why your emails don't work

Why Your Email Writing Doesn’t Work – And How to Fix It

Writing email is the oldest and still one of the most effective ways to improve user engagement. As a startup founder, you might be thinking that you have already exhausted this channel, and it has very little impact on your business. That’s why I am happy to tell you about several effective techniques to improve open and click rates of your mailings. In this article, I’m going to cover 3 topics: how to design your emails, how to improve deliverability, and how to acquire new subscribers using emails.

Typically, an email consists of a subject line, preheader, copy and call-to-action. Let’s go through them and talk about best practices regarding each part.

Subject Line

The subject line is the first thing your subscribers see. If it doesn’t grab the attention, your work is lost. So, what you can do:

  • Keep it short and sweet.
  • Limit the length to 50 characters.
  • Catch the eye with symbols, intrigue or creative wordplay.
  • Test, test, test.

Good examples: “Hold your breath until you see this”, “Dads: This email is not for you. Forward it to your family”. Bad: “Friday Newsletter”, “RE: Your previous email”, “Check out this!”.


Preheader is a short text which is normally shown together with the subject line in the email client. It’s as important as the subject line. Hence, you should fill it with a strong punch! Make it catchy and limit it to 100 characters. Don’t forget that mobile users usually see fewer symbols, that’s why you should load the preheader with energy from the beginning.


In the email copy (body), your task is to translate user data into personalized, targeted content. Don’t start with Dear subscriber or Dear Valued Customer, if you have the username in the database. Avoid placeholders at any price.

Dear [First name],
we know how much you love [Interest].
That’s why we want to invite you to an exciting event in [City].


The last element of your email is call-to-action (CTA). It always follows the purpose of your email writing and states a limited-time offer, asks users to participate in a program, to sign-up for an event, or to create an account on your website.

Call-to-actions that work best always express a need for urgent action, contain around 5 words, begin with a verb (for example, download or register), set clear expectation, and are limited in time. Good example: “Shop now for 20% off on your order!”

Testing emails

A few words about A/B testing. Basically, you take 2 versions of the email and see which one works better. Then, you sent the winner version to the rest of the subscribers.

What you can test: subject line and its length, preheader, body, content blocks, send time, style, or personalization. For example, you can compare front-loading the brand (the company name is the first word) with front-loading the keywords.


Deliverability is the key characteristic of your emails. If your product users don’t receive them because of spam filters, then the rest of the emails is useless. So, what you can do:

  • Include your actual name in the “From” address, otherwise, your email address might look like a meaningless sequence of symbols.
  • Additionally, include the name of your organization into the subject line. It will decrease the chance your email ends up in the spam folder.
  • Deliver what you promised. If it’s a monthly newsletter, don’t bother people every week.

Stay fit

While growing the startup, we are trying to stay on a small budget. That’s why:

  • Remove any bounced addresses. If you send emails to non-existing addresses and the bounce rate exceeds 20%, your IP might be black-listed forever.
  • Purge old and inactive addresses. Don’t waste money on them.
  • Remove from the newsletter list those, who haven’t opened your email after 1 month. From the experience, they are more likely to mark your emails as spam, if you try to contact them again. Therefore, don’t waste money on them as well.

Grow user base

While writing email, your goal remains the same: to increase the user base of your product. For that reason, use all legal ways to acquire new subscribers:

  • Require users to give the email address to create an account or participate in a loyalty program. But don’t force it: always state the reason for opt-in.
  • Implement popup form with an urgent incentive on your website.
  • Promote the subscription list on all social media, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.

Ask for an email address during sales and service calls.

Use the moment

Once you have acquired new subscribers, don’t stop. Follow up immediately with a welcome message. Make your users feel warm and fuzzy. Set up a series of welcome emails to on-board new users and don’t forget to personalize. Statistically, these emails have the highest open and click rates.

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