Before you click that 'Send' button - A complete guide to sending a good email!

Does your email content feel cold and lost in desperation? (yes, that’s Linkin Park). If you need help sweeping your email recipients off their feet, then read on. We’ve got great insights backed by some successful campaigns run by a small team at ClearTax.
Writing an email is pretty much like asking someone out on a date. What follows hence is a delightful article giving budding writers invaluable tips on the delicate and nerve-racking art of writing compelling content. When it comes to writing marketing emails, most users just tick off any email that comes off as irrelevant or seems spammy.
It’s like the world is in dire need of a Non Proliferation Treaty which prevents all the bad email writing practices from spreading like rabbits. We want to reiterate here that emails are among the best ways of reaching out to newer people/clients. In fact, the team at ClearTax closed major Consulting Firms and secured long lasting relationships just by writing flawless emails.
Like all trades, it takes practice to get to a sweet spot where you effortlessly solicit replies from all you write to. The idea is to write outward looking unapologetic text to get a reader feel strongly and act on the call. The last line pretty much sums it all.As an author of legendary email text you need to comply with some KRAs. Each of the below mentioned pointers is like an arrow in your quiver, helping you write the ‘right’ email.

Types of Emails

Warm emails - Opt in or registered users are called warm users. These users have interacted with the system before and emails are likely to be delivered to their primary inbox. There should be separate IPs/domains to send warm emails and these IPs should not be used to send cold emails to keep the domain status (reputation) in tact.
Cold emails - An outbound reach where the user is not familiar with the brand as such is called a cold reach. Most such emails are marketing emails. Open rates for such emails are usually low since these emails land in Promotions/Others folder. One should always have a separate IP/domain to send these emails. Open rates for these emails are usually in the range of 4 to 6%.
Transaction emails - These emails are sent when a transaction is complete, eg. password reset emails, order delivery emails, order confirmation, filing ack email etc. These emails usually enjoy higher open rates.
Marketing emails - These are cold/warm emails sent to the user lists. These emails nurture the leads and are great ways of up selling the product/service.

The ‘From’ Field [Sender Name]

It is of utmost importance to add a friendly ‘From’  name. The right name provides proper branding and grabs the user’s short attention span.
Once you choose a From name, make sure that it doesn’t change over the course of the next few emails. An example of the most unfriendly from name would be ‘’. It is a good idea to have your brand name in the ‘From’ field. A combination of a person’s name with the brand works best and adds a personal touch to the email. Eg, the team at ClearTax saw better open rates with the sender name ‘Neha from ClearTax’.

Getting the subject line right

Google detects certain keywords to auto-place the emails in Promotions/Updates folder. The promotions folder seldom gets any attention and for all practical purposes, such mails are tantamount to being in the trash. 50% of the work in sending an email is to have the subject line in place. One can be creative with the subject lines, but it should capture the context of the email and not be spammy. Good subject lines should not be more than 6-8 words or 40-50 characters. Shorter subject lines usually perform better.
Some subject lines with good open rates:
  • [3 days to deadline]: Taxes done?
  • Need help with TDS Returns and Revisions?
Subject lines with poor open rates:
  • File your taxes today and earn Rs 100
  • Best tax filing experience - free of cost
Mobile first always
Over 70% of the emails are read on cell phones. Always remember to test the emails on mobile to check for proper alignment. Graphics, if any should render well . The right pre-headers work like a magic potion (check the image below to know what a pre-header is).
A/B testing on Subject lines
Netflix uses A/B testing to decide what streams at the prime hour. A/B testing works like a charm to extract maximum juice out of the campaign by using what works.
Do A/B test for smaller lists when in doubt and then send out the eventual emails. Some metrics to track for the A/B test for emails are the Open rates, CTR, clicks and unsubscribe rate.
Most users do not open an email and just scroll it away. Getting these 3 things right is very important. Having the right CTA in the mail is our north here. Try to keep the tone conversational and add an unsubscribe link to get the perfect email.
How to land emails to the user’s Primary Inbox?
  1. Use a hygienic database. Remove inactive and unsubscribed users from the mailing lists.
  2. Keep the email lists as small as possible, by scheduling multiple batches with lesser emails/batch. For example, it’s a good idea to send six batches of 1000 mails rather than all 6000 emails in one shot.
  3. Brevity is key. Choose crisp and terse subject line content.
  4. Always add an unsubscribe link to the email
  5. Use plain text/HTML emails (do not overuse jazzy CSS bits)
  6. Send targeted emails - create clusters of the emails based on different attributes like interactions, usage etc. If the clusters are well defined, there are higher chances of email opens.
Domain Reputation
100% is the max domain reputation. Email senders like Google look at domain reputation of the sender and then see where to land the emails. If reputation is very low, emails will be marked as SPAM. Based on reputation emails are delivered to Primary Inbox/Updates/Promotions folder.
More the user interactions with the emails (clicks/opens etc.), more the reputation goes up. If users mark emails as unsub/spam, the domain reputation goes down.
Reputation is usually good if emails are send to registered/opt in user bases. Sending emails to cold lists usually takes a hit on the domain reputation. Thus, it is recommended to keep separate domains for cold and warm emails.
Importance of personalization
It is great to personalize emails. If an email starts with your name, there are higher chances to driving an action. Email providers provide an option to add the user names along with the email and then auto-append the names in each email.
Hello [user_name], will do the trick if the column user_name contains the user names.
What are good open rates?
This is a subjective question, for cold emails anything above 6% is good. For warm emails, open rates of over 20% are considered decent.

How to send targeted emails? (Customer segmentation)

Targeted emails is a great way to get higher open rates plus send more actionable/informative emails. You can created different clusters of users to send targeted emails, some of the attributes which can be used to create clusters are -
  1. Frequency of Interactions - basically active/inactive/partially active users.
  2. Creation of cohort- say in the case of cleartax, separate segments can be people who have filed with us once, repeat users, users who tried to file for the first time and then dropped off, business filers, paid plan users etc. Better the segmented email lists - more value you can derive.
Tools to send emails - Sendgrid, Postmark, MailChimp, Sendwithus etc.
There are different tools to send out emails. The tools come with templates and allow you to customize templates or create your own HTML emails. This makes it easier to create and test emails before you send them out.
Some of the email sender tools are Sendgrid, Sendwithus, Postmark, Mailjet, MailChimp etc. Most of them have an email sending interface, whereas some just provide an API which you need to integrate with to send emails. Personally, I am a big fan of Sendgrid and Mailchimp for sending emails.

Email metrics - How to enable tracking (UTM tags etc.)

If you are sending a link in the email and want the users to take some action, it is recommended to add UTM tags in the links so that we can track the user actions through GA (Google Analytics). Google provides UTM tag builder for easy UTM tagging:
Sample UTM link:
Metrics to track - Open rates, Unique open rates, Delivery Percentage, CTR, Clicks, Unsubscribe/Spam rates, CTA/conversions
Delivery Percentage -
Sometimes email providers throttle emails or if the email list is huge, there can be a delay in sending the emails. So it’s a good habit to see if the emails have been delivered or not (by delivered here means sent by the server).
Open Rates -
This also includes multiple opens. Say 100 people were sent an email and 29 people opened the email 36 times. The unique open rate is 29% and open rate is 36%.
Unique Open Rates -
This is the metric to look at open rates. Say 100 people were sent an email and 29 people opened the email 36 times. The unique open rate is 29% and open rate is 36%.
CTR - Clicks to the number of email opens defines the CTR for an email campaign.
Clicks - The number of clicks on the links in the email body, more the better ideally :)
CTA - If there is some action you want the user to take, say downloading a PDF. It is good to add a central CTA to the email and then track the conversion through UTM tags.  
Unsubscribe/Spam rates -
Bad emails can lead to more unsub/spam rates. Keep a check on these metrics. No of unsubs to total email opens is the unsub rate.
Unsubscribe mechanism
Always ensure all emails have a working unsubscribe link. Never send emails without an unsub link, this can lead to more emails being marked as SPAM, which hurts the domain reputation badly. Sendgrid etc. provide their own unsub links which can be easily added to an email.  
Eg. Sendgrid unsub link can be added like this:
Unsubscribe <a href = “[unsubscribe]”> here </a>
Proof-reading the email text  
It is very critical to read the email a few times before sending it out. Also check if the links in the email are working fine. Do not forget to see if the email loads properly on mobile phones. The unsub link should be added to the email. The ‘reply to’ option should also be properly configured and you are ready to send the email.
Plain Text (HTML) versus CSS emails
If there is excessive use of CSS in the emails, Google can land such emails to Promotions folder, it is good to keep the emails crisp and plain, addition of some basic images or basic templates is still okay. Also ensure that your templates are mobile first.
Importance of CTA in an email
It is good to have a CTA (Call to action) in the email if you are trying to induce some action by the user - which can be getting a book downloaded, getting to click a blog link, signup somewhere etc. It is not recommended to add too many CTA’s to an email. Since  it can confuse the user and will induce less action. Cleaner emails with limited CTA’s help.
The importance of follow up emails
Yes, if needed drip the customers based on the responses/opens/clicks. However ensure that you remove the unsubscribes from the next set of emails and change the email body/subject based on the messaging/intent of the follow up email.
PS: If you’re still wondering, the first line’s from the song ‘Iridescent’ by Linkin Park.
PPS: The article is written by myself and my colleague Sagar Thakar (Sales, ClearTax) with inputs from Srivatsan Chari (Co-founder and VP Business, ClearTax).