Write for ‘scannability’

The majority of readers scan, rather than read things. Hardly anyone reads carefully these days, which makes it important to write emails appropriately to this style.

When scanning, you look only for a specific fact or piece of information without reading everything. Such as shorter paragraphs and words in bold.

Scanning allows the reader to find details and other information in a hurry. Here are a few tips, most of which apply to writing in general: 

  • Develop persuasive headings or key products and services which are noticed during scanning.
  • Emphasize key offers and messages with emphasis (bold) within body copy. Be careful not to overdo this since it can spoil the look and flow of copy.
  • Use one idea per paragraph.
  • Use bulleted lists to summarize features or benefits, but don’t make them as long as this one – generally in email, each bullet should be limited to a single line.
  • Don’t write in full sentences when a phrase can communicate the idea just as effectively.

Create a readable flow

The subject line should link seamlessly to your main headline and then lead into the body of the email. The close repeats the main messages and calls-to-action.

There should be a natural flow or continuity from the copy in the subject line into the body of the email. This makes it easier for the reader to take in the information given. 

Excite the reader’s emotions

For the consumer you are offering riches, dreams and experiences or perhaps all you are offering is utility. For businesses you are offering an individual to improve their standing with colleagues or in their own minds.

The offer is there, but have you supported the offer by writing enthusiastically to appeal to the reader’s emotions? The copy needs to effectively communicate to the recipient how the offer will improve their lives. 

Excitement equals effective emails. How’s that alliteration for you. 

Some of this excitement is undertaken in Ben Davis’ recent post on creative email design, where he uses the word ‘cute’ in his title, and giggles at Twitter emailing him using his handle, instead of his name. 

Use the right tone of voice

The trick with copywriting is to do this with a tone of voice that fits the brand values. It’s helpful to have this pre-defined for a consistent tone of voice, that your company may wish to use across all digital channels. 

If you’re not sure of the best tone, ask someone to consider the feeling created by the email copy alone and summarize it in two or three words, effectively testing it. Typically this three word description will be positive, negative or neutral.

If you have too many negative words the tone of voice isn’t what you want. Alternatively, copywriters can consider certain words before they write copy, perhaps with a target audience persona in mind.

Convince the readers through proof

Email readers are (understandably) cynical due to the spam offers clogging their inbox (it’s a clear love / hate relationship), so differentiating your company from spam is very important.  

There are several things you can do to overcome cynicism and build credibility through email, including:

  • Try to achieve connection with the reader to show that you understand them by using customer language and buzzwords.
  • Spell out the benefit the feature gives. For example a bulleted list could use different fonts or formats to emphasize benefits.
  • Back up with facts and numbers.

Direct mail wisdom says repeat to reinforce

Email wisdom says the reader doesn’t have the time to see information repeated, but it is believed that some repetition is desirable. 

Think carefully where in the email the main messages or offers and calls to action are repeated, in line with the way readers consume email.

Email copy should repeat the offer in a clear headline and in the lead-in copy to build on what is available in the headline. Then, when the reader has scrolled, repeat the offer in the final call to action. Of course, the exact form of the copy can and should be varied to avoid sounding repetitive.

The reinforcement of a message is effective in any media, but please do take care not to use excessive repetition or your readers won’t appreciate it. And you may be sent straight to the spam folder from now on. 

Use persuasion tactics

In ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’, US psychologist Robert Cialdini identifies that you can use six tactics to influence email recipients.

The six weapons were originally developed with reference to personal interactions rather than email marketing, but they apply to most areas of digital marketing quite accurately.

In fact, I used this exact graph in my Digital Marketing MSc over several different topics. Which, of course, does more to reinforce it in my mind that yours, but I hope you’ll see how useful it is. 

six ‘weapons of influence’

  • Reciprocity. Offer or link through to valuable, exclusive content (like guides or exclusive email offers) and your audience will feel indebted through the psychology of exchange.
  • Commitment and consistency. Get initial commitment by encouraging visitors to drill deeper by clicking on the email. ‘Set their alarm clock’ by getting recipients to act now or provide regular reasons to return, such as new promotions, content highlighted on the site and within online magazines.
  • Consensus. Your audience will believe others more than they believe you. Use reviews, case studies, testimonials and rewards – this is truly ‘earned’ media. For copywriting, show how others have already benefited.
  • Affinity. People are persuaded by other people they like or are like them, so again use recommendations or endorsements by people who are known by your audience or they can relate to.
  • Authority. As a well-known brand, you are a known authority, so leverage that to show how others have benefited and the security and confidence that brings.
  • Scarcity. The fear of loss is more powerful than the desire for gain, so show site visitors what they could miss. Use urgency and time-limited offers in your copy to tell the reader they shouldn’t miss out. 

Do a CRABS check. 

No, not that one, the other one. Hilarious name, but effective for remembering, right?

Dave Chaffey, author of Total Email Marketing, recommends using the acronym CRABS to review effective online copy.

CRABS stands for:

  • Chunking. Chunking means that paragraphs must be shorter than in paper copy. One or two short sentences max. This helps scannability.
  • Relevance. With limited space, we have no room for fillers. Stick with what matters – the details of the offer and how to receive it.
  • Accuracy. Don’t get carried away with your copy; don’t set expectations so high that you overpromise and can’t deliver something you offer.
  • Brevity. Brevity goes with chunking and scannability. Write your copy, reduce the word count and then reduce it again. Give yourself targets and beat them without sacrificing good English and understanding.
  • Scannability. This is reading without reading every word, just picking up the sense of each paragraph from the keywords. The eye will pick out words at the start of paragraphs and those emphasized in bold.

For more email best practice advice, check out our newly published Email Marketing Best Practice Guide.