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Make in Stick! Tips for Creating "Sticky" Emiail Content

Make in Stick!
Tips for Creating “Sticky” Email Content


By Mark Vogel
President, Vogel Marketing Solutions LLC
March 29, 2018


If feel you’re doing everything right in executing your email marketing strategy, but your audiences aren’t reading your messages and taking your calls-to-action, then it’s time to look at your content.


The term “sticky” has been used over the years to describe content that not only engages the user but holds their attention for longer periods of time. It was first coined in the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. But how can we apply the concept of stickiness to our email marketing content?


Here’s some good news! In 2017, Litmus Email Analytics released a report that revealed that the average time spent reading an email is now 11.1 seconds, up 7% from 2011. The percentage of emails read for more than 18 seconds has also grown to 44.4% compared to 38.4% in 2011.


What’s behind this growth in email read time? Savvy marketers are implementing many of the following concepts to better engage their audiences. Those that don’t, probably aren’t seeing these numbers.


Here are some ideas to make your emails “sticky”:


Start with the In-Box

It goes without saying – if your audience isn’t opening your message, they aren’t going to engage with your content. Here are some ways to make your message “stick” when it arrives in their in-box:

  • Keep the subject line short: 50 characters or less.
  • “Write” the subject line: you should spend as much effort copywriting the subject line as you do the body copy. It must be concise, action-oriented, urgent, appealing, and trustworthy.
  • Make it personal: including your reader’s first name in the subject line improves open rates. If you don’t have a first name, try using “You” or “Your” so it feels as though you are personally addressing them.
  • Don’t forget the “pre-header”: that’s the brief text that follows the subject line when viewed in the in-box, and can act as an extra enticement to open the message.
  • Use a familiar sender name: Use a real person’s name and email as the sender. Never use a generic “noreply@” address.
  • Timing is everything: make sure your email appears when recipients are ready to click and read. If you want a business-to-business message to appear first thing in the morning, schedule the send at the appropriate hour in your time zone. For example, 8 am in New Delhi is 10 pm the previous day in New York.


Keep It Simple

The same advice for subject lines applies to your content. Your recipients don’t “read” emails – they scan them.

  • Capture their attention right away: even if they do open your email, they’ll immediately make a decision to read. Let them know in one quick sentence why this email is important.
  • Make it personal: just like the subject line, emails with a “Hello Mary,” as a salutation often have improved engagement over those without. If you don’t have a first name, try using a salutation that makes them feel appreciated: “Dear Valued Subscriber” or “An exclusive offer just for you.”
  • Short sentences: Long blocks of text won’t be read. Use bullet points and action-oriented words.
  • Less is more: fewer calls-to-action are better than too many. Choose your most mission-critical messages.


Make it Readable

Even if you follow many of these ideas for sticky content, it won’t help if they can’t read the message.

  • Be responsive: ensure your HTML template follows best-practices for responsive design. The message must flow differently when it is read on a desktop in Outlook vs. an iPhone vs. an Android and so on.
  • Font size: be sure your content can be read easily on a smaller smartphone screen.
  • Avoid over-use of images: many email programs block images. Your most important calls-to-action must be in text, while any images should have “alt text” embedded.
  • Above the fold: this is an old newspaper term – it refers to keeping the most important stories above the “fold”. In emails, that means keeping your critical call-to-action viewable in the preview window, not farther down the message that requires scrolling.
  • Clickable links: your calls-to-action should be easy to click. 40 pixels wide for a button, and linked text should be larger, bolder and highlighted.
  • White space is good: this helps the reader’s eye to better scan the message for what matters to them.


Be Engaging

Now that you’ve created an email that is short, simple and readable, here are ways to engage your audience to keep the message open and click through on your calls-to-action:

  • Keep it real: don’t be too abstract. Don’t make your users read between the lines for what you’re trying to say. Be overt in your wording.
  • Hold a conversation: use a real voice, and write as if you are speaking with one person – not a huge database.
  • Credibility counts: don’t oversell. Use testimonials or quotes from third parties such as satisfied customers.
  • Tell, Don’t Sell: your message should be mostly informational, not promotional.
  • Be unexpected: if you follow the exact same format each month, the content might start to look stale, and readers might grow bored. Dare to be different.
  • Appeal to emotions: cold facts are boring, but a real story is appealing. Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass I will never act, If I look at one I will.”
  • Create urgency: if your message seems urgent, readers will often act rather than analyze. Using words and phrases such as “Ends today,” “quick,” “act now,” “approaching” or “deadline” can help improve click rates.
  • Be relevant: if you know a customer buys men’s shoes, don’t send an email for women’s shoes.


An unopened or unread email is an email that was never sent. You know you have awesome content to share! Just be sure to package that content in your email in a way that ensures it will be read and acted on.

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