Editor’s note: based on the questions I receive, improving email performance is a hot topic for readers lately (see this post on tips for getting readers to read and click on your nonprofit’s emails on the moflow blog).

For today’s Q&A post, I asked email copywriting expert Kerri Karvetski of Company K Media to answer a few specific questions about improving email performance. Lucky for us, Kerri generously agreed to share her experience and expertise. Enjoy! – Marlene

Expert interview with Kerri Karvetski: how to improve your nonprofit’s email performance

What are your top tips for ensuring an email gets opened, read and clicked?

A good subject line is the key to getting an email opened. But my guess is, you already knew that! So, how do you write a great subject line? Practice. Practice. Practice.

For every email I write for clients, I generate between 10-15 subject lines, from practical to whacky. You won’t get better at writing subject lines by writing fewer of them. You must write more of them. Only when you force yourself out of your comfort zone will you see brilliance, or at least effectiveness.

I always try to keep subject line under 50 characters, and front load keywords (SYRIA, MOUNTAIN LIONS, VICTORY) and power words (YOU, URGENT, STOP, SEE, NOW, TODAY, TOMORROW) even within those 50 characters.

The best email marketers also relentlessly test email subject lines. (For more advice on subject line testing check out this, this and this.) This way, instead of guessing, you’ll know what works.

Another area to focus on is the preheader, the small bit of copy that shows up as a preview of an email in inboxes. It gives just a hint of context beyond the subject line. Often, this copy reads something like, “If you have trouble reading this email, read the Web version.”

Change that. Every email program lets you customize the text and hyperlink of the preheader. It’s another opportunity to entice readers to open and click.

Are there any universal and essential copy ingredients that encourage people to keep reading an email after it has been opened?

Most people scan and scroll through email…they don’t read it word-by-word. So write in full sentences for sure, but break up big paragraphs, and use attention-getting elements such as headlines, subheads, buttons and graphics to catch eyeballs.

For a digest style email, the headlines matter even more. Spend more energy writing headlines that people want to click. Want a little inspiration? Google “blog headline formulas.” Enjoy!

What email copywriting mistakes do you see nonprofits making? What should they be doing instead?

Too long.
Too boring.
Too small (font).
Not mobile optimized.
Too focused of the nonprofit.

Instead…

Respect my time and keep it short, sweet and to the point.
Be useful, inspiring, shocking…make me feel something!
Make it easy for me to read this on my phone. One column. Big font.
Make it very clear what you want me to do – sign a petition, watch a video, make a donation.

What is your recommendation for the maximum number of links in an email? And for the optimal length of content snippets?

If it’s a newsletter, 1 link per article. No more than 5 articles. I prefer 3.
Advocacy alerts, I like 2 calls to action for a 250-word email.
E-appeals, I like 2-3 calls to action for 250-300-word email.
Events, I like 2 calls to action for a 200-word email.

Want more? Here are a few email copywriting articles I’ve written for the Nonprofit Marketing Guide:

Kerri Karvetski

Kerri Karvetski

Kerri has a deep background in nonprofit copywriting and online campaigns, helping clients such as the National Wildlife Federation, Amnesty International USA, UNICEF USA, American Heart Association and MomsRising reach out to supporters in ways that deeply resonate. Her copy is crisp, clear and compelling. She is the online campaigns and social media advisor for the Nonprofit Marketing Guide, providing practical, useful training and advice for nonprofits of all sizes. Kerri is the proud mom of two, a youth soccer coach, a serial volunteer and a somewhat successful vegetable gardener.
Kerri Karvetski
Kerri Karvetski

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