long. Sometimes, a photo of a new product or recent project with a simple caption is all you need. There are lots of places you can get inspiration for your writing and your e-mail content and you can also test out different ideas to see what works best for your readers. TheOnion and their sister publication ClickHole, published editorial content via e-mail. So, they send out the articles that they've published on their website. But sometimes, they post them to social media first and gauge the attention there. So, something gets a lot of attention on social media, a lot of likes and comments Retweets and shares, then they know that's good editorial content to send to their subscribers via e-mail. You can read this case study on the MailChimp blog. Let's look at another example, Mouth Foods sells food products online, they have a really playful voice and they have an editorial calendar that includes the regular e-mails that they send out as well as holidays. And that includes fun holidays and silly ones like National Peanut Butter Lovers Day. So, on any particular holiday, they'll send out an e-mail that relates to it. On National Peanut Butter Lovers Day they sent out an e-mail about their peanut butter products, on Halloween they sent a list of scary movies that their employees were watching along with snacks and treats to go with those scary movies. So there are all kinds of places where you can get inspiration for your e-mails and for your writing. 7. Core Types of Email: So, now let's go over some of the most popular types of emails that you may be writing. We'll start with general newsletters. A general newsletter is usually on a calendar. A company may send one weekly or monthly. It includes, everything that's going on at the company. New products, features, announcements, events, all of that would be included in a general newsletter. If you work for a non-profit, something like a letter from the president would be considered a general newsletter, or if you're at an agency then you could do a publication style newsletter that goes out every so often. If you're just getting started with your email marketing, a general newsletter can be a great place to begin. Just get it on the calendar and send an update every week or every month or at any frequency that makes sense for you. When you're writing a general news letter, you may have a lot of content to include. So, remember that your readers are likely distracted and they're busy, so be clear and concise just like we talked about earlier, but make sure you include some personality to help people stay engaged through the content of your email. Your subscribers have opted in to receive emails from you. They've said that they want to hear from you. So, you can count on the fact that they're already more engaged than readers on other platforms. So, you can be friendly and a little bit casual with them. Again, since general newsletters often have a lot of content, remember those signposts, headers, paragraph breaks and visual elements to help guide people through your email. Because of the nature of general newsletters, you may have more than one call to action in any given newsletter. So, keep that in mind when you're working on your hierarchy. Put the most important things first, make your headlines super clear, pull out your calls to action with a button or an obvious link and make sure people understand what you want them to do after they read each section. Going back to those best practices we talked about earlier, I like being told specifically what's in the email. So, I always recommend making your subject line about the content of the email and not the newsletter itself. This is a newsletter from Periscope Creative. As you can see it's a general newsletter that includes updates about what's going on at their company. They show up their new website as well as the couple of case studies. I like how there's a clear headline, a summary, and a call to action for each section, and there are lots of visual elements to help guide readers through the newsletter. A product announcement has a clear focus. You're sharing a product with your subscribers. It could be a physical or digital product. It could also include some kind of service that you're announcing. When you're writing a subject line for a product announcement, the same principles that we talked about earlier apply. Describe what's inside the email, be very clear about what you're announcing, and if it's a new product, tell people it's new. The body copy for product announcements is usually shorter than other emails. You can use a photo and provide some supporting information. Make sure you include all of the important details about the product and of course the call to action. This product announcement from MZ Wallace obviously relies heavily on the imagery. They show off this great picture from their new collection and then they have a clear call to action. They want people to see that photo, see the call to action and go directly to their website to make a purchase. There's not a lot of body copy here because they don't need it. One often overlooked type of email marketing campaign is a welcome email. Welcome emails are usually automated, they're triggered when somebody's first signs up for your email list and you can do a lot of different things with welcome emails. It's a great way to email people when you're still fresh on their minds. They've just opted in and they're ready to hear from you and you can get in touch with them right away. It's an opportunity to catch people up to speed on your company. You could give them some basic information, answer some common questions about your company. You could include evergreen content from your blog, something like your most popular posts. Then of course, if you sell products online, you could offer them a discount to welcome them to your list. It's a great way to engage with your new subscribers and establish a friendly relationship with them from the get go. Another popular type of email marketing campaign is an event invitation. These are pretty straightforward. They exist to invite people to an event, they provide all the important information about the event. Sometimes they have a visual and then a call to action which is usually to RSVP, join or purchase tickets. Make sure you include all of the important information in an event invitation and make it easy for people to find. So, location, date, time, stuff like that should be very obvious and a way to join the event, RSVP or buy tickets should be really clear too. Of course, triple check all of that information to make sure you're telling people the right time, the right place and not missing out on any of those important details. The subject line for an event invitation is a great place to include localization. So, if you're throwing a party in Minneapolis, just include the city name right there in the subject line. Personalization can make sense here, too. Putting someone's name in the subject line, because when you're inviting someone to an event the point is to make them feel welcome. This is an invitation from Oh So Beautiful Paper to Paper Party 2015, at the National Stationery Show. They include a beautiful image that's actually repurposed from their printed invitation. They include all of the important details about the event. They think they are sponsors and then they have a link to RSVP to the paper party. Then, they include a hashtag so people can connect on social media later. Those are some of the most popular types of campaigns that businesses send, but there are countless types of campaigns that you can send. You could send educational series with automation, surveys, curated content or link roundups or editorial content just to name a few. No matter what type of emails you're sending, the same writing principles apply. Be clear, be concise, consider your audience, and be human. People come to us all the time saying, ''I know I want to send email, but I don't know what kind of email my company should be sending.'' I always ask them, how can email marketing help you achieve your business goals? Your business goals may include loyalty and keeping your current customers and subscribers happy and engaged. It may be acquiring new customers, getting new people to sign up for your list and growing your list as your business grows, or it maybe brand awareness and telling people about your company and spreading the word that way. The way that you write your emails will have a direct impact on how effective you are at achieving those goals. Two emails with the same goals but written in two different ways can have drastically different outcomes. So, think about those goals and your style as you write your email content. For loyalty and keeping your current customers happy, you want to tell people about anything new you have to share. Make announcements, keep your customers in the loop and remind them that you're there. For attracting new customers, you want to share some basics about your company and show people what you have to offer. If you're focused on brand awareness, you can show off your personality and your email content. Is it going to be as directly tied to metrics as something focused on loyalty or acquiring new customers, maybe? If you're looking for more tips on strategy and creating emails that meet your business goals, then check out our getting started course. 8. Editing Tips: The final step for writing and sending great email, is to edit and review all of your content. Here's some tips for editing your emails. Find a friend or coworker who can edit your emails before you send them. It's always helpful to have someone else read over your email and give you high level and low level feedback, for structure, flow to make sure your information is clear, and they can also help you catch typos and errors, because sometimes it's hard to get your own typos. If you don't have someone to read over your emails for you, reach out to your fellow students in this class, find them in the gallery, or the discussion section and they can give you feedback, offer insight on your emails, you can even trade surfaces with them. My favorite self editing tip is to read your work out loud. I read everything out loud and I encourage you to do that with your emails. As you know, once you send an email, it's out the door and you can't make any changes. So, read it out loud, makes sure everything flows, make sure you sound like yourself, and double check your spelling, especially if your email service provider doesn't have a spellchecker, and check all your links to make sure they're filled in and make sure they're going to the right place. If you use mail chimp, we have a link checker tool that will scan over and find all the links in your email and tell you a little preview so you don't have to leave the browser. Finally, send yourself a test of your emails. So, you can see it all together with your subject line, your pre-header, your headline, your body copy, your footer and, everything in your own email client. This can help you understand how all of those components work together and it can help you catch any mistakes you might have made or spots that you missed along the way. 9. Final Thoughts: So, in this course we've covered some basic principles on writing for the web. We've talked about writing specifically for email, structuring your emails, writing great subject lines, headlines, body copy, preheaders, and footers. We've looked at some examples and also talked a little bit about editing. Even if you're not a writer, you can use these tips and frameworks to create effective emails for your company. Sometimes the best place to get inspiration for your emails is your own inbox. So, look through your inbox, take notes on what you like and don't like about the emails, what grabs your attention, what causes you to take some sort of action, and also share a link, a picture, and tell us a little bit about what the email inspired you to do. Be sure to comment on the emails that other people share for more feedback and inspiration. I hope this class has shown you how easy it can be to write effective emails. Happy writing.