17 Email Marketing Lessons I Learned After Writing Over 1,000 Promotional Emails

Written by Danavir Sarria


That’s about how many emails I’ve written so far for my clients and I.

No, I’m not talking about having a 50k+ subscriber email list, sending 1 email, and saying I sent 50,000 emails like some marketers do.

I’m talking about actually sitting on my butt for hours at a time, typing like a madman with my eyes practically bleeding out as I literally wrote about 1,000 different emails since I started being a copywriter 7 years ago.

Some emails were total flops, some were average, and some were freaking grand slams.

But it’s safe to say that after all that time, I learned a ton of things about email marketing.

I’ve now cherry picked 17 of those lessons and revealing them to you right here, right now.

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Open Rates And CTR’s Only Tell A Part Of The Story

I consider open rates and CTR’s as sort of like “vanity metrics”.

What does an open rate and CTR actually mean? It means that someone was compelled enough to open and click through.

However, much like an impression on an ad, it’s a number that too many people focus on increasing all the time.

What actually matters is that you’re getting the right people to open and click-through in the first place. And that may sometimes mean smaller open rates and CTR’s.

Here’s why:

Good email copy talks to a specific group of people, while ignoring everyone else.

So when you do that, you’ll sometimes see a decrease in open rates and CTR’s, but you’ll also see an increase in the intended response you wanted after the click-through, such as a sale.

The Takeaway: Don’t ignore open rates & CTR’s. In fact, always look to learn why your numbers are the way they are. However, focus on the metrics that matter such as immediate and lifetime value.

The Best Way To Get Your Emails Opened: The “From” Section

To some hardcore direct response copywriters, this may sound like a sin…

But after what I’ve seen, it’s not even close.

WHO the email comes from is by far the most factor to getting your email opened.

With that said, good copy does contribute to this.

It’s not like you can completely ignore email subject lines, especially when they are the 2nd most important factor to getting your emails open and read.

At the beginning when you’re name doesn’t mean much to your subscriber, you need good subject lines so they can open and consume your content.

However, a focus on growing your brand matters even more for long-term email marketing success.

What very few copywriters and marketers realize (even though they do it themselves) is that many of us will automatically open an email if it’s from the right person.

Here’s proof…

I can guarantee that if your inbox has 100 unopened emails and 1 is them from your best friend, you’re going to open that specific email.

That’s exactly how your subscribers are treating their inbox.

The Takeaway: Build your brand for better results with your email marketing.

Always Provide Value, Even When You Pitch

Sending an email dedicated to hard selling your product or service is always a bit risky.

On one end, it’s a must because you’re in it to make sales. On the other hand, sometimes subscribers can be sensitive bunch and will want to throw you into the fires of mount Doom the moment they see the word “buy”.

In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a lot of unsubscribes and complaints when you try to sell something hard.

Fortunately, there is a way to consistently sell your products or services with little to no complaints from your subscribers.

You do that by providing some value during the pitch.

Maybe that’s a couple of tips or maybe it can just be an interesting story.

The point is, you should be able to send me your email and I should be able to get something out of it other than your amazing discount with free bonuses stacked on top of each other like if it was a game of Jenga.

The Takeaway: Every interaction with your prospect should add value to their life, even when you’re pitching.

Entertaining Stories Matter More Than How-To Information

At the beginning, I used to think the only way to provide value through email was actual, concrete, how-to information.

But I was wrong…

There are actually multiple ways to provide value, with entertainment being one of the most important ways to do it.

Now, if you email your list at a low frequency (once a week or less), then you might be better off giving straight how-to information, exclusive content and stuff like that.

However, if you plan to email your list at a high frequency, just delivering tips isn’t going to be a good enough excuse for you showing up in their inbox so often. Add that too the fact that there are only so many tips you can give out and you’ll quickly realize that there’s got to be a better way.

Fortunately, there is.

It’s called story-telling.

These stories should be interesting, relevant, and even educational. When you do that, you’ll always have something you can write about and your emails will be something you subscribers will actually want to open and read often.

The Takeaway: Use stories to educate, entertain, and sell to your prospects.

Use The New York Post & National Inquirer For Inspiration

The goal of your email subject line is to make your emails stick out like a sore thumb.

This is the same goal copywriters for magazines, newspapers, and tabloids aim for when they write their headlines. In fact, the copywriters who do this are some of the best paid copywriters in the world.

That’s because the headline means everything to these publications.

When you’re battling for attention in your prospects inbox, you need every advantage you can get.

And very few publications do this as well as The New York Post and The National Inquirer. Actually, if I’m not mistaken, more copies of the National Inquirer have been sold than the Bible itself!

Just google “The New York Post” or “The National Inquirer” on google and click on “Images”. You’ll immediately get a lifetimes worth of headlines you can gather inspiration from.

Notice, in particular, how they catch your eyes with the headlines in all caps. Those are the ones you really want to study.

The Takeaway: Study the short, punchy, shocking, and even flat out bizarre headlines from the New York Post and National Inquirer for your email subject lines.

Set Expectations From The Beginning

I hate being lost. You hate being lost. Everyone hates being lost.

So imagine how your subscribers feel when they sign up and all of a sudden they get daily emails from you?

The same goes for the exact opposite. Imagine how your subscriber feels when they sign up to your list so they could hear from you, but you never email them?

Regardless of what frequency you pick, whether it’s in the extremes or a “sweet middle”, it’s not going to matter because most subscribers won’t be expecting it.

And when you don’t set expectations, bad things can happen.

People get mad. You get unsubscribes. You get complaints. Your emails get bounced and your delivery rates shrink.

Yet, the fix is so simple, it’s worth mentioning it a billion times until you actually do it.

Tell your subscribers from the beginning what they are going to get and when. If you’re not too sure, tell them you’re not sure.

The Takeaway: Be upfront and let them know what to expect. If they don’t like it, they’ll unsubscribe sooner, preventing future backlash. If they do, they’ll eagerly wait for your emails.

Consistency Matters… A Lot

So you’re watching a show that comes on at certain dates and times.

Maybe it’s Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead.

But then all of a sudden, without warning, it just disappears from the face of the earth only to reappear all of a sudden 8 weeks later.

Wouldn’t that suck, especially if you’re a huge fan?

You want to watch the show, especially when you were told it was going to be on X day and times. Yet you can’t have it because the people behind the show decided to slack off and couldn’t deliver the next episode till 8 weeks later.

The same goes for your emails, particularly if you’re writing really great ones.

If you’re not delivering high quality emails on schedule as promised, you’ll slowly start to lose the favor of your audience.

In email marketing world, this is called letting your list get “cold”. That’s a big no-no.

The Takeaway: Think of your emails like a TV show your prospects want to watch. Be good to them by being consistent.

Aim To Spend Less Than 15min Tops To Write An Email

Most copy takes a long time to write if you want to get it just right.

However, when it comes to email copy, it’s the exact opposite. You want to write your emails as quickly as you can.

After writing so many emails myself and talking to other business owners who also have written a ton of emails, we all agree that the good stuff always come out when you just go for it as fast as possible.

In fact, even 15 minutes for an email can be a bit long. I’ve written emails in as little as 3 minutes. However, most of my emails take about 10 minutes each, on average.

I’m not sure why this is so, but my best guess comes down to that with enough copywriting chops, it’s easy to “morph” anything you write on an email to lead to the result you want.

That plus there’s no clear or hard rule about what can be on an email or not.

Anything goes as long as it’s interesting and it just turns out that the first thing you think about tends to be pretty interesting (which is why you thought about it in the first place).

The Takeaway: Write your emails as fast as you can.

Write Emails Your Audience Actually Wants To Read

It’s an obvious point, but very few ever think about it.

If you want people to be responsive to your emails, actually send them stuff they are going to want to read.

No one wants to be sent emails filled with tips that they can’t or just never going to use. No one wants to sign up to learn more about X topic and then get emails sent them about Y topic without even being taught the connection between the two. No one wants to be sent emails that talk about how great you, your business, and your products are.

And the list goes on and on.

It’s like watching a movie. If you don’t like the movie you’re watching, you’re not going to keep watching it, must less wait for the inevitable sequels that follow it.

Too make sure you always stay interesting to your subscriber, make sure that what you write stays relevant to their pains/problems and their dreams/aspirations.

The Takeaway: Write emails your subscribers actually want to read by staying relevant to their pains/problems and dreams/aspirations.

You Need The Right Subscribers In The First Place

Master copywriter, Gary Halbert, once asked his students:

“If you and I both owned a hamburger stand we were in a contest to see who could sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side to help you win?”

Everyone started shouting out different things like lower prices, better buns…etc

And then they asked him, “What advantage do you want?”

Gary says, “The only advantage I want is… a starving crowd!”

This is as close to marketing 101 as you can get, but it needs to be said because all email marketing success will come from having the right people to market to in the first place.

It’s an absolute necessity that you generate a list of people who have the problem you are trying to solve.

Without a highly targeted list of people, no amount of copy is going to save you.

The Takeaway: Always, always, always be attracting the right leads. It’s what allows everything else to work.

How You Get Your Subscriber Matters Too

This was something I didn’t really want to accept for a while.

I’m not sure why. Maybe because when you’re scrambling to build your own email list, you kind of just want anything to work, haha.

But I’ve found that there is a big difference between building an email list generated from ads, to affiliates, to content marketing.

Every traffic method has their pro’s and con’s.

However, the highest quality leads seem to come from those who were exposed to your content.

By the time they enter their email address to join your list, they are likely to already be fans of your content. That makes getting your emails open and read much easier because they already know, like and trust you.

The Takeaway: If you want to build the highest quality email list possible, then you might want to try your hand at content marketing.

If You Really Want To Nurture Your List, Do It On Social

Email marketing is great, but it’s really difficult to turn a subscriber into a true fan with just email.

Yes, you can definitely turn colder leads into hotter leads with just email, but it’s much more faster, easier, and more effective to do so on social.

People are on social media to connect and discover.

Your prospect is not living in their inbox waiting for your email to arrive. Instead, they’re on social, talking to their friends and browsing through any interesting posts they find.

This is where their attention is.

That plus the multi-media aspect of social also makes for a huge reason why it’s much easier to influence your prospect if they are both in your email list and social accounts.

You can only do so much with text, but with stuff like Snapchat and Youtube, you can do a much better job at becoming the influencer of your prospects lives when it comes to your chosen topic.

The Takeaway: Use email to own your media, but use social to really turn a subscriber into a fan.

Your Welcome Email May Just Be The Most Important Email You Send

First impressions matter, including with your autoresponder.

I consider a welcome email to be good when it does three things: It introduces the subscriber to the person sending the email, it sets expectations, and it gets the subscriber to become a follower of your social networks.

I’ve tested this time and time again versus regular broadcasts and it’s not even close.

The welcome email is by far the highest opening email you’ll send and it always leads to the most attention and action.

Just don’t overthink your welcome email. As long as you do the three things above, you’ll be solid.

The Takeway: Use your welcome email to introduce yourself, set expectations, and get your subscriber to follow your social accounts.

Best Way To Get Better Is To Write Daily Emails

There’s no going around it.

If you want to get good at writing emails, you need to write a lot of them and as often as you can. There’s no way faster to do that than with daily emails.

Once you start, you’ll notice how your copywriting skills will start getting sharper over time.

You’ll slowly, but surely, be able to write more compelling email subject lines and stories. You’ll go from being a hype machine to being hype-free. You’ll become more skilled at being able to write about anything and connecting it to whatever it is you’re promoting. You’ll better be able to write emails on the fly…etc

Yes, continue your copywriting studies. Read the books. Read copy from other businesses. But nothing will replace actually grinding it out.

You don’t have to write 1,000 emails like I did. But get in some practice. You’ll be rewarded.

The Takeaway: Writing daily emails is the fastest way to get better at email marketing. Practice makes perfect.

Talk Like Yourself, Not Like Some Big, Fat Corporation

This is probably one of the biggest email marketing sins committed by businesses.

A lot of business owners try to make their businesses seem like the next Apple or McDonalds by writing in “corporate” talk.

Every word has to be politically correct, there can’t be a single grammatical error, emails are filled with jargon, and everything literally sounds like a copy & pasted response. Worst of all, it’s written in a “we” or “us” tone talking to you.

This is not good.

You’re not a big corporation and you don’t want to seem like one.

Instead, write like how you talk or how you decided your brands “voice” will be. And most importantly, talk from “me” to “you”.

All copy should be a 1 to 1 conversation, not a broadcast to thousands of people.

The Takeaway: Don’t try to act bigger than you are. That’s counterproductive. Be as personal as possible when you write emails to your subscribers.

Polarize Your Audience

With most things in life, the “middle way” is usually the right way.

However, with an email list, it’s the wrong way. That’s because “lukewarm” prospects don’t really do much for you.

They don’t like you enough to buy anything and they don’t hate you enough to leave. They’re just there in “limbo”.

That’s why your goal should be to make as many people on your list into real fans of your emails, products, and overall brand as possible.

Like all great brands, you should stand up for something. And when you do that, those who resonate with you will love you more and those who don’t will leave on their own.

Look at Apple versus PC’s. Apple has a cult-like following. Yet, there are many PC fans that absolutely hate Apple. They will say stuff like “It’s overpriced. You can make a better PC for a fraction of the cost”.

It’s this dynamic that you want to think about when talking about your brand versus everyone elses and it should be shown through your emails.

The Takeaway: “Lukewarm” subscribers don’t help your cause. Do your best to turn them into rabid fans and let those who don’t like your message leave if they want to.

Don’t Worry About Unsubscribes

Unsubscribes scare a lot of people.

It makes a lot of people feel uneasy when their subscribers go out of their way to unsubscribe from a list because they flat out think they’re annoying or even “spammy”.

This especially happens when you try to sell something or start sending out a higher frequency of emails (when they weren’t expecting it).

If you feel like this is such a problem, well let me ask you something… Why are you so worried about keeping these people around if they don’t want to hear from you, much less buy from you?

Size of the list doesn’t matter. Only the quality does.

Unless you really are not providing any value, your true fans will stick around. Time and time again, I’ve seen the majority of sales and overall fandom come from subscribers who stay with you for over 6 months.

The Takeaway: Unsubscribes do matter. However, if people are leaving because they are just not fans, let them leave.

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Danavir Sarria

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