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The Email Copywriter of the Future will Write for Readers on the Run

Now’s the time to plan for tablet and smartphone email platforms

Just when you thought you’d mastered all the new copywriting techniques demanded by the 21st century … mobile devices are about to shake up your world.

When I have my email copywriter hat on, I enjoy the opportunity to flex my marketing writing muscles without the constraints of SEO copywriting. And like any good email copywriter, I’ve learned to focus on specific best practices, including …

  • Write subject lines of up to 70 characters.
  • The subject line is the most important feature of the email.
  • Readers respond well to personalization.
  • Write plenty of compelling copy to sell the product, because long copy beats short four out of five times.

Too bad all those things are about to be pitched out the window! In 2013, new best practices are about to be created to deal with the new reality: Email on mobile devices.

Don’t quit your email copywriter day job!

The reality is this: Christmas Day 2012 saw 17.4 million mobile devices activated. In one. Single. Day. I’ll bet most of you reading this were among those people receiving and/or giving new toys, just as I was. Not that I gave any thought that day to how this would impact my job as an email copywriter!

But now that the dust has settled, let’s take a look at how marketing is shaking out in 2013. First, some myths: Email is dead as a marketing channel. Not so, says the Epsilon Q3 2012 North American Email Trend Results study, published in December 2012. As my colleague Norann Oleson wrote in January, after running tests on hundreds of billions of emails, the study concluded that:

  • Average open rates are up more than 14% from last year to 27.2%.
  • Click rates average 4.5%, which is up almost 3% overall.

Moreover, ReturnPath, an email intelligence provider, wrote in its Q3 2012 report, “Email continues to deliver. Email marketing continues to provide the highest ROI, and people continue to sign up for email marketing offers.”

Terrific! Your job as an email copywriter is secure! But what about Myth #2: People don’t read emails on mobile devices, especially smartphones.

Wrong again! According to a recent Netpop report, email is one of the top three services that Americans use on their mobile devices. ReturnPath also reports that 40% of all emails received today are read on mobile devices. Other studies claim that more than half of all emails are read on smartphones! Yep, no matter which study you read, your email copywriter hat will remain fixed to your head for the foreseeable future.

So everything’s copacetic, and you don’t have to do anything different in your daily email copywriter routine, right? Hah.

The email copywriter of the future

The hard truth is that reading emails on tablets and even smartphones means we have to dump some of our current Best Practices. Let’s start with the Holy Subject Line. In the Marketing Experiments Blog, Adeel Vanthaliwala, CEO/Co-Founder of Incentivibe, points out that because mobile subject lines cut off after only 25-30 characters, the old 70-character rule that applied to desktop computer reading has to be reconsidered.

In fact, because of that tiny subject line, the subject line itself is no longer the most important element of your emails. [Insert horrified emoticon here.]

Email copywriter new best practice #1: Get your offer and a benefit into the first two or three words of your subject line.

As much as we love our The 17 Best Email Subject Lines, they’re not geared toward getting attention in a mere 25 characters. What’s more, the new goal of mobile email is not necessarily to get people to open the email, but to save it for later instead of deleting it immediately as they scroll quickly through their Inbox while waiting for the bus, riding the train, or sitting in a meeting.

Email copywriter new best practice #2: Get your best emotional appeal, offer and benefit all within the first 70 or so characters of your email text.

These are the two or three lines that show up below the subject line in most mobile email viewers. With so much riding on those few lines, you can no longer take a paragraph or so to set up the pitch the way a good email copywriter normally does.

According to Vanthaliwala, his company saw 20% more opens by changing that intro text, while the subject lines remained the same.

Email copywriter new best practice #2A: Skip the personal introduction in those opening lines.

Incentivibe got 35% more clickthroughs in its tests by using a benefit in the opening words, instead of “Hey, I’m writing to you from …”.

Email copywriter new best practice #3: 65-85 words with one call to action is the sweet-spot for clickthroughs.

An email copywriter is always looking for the right copy length – too little won’t persuade, and too much won’t be read on a mobile device. Incentivibe finds that 65-85 words led to 25% more clickthroughs – just the right length to be read on the run.

Email copywriter new best practice #4: Disregard the best practice #3.

That’s right. For several reasons, the email copywriter might still want to write nice, long emails. As Mequoda has learned, long copy often beats short – and your email might still be opened on a tablet, where there’s more leeway for getting the reader’s attention. Remember the 17.4 million mobile devices activated on Christmas Day 2012? More than half were tablets.

Of course you might still find a sweet spot on the roomier tablet within those first 65-85 words that you’ve written with a smartphone in mind. Keep testing to make sure that you’re not depressing response by focusing on smartphone readers, when in fact your audience is largely reading on a tablet and doesn’t like the short, sweet smartphone email.

Email copywriter new best practice #5: Emails opened on a mobile device should focus on getting the reader to click through to a landing page to get information and be converted.

This is a complete reversal of the normal purpose of an email, so it’s a tough one to wrap your email copywriter brain around. But many marketers now believe you should get your benefit, emotional appeal and offer in the first few words of the email, supply a link, then get out of Dodge.

Email copywriter new best practice #6: Consider using the email preheader – that little space at the very top of any email – for something other than “Click here to view this email in HTML.”

While an email copywriter might feel compelled to use that space to overcome problems with blocked images, think again. Images are too small on smartphones anyway, so why not do without them, and use that precious space for the highlight of your offer instead? Mark Brownlow at Email Marketing Reports has plenty of suggestions for preheader copy.

Email copywriter new best practice #7: If you must use logos and images, pay strict attention to the alt attributes to make sure the mobile reader sees some text instead of the sad little broken box.

Above all, testing is now more important to the email copywriter than ever.  With all the statistics being trotted out all over the Internet about mobile email consumption, it’s safest to have your own data to rely on. And if you have any more suggestions for the email copywriter of the future, please share them with the community!

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