Posted: January 23rd, 2012 | Author:  |

I’m leaving email marketing and the charity sector tomorrow, and going to work in B2B social media for Regus. Here are a few of the things I have learnt about writing copy for charity emails:

  1. The ONLY bits that matter in terms of conversion are

    1. subject line
    2. first sentence
    3. link copy
    4. call to action

    Write these bits FIRST. The rest of the email should proceed from them. These are also the bits which will have the largest impact in tests.

  2. READ IT OUT LOUD – if it doesn’t sound like a real person speaking, start again.
  3. Cut, cut and cut again. If the meaning remains the same, you’ve almost certainly made it more elegant by cutting.
  4. You are allowed to begin sentences with ‘And’ or ‘But’.
  5. Abbreviate “not” to “ ‘t “ (eg “do not” becomes don’t). Do not abbreviate “have” to “ ‘ve”. Abbreviating “is” to “ ‘s “ is a judgement call. And read out loud to check – abbreviating makes it friendlier and more natural, but can reduce impact.
  6. There should always be some version of the Call-to-Action above the fold.
  7. Avoid sentences with multiple clauses and sub-clauses – it’s what we learned to do at university, but it’s awful copywriting. Full stop. New sentence. Every. Single. Time.
  8. Steer clear of adverbs. They’re uneccessary. It is stronger to say ‘I believe’ than ‘I passionately believe’. ‘Your Country Needs You’ is stronger than ‘Your Country Really Needs You’.
  9. We deal in facts, not opinions. Avoid ‘could’, ‘would’, ‘ought’ and ‘should’. Never begin a sentence ‘we think’, or ‘we believe’. People ARE going hungry because of biofuels. It IS a scandal. It MUST be stopped. Not ‘We believe that the evidence shows that biofuels may be causing causing hunger. We think this a scandal – it’s one which we think should be stopped.’
  10. The message must be about the recipient, not the sender. Always talk about ‘you’, never ‘we’. ‘You can stop the biofuels scandal’, not ‘We need you to stop the biofuels scandal’.
  11. Email content is a less-than-zero sum game. Talk about three different things, and you won’t get three times as much engagement. You won’t even get the same amount of engagement, split three ways. You’ll get less in total. One message ALWAYS trumps two.
  12. That doesn’t mean you can never communicate more than one thing: put the simplest, most appealing message in the email. The landing page can include more in-depth messaging, secondary actions and links to the really detailed policy stuff. That way the content aimed at the more engaged only  gets seen by them, and the content designed to persuade people to click through stands out more strongly. If it’s an action, and there’s stuff that only the most engaged supporters will be interested in (shares, reports, campaign guides), why not save that for the thank-you page?
  13. Most of your readers won’t see the images – so write good alt-text (especially for call-to-action images) and don’t rely on pictures to convey your main point.
  14. You have 3 seconds to convince someone to engage with your email. That’s all. If they read the first sentence, and they don’t know what you’re trying to tell them, they WILL delete.
  15. Never, ever write a boring or cryptic subject line. Questions, or teasing ambiguity, can be very effective. But if you don’t mention the basic subject matter, it will get ignored by your most important audience: the people who actually care about that subject.
  16. About a third of your readers will have their email set up so they only see the first 21 characters of the subject line. Frontload the best bit.
  17. Read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King. It’s absolutely gripping, and contains some great copywriting tips. Other good places to look include: