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The Top 10 Email Marketing Power Words and Language Pitfalls

by Karen Talavera

08 23, 2010 | Posted in Email Marketing | 1 comments

You already know that certain words are automatic spam-filter traps in email marketing, but if you’re reading this you probably aren’t using any of the worst offenders, such as obscenities or pornographic lingo.

Nonetheless, your email marketing messages can benefit from a thorough edit to ensure both the avoidance of anti-spam filters and, even more importantly, the inclusion of the most powerful words in direct response.

First though, examine how you and your colleagues speak about email marketing and describe it as a practice to those outside your world.

For example, how often have you heard (or even said) an email “blast” was being sent? I don’t know about you, but to me “blast” doesn’t have a positive connotation. I don’t wish to be “blasted” with anything (well, maybe $1,000 bills would be OK), including email “blasted” to my in-box, and I’d venture to guess that your customers and list members feel the same.

When we as practitioners of email marketing become more aware of how the words we use to describe our craft are perceived in the outside world, we can see “blast” is a dirty word. Instead, you might say “broadcast,” “announcement,” “send,” or “campaign” after the word email to describe your message deployment. But, please, no more blasting.

Furthermore, despite the Email Experience Council’s efforts, we still don’t have unilateral agreement on how to spell the word “e-mail.” The official AP style guide, dictionaries, and journalists continue to insist on the hyphen between “e” and “mail.” Most everyone else has already dropped it. Chances are, the word will follow the previous evolutionary pattern of “on-line,” “jell-o,” and “e-commerce.”

Those and other factors aside (such as no agreed-upon definition of spam), the words used within your email messages can make or break your campaigns.

Adhere to these Letterman Show-style Top Ten Lists—the first for language pitfalls and the second for power words—to ensure successful delivery, avoid complaints, and improve response:

Top Ten Language Pitfalls in Email Marketing


10. Typos and misspellings due to poor editing

There really is no excuse.

9. Subject lines in ALL CAPS

Writing in all capital letters online is the equivalent of shouting. You would never scream at your customers or prospects in person, so don’t do so virtually, either. If you must, capitalize a single power word within your subject line and leave it at that.

8. Use of punctuation marks and numbers within the subject line

If absolutely necessary, use only functional punctuation such as a hyphen or colon. Do not put phone numbers in your subject line—ever!

7. ALL CAPS within the message body

Remember, no need to shout. Use other creative means such as color, different font, or buttons/banners/backgrounds for emphasis if there is an explanation, offer, or condition not to be missed.

6. Excessive or unnecessary Power Word repetition; especially of power word #1

See below.

5. Copy written in passive rather than active voice

We need to get to the point quickly in email. Front-load sentences and paragraphs with action verbs and eye-catching benefits.

4. False or inflated sense of urgency

The very nature of email implies expediency, immediacy. Pushing recipients to respond by intentionally creating an environment of panic or scarcity usually doesn’t provide an incremental lift in response. In fact, it can be a real turn off. Your audience is already in a mindset to quickly access and process email messages. Nudge, don’t shove. Subtly mention deadlines or expiration dates when necessary or legally required, and if in doubt, test.

3. Vague calls-to-action

“Click here” or “visit our Web site” are too general; they don’t reinforce the subject of your message or your offer. Nor do they instill confidence in where a responder will land. Be specific, such as “download your free white paper” or “see the movie preview” instead.

2. Exaggerated Modifiers

Like “Amazing,” “Revolutionary,” “Great,” “All New,” (when just “new” would suffice) and even “Special” and “Important,” especially when used in the subject line, can land your email in the junk folder. Hype is a hallmark of spam and is unnecessary when your messages are targeted and relevant. Assuming they are (targeted and relevant), they will already be perceived as important, special, or great. Why state the obvious?

And the number-one pitfall:

1. Including the word “spam” in your message (such as “this is not spam”)

The very existence of written justification that your email is ethical calls its legitimacy into question. I can’t think of a more self-defeating proposition than stating your message is NOT what you fear it will be.

Now for the good news.

Top Ten Power Words

Here are the top ten power words for your email advertising and communications:

10. New

Appeals to our basic human curiosity to seek novelty.

9. Save

We all love a bargain.

8. Safety

Connotes reliability; appeals to basic human needs.

7. Proven

Justifies your claim, removes fear of the unknown.

6. Love

An all-time favorite.

5. Guarantee

If you have one, state it. It iron-clads your offer.

4. Immediate (Now, or Instant)

Instant gratification is the expectation online. If it can’t be found, completed, or received almost immediately, your offer is in the wrong channel.

3. Results

Provides rationalization for instant conversion.

2. You

Remember WIIFM? Your audience wants to hear about what’s in it for them, not you. Articulate your benefits in personal, conversational terms.

And the number one Power Word:

1. Free

Surprised? Probably not. Because this is the time-honored, most potent motivator in direct response, be particularly vigilant of overuse. Just a dash’ll do. Strive to optimize placement, and test if necessary.

When it comes to power words, less is more. Use them sparingly and strategically. Avoid clichés and lethal combinations (Proven Results, Free Love) as well as inflated modifiers before or after. Power words are just that—powerful—all on their own.

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1 Comments

  1. Pingback: Email Marketing Pitfalls & Power Words (Don't Use the Word "FREE")

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