Emails are an essential part of our daily lives. An estimated 319.6 billion emails were sent and received in 2021, and it’s set to hit 376.4 billion by 2025. Many of these were promotional emails written by an email copywriter.
Email is a popular marketing channel and for good reason. For each U.S. dollar spent on email marketing, brands can expect to earn $36 back on average and as high as $45 for retail, ecommerce and consumer goods. As a result, a skilled email copywriter is a worthwhile investment.
In this article, we’ll explore what the email copywriter role involves, the skills they need to succeed and how businesses can hire the right email copywriter.
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Everything you need to know about the email copywriter role
Copywriters are professional writers who develop the copy used in marketing and promotional content. Today’s copywriters are most likely to be working on digital copy, like social media ads, web pages and email marketing copy, though print copy is still in demand.
Writing copy isn’t just creative wordsmithery. Rather, copywriting has more in common with a career in sales. The words are carefully chosen to increase brand awareness and motivate the reader to take a specific action, leading toward purchasing a product or service.
How copywriting is specifically used in email
In theory, writing email copy is like writing many other types of copy because you’re following the same principles to be persuasive. However, there are a few factors that make email different from traditional marketing writing.
For example, while thousands of people may read an ad or sales page, email is a form of one-to-one communication. Even where email automation is used to send the same message to multiple recipients, it still shows up in their inbox as a message sent specifically to them. This means that each email has to be more relevant than other forms of copy, tailored to each reader for maximum effectiveness.
In addition, while landing pages and long-form sales letters allow you to go into depth explaining the product or service, email is not the best place to describe every feature and benefit. With potentially hundreds of emails vying for your reader’s attention every day, each word in your email must be strategic.
Email’s place in the sales and marketing funnel
Email is an incredibly versatile tool and can be used in different ways throughout the customer journey. While you may have limited control about who sees your ad, email allows you to send the right message, to the right person, at the right time.
For example, if you’re involved in an outbound marketing campaign, your email might be the first contact a prospect has with your company in the sales funnel – its purpose being to build awareness.
Alternatively, that first email may come later in the journey, after the prospect has already engaged with your content. This email’s intent would be to move the customer through the middle of the funnel.
Emails can also be used to share valuable content such as case studies, testimonials and other resources that help close the sale. From there, you can use email to ensure the customer is getting the most out of the product, increasing customer satisfaction. You can also build stronger customer relationships and encourage further purchases through cross-sells, upsells and referrals.
Differences between in-house and freelance email copywriters
In-house email copywriters work exclusively for one company. Depending on the company’s size, this could be a solo position or part of a larger team. Most companies looking to hire a copywriter want someone capable of producing all sorts of copy, not just email.
For example, a search for “email copywriter” job openings on LinkedIn brings up job titles such as general copywriter, copy writer, email marketing copywriter, product copywriter, brand storyteller, content writer and so on. Even a dedicated email copywriter may be expected to pitch in with other copy projects.
If you’re working as a freelance email copywriter, you’ll generally work with multiple businesses. You may choose to still act as a general copywriter, helping clients with whatever copy they might need.
However, many copywriters choose to specialize, either by industry (SaaS, financial services, real estate, etc.) or by the type of copy they write. This allows you to develop your skills in a particular area and establish your expertise.
What does the day-to-day life of an email copywriter look like?
An email marketing copywriter’s working day can vary considerably depending on their working arrangements. However, both in-house and freelance email copywriters may be expected to take on the following responsibilities:
Coming up with the content strategy and structure for emails
Providing multiple versions of key email elements for A/B testing
Completing several rounds of revisions and edits
Meeting tight deadlines in line with the overall marketing strategy
Creating and reviewing complementary copy (landing pages, social media ads, etc.) to ensure a consistent message
Creating different emails for segmented campaigns
The email marketing copy process
Writing emails isn’t simply a case of writing the first thing that comes to you and hitting “send”. While the exact steps may differ, email copywriters tend to follow a similar process.
1. Review the brief
Before a single word is written, a good email copywriter must clearly understand their objective. Your employer or client will usually supply you with a brief to ensure you’re all on the same page. While briefs can vary considerably depending on the business, from one-sentence summaries to comprehensive guidance, they should ideally cover the following:
In general, the more details you get in the brief the better. A good brief helps avoid repeated revision rounds and confused goals.
2. Creating the email(s)
Next comes the writing process. This might mean creating a single email or a complete email sequence, where each message builds on the previous one. You’ll also likely have to come up with different versions of the key elements for testing.
Even though your expertise is in crafting engaging copy, you may need to show what the email will look like in design. That might mean wireframing or even producing the email in the company’s marketing automation platform (MAP). Most MAPs work with simple drag and drop email builders, but you may want to learn a little about email CSS and HTML if your company has very specific requirements.
3. Revisions and sending
Once the email is ready, it’s usually sent for approval from a superior or your client. The stakeholder may then request revisions. Depending on your role, you might also be responsible for adding the email to the company’s MAP. Here you’d need to make sure that it’s formatted correctly then schedule it to send.
4. Monitoring and optimizing
Once the email is sent, you may be expected to check the email’s performance, analyzing the metrics and responses. Use this information to optimize future emails.
Not every email will be a winner. View each email as an opportunity to learn more about your audience and what kind of message resonates most with them.
What types of email does a copywriter work on?
Emails tend to follow a similar structure, with key elements coming together to create a compelling message. Every email includes the following components:
These components will be used in a wide variety of emails. How you write them will depend on your goals. Here are the types of emails you may work on as an email copywriter:
Cold email outreach
These are written to introduce yourself and your services to a potential customer who hasn’t yet engaged with you. Writing an email to a complete stranger can be a real challenge, with little room for error. Having reliable cold email templates is a good starting point. Templates can then be modified to create a highly personalized and relevant message.
People are rarely ready to buy the moment you introduce yourself. A lead nurturing sequence helps by using welcome emails that allow a new prospect to get to know you while you establish your authority and how you can help them overcome their challenges. When the prospect is ready to buy, you’ll be top of mind.
Everyone loves a deal and letting your email list know when you have a new product or special promotion coming up is a great way to drum up sales. A good promotional email will highlight the benefits of your product or service while providing a clear incentive to buy now.
Similar to a lead nurturing sequence, newsletters are used to keep in touch with both leads and existing customers. By finding relevant content and news to share with your email subscribers regularly, you can keep in touch with prospects and further grow your customer relationship.
Many of the emails you’ll write are designed to move the prospect further down the sales funnel to the point they’re ready to buy. In contrast, a good onboarding sequence ensures that those prospects become happy customers. By helping them get up to speed and get the most value out of their purchase, you can increase customer satisfaction and reduce churn.
What skills do email copywriters need?
There are currently over 4 billion email users, more than half of the people on the planet. However, just because someone has written an email before, that doesn’t mean that they’re qualified to be an email copywriter.
Here are some of the skills that will help you write better emails.
Basic writing skills
Even the most persuasive message will fall flat if it’s full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. However, this doesn’t mean you have to write like an academic. It’s better to write in a conversational manner that resonates with your audience, rather than sounding like an old English professor.
Writing a relevant email means having a deep understanding of the recipient and their priorities. Hopefully the brief will give you plenty of insights, but being able to supplement that information with your own research will give you a strong advantage.
While AI writing tools are improving all the time, they’re yet to master true empathy. By using that research to see the world through your recipients’ eyes and understand their problems on a personal level, you can send emails that are truly focused on them.
With the growing number of emails being sent and received, creativity is one way for your email to stand out from the sea of sameness. Described by Derek Sivers as the most successful email he ever wrote, the CD Baby email turns the normal order confirmation email into an attention-grabbing story:
“Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.
A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.
Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.
We all had a wonderful celebration afterward and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved ‘Bon Voyage!’ to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Friday, June 6th.
I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as ‘Customer of the Year.’ We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!”
According to Derek, this took just 20 minutes to write but led to thousands of new customers as people shared the email online. Great copywriters will look for ways to put a fresh spin on “boring” messages.
While creativity is valuable, it should never be in place of clear messaging. For example, while the CD Baby is an excellent example of creativity, it’s still obviously an order confirmation email.
Closely related to this is conciseness: the ability to get your message across as succinctly as possible. As a general rule, if you can get away with using fewer words, do so.
Today’s copywriters need to be able to look at their email analytics and understand what those numbers mean. For example, low open rates could mean that your sender name, subject line, or preheader might need to change (although the iOS 15 update means those open rates are less reliable than before on Apple devices). Low click-through rates might indicate that the body isn’t clear or the CTA isn’t persuasive enough. High unsubscribe rates could suggest that readers aren’t finding your message relevant.
Taking a data-based approach to your emails is part of what sets apart the purely “creative” copywriters to someone who gets results for their employer or clients.
Finding work as an email copywriter
Think you might have what it takes to be a great email copywriter? These are some of the practical steps you can take to start making that a reality.
Study great (and not so great) emails
One of the benefits of being an email copywriter is that there are so many examples you can learn from right in your inbox.
Look at the emails you couldn’t wait to open, the ones that convinced you to make a purchase or take some other form of action and see if you can identify what makes them special. Equally, the emails that you deleted or sent to spam can be just as helpful, showing you what a bad email looks like so that you can avoid making the same mistakes.
Learn from the best
If you want to take your skills to the next level, there are plenty of email experts who are sharing their knowledge for your benefit. Some of the recommended resources and courses include:
While these copywriters all have excellent paid resources, simply being on their email list and learning by example will give you a masterclass in writing email copy. Add the ones you like best to a swipe folder for inspiration later on.
You don’t have to wait for permission to get started. Every time you send an email think about how you can make it more effective, looking for ways to implement what you’re learning.
How would you send a cold email, a promotional email or a newsletter for your favorite product? If you’re hoping to become an email copywriter for your current employer, start a portfolio of emails for the business and show them to your boss.
If you’re able to actually send the emails, keep track of your results. It’s great to show your boss or potential client email examples, but it’s even more compelling when you can tell them how you boosted click-through rates or how many replies you received for each one.
Should you use sites like Upwork and Fiverr?
Freelancing platforms are a popular choice when you’re looking for your first paying job as an email copywriter.
Sites like Upwork and Fiverr are full of businesses looking for the best email copywriters, making them a good opportunity to get a taste of what kind of work is in demand. However, these sites also have a reputation for low-paying work, leading some to think that $5 is a reasonable price for an email sequence. (According to AWAI, the price for a standalone sales email ranges from $250 to $2,000.)
If you’re looking for a different route, applying for an entry-level position as a copywriter can be a good way to learn the ropes while building your network. Alternatively, demonstrating your skills to your current employer can also help you get your first email assignment.
Don’t underestimate the power of your network. You can also connect with other email copywriters with Facebook groups such as The Copywriter Club, where potential job opportunities are regularly shared.
Make your pitch
Whether it’s convincing your boss to let you handle the email copy for your firm, reaching out to potential clients or responding to inquiries, sooner or later you’ll need to pitch your services.
As an email copywriter, the way you write your pitch is critical and should be viewed as your most important sample. After all, if you can’t write a persuasive pitch for yourself, how can you write a compelling email for them?
Put into practice all of your persuasive writing skills to convince them you’re the right person for the job. Research your potential employer or client and show them exactly why you have what it takes to be a great email copywriter.
How to hire an email copywriter
What if you’re a marketing leader or a business owner looking to hire an email copywriter? The right copywriter can bring a lot of benefits to your business and improve the results of your email marketing.
In-house or freelance?
Hiring a full-time email copywriter ensures that they’re always available, ready to help with your next email marketing campaign at any time. Most importantly, they’ll get a chance to develop a deep knowledge of your business, your services and your customers, making it easier for them to write effective emails.
On the other hand, using a freelance copywriter can be a more efficient use of resources for many businesses. Rather than keeping a copywriter on the books, you can hire an email copywriter on a project-by-project basis. This can work out cheaper than paying full-time wages with benefits, especially if you don’t need a copywriter all year round.
For example, once written, a high-performing Black Friday email sequence can be used for years with only minor variations.
Once you’ve decided whether you want to go in-house or use a freelancer, you have three main options to consider.
Using a freelancing platform
Sites like Upwork and Fiverr can give you access to thousands of email copywriters, making it an ideal place to start your search for a freelance email copywriter. Check to see whether they’ve taken any of the site’s tests and what kind of reviews they’ve received before you make your choice. Competition for work can be tight, so you may have to read through a lot of pitches before you find the right copywriter for your needs.
Creating a job listing
Sites like Monster or Indeed allow you to advertise your job openings for both in-house and freelance copywriters. Also, consider advertising in the communities where freelance copywriters hang out. For example, Copyhackers and Copy Chief both offer services that help businesses get in touch with copywriters in their communities.
Asking people in your network for referrals
One of the biggest concerns when hiring an email copywriter, freelance or otherwise, is knowing whether you’ll get the best value. To increase your chances of a positive outcome, talk with people in your network who’ve already used an email copywriter. If there’s someone in a similar niche and you’re impressed with their emails, chances are they can do the same for you. In conclusion…
As you work with your email copywriter, they’ll get a better feel for you and your customers, resulting in even more relevant copy that truly matches your brand and tone. By actively building your working relationship, your investment will pay off as their emails become more effective.
Today’s email copywriters need to be aware of the different types of email and where they fit into the customer journey. They also need a deep understanding of the prospect and their priorities.
Email copywriters who can combine creativity and clear communication with an analytical approach will continue to be a valuable resource for businesses marketing in this channel.
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