When it Comes to Email, Words Matter

As a bit of a grammar nerd, I struggle with how acceptable it has become to write colloquially rather than correctly – the famous book “For Whom the Bell Tolls” today would no doubt be titled “Who Does the Bell Toll For.” Candidly, much of “correct” English is awkward in a conversation. Many sentences end in prepositions, and dangling participles and other linguistic no-nos are completely accepted. Okay, I’m learning to let go.

Email Words MatterWhen writing emails, we coach to write conversationally, like you’re writing to one person. When you can write regarding specific interests, those emails are actually pretty easy to write (MUCH easier than trying to write content that speaks to everyone, as we’ve discussed in another post). So I’ve also learned to let go of my grammar nerd tendencies when it comes to the written word. Emails need to flow as a conversation would flow. I totally get that.

But – words matter. Today, they matter in new and different ways.

The Sign-Off Words

Our friends at Grammarly put out an excellent blog post on How to End an Email: 9 Never-Fail Sign-Offs and 9 to Avoid, pointing out once again that words matter. “It’s just a word or a short phrase, followed by your signature, and yet finding the right tone to close your email often requires a surprising amount of thought and finesse.” Their point is that you can write an absolutely beautiful, streamlined, well-worded email, then tank it with the wrong sign-off.

Interesting, huh? Whether emails sent by your marketing automation platform, or emails sent from your regular email account, that sign-off, that signature block, can make a big difference in how your email is perceived.

Personally, when it comes to marketing emails, I’m a fan of the not-so-standard sign-offs (but nothing too cheesy, of course). I tend to use “Onward and upward!” where others would us “Regards” or “Best.” I did a search once for email sign-offs and ended up with a giant list of possibilities – many of which were simply not for me, like “Make it a great day” and “Be awesome.” But, just because they’re not for me, doesn’t mean they’re not for you. Figure out what works for YOUR email identity, and make it part of you. And consider the advice of Grammarly’s blog post too.

The Click Words

In a recent webinar, Kim and I were asked for alternatives to “click here” in an email, because “click here” can be caught by spam filters (meaning that the email gets relegated to the spam or junk folder). True statement. Frankly, the word “click” in an email pretty much guarantees it’s a marketing email versus a personal email, so using the word “click” any just about any context – “click to read more” and “click here” being the most frequent – can send your email to the promotions or clutter folder even if not the spam folder.

So what do you do instead? A great example is the way I handled the link to Grammarly’s blog post above – I hyperlinked the title of the blog post directly. I did NOT write “click here to read that post.” See what I mean? You don’t have to use the word “click” to get people to click any longer. Email recipients can identify hyperlinked text and will click if they’re interested, even without the word “click” in the sentence.

If you’re sending emails with buttons for clicking, there is always a temptation to have the button text be “Click here.” Using the word “Continue reading” or “More” or “More here” will get the same result, without using a word that pretty much conveys the message “this is a promotional email.” See what I mean?

One final word on this one – resist the temptation to underline text in your emails to make a point. A lot of people will see underlined text and ASSUME it’s a hyperlink. If it’s not a hyperlink, don’t underline it. If it is a hyperlink, you can choose to underline it or not – just be sure it’s in a color that will indicate it’s a link within the text. Cool?

The Unsubscribe or Opt-Out Words

Since I first started doing email marketing, these many years ago, it’s always seemed odd to me to have the word “unsubscribe” in an email. My opinion isn’t the most popular one on the planet; every email marketing platform in the universe (including ours) provides standard “unsubscribe” text that USES the word “unsubscribe.” Sure, it’s the most clear word for telling people what to click to opt out of your list, but doesn’t it make sense that ANY email that contains the word “unsubscribe” is going to be a marketing email?

Bonus tip – some email providers have their own trademarked unsubscribe links – and they automatically put them in the footer for you (and, depending on your subscription, you might not be able to edit them either). Wouldn’t you think THOSE would be red flags to the spam filters? I certainly think so…

So, since the dawn of time, I’ve enjoyed mixing up the unsubscribe language – and removing any mention of the word “unsubscribe” or the word (it’s one word, right?) “opt-out” from the email footer. “You can remove yourself from our list here” is one I like a lot – with the whole sentence linked to the unsubscribe page. Some people create language that’s compatible with their corporate identity; one of my favorites was from a cool marketing agency was something like, “We worked hard on this email for you, and if you don’t want to get emails from us any more, we will likely cry. We’ll recover, but we’ll be sad for a long time to have lost you. It’s totally your choice.” The entire message was linked to the unsubscribe page. Fun!

The Spam Words

There is exhaustive research on spam words – words that will trigger the spam filters and drop your email into places you don’t want it to go. You can get list after list from a quick web search.The real point of this paragraph is to bring a few things into the front of your mind. For example, you might be hosting a free webinar. How tempting is it to put the words “free webinar” into your email? Pretty tempting… and an easy mistake to make. The word “free” is on most of the spam word lists. If you have to describe it as a free webinar, could you use the word “complimentary” instead? Or could you put “there’s no cost to attend” in the body of the invitation? How could you avoid the use of the word “free?”

What language can you use to convey your ideas crisply yet not trigger a spam filter? “Limited time offer” is another phrase that gets used a lot, and yes, it can trigger the spam filter. What could you say instead?

Don’t rely on the lists you can download from the internet. Read some of the email that is sitting in YOUR spam or junk folder. Learn from them. Here are a few tips that I’ve picked up by reading my spam:

  • Never start an email with the greeting “Dear One” or “Attention Sir/Madam” (not that I would ever do either one of those! Ick!)
  • Don’t reference specific drug names, even if making a joke
  • Be careful how the word “pharmacy” is used – and in no cases, use it within five words of “Canadian”
  • Don’t put a dollar sign followed by numbers into an email
  • Avoid using lots of exclamation marks in the subject line
  • Avoid “SAVE NOW” and “CLOSES SUNDAY” or language like that

You can go through your own spam folder or junk folder and identify some points like I have – and know what to avoid.

Spam filters are getting more sophisticated. Email recipients are getting more savvy. You want to do everything you can to get your emails read, and everything you can to avoid shooting yourself in the proverbial foot.

Words matter, and we can use them to our advantage.

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About Margaret Johnson

Margaret is a business and technology veteran who started marketing accidentally nearly three decades ago - when she was five and a true marketing prodigy (ahem). When not coming up with awesome ideas, presenting webinars, or teaching about marketing, she's living with two cats, a crotchety fellow, and a house full of antiques and collectibles. She does not use Pinterest.

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