A Digital Copywriter's Guide toEmail Marketing

What It Is, Why It Matters, and How You Can Get Started

Before there was social media (1997), texting (1993), or even the World Wide Web (1989), a 30-year-old electrical engineer named Ray Tomlinson invented email. The first email was sent by Ray in 1971.

We’ve come a long way since then.

Now, an incredible 333.2 billion emails are sent and received worldwide every day by more than 4 billion email users. Of course, not all of these emails fall under the umbrella of email marketing. Some are personal emails between individuals.

But email marketing is alive and well. In fact, it’s thriving.

Studies show that consumers like receiving email. They open it at their desk, in the car, from wherever in the world they are. They read it. They engage with it. They act on it.

Companies like email marketing — and continue using it — because it works.

Email marketing allows companies to communicate with their audience — their list — on their own terms. They aren’t at the mercy of social media platforms with their ever-changing algorithms and policies.

And email is more cost effective and immediate than physical mail.

It’s easy to write and send a simple email.

Good email marketing, on the other hand, requires strategy and compelling, persuasive copy.

Companies need digital copywriters who know email marketing to help them get the maximum benefit from this powerful marketing channel.

They need you.

Email Marketing Statistics

Email marketing generated $7.5 billion of revenue in 2020, and Statista forecasts that number will grow to $17.9 billion per year by 2027.

This statistics report by HubSpot can help you see why email has such strong growth projections:

  • Email generates $42 for every $1 spent — an ROI (return on investment) of 4,200%.
  • 78% of marketers have seen an increase in email engagement over the last 12 months.
  • Four out of five marketers would rather give up social media than email marketing.
  • Across all industries, the average email open rate is 19.8%, the click-through rate is 11.3%, and the bounce rate is 9.4%.

Click-Through Rate (CTR)

The CTR metric is an important one for email marketing, because it indicates consumers taking action. When a reader “clicks through,” it’s because they were persuaded to. They want more information or to take whatever action was indicated (like buying something).

By comparison, Smart Insights reports an average CTR of 3.17% for Google Ads. And the average CTR for social media advertising is an even lower 1.3%, according to Statista.

So, email marketing is a proven, effective way to get people to take action.

Return on Investment (ROI)

But at the end of the day, the most important metric to a company is the return on investment. Email’s 4,200% ROI is off the charts compared with a mere 100% ROI for Google Ads.

In other Smart Insights research that asked marketers to rate the ROI of the various forms of digital marketing they use, 30% said email marketing and content marketing give them the highest ROI. Only search engine optimization (SEO) had a higher percentage… by just 2%.

Graph: Digital Marketing Activities Rated by ROI

Clearly, all the statistics show that email marketing works quite well… when done well.

To get the high-end, above-average results they’d like to see, though, companies need high-end, above-average email copy. They need trained, professional email copywriters to help them write that copy.

5 Ways Companies Use Email Marketing

To be clear, when we talk about email marketing, we’re talking about the intentional and strategic use of prewritten emails to communicate with a company’s prospects, customers, clients, and patients.

These are not the emails that individuals send each other. And these are not (usually) the emails companies send in reply to specific inquiries that require specific answers.

Instead, these are prewritten emails programmed into an email marketing service provider to be sent at a specific time — either a chosen date and time (Friday at 11 a.m.) or when triggered by someone taking a specific action (filling out an opt-in form, completing a purchase, requesting information, and so on).

The quick, fun, well-paid email marketing projects that companies most often hire email copywriters for are the following:

Single Transactional Emails

Although not traditionally thought of as “marketing,” these very short thank-you, confirmation, and welcome emails (among others) are often a missed opportunity to provide a good customer experience and build loyalty.

In the hands of a good email copywriter, these emails can be transformed from merely functional into a fun and thoughtful extension of the brand experience.

Single Promotional Emails

These stand-alone emails are usually short (the equivalent of a one-page sales letter). They’re written in a conversational tone “from” someone at the company. And the purpose of the email is to persuade the reader to take a specific action.

These emails can communicate a one-time sales promotion, offer a coupon or other special discount, make a special announcement, give a product update, or promote a company event.

Because they’re tied to revenue, promotional emails often are a priority for companies. And because they’re a priority, companies want them to be the best they can be. Often, this means hiring an email copywriter to write them.


Autoresponders are an automated series of prewritten emails (usually three, five, seven, or more) scheduled to drip out in response to a specific action taken by the prospect or customer — for example, when someone fills out an online form to request information, signs up to receive a lead magnet (such as a special report, free trial, or coupon code), or subscribes to a newsletter… just to name a few examples.

Each individual email is short and conversational, and is intended to move the reader to the next stage of the sales or relationship process.

In addition to introductory, “getting to know each other” autoresponder series sent when someone first gets added to an email list, autoresponders can be used to

  • deliver sales offers (including upsells and cross-sells) after the prospect/customer does something to signal interest;
  • provide confirmation and product instructions after a sale;
  • deliver additional content related to something the reader already expressed interested in; or
  • provide reminders that the reader hasn’t yet taken action (if they left something in their shopping cart, for example).

Writing an autoresponder series is a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. Each email in the series builds upon what came before it and sets the expectations for what follows it.

A five-email autoresponder series, then, is more than simply five emails. There is strategy and planning involved to make them flow together as a cohesive whole.

Email Campaigns

Like an autoresponder series, an email campaign is a planned, sequential series of emails promoting something (such as a product, service, or event). These also are short emails strategically tied together to move the reader forward toward taking the next step.

The difference between an email campaign and an autoresponder series is that autoresponders are a triggered response to a reader action. Email campaigns, on the other hand, are sent when the company wants to promote something.

Some examples of what email campaigns can be used to promote are

  • an HVAC company promoting seasonal furnace or air-conditioning unit service,
  • CPAs promoting advance tax planning (usually in the fourth quarter of the calendar year),
  • new product launches,
  • book launches,
  • workshops, and
  • large-scale events like trade shows and conferences (promoting the event itself or an individual company’s participation at the event).

As with autoresponder series, email campaigns need to be strategically planned so that the individual emails work together as a complete and cohesive whole.

Email Newsletters

Email newsletters (e-newsletters) are informative, typically content-heavy emails sent daily, weekly, monthly, or on some other regular schedule. They help a company stay top of mind, and keep subscribers engaged with a brand.

Content Marketing Institute reports that 81% of business-to-business (B2B) marketers send e-newsletters, and 31% say the e-newsletter is their highest-performing method of nurturing leads.

Here are some examples of content that might be included in an e-newsletter:

  • original and/or curated articles
  • customer success stories
  • testimonials
  • answers to common questions
  • tips, tricks, and how-tos
  • staff profiles
  • customer profiles
  • behind-the-scenes looks
  • event calendar
  • upcoming deadlines
  • company announcements
  • “insider” offers, deals, and promotions
  • fun stuff — like memes, riddles, recipes, staff selfies, and so on — that makes the company relatable and provides personality

Consistency is critical when sending email newsletters, which is why some companies hesitate to implement this piece of email marketing. It’s the same reason why so many companies hire professional email copywriters to write their email newsletters for them.

Best Practices of Email Marketing

When someone signs up for an email list, they’re inviting a company into their space, into their inbox. That means the company sending the emails needs to be on their best behavior.

Engaging in email best practices is good for readers, but it’s good for companies, too. It improves their deliverability rates and reduces churn (the number of people who leave their list).

List Building

An email list is a valuable asset. And the health of a company’s sales and marketing is often reflected in the health of their list.

A healthy email list has readers who open, read, and take action on the emails they receive.

Having readers unsubscribe is a normal part of the process, too. In fact, unsubscribes are better than people staying on the list and never opening any of a company’s emails. Having an extremely low open rate can end up hurting a company’s deliverability because it tells the email providers’ algorithms that their emails may be perceived as spam.

So, although unsubscribes are normal, there must be new subscribers coming in to replace those who leave. A healthy list gets new subscribers at a rate that compensates for the unsubscribers.

In other words, if you add 10 new engaged subscribers for every 10 who unsubscribe, the list remains healthy.

Email Marketing Report Graphic

If you add 20 new subscribers for every 10 who leave, the list grows. And so does the company.

This is why it’s an email marketing best practice to always be list building. And an email copywriter can play a significant role in helping a company build their list.

For example, you can consult about effective lead magnets that will attract subscribers who are a good fit, which makes for a stronger list… You can even offer to write lead magnets if that’s something you do in addition to writing email copy.

Note: Lead magnets are the freebies — guides, reports, checklists, coupons, and so on — that companies offer to give people in exchange for their email address and permission to send them marketing emails. HubSpot’s “Not Another State of Marketing Report” is an example of a lead magnet used to build an email list.

You might also advise your client on how to establish expectations for their new subscribers as part of the sign-up process. For example, if the company sends an email every day, the reader needs to know that.

Remember, email marketing is about building a relationship between a company and their prospects, customers, clients, and patients. And having clear expectations is an important part of a healthy relationship.


Segmenting an email list means categorizing subscribers based on criteria that help a company deliver more targeted information to them.

For example, a winery may segment their email subscribers by the criteria of red wine, white wine, and dessert wine. In doing so, they can send each segment targeted information and offers that they will be interested in.

Segmented CampaignsThey can send emails about red wine to the people who they already know like to drink red wine… and who are more likely to buy more of it. The reader likes this, too, because they don’t get emails about dessert wine that they’re not interested in.

Segmenting a list takes a little more effort than simply dumping all subscribers into one big bucket. But it’s worth it.

Campaign Monitor reports that marketers who send email to segmented lists increase their revenue by 760%.

When a company’s email marketing can speak more directly to a reader about what’s important to them, it will be more effective. List segmentation is the first part of what makes that happen. Great, targeted email copy is the other part of the equation.

A/B Testing

A/B testing (sometimes referred to as “split testing”) is the practice of running two slightly different versions of a marketing piece against each other at the same time — delivering option A to one group of people and option B to a second group — to see which is more effective at getting results.

Statistics show that 90% of marketers use A/B testing, and 56% say A/B testing is a priority in their email marketing.

They most often test variations of the following email elements:

  • subject lines (including preview text or preheader text)
  • calls to action (CTAs)
  • send time
  • send day
  • email layout
  • position of content

Top Email Segments that undergo A/B Testing


The information gained by split testing guides future email marketing decisions. When the test involves copy — as it does when subject lines and CTAs are the elements being tested — it gives the email copywriter invaluable information about the company’s audience and what best resonates with them.

This is why, as an email copywriter, you always want to request the results of any A/B tests.

Of course, A/B testing isn’t just a way to satisfy idle curiosity about what readers will respond better to. There’s a direct correlation to the bottom line as well.

In fact, HubSpot reports companies that make it a practice to always include an A/B test in their emails boost their ROI up to 4,800%. Remember, the average ROI from email marketing is already an incredible 4,200%… A/B testing takes an already good thing to the next level.

Email Marketing Opportunities for Digital Copywriters

Companies of all sizes and across all industries use email marketing. There is a huge need for email copywriters to help them get the best results possible.

To get a sampling of the industries using email marketing — and a bit of proof that they are testing and tracking their results — just look at this Constant Contact data from early 2022 showing the email open rates by industry.

Industry Using Email Marketing
Administrative/Business Support Services (billing, hiring, phone answering, etc.) 24.33%
Child Care Services 37.61%
Consulting Services (management, marketing, advertising, blogging) 20.12%
Dining and Food Services 32.29%
Education 33.30%
Faith-Based Organizations 40.66%
Family and Social Services (government, adoption, elderly care, pet care, etc.) 35.51%
Financial Services (accounting, bookkeeping, advisors, insurance, brokerage, etc.) 20.89%
Health and Wellness (physicians, home care, dentists, mental health care, nutrition, etc.) 28.44%
Home and Building Services (cleaning, landscaping, contractors, construction, etc.) 30.11%
Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers 34.97%
Legal Services 28.00%
Manufacturing and Distribution 21.72%
Nonprofit Membership Organizations 34.46%
Nonprofit Services 33.33%
Personal Care Services (nail, hair, skin, nutrition, fitness, etc.) 29.61%
Real Estate 25.82
Recreation, Sports, and Entertainment (yoga studio, bowling alley, etc.) 32.92%
Repair and Maintenance 9.13%
Retail (brick and mortar, online, wholesale, and direct selling) 24.90%
Technology Services 19.79%
Transportation Services (trucking, warehousing, logistics) 24.11%
Travel and Tourism (passenger transport, accommodations, travel agencies, etc.) 30.42%

Tip: If you’re talking to a prospective client in one of these industries, ask about their email open rate. If it is lower than the industry average, that’s a good indication that there’s room for improvement… a good indication that they need your help!

And email marketing isn’t just used by big companies in these industries. Nearly two-thirds of small businesses (64%) use email marketing, too.

So, the opportunity is out there. Companies need trained digital copywriters to help them make the most of their email marketing.

They need YOU!

Getting Started with Writing Email Marketing Copy

To get started as an email copywriter, first look at the email you already have in your inbox. Read the emails you get from companies and study what they’re doing.

Study the Subject Line

Evaluate the subject line before you open the email. Look at the preheader, too (that’s the line of text right under, or sometimes next to, the subject line).

Subject lines and Inbox Graphic

In this example from a mobile inbox, the sender is first, then the subject lines are displayed in bold text and the preheader is in normal text.

As you’re studying your own inbox, consider the following:

  • How did the subject line engage your interest and get you to open the email?
  • Was it the subject line itself or the preheader/preview text that made you curious? Or was the name of the sender enough to get you to open the email?
  • How did it convey urgency and encourage you to stop scrolling and open the email immediately?

In this example, SmartBrief used curiosity in the preheader with the phrase “Use this question…” Don’t you want to open the email to find out what the question is?

Vinesse used both the subject line and preheader to convey urgency by mentioning “final bottles” and offering a savings of over 40% “today.”

The Business Journal simply left the default “view this email in your browser” in the preheader. Definitely an opportunity for improvement there.

Study the Email Body

In studying the body of the email, see if you can determine what type of email it is.

Is it…

  • transactional?
  • promotional?
  • part of a series?
  • an e-newsletter?

Here’s the Vinesse email from the subject line example:

Vinesse Wine Screenshot

Scrolling farther down the email, there were a few more wines listed in the Member Favorites section, followed by a bright green “Buy Now” button.

With the two CTAs encouraging a purchase — “Reserve Yours Now” in the top image and “Buy Now” in the button at the bottom — this is clearly a promotional email.

The SmartBrief email, on the other hand, features summaries of both original and curated articles with CTA links to leave the email to read the full stories at the source sites. It also has ads mixed in with the content (Northwestern Kellogg’s Chief Marketing Officer Program and 1440 are visible in the screenshot).

Small Briefs Screenshot

The SmartBrief email is an e-newsletter.

You’ll likely find a mix of all the types of marketing emails in your inbox. And you’ll probably find examples on both ends of the quality spectrum. Study them all.

The more immersed you can become in the world of email marketing, the more you can bring to the table when working with clients. And also, the more fun you’ll have as an email copywriter.

Study the Footer

The last part of a marketing email is the footer.

The footer copy is part of the template and isn’t something that gets changed with each individual email. The default is generally just a link to unsubscribe and the sender’s address (both legally required to be there).

But there can be more added to this section, and this is where a great email copywriter can help make a tremendous impact for the company.

To illustrate this, first consider the SmartBrief footer:

Small Briefs Email Footer

It has more than the minimum required information, and includes multiple things that the reader may want to do: browse the portfolio of other newsletters, update their profile, give feedback, advertise, and more.

It’s a good step up from the default.

Now, consider the footer of an email from DigitalMarketer:

Digital Marketer Email Footer

DigitalMarketer uses the footer to continue marketing to the reader with conversational CTAs, including the suggestion to “forward to a friend!”

When you can suggest something similar to your clients, you become more than an email copywriter… You become an email marketing consultant. And this makes you even more valuable to your clients.

Key Skills Required to Succeed with Email Marketing

In addition to studying examples of different emails as you’re getting ready to write email copy, you’ll need to evaluate your own skills.

Great email copywriters are skilled at the following:

  • Conversational Copywriting — This is copy that feels more like a conversation between friends rather than a sales pitch, while still fulfilling the purpose of getting the reader to take action.
  • Persuasion — Email marketing is all about getting the reader to say “yes”… yes to opening the email, yes to clicking through to take another action, yes to whatever the purpose of the email is.
  • Strategy — Email copywriters must be able to think strategically and see where each email fits into the bigger picture of the customer journey… and write each email accordingly.
  • Empathy — The ability to see things from your reader’s point of view and anticipate their thoughts and emotions is a common skill required for all good copywriting, and it’s particularly essential for good email marketing.
  • Writing Short Copy— Every word counts in email marketing, where readers’ attention spans are very short. Email copy has to be clear and concise… compelling in as few words as possible.

These are the skills you must learn if you are to succeed as an email copywriter. The good news is, they can be learned, and you improve them with practice.

In fact, the more you use the “muscles” required for email copywriting, the stronger they become.

A Peek Behind the Curtain of Writing Email Marketing Copy

Now, let’s peek into what it looks like to write email marketing copy for clients.

Landing the Job

To land the job, you have to market yourself and talk to prospects.

A simple way to start the conversation is to ask, “How’s your email marketing working for you right now?”

This might be in a direct message on LinkedIn, or through a prospecting email, or at a networking event.

Let’s say you use some of the email marketing statistics shared above during that conversation with a prospect. If their results are lower than the averages, it’s pretty easy for them to say yes to trying something new by hiring you.

Doing the Work

You’ll typically start with a smallish project — usually one to three emails — to test things out without much risk involved for either you or your client. Emails are short, so they don’t take much time to write.

But before you start writing, there will be some research involved. Specifically, you’ll need to know

  • why this particular prospect/customer is getting this email,
  • what your client wants the prospect/customer to do next as a result of the email,
  • details about what’s being offered or promoted, and
  • the specific person at the company that the email is from.

Matching a Client’s Voice

You’ll need to make the email sound authentically like the person whose name is in the “From” field and in the signature of the email. That means researching their voice.

Are they positive and upbeat? Snarky and cynical? What kinds of examples do they use (sports, food, parenting, etc.)?

Study videos of this person speaking. Or read what they’ve written. If possible, have a conversation with them.

Pay attention to the cadence and flow… the rhythm of their voice. Look for words and phrases they commonly use.

One of the biggest compliments an email copywriter can receive is “You make it sound like me!” 

Most of this information will come from your initial client intake or project kickoff meeting.

Then, you write the email(s).

You’ll typically write and submit the copy in a Word document. Someone else at the client’s company will be responsible for going into their email marketing service provider account to format and schedule the emails.

Depending on the terms of your work agreement, you may complete a round or two of revisions… if any are needed.

You’ll get paid, and you’ll move on to the next project.

Following Up

You’ll want to follow up to check on results and to suggest additional projects going forward. If it makes sense, you may talk about a retainer arrangement, since email marketing is an ongoing effort.

Don’t let your follow-up slip through the cracks! A good practice is to schedule it into your calendar when you submit the completed copy to your client.

The idea of “the fortune is in the follow-up” is true not just for prospects but for existing clients, too.

Your Next Steps with Email Marketing as a Digital Copywriter

If you want an even deeper dive into learning how to write email marketing copy, AWAI offers multiple self-study programs to help you gain the skills you need to succeed.

Consider the following:

Email marketing is fun and exciting. And clients have an ongoing need for more and more copy to feed the engine and keep it running, so there will always be a need for good email copywriters who can get results.

Marketers need you. They are out there waiting for you to show up and help them.

Don’t keep them waiting any longer.

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