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How to Write a High-Converting Promotional Email (Without Being Salesy)

  • Email Marketing

Here’s the scenario. You’re an e-commerce store owner looking to promote a product. It might be a brand new product, a seasonal offer or simply an existing product that you want to draw attention to.

Whatever the case, promotional emails are one of the most direct and effective ways to get the word out and drive targeted traffic to your product page.

Studies have even found, “Email had a median ROI of 122 percent—more than four times higher than other marketing formats like social media, direct mail, and paid search.”

But as I’m sure you’re aware, there’s a lot that goes into high-converting promotional emails, and it requires you to follow the right sequence of steps.

These include first ensuring that your email makes it to a subscriber’s inbox, getting them to open it, enticing them with killer copy, getting them to click on your CTA and ultimately making a purchase.

For this post, I’m going to break this process down to the granular level and go over the essential elements of high-converting promotional emails.

Let’s dive right in.

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We’ve put together a swipe file of 41 good e-commerce email examples, 115 proven subject lines and more, to help you drive more opens, click-throughs, and conversions for your marketing campaigns today (organized by category).

How to Write a Promotional Email That Reader Love (and Engage with)

This article is quite in-depth. To make life easier, I’ve broken each strategy down into more detail. Click a link below to jump to a particular section of interest.

Before we look at each strategy in more detail, you need to know about…

Campaign Segmentation

Did you know that segmented email campaigns receive 14.31 percent more opens and 100.95 percent more clicks than non-segmented campaigns?

It’s true.

A 2017 MailChimp study found that segmentation is worth its weight in gold.

The Data & Marketing Association (DMA) even found that email segmentation and personalized email were the most effective email strategies in 2017.

So my first slice of advice is to segment your list and make sure that you’re only sending a promotional email to relevant recipients.

How do you do this?

I suggest examining purchasing behavior, which Constant Contact offers some solid advice on.

Find out what your audience is interested in by using your email reports to see what they’re opening and clicking on. You can save those people to an existing list or create a new one. You can also create lists for customers who purchased a particular product and send them emails about those items.

If email segmentation still seems a little confusing, check out this guide from HubSpot. It will fill you in on the details.

The way I see it, effective segmentation is a necessary precursor to the rest of the steps in the process.

Even though it will reduce the volume of recipients, you’ll know that the ones who receive an email are high-quality leads and likely to convert.

Plus you won’t annoy other subscribers who probably aren’t interested in a particular product, thus decreasing your unsubscribe rate.

So it’s a win-win.

1. Use a Clear Sender Name

The average person is drowning in spam.

In fact, spam accounted for 59.33 percent of total email traffic as of September 2017.

It’s a serious issue.

People are also wary of phishing attacks, which are especially prevalent in the US.

As a result, recipients are more likely than ever to move an email from their inbox to their spam folder if the sender’s identity is even the least bit questionable.

To prevent this from happening to your promotional emails, you need to be sure that recipients are able to instantly recognize your brand.

What’s the best way to do this?

You need to make it crystal clear who the email is from by including your brand name.

Convince & Convert even found, “43 percent of email recipients click the spam button based on the email ‘from’ name or email address.”

And there are two ways to go about this.

One is to simply use your brand name all by itself (e.g. Sleeknote).

The other is to use your brand name along with your personal name (e.g. Emil from Sleeknote).

Here is a great example of SEMrush getting this element just right.

Whatever approach you take, just be sure to leave no doubt as to who the email is from so recipients know it’s trustworthy and shouldn’t be flagged as spam.

2. Create a Rock Solid Subject Line

You know what else is super important?

The subject line.

Invesp CRO even found, “Nearly half (47 percent) of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone.”

So in theory, a poorly written subject line is going to reduce your open rate by half.

This is why it’s so important to understand the fundamentals of writing an awesome subject line that recipients will respond to.

While there is no be-all end-all technique that works perfectly 100 percent of the time, there are some best practices that you should be aware of.

Here are “the big three.”

3. Use the Optimal Subject Line Length

There’s been a lot of debate as to what the ideal subject line length is.

Invesp CRO found that emails with 6-10 words had the highest open rate at 21 percent.

However, a study by Nectafy found that only four words were best.

While the ideal subject line is open to some level of interpretation, one thing is for sure.

You’re likely to see your open rate decline once it exceeds 10 words.

This is simply due to the fact that so many people are using mobile devices to open emails.

In fact, ContactMonkey found, “40 percent of emails are first opened on a mobile device where the screen can only fit 4-7 words across the screen.

So if you’re going over 10 words, there’s no way the entire subject line will be visible for mobile users.

And when you consider the fact that mobile device use is trending up and desktop use is trending down, it’s clear that you want to write subject lines with mobile users in mind.

So my advice is to keep your subject lines fairly brief with 4-7 words usually being the sweet spot.

Here’s a nice example of short subject lines in action and what they look like for mobile users.

4. Personalize the Subject Line

As I mentioned before when I discussed email segmentation, personalization plays a huge role in how well promotional emails perform.

Research from Campaign Monitor reiterates this fact.

According to them, “Emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened.”

So it should be worth the effort to address each recipient by name.

5. Avoid Spammy Words

Another mistake that can sabotage your strategy is using spammy words in the subject line.

I’m sure you’ve received emails like these before.

They’re terrible, and one quick glance lets you know that they’re complete spam that should never see the light of day.

While you would never intentionally use subject lines like these, you may unintentionally use spammy words.

Here are some examples:

This is problematic for two reasons.

First, spammy words greatly increase the chances of a recipient’s ISP filtering out your email and sending it spam.

So it may never even make it to their inbox in the first place.

Second, they increase the chances of recipients flagging it as spam.

Therefore, it’s critical to familiarize yourself with spammy words and avoid using them at all costs.

For an extensive list, check out familiarize yourself with spammy words.

If you follow this basic formula when creating your subject line, you should be in good shape.

Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of promotional emails—the copy itself.

6. Write Compelling Copy

At this point, you should have taken the necessary steps to increase your open rate.

Now you need to take the next step and write compelling copy so that your message actually gets read.

More importantly, you need to grab the reader’s attention and motivate them to take action.

So how exactly do you do this?

My first bit of advice is to not follow a rigid structure with your emails.

While you’ll want to follow a logical format, you don’t want your emails to be so predictable that they bore your readers to tears.

That’s why I like to make the writing process as organic as possible and to mix it up.

Next, I suggest using a natural voice.

What do I mean by this?

I mean writing in a conversational tone like you’re speaking with your readers directly.

That’s actually something that I try to do with my writing in general (including this post).

I’ve found that it facilitates smooth communication and should give your writing a sense of warmth.

In other words, try to avoid coming across as robotic like you’re some faceless entity that’s solely bent on promotion.

Of course, you’re there to promote your products or services, but you’re also there to build relationships.

Offerman WoodShop does a great job at this with their email promoting wood coasters.

I also recommend keeping your copy fairly short.

The last thing that people want to do is navigate their way through some long-winded, labyrinthine email that takes a chunk of time out of their day.

Just get to the point as quickly as possible, and edit your copy with an iron fist.

Always go back and see if there’s any text that could be removed before pressing send.

I think that Bluefly does this well with their email asking subscribers to take a survey.

7. Sell Without Being Salesy

Remember that most email marketing campaigns involve playing the long game.

It’s all about nurturing your leads, gradually building trust and rapport and strengthening relationships.

If you go for the jugular right off the bat and take a “BUY NOW!” approach, you’ll almost always squander leads, and many will people will unsubscribe.

A better approach is to sell without being salesy.

In other words, promote your products but don’t be obnoxious about.

Use tact and be thoughtful about your audience’s needs and wants.

I like what the Enchanting Marketing team has to say about this.

Dirty sales tactics are designed for selling to strangers. Treat your buyers like friends. Be genuine. Be helpful. Be lovable. Make their life better.

This is a great mindset to have when approaching your copy.

When your primary focus is helping people rather than going for the immediate sale, the odds of making a sale actually increase.

Take this email from Dropbox for example.

Rather than pounding recipients over the head, it simply lists some ways that Dropbox can simplify their lives.

So stop trying so hard and the pieces will usually fall into place.

8. Write Scannable Copy

If you’ve been doing any type of content marketing for any length of time, you probably know that readers seldom read anything in its entirety.

Whether it’s a long-form blog post, a whitepaper or an email, the majority of folks just scan.

By building your content around this innate desire to scan, your emails will be in a better position to convert.

So rather than writing some long-winded monstrosity with huge blocks of text, simplify things by breaking your content into smaller, more manageable blocks of text that can be easily digested.

Here’s a good example of an email I recently received from SEMRush.

9. Use Images

You also probably know just how big visuals are in content marketing.

Social Media Examiner even reports, “37 percent of marketers say visual marketing was the most important form of content for their business, second only to blogging.”

So it’s understandable how providing subscribers with a bit of eye candy is one of the best ways to get their attention and motivate them to buy a product.

This is why I highly recommend incorporating images into your promotional emails.

There’s just one question. How many images should you use in an email?

According to research from 37 percent of marketers, “Click-through rates are highest in emails with three or fewer images.”

And I feel like that’s a pretty reasonable number.

One to three images should give your email a splash of eye appeal but shouldn’t overwhelm recipients with excessive visuals stimuli.

Shopify pulls this off flawlessly with this email.

If you’re looking for some inspiration and ideas, check out our post on e-commerce email marketing that offers some great examples of emails with beautiful design and images.

10. Optimize the CTA

At this point, you should have done everything within your power to maximize the number of recipients who open your email and look over your offer.

Now it’s time to go for the kill.

While the main intention of many emails is to simply nurture leads and increase brand awareness, promotional emails are used to make a sale.

Consequently, you need to have a fully optimized CTA that gets the maximum percentage of recipients to click through to the product page (and hopefully buy).

Here are some things that I would consider best practices for CTA optimization.

  • Use a CTA button. There’s just something more eye appealing about a button rather than a link. Campaign Monitor even found that using a button-based CTA increased click-through rates by 28 percent over a link-based CTA.
  • Use a contrasting color. It’s critical that a CTA is able to stand out from the rest of your copy. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to use a contrasting color. Campaign Monitor makes the point that “green and orange buttons are said to perform best, but your button colors will depend on your brand.”
  • Have negative space around your CTA. It’s also wise to use a healthy amount of negative space to create a visual break and make your CTA easier to find.
  • Make the offer time-sensitive. If you don’t get a recipient to convert right away, there’s a good chance that they’ll never convert (at least for that particular product). Making your CTA time-sensitive by using words like “now” and “today” increases their odds of taking action right then and there.
  • Give it a 3D look. Now, this may be splitting hairs, but any advantage you can gain is a good thing. Another way to increase your click-through rate is to make your CTA more “clickable.” By this, I mean making it look like it should be clicked, which can be done by using a bit of a shadow around the edges of a button to give it a 3D appearance.

Now for a couple of examples.

Here’s one from author and entrepreneur, Marie Forleo:

Notice that she uses an attractive button with plenty of contrast and negative space surrounding it.

Here’s one from MailChimp that incorporates the same concepts.

Notice just above the button, they indicate that the offer is time sensitive with course registration nearing its end.

Free Downloadable Bonus

Want More Email Marketing Inspiration?

We’ve put together a swipe file of 41 good e-commerce email examples, 115 proven subject lines and more, to help you drive more opens, click-throughs, and conversions for your marketing campaigns today (organized by category).


How has email managed to maintain its position at the top of the digital marketing hierarchy for all this time?

It’s simple. People habitually check their inbox each and every day.

In fact, “More than half (52.7 percent) of individuals surveyed in the US check their personal email account more than 10 times a day, and it is by far their favorite way to receive communication from brands.”

I know that I’m personally guilty of checking my email way too often at times.

So if you’re looking to promote a particular product, this is one of the best ways to do it.

Reaching out to subscribers is ideal because they’ve already demonstrated some level of interest in your brand.

It’s especially potent when emailing subscribers who have already purchased from you in the past.

But as you just found out, there’s a lot that goes into high-converting promotional emails.

My logic is to start from the top (e.g. segmenting your list and making sure your email doesn’t get sent to spam) and work your way to the bottom (e.g. fine-tuning the copy and optimizing the CTA).

I’ve found that working through the process systematically like this allows you to cover all of the bases so that you inevitably end up with an email that’s poised to convert.

By focusing on the essential elements listed here, you should be able to take your promotional emails further and crank up your conversion rate.

Can you think of any other elements that are integral to conversions?

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