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July 13, 2018
Email Marketing  |  22 min read

Ways to Build Better Business Emails

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Josh Brown, Twila Grissom, Mike Connolly, Jill Shaw, Pamela Wagner

As per Boomerang’s analysis of 5 million emails, an average user spends two-and-a-half hours tending to emails every day, and by the end of 2017, 132 billion business emails are estimated to be sent and received per day.

There’s stiff competition for the inbox, and you’ve got to stand out if you’re going to catch your recipient’s eye. Before we get into discussing the business email formats that are most successful in engaging customers, here are some of the hard facts:

By far the biggest competition in the inbox is spam. According to Semantec, "Spam represents as much as 75 percent of all email sent across the internet." More than anything, you don’t want your email to be perceived as spam.

Email copywriting best practices

If you’re a business owner, the data indicates the need for your emails to be direct and crisp in order to reduce email churn.

Here are several ways to help make the whole copywriting email process go faster.

The Non-writer’s Guide to Writing Marketing Copy that Attracts - Download Now

Know your "who"

As your business grows, and you establish a brand, you’ll need a consistent "voice" so your audience can easily recognize what’s special about your products or services.

The best way to do this is with a buyer profile, aka "avatar."

A thoroughly filled out and accurate avatar worksheet gives you a rock-solid foundation from which to start any conversation with your ideal customer. This rings true especially with email because it’s so personal and can be so easily segmented to exactly match their interests.

What do they want "in the moment"?

Accurately tuning into your prospect’s needs in that moment when she opens your email can make all the difference. Before you start writing out that sequence, picture your perfect prospect, what are they doing when they read your email? Wishing they had? Hoping to believe?

Pull out your "battle card"

Don’t go into a sales conversation without knowing their prospect, competitors, and current market conditions.

In a sales and marketing context, a battle card gives you nine reference points for any sales conversation, including those pesky emails you’re about to write:

  1. Market conditions
  2. Target customers
  3. Product features
  4. Competitor analysis
  5. Customer-specific offers
  6. Objection handlers
  7. Golden questions
  8. Success stories illustrating specific benefits
  9. Anything else you might need to know

So, before you begin writing, see if you can fill in the data for each of the nine points listed above.

Keep the goal in mind

It’s critical to pick one objective per email and stick with it. You can always send more emails with different points and objectives later.

In fact, that’s the beauty of an email sequence, it gives you the opportunity to stretch your sales presentation out over time so your prospect can mull over each point.

However you stitch your sequence together, keeping a laser focus on one point, one driving emotion, one call to action per email will increase your clicks and opt-ins and sales.

Identify your "big idea"

Finding the one idea that strikes a chord in your prospect can be worth doing a little digging for. Let’s look at some examples:

  • "When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight." (FedEx)
  • "Melts in your mouth, not in your hand." (M&M’s)
  • "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there." (State Farm)

No doubt, it takes a little thought to find a single idea that includes a key benefit, differentiates your offer, and evokes positive feelings about it.

Always take a step back before you start writing, and ask yourself, "What’s the big idea here that I’m trying to convey?"

Outline it

Outlines vary by purpose, but here’s an example of one for when a new prospect has just joined your list or made a purchase:

  • Subject: Be clear who it’s from and why
  • Warm welcome: First email only if in a sequence
  • Early call-to-action: If the next step in your funnel, such as a surprise free gift is compelling enough, you might drop in an offer and CTA right after the greeting. However, leave it out if there’s no way to make it fit in naturally.
  • Content: What your prospect can expect over the next X days/weeks/months...
  • Call-to-action: Always end with a clear CTA, even if it’s just "Hit reply if you have any questions!" It engages your prospect and, assuming you there’s a clear benefit for responding, it lets them know there’s always a good reason to read your emails

Outlining works, whether it’s a one-sentence checklist or framework for an 18-part sales email. Whatever the scope, outline it first and you’ll sail through the writing.

Let it out: Write first, edit later

Clayton Makepeace, a renowned direct response copywriter who has sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of products and services with his writing says once he finishes all the pre-work, often he’ll just sit back, place his fingers on the keyboard, close his eyes, and let it all out.

Toss the trash; keep the gems

You may find it helpful to edit in several passes. You could start withgrammar and spelling. Then logical consistency. Next, check for conversational tone and emotional appeal. Or, you may find it easier, especially in a time crunch, to do them all at once.

If you have the time, after editing, sleep on it. Often you’ll come back with a fresh perspective. You’ll see things and get new ideas that hadn’t occurred to you before. Much of the best writing comes after several iterations.

Finally, read your email out loud before hitting send or publish. By tweaking based on what you hear yourself saying, your message will almost always come out more clearly. And clarity drives clicks and sales.

Rock your subject line

How do you write a killer subject line without breaking a sweat?

Everyone has a different approach. You’ll figure out what works best for you, so keep experimenting. Here are a few ideas to try:

  1. I’ll often plug in a "working subject line" early, then come back and rewrite it once the rest of the email is done. You not only can match it better to the body of the email that way, often you’ll come up with one or more better ideas.
  2. "Same old, same old" in the inbox is death. Your email will never get read if the subject line doesn’t somehow stand out to your prospect. And that doesn’t mean you need to shout with all caps or spam it up with hype. Sometimes a simple low key message such as, did you see this?" is all you need to stand out. Especially when every other subject line is screaming for attention. This is where knowing your prospect intimately helps.
  3. Use a subject line "swipe file." You can find these all over the internet. They’re good for when you get stuck or are looking for a new tack. But rarely does it work to swipe one verbatim. What they can help with is sparking an idea or inspiration to try a different approach.
  4. If you don’t come up with a hit right away, write a lot of subject lines. As Thomas Edison said, "Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or energy. Sometimes just one word can make all the difference. And it might take a few tries to find that sweet spot that gets a huge response. It might look something like this:
    • {FirstName}, did you see this?
    • {FirstName}, did you see this offer?
    • {FirstName}, did you see this offer that ends tonight?
    • {FirstName}, this offer ends at midnight…
    • Hey {FirstName}, this offer ends at midnight
  5. When you have one you like, run it through "The 4U’s": Is it useful, unique, urgent and ultra-specific? It’s rare to find a subject line that scores high on all four U’s, but the higher your total score, the better chance your email will get read.
  6. And finally, use a tool. You’ll find several on the internet. One I particularly like, even though it’s geared more for blog titles, is the Headline Analyzer by the folks over at CoSchedule.

Follow these tips and your writing will not only go faster, your list and sales will grow. And the more you do, the better it gets.

12 phrases for business emails to avoid

  1. Hey/Hello there

    Don’t hamper your brand with such casual language in your business endeavors.

    Alternative: It’s OK if you skip the salutation or directly address the person by their name followed by a comma.

  2. Honestly

    If you’re writing an email, it should be obvious that you’re being honest. You don’t need to announce it.

    Alternative: Get to the point and tell the truth. Your prospects will respect you for saving their time by skipping the fluff

  3. Really/very

    These two overused words devoids your writing of its power. They don’t add any value to your message and make the reading more painful for your prospect. Editing them out will make your emails shorter, more precise, and easier to understand.

    Alternative: Eliminate these modifier words and find a word that includes "very" or "really" already in its meaning. Use thesaurus.com if your vocabulary is limited.

    Example: "antiquated" instead of "really old."

  4. Just

    For instance, "Just following up on my call..." But "just" makes your message unclear. Don’t let it rob your credibility and undermine your actions.

    Alternative: Cut it out. It won’t make a difference to your message.

  5. Things/stuff

    These two lazy words demand extra attention and energy from your prospect. And if you’re vague, the additional burden will only result in your email getting trashed immediately. Also, the informality of these words does not suit a business environment.

    Alternative: You can use specific words like issues/principles/reasons depending on the context.

  6. But

    The negative conjunction mostly comes across as a warm-up for bad news that lies ahead—or a soft way of discounting your prospect’s idea.

    Alternative: Don’t undermine your message’s intent. You can substitute the word "but" with "and," or completely get rid of it

  7. Utilize/ROI/innovative

    Corporate jargon isn’t going to impress your prospect. The extra syllables in "utilize" draw attention, and cause your prospect to become distracted, just as I suspect you got, looking at the word "utilize." So, there’s little use of highlighting the word in a sentence.

    Similarly, "ROI" and "innovative" are also buzzwords that add unnecessary abstraction. ROI is the gross profit that your business makes on an investment. And, innovative is an overused marketing word that’s only used to sell a product.

    Stick with simpler and more specific options below.

    Alternative: "Use" will always fit sentences where you’ve put utilize.

    And don’t make empty noises about your product being innovative and giving a great ROI. Talk numbers and data about the specific results your previous clients have derived from it.

  8. ASAP/quickly

    In his book "Rework," Jason Fried calls ASAP poison. Similarly, the word "quickly" is also nonspecific and may leave your email’s recipient confused.

    Alternative: Leave no room for interpretation. Get crystal clear with the deadline by explicitly specifying the exact time. Like, "Please send me the article by Monday 6 p.m."

  9. Me/I

    If you’re pitching your product, you need to get to the specific benefits for the customer—not talk about your product.

    Even in internal company communication, you need to get rid of these two words. They focus on you and your contributions. Rather, talk about how your collective teamwork contributes to the mission of your company.

    Alternative: "You" and "your" are powerful substitutes. A Yale study named "you" the most influential word in English. In internal communications, you can also use "our," "we," and "us."

  10. Irrelevant emojis

    Emojis are the fastest growing language in the history of the UK. They make your communication friendlier and expressive. A formal business email with plain text may seem cold and unfriendly.

    If you’re considering using emojis in client communication, definitely don't use them when you’re sending a proposal to a prospect or if you want to be taken seriously.

    Alternative: 76 percent of American workers use emoticons at work. So, sprinkle them occasionally in your positive messages to coworkers or clients you have a relationship with. Or, use them on your about me page as a way to showcase your personality that’s one layer deeper than your email.

  11. Sorry

    "Sorry" oozes low confidence. And, it’s frequently used by women at the workplace. Pantene even launched a video titled "Not Sorry"—it encouraged women to stop with unnecessary apologies at the workplace.

    Alternative: Directly state your point skipping the word "sorry" altogether. Don’t let your prospect doubt your abilities. If you’ve messed up, you can use "I apologize."

  12. Noted

    The recipient can assume you’re happy. But, it might also mean that you’re disappointed.

    Alternative: Instead of negative or neutral phrases, stick with using positive ones. "Thank you." suffices over Noted any day.

Tools to help you send effective emails

Just not sorry: This Gmail plugin ensures that you don’t undermine your message. It points out the self-deprecating words in your email and helps you communicate assertively.

email example

HemingwayApp: The app checks grammar and points out unnecessary words that blur your message. It’ll also point out long and complicated sentences that need fixing to tighten up your prose.

google plugin example

Canva: A email header design is the first thing your recipient sees, so it needs to make an impact. And here’s the great news: You can make a ton of email headers without devoting huge chunks of your budget to it. Canva released a new email header design template, so now you can make an email header with a kick without kicking your time to the curb.

Email Remarketing

The fact that around only 3 percent of people visiting your website will ever buy something on their first visit. What are you doing about the remaining 98 percent? It would be a pity to let that potential revenue go.

In general, only customers that are signed in to their accounts on Gmail, YouTube, and Google Search see your ads. These people usually already know about your product, they are familiar with it and know its features. Adjust your text for that situation.

Think about in what emotional moment you could catch them and tailor your message accordingly.

Email remarketing campaigns are ideal to catch customers at different lead or buying stages of your company. Got a new great product coming out? Launching a new webinar soon? Have a feature upgrade? Let them know. Get that one step ahead of your competitors and show your presence.

Here are the main things to consider as you send that follow up remarketing email:

1. Your why

Be very clear on the following:

  • What do you want to achieve? If you notice that you have a lot of email subscribers but they don’t take much action, it might be time to re-engage them. Do you want your users to buy into a new upgrade? Do you want your customers to purchase a different product that is the latest must-have in the industry?
  • Write down one goal. Knowing your WHY will also help you to tailor your ads more specifically to your customers. If you talk their language, chances are much higher they will buy from you. These people already know about your product, they are familiar with it and know its features. Adjust your ad text for that situation.

2. Your how

  • Create a list from the emails you have. Ideally, you separate customers according to whether they already bought something or not. This way, targeting will be more efficient. To create this list, it is best to follow this article from Google. Now, this point will take you the most time out of the four points mentioned here. Get it done first. Procrastination shouldn’t be your friend.

  • Create a "Search Network Only" campaign in Google Adwords.

  • Create one ad group for each email list that you’re aiming to target. This way you ensure that the best fitting ads are shown to each list.
  • Tailor the ads and keywords to the customers in your email list.

3. Your what

What goal do you want to drive? What ads will help you achieve that best?

  • You might want to consider single day email campaigns or campaigns that only run for a couple of days because your offer is limited or you’re launching in a certain period of time. (Hint: include countdowns in your ad.)

  • Drive a new product or upsell. You just launched and want your followers to be better aware of your amazing new creation.

  • You have a very good base for first-time buyers but probably want to go to the next level. Use email remarketing to solidly drive your revenue and turn your base customers into raving fans.

Even if you use just one spam triggering word in your subject line, you've ensured that your email will skip the recipients’ inbox and land directly in the spam box.

Business email formats

Let’s take a look at the six types of emails that work best to get your customers on the hook and ready to engage further with your brand.

1. The welcome email

Effective welcome emails are both personalized and personable.

The most basic way to personalize your welcome email is to use your customer’s name in the greeting and throughout your message. But you can take your personalization a step further by using what you know about your customer (such as their location or interests, depending on the information they’ve provided) to showcase certain products or services that may be of value to them.

2. The post-purchase email

Once a prospect has officially become a paying customer (or a return customer has made a new purchase), you have a ton of options for how to reach out to them and spur further engagement with your brand.

First and foremost, take the time to thank them for their business. After all, if it weren’t for your paying customers, you wouldn’t have a successful business in the first place.

You can also use a post-purchase email to provide further instructions for how to use the product or service in question. Or, at the very least, let your customers know your support staff is only an email, phone call, or tweet away.

By providing all of this after your customer has already given you their money, you prove that your goal is to make them happy—not just to make a quick buck.

3. The newsletter/announcement

Your customers are busy people who have a lot going on in their lives. So it’s entirely forgivable that your brand isn’t always the first thing on their mind.

But, by sending them an occasional newsletter, you can remind them not only that your company exists, but that you’ve provided value for them in the past—and that you continue to value them as a customer.

Newsletters can be used to provide the following:

  • New product releases or service offerings
  • Improvements and other changes made to current products or services
  • Special offers and discounts

4. The educational email

It’s no secret that producing educational content can help you position your brand as an expert in your industry. But simply producing such content is useless unless your customers actually see it.

Such educational emails could include blog posts or videos that you’ve created in-house, or they could include curated roundups of valuable pieces of content others have created.

The main goals of educational emails are to deepen your customers’ understanding of your industry, and also to make them even more aware of how your company could be of service to them.

5. The celebratory email

Celebratory emails can be sent on occasions in which the customer didn’t really have to do anything (such as birthdays and brand-related anniversaries). Or they can be sent after a milestone has been reached (either on your customer’s end or your company’s).

When implemented correctly, a proper email marketing strategy can do wonders in terms of moving customers along the buyer’s journey and keeping them within the customer lifecycle loop.


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