Text in Email: How Much to Use and What to Say
If there's one thing that we learned in the previous sections, it's that the text in email is incredibly important. No matter how you integrate images and even video into your email marketing, email is still primarily a text medium. So how do you optimize your use of text in email template? This section will summarize all of the best practices of email text.
Font Style, Color, and Size. What's Best to Use for Text in Emails?
For the purposes of your email template, the font style, color, and size that you use only needs to meet one criterion. It needs to be readable. In general, a font size of ten or eleven and a non-serif font such as Arial in a traditional black color will be most readable in the smaller resolutions of many email viewing devices (remember, these days, your email may be getting read on a tablet or even smaller mobile device). We will talk later about the best ways to code your email text template, but if you are not using a pre-made template then it's always best to code your fonts using tags rather than CSS. Gmail, in particular, will force you to use inline CSS which makes it just as time and control valuable to simply use font tags.
If your brand guidelines dictate the use of another font size or style, consider using that font size or style for headlines. Do some testing of display and readability and remember that designing an email template is not the same as designing a webpage or piece of print marketing collateral. You may want to allow some flexibility with brand font guidelines to improve email display rendering and response rate.
Headlines: How Big?
As we previously discussed, headlines will be incredibly important in inciting customer action in emails, especially when your images may or may not load in various email service providers. How big should your headlines be? And what color? Again, the most important thing in this case may not be brand adherence. It will be display rendering in the email as well as the ability to draw attention to the headline. In truth, the amount and placement of the headline real estate will also matter. To a certain degree, so will spam and email deliverability concerns.
Let's discuss the spam and deliverability concerns first as they are fairly simple. If you use too many headlines in your email in relation to the full content of the email, then you may suffer a spam score penalty. Additionally, the excessive use of red fonts has also been proven to be on the "spam watch list" for several email providers. What's the importance of this? You want to use headlines, but not in abundance. When possible (and it should always be possible), you should play it safe and not have your headline be in a red font.
Real estate for text in email is also important. It's important to have at least one headline above the fold in the top two inches of your email to ensure that the most important message gets seen in the preview window. However, the more large headlines that you put in the top part of the email, the less overall information that you can convey. Make sure to include a headline in the top section of your email, but don't use so many headlines that it's not possible to give more information to your users or subscribers than just the headline content.
In terms of size and color of email headlines, you simply want to ensure that the headline is big and bold enough to draw attention without being so big that it becomes the only focal point in the email template. Use your best design judgment.
How Much Text in Email Should You Use?
When deciding how much email text to use in your email template, it's actually a fine line to walk. You certainly want enough email text included to engage users and incite them to either make a purchase or click through to your website. However, the more text that you include in the body of your email, the more you risk being flagged as spam by spam filters at various email providers.
One solution, and the one that we would recommend, is to use sections of teaser copy that then provide "read more" or "learn more" or "read the rest of this article" links to full pages on your website. After all, the primary goal of your email is to drive users to your website or landing page where they are ultimately more likely to convert to purchasers or to give you a page impression. Blocks of text in email of a hundred to a hundred and fifty words are often more than sufficient to convey the message or information.
Remember, most users will scan your email for less than two seconds before they decide to read it or to delete it. If you include too much text in email, they may simply decide that it's "too much to read." Select the most enticing sales points of your email text and convert them into teaser blurbs that then link to landing pages or your website.
What Should You Say?
What should you say in your email text? The basic answer to this is, "Whatever your customers want to hear!" Of course, that's not entirely true. Determining what email text will resonate with your subscribers and cause clicks and conversions is, unfortunately, a long testing process in most cases. The more that you can test different theories of content and find out what words, content categories, offers, and article types get the best response from your email recipients, the better. Once you've determined that information, you can craft a forward-looking email content plan. On a basic level, however, here are some key points that you should keep in mind:
- Seasonal content is always a good idea. If the holidays are right around the corner, incorporate holiday messages into your content plan so that you're writing about things that are relevant and on your customers' minds.
- The baseline for content should always be: Is this something that will be valuable to my users?
- If you are emailing an offer that has terms and conditions, make sure that the terms and conditions are mentioned in the email. That may simply mean including a line that says, "This offer subject to terms and conditions as listed on the website," or it could be comprehensive. If you do not include a statement of terms and conditions, however, you're setting yourself up for customer service phone calls and emails later on.
- The more that you can craft content that will stand out in the inbox, the better. It's a crowded email marketing world out there. If your competitors are all emailing about advice on toasters, be sure to email about advice on how to make the best toast instead!
- Do some competitor research to get good content ideas. Especially if you have competitors with a well-established email program, they may have already researched what makes great newsletter content. Taking a look at what they've done can save you time and effort.
What Should You Not Say?
What should you not say in your email text? The rules are pretty simple!
- Don't lie or mislead customers. Not only could this ruin your brand reputation and create customer service nightmares, but in certain cases it could ultimately get you into CAN-SPAM trouble.
- Don't say things that are offensive or hateful. While there's nothing legally preventing you from doing so, it's just not nice!
- Don't use words that may trigger spam flags. As a general rule, if your email reads like spam email that you've received in the past, it will likely be treated as spam email.
Other than that, you are entitled to your free speech in your email newsletter or marketing email. Be honest, be nice and be aware of what words may get you into the spam or junk folder (hint: free!).
Using Font Styles or All Caps for Your Email Text
Using various font styles and all caps can certainly help your email's performance. Because subscribers and recipients will scan your email quickly, using bolded fonts and all caps fonts on key, important words and phrases can make those words and phrases jump out at a user and make them aware that there is something of interest to them in the email. Select the words that you know (or suspect but have not yet tested) will engage your users. For example, pretend that you sell stuffed unicorns and you know that a stuffed pink unicorn is very rare to find and desired by your users. In any email that you send out, the words "stuffed pink unicorn" should be bolded and/or listed in all caps. That way, your users will see when scanning the email that there is a reference to a product that they have a high interest in.
It's best to bold some words and use all caps for other words and then, occasionally, use both for some email text. Not only does mixing up the font styles (and in some cases colors or sizes) help to draw user attention to important keywords and concepts, it also makes the email more visually interesting to scan. This is especially important if you've chosen to dramatically reduce the use of images in your email template for the purpose of deliverability or usability. Don't use the same font style technique to highlight every instance. Mix things up to create a visually arresting email.
Don't overdo it though! If you cram stylized font treatments into every tenth word, you'll ultimately make the email template harder to read. You'll also take away the importance of the words that are using the stylized font, and readers will have a harder time telling what's most important to them in your text in email.
Finally, don't rely too heavily on italicized fonts. In the context of an email template, which typically has smaller chunks of text in smaller spaced, italicized text can actually present a readability problem.
The Call to Action
Of course, potentially the most important text in email newsletter or template will be the call to action. Depending on the design and purpose of your newsletter or marketing email, you may have a single call to action or multiple calls to action. Whether you're only asking users to click one link or whether you're providing multiple opportunities for them to take advantage of offers, buy products, or click-through to read the full version of an article, there are some basic keys that you should keep in mind with the text in email template for your call to action.
- Keep it short. The longer email text you make for the call to action, the more likely it is to be misunderstood or overlooked by your readers.
- Bold your calls to action.
- Make sure that your calls to action look like a link. Don't sacrifice making it easy for readers and users to know where to click to take the action that you want them to take from your email for slick looking design. Blue, underlined call-to-action links will still work best.
- Separate your calls to action out from the surrounding text with a paragraph or line break.
- Don't be afraid to tell users to click! In basic web design, using the words "click here" is often frowned upon. However, in an email template where ensuring that you drive clicks is so critically important, the words "click here" can keep a call to action both short and effective.
As a general design rule for text in email, you want your calls to action to be highly visible, not buried within the text and to use words that make it clear to users what you want them to do.
Should the Email Text in Your Text Version Email be the Same as the HTML Version?
Whether you choose to only send a text-based email or whether you're sending a multi-part message that's part text and part html, you should take a moment to think about the content in the text version of your email. In some cases, email marketers choose to simply default to the text that they used in the html version within the text version and use text copies of links instead of coded calls to action where there would have been html links in the html version of the email.
Given the increasing number of people who will be reading your email as text only on a mobile device, it's worth your time to put some more effort into the text included in the text-only version of your email. Nobody wants to look at an email of typed out links!
In general, the best practice for the text in a text based version of an email will be to write a somewhat shortened version of the text that you used in your html email, and at both the bottom and the top of the email provide the url where users can see the online version of your email.
It's also important that urls that you provide in the text-based version of your email are short and easy to remember! You'll be counting on users to actually type (or potentially copy-and-paste) those urls into a browser. In some cases, you'll be counting on users to remember those urls once they close their email. Make urls promoted in text-based versions of your email short for optimum usage.
Best Practices for Text in Email
We just covered a great deal of information about using text in an html email or a text-based email. Here's a summary of the best practices to remember regarding using text in emails.
Keep It Readable: No matter what your brand or font usage on websites or in print marketing collateral, the most important thing about the text in email is that it is readable. Arial font in a ten to eleven point size in black typically reads the easiest in most email clients.
Not Too Many Headlines: Using multiple headlines is fine, but don't over-clutter your email with them. It will make the email less readable and may count against your spam score.
Avoid Overusing Red Fonts: Too many red fonts used in email text have been shown to trigger spam score increases. Use an off-shade of red or an alternative color if you're using multiple headlines.
One Headline Above-the-Fold: Try to get at least one headline in the top two inches of your email template to excite users. However, don't make that headline so big that you can't get other information into that extremely valuable section of the email template.
Don't Make Headlines Too Big: Don't make your headlines so big that they break the design of your email template or otherwise clutter it and make it difficult to read.
Limit the Amount of Text in Email: Include as much text in email as you need to in order to make your point and get users excited. However, remember that the more text that you include, the more you run the risk of going to the spam or junk folder. Consider teaser sections of text with links to full landing pages or article pages.
Compelling Content: Seasonal content, content that competitors with successful email programs have promoted, and content that will stand out in a cluttered inbox and should all be incorporated into your email content plan.
Include Terms and Conditions: If you are emailing an offer that includes terms and conditions or limitations, be sure to mention or include them in the email promoting the offer.
Don't Overuse Spam Words: Words like "free", "$" and "credit" can trigger spam filters. That doesn't mean that you can't use them in your email, just be wary of how much and how often you use them.
Use Font Styles, Colors and Caps: Mix up the visual presentation of your email by pulling out "trigger" words for your users and putting them in a bolded font, a font that is a separate color, an all-caps font or any combination of the above.
Avoid Italics: Italics in an email client can often negatively impact readability.
Calls-to-Action: Calls-to-action should be short, should be bolded, should look like links, should be separated from the surrounding text with a paragraph break, and should clearly tell users what you want them to do.
Text Versions of Your Email: When creating the text-only version of your email, shorten the copy and use short-version, easy-to-remember urls to increase user return.