What are the key elements of an effective marketing email

What makes an effective marketing email?

Are you sending regular emails to your subscribers? If so, great, well done!

If you’re not, why not? You’ve done the heavy lifting of getting them on your list, but now letting them languish there, unattended?

Maybe it’s because you’re not sure what to write about. Perhaps you just never find the time to sit down and compose an email that will deliver the kind of value you’d expect to receive from someone like you? Whatever the reason, you need to get into the habit of regularly publishing email content to your list if you want to get and keep them engaged, with a view to converting them into paying clients.

To maximise your efforts when composing emails, there are certain elements of every email that you need to get right if you’re to optimise the impact it will have on your subscribers. Below, I’ve outlined the eight main aspects of an effective email so that you can make sure you each covered.

The eight main elements of effective marketing emails.

Each email you compose should follow the same structure, with the content obviously changing for each one.Let’s talk through each of the elements, starting from the logical top of an email, all the way down to the unsubscribe link at the bottom.

1. The Sender

When sending your email, make sure that it’s coming from an actual person (preferably you), and not a generic ‘Info@…’ or ‘team@…’ etc. Unless your email comes from a person, you’ll find it difficult to establish and build a rapport with your readers. 

Sometimes it can be useful to let people know your name and company; for example;

From: John at Proven Flows, rather than just ‘John Bellingham(which may be more difficult for them to remember who you are – unless, of course, YOU are the brand).

Remember, when your email arrives in the intended recipient’s email client, it’s your ‘from’ name that will most likely resonate with them, and one of the first things they’ll see when checking their email.

You can configure your ‘sender‘ email address inside your email marketing platform of choice, whichever one you happen to use (e.g. Mailchimp, ConvertKit, Mailerlite, Active Campaign etc.). 

2. The Subject Line

It has one job, to get the recipient to open the email. That’s it! As soon as the email’s been opened, the ‘subject line’ can chill, job done!

But don’t be all spammy or clickbaity, just be authentically intriguing. The subject line of an email can be the difference between it being opened and being chucked straight in to the ‘boring bin’.

We’ve all seen the boring things that people send through, and, you know, they just turn you off, and they just give it no, absolutely no desire whatsoever to open the email, you know, it’s gonna be like and quite often you’ll just delete it. 

Here are some things to avoid doing in your subject line;

  • Overuse of CAPITAL LETTERS – just capitalise when it’s correct to do so, e.g. proper nouns, people’s names, places etc.
  • Overuse of exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! – just use one if you want to exclaim!
  • Overuse of emojis 😉😜😍😘😏😞😩😢😭😤😡😲😨😱 – just use one to add a flavour of emotion 😊, or make reference to something 🍩
  • Use of spammy words and phrases, like FREE, COUPON, 100% OFF, URGENT SALE, UNBELIEVABLE!!!
Here are some things that you should do more of in your subject line;

  • Use personalisation, e.g. the use of the recipient’s first name “John, here’s something I learned about LinkedIn that you can use in your business.
  • Use curiosity or intrigue in your words (very different from ‘spammy’), e.g. “John, I grew my email list to 1,000 in the first 6 weeks – and this is how I did it…
  • Use positive words that offer a good outcome, e.g. “John, I want to share something with you that will delight both you and your clients!
  • Use ‘natural’ language and don’t write like you’re a robot… in other words, write like you speak; e.g John, I’ve worked out why my ads weren’t working, it surprised me!” – this comes across as how I’d normally speak. Contrast that with “John, I discovered why my adverts were not performing very well, and I was surprised to see the reasons that lay behind it.” 

3. The Preview Text

Think on the preview text as the accomplice to the subject line. If it’s the job of the ‘subject line’ to get the recipient to open the email, then it’s the job of the preview text to act as the cheerleader to the subject line. 

The preview text fuels the intrigue and desire to open the email.



Below you can see a couple of screenshots of an email I received from Whimsical (a great little free app for drawing diagrams), showing the use of preview text. [Click here to check out whimsical for yourself.]


Subject Line: New Features Made to Stick: Sticky Notes,…

Preview text: We’ve been working on a few new things and you’re one of the first customers to try them out!

Now, this first image is the email as seen in my email client, in list form. So, in other words when I check my inbox I can see a long list of emails and this one from Whimsical looked like this; The text highlighted in yellow is the preview text and is NOT actually part of the email content (once opened).

Preview text example highlighted in yellow.

The image below now shows the same email from Whimsical, and as you can see, the preview text has disappeared. The email begins with the ‘wave’ 👋  emoji and then “Hi John,”. By this time, the subject line and the preview text have done their job – they got me to open the email.

Example of an email minus the preview text that can be seen in email client list.

4. Salutation

When you’re writing an email, just be ‘you’. Start your email using what you’d say if you were speaking to this person.


Example: ‘Hi, John’. Don’t start with ‘Hey John!’ or ‘Yo, John!” or ‘Dear, John’ if that’s not how you’d normally talk – it’ll just feel weird.

Do try to personalise it where possible. Use the person’s first name instead of ‘Hi there’ or ‘Hi friend’ – you just know it’s a bulk email broadcast when companies (or people) don’t use your name. The use of someone’s first name will increase engagement immediately since it’s a human trait to respond to being referred to by your name.

5. Main Body

This is the section of the email that carries all the value. Make sure you say everything that you want to say in here. But also make sure that it has a semblance of structure too, taking the reader on a logical (or at least understandable) path.


Personally, I like to use the ‘intro, main, outro’ approach. This is where I’ll position what I’m about to write about (the intro), I’ll then write about it (the main), before closing this section with a summary (the outro). Remember, this is all inside the main body section of the email.


I also strongly encourage you to make your email as readable as you can by using white space (breaks up the text for the reader), image and / or video to add variety (humans like variety), and the use of textual formatting for adding emphasis (e.g. bold, italic etc.).


Contrast these 2 emails below, both containing exactly the same text, the first one being just a text monologue, and the second one using the recommendations mentioned above;

Using text only

Unformatted email without images

Using images and white space

Formatted email using white space, images, and text formatting.

6. Call to Action

You should finish every email you write with a call to action (CTA). Now, just for clarity, by CTA I don’t mean a sales pitch! But ask the reader to do something. As humans, we are programmed to respond to requests (even if we sometimes resist), and therefore the more CTAs you use, the more likely your readers are to take actions.


Examples of what I mean include;


  • “Hit the reply button and let me know what you think.”
  • “Do you agree? Interested to know your thoughts – do let me know.”
  • “Download my guide here, it’s free and walks you through the process.”
  • “Anything like this ever happened to you?”

 And of course, when appropriate, like during a sales campaign, you’d directly ask for the sale, “Click to Buy Now”, “Click to Join Today” etc.

7. Sign Off

Much like the salutation part of your email, just be ‘you’. 

If you’d normally say “Cheers”, then use “Cheers”. If you’re more formal, then use more formal language. People read what you write with your voice in their head (if they’ve heard you talk), so be ‘you’ and you won’t go far wrong.

You may want to include something that encourages your readers to forward the email to others who they believe would benefit from receiving your emails.

P.S. As an additional ‘bonus’ to your sign-off, you can use the post-script, or the ‘P.S.’. It’s proven to be a very effective tool that gets attention. 


Example use of a P.S. in an email.

8. Unsubscribe Link

It’s important to make it easy for people to unsubscribe from your list (it’s also law), so make it easy for them to do so.

I see some people trying to keep email subscribers on their list by obfuscating the unsubscribe link (e.g. light grey text, small font, difficult to see and easy to miss), thinking that they’ll be able to sell to them at some point. This is a recipe for disaster. If someone wants to leave your list, let them go – why on earth would you want people on your list who don’t want to be there?! It just makes no sense.


And don’t let unsubscribes affect you – they will definitely happen, so embrace them as a ‘clean-up’ exercise that they are doing for you!

Example of an unsubscribe link in email.
Summary anatomy of an effective marketing email.
John Bellingham Email marketing strategist for freelancers

John Bellingham
Email marketing strategist for freelancers.

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