Email Content

As you compose the content of your message, follow these best practices to create subject lines and body copy that engage recipients.

Subject line

You have at most 10 seconds to capture your recipients' attention in the inbox, so keep the subject line descriptive and inviting, as well as concise and relevant, but not promotional. To help increase the likelihood that the recipient will open your message, follow these best practices:

  • To ensure the recipient recognizes the sender, clearly identify your organization or known staff in the "From" line and address.

  • Use no more than 25 characters so the entire subject line appears in the recipient's inbox, including on mobile devices.

  • To avoid being mistaken for a duplicate message, update the subject line for each mailing, especially different mailings on the same topic.

  • To avoid issues with content filters like SpamAssassin, don't use numbers or special characters, and avoid exaggerations such as ALL CAPS, overused exclamation points, and stars or dotted lines. Also, avoid terms such as "Free", "Apply now", "Extra cash", "Home-based", "Opportunity", "Limited time", "Money", and any words that may be considered pornographic.

Note: For an exhaustive list of words to avoid, see HubSpot's The Ultimate List of Email SPAM Trigger Words.

  • To analyze the effectiveness of your subject lines, check the open rate. If less than 25% of messages are opened, rework your subject lines.

Calls to action

Your message should include at least one call to action — such as to donate, register, join, volunteer, or visit your website — that gives the recipient a compelling reason to act now. To increase the odds that the recipient responds in kind, follow these best practices:

  • The call to action should be the focus of your email message. Start the message with a compelling call to action that is short enough to appear within the preview pane of the recipient's mailbox provider or mobile device.

  • To ensure recipients see your call to action, style buttons as text and CSS so they appear regardless of whether the mailbox provider downloads your images.

  • Use verbs and active voice with specific action-oriented language.

  • As 70% of recipients click the first link, make that the most important call to action of your message.

  • To analyze the effectiveness of your call to action, track the clickthrough rate of its link.

Body copy

To retain your recipients' attention once they open the message, keep your content clear and concise, with no more than 250 words for total body copy. To make the most of those 250 words, follow these best practices as you compose your copy:

  • Use email messages to introduce main content or functionality on your website. Rather than pack the message with lengthy copy full of details, include only the basics and point the audience to pages on your website.

    • For a monthly E-newsletter, point to a page with more information about each article and a donation page.

    • For an event announcement, point to a page with more information about the event and a registration page.

    • For a fundraising appeal, point to a donation page.

    • For a progress report on a mission, point to a slideshow of activities, a page with a summary of media mentions, a "tell-a-friend" page, and a donation page.

  • Identify your organization by its specific name and location. In accordance with the United States' Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act, include a link to your website and a contact phone number and email address.

  • Avoid large graphics or pictures. Keep graphics minimal and sized to take up minimal space.

  • Use headlines and bulleted lists to emphasize important points and allow recipients to quickly scan the content.

  • To engage the recipient, use stories to share experiences and then use statistics, testimonials, case studies, and expert opinions to support the point.

  • To grow relationships and response rates with recipients, use merge fields like <First name> to personalize the content.

  • To avoid issues with content filters like SpamAssassin, avoid terms like "As seen on TV", "Call tollfree", "No obligation", "Limited time offer", "This is not spam", and "Earn extra".

  • To communicate how you value recipients, invite them to update their profiles on your website.

  • Keep your audience in mind. Provide content that is appropriate for the level of engagement and interest. To target different audience segments within the same communication, use dynamic content and segmentation.

  • To analyze the effectiveness of the design of your copy, check the clickthrough rates to gauge engagement. Test with different colors and graphics until you see clickthrough rates improve.

  • To analyze the length of your copy, check your unsubscribe requests. If you have a high rate of recipients who request to unsubscribe, you may be losing your audience with the amount of content.