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Action Alerts: Best Practices

Writing an effective action alert means staying focused on specific actions you want your supporters to take. This article talks about best practices for writing an action alert.

An effective action alert requires focus on the specific action you want your supporters to take. An action alert is not a newsletter - it's a request for a single action, not a series of articles about different issues.

Also, in order to run an effective action campaign, best practice is to test your email sends with a small group and find out what works before sending out to your entire list. Every action alert has a different subject line and is about a different issue so you'll need to test every time.

Finally - don't take your email subscribers for granted! Just as your friends pay attention to you when you're telling them something interesting or valuable, so will your supporters.  If your open rates stink, this indicates that your supporters aren't interested in or don't value what you're sending. Only send email that you believe (and your stats prove) that your supporters want.  

Here are some ways to improve your next action alert:

  • A good subject line is critical. It's your chance to catch the attention of your members and supporters. Pick 2-3 subject lines that you think are good, test, and go with the one that gets the highest opens and clicks. 
  • Keep the content short and action focused. Limit your email to 3 or 4 SHORT paragraphs. If you can't do that, don't send the email.
  • Link to the requested action early in the email, either with a "Take Action" box, or other highlighted or bolded text. Do not confuse your reader with more than one action - prioritize for them and only offer the most important action. Use clear wording for your action link such as "Take action", "Tell your representative", or "Send a letter."
  • If possible, use an action button, aligned to the top right of the alert. Be sure to include a text link just below the image as well.
  • Images should be used sparingly. In fact it's best to use none at all, with the exception of a take action button and a banner image. An image of the email author works in some contexts, if included with the signature.
  • Action links should be on their own line, not in the text of one of the paragraphs.
  • Use bold only to emphasize the really important parts of the alert. Go back and read the bolded sections. If you understand the meaning of the alert just by reading the bold, then you're all set (most of your recipients will scan the bold first).
  • Boring emails do one thing: train your supporters not to open mail from you. Think carefully before you send an email - is this email meeting a need or providing value for the recipient?  If your action alerts are timely and interesting, if you're providing information or opportunities that your supporters actually want, you will see the results in your click-through and open rates. 
  • Write as if you are talking to a friend. An informal tone is better than "policy-speak." Remember - this is a call to action, not a press release.  People are most likely to respond to requests from friends - the more you seem like a "friend" the better.
  • Include a sense of urgency. Include a date if it's appropriate (i.e. contact your senator by . . .)
  • Check your facts. Be convincing and use emotional appeals, but be sure your facts are correct. You do not want to discredit yourself or your organization by making a mistake (and mistakes on the web can last a LONG time).
  • Thank those who take action and report back to them the results of their efforts.
  • Include the ability to forward the action to a friend after the recipient takes the action.
  • Make sure that everyone involved in your alert process gets immediate feedback about open and click-through rates.  Review those alerts that perform well (and vice versa) and then use what you learn for your future efforts.  If you're spending any time sending out action alerts, make sure your time (and that of your supporters) is invested well!



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