In this article Mathew Patterson discusses the technical, design and information elements that make up a successful HTML email.
Here are the quick and dirty guidelines:
In this article Constant Contact's Amy Black provides these tips on how to get your readers to take action when they receive your emails:
Know exactly what you want them to do. If you don’t know what you want the reader to do, they certainly won’t know. Do you want them to:
Make your call-to-action:
- Buy something?
- Sign up for a service?
- Read an article or get more information?
- Visit your website or store?
- Make an appointment?
- Visible – If your CTA is buried in the middle of a lot of copy or only found at the very bottom of your email, your reader may not see it. Your best bet is to include your CTA in a number of places in your email—right up top, somewhere in the middle, and at the end.
- Clear – If your reader is unclear about what you are asking them to do, they aren’t going to do it. Have a friend or colleague read over the offer to make sure it’s easy to understand.
- Compelling – Put the benefits right up front and show and tell why this is an offer they can’t refuse! Also, use action-oriented phrases like "buy now" and "call today."
- Urgent – Give your readers a certain time period in which they have to respond. Setting a deadline is a proven way to boost response.
- Repeat the offer on the webpage you link to. This tip is mostly for people who want a reader to purchase, or sign up for, something. For starters, link directly to the page where the reader can take the action you’ve asked them to take. When they get to the page, make it easy for them to remember what you are asking them to do by repeating your call to action.
Source: Constant Contact
In this article, Amy Black talks about the key elements of email design. Here are some of the takeaways:
Next to that it should be inviting and professional, represent your company, and show your customers that you value them.
Use color for emphasis. Use it to call attention to an offer or a call to action. If you use a very different color than what you have in the rest of the email, there is a dissonance that happens in the brain of the reader that says, "Oh, this one's different," and their eye goes there to see what's going on.
Your emails can be different, but there has to be something that's consistent in everything that you do, so pick what you're going to keep consistent.
SourceLink: Constant Contact
In this article, Stefan Pollard explains how to make your email campaigns mobile-friendly:
1. Reformat text
You should always offer a text option as an alternative to HTML for all readers. You can send this version to your mobile readers, but you might also have to reformat it to make it show up better on the smaller screen.
Most text messages have 60 to 80 characters per line. Mobile platforms will show 20 to 40 characters in 12 to 15 lines per screen, depending on screen width and type style.
Desktop-friendly line lengths can create long paragraphs in the mobile reader. If you use typographic devices as copy separators that also run 60 characters, for example, you'll give up four to five lines on the screen for something that adds no value.
2. Rethink tracking URLs
Same goes for URLs. Tracking URLs can also consume four to five lines per screen. If you can, use a simpler URL even if it means sacrificing some tracking ability. These long URLs can result from automatically reformatting HTML copy into text, so your text version may need some hand-tweaking in order to render better on all platforms.
3. Be brief.
Message size must come down whether you send in text or HTML. Messages over a certain size -- even as small as 12KB -- risk being cut off halfway through. In many clients, your reader can opt to click a button that will call up the rest of the message, but do you want to throw up that obstacle?
Personally, I hate it when I open a message and find "message truncated" right at the top. I need more to make me want to click the button that will deliver the rest of the message.
Another message I get that frustrates me to no end is "This message contains a rich-text HTML portion. Consult your mail client's documentation for information on how to view it." Uh, I don't think so. Delete! That means it won't be there when I get to my desk.
Also, rethink the content itself. Long sentences in long paragraphs force more and more scrolling. This also can be a barrier to conversion or another source of frustration for readers.
4. Validate your Web site, too.
Is your Web site mobile-friendly too? Probably not, if you haven't had it redesigned specifically for mobile applications. If you have to send readers to your Web site to get the most value from your email marketing, better make sure it will also render on their devices. You can check it easily by using a new validator developed by the World Wide Web Consortium: http://validator.w3.org/mobile/.
Found in EmailLabs' excellent newsletter Intevation Report:
Question: I understand about using alt text to get my message across if a reader blocks images from downloading, but is there a limit on the number of words I should put in the text?
Answer: For most images, you should need only a few words to describe the image ... four or five, likely no more than 10. Try to describe both the image and what you want readers to do.
Remember: Images should always support the message copy and never replace it. So, your reader who doesn't enable images should still get the point of your message, even without the images or alt text, from the message text.
As far as how many words to use, use this guide: The smaller the image, the fewer the words. And remember that some email clients, including Hotmail and Outlook, add text to the front of the alt text which can reduce the impact. Always test your message with images off before you hit "send" to make sure you're getting your message across.
Your customers and prospects view e-mails in five stages, according to a white paper released this week by ExactTarget. Those stages are: looking at the “from” line, the subject line, the preview pane, the opened but not-yet-scrolled message and the full e-mail.
How well you design for each stage will affect how many people read your message all the way through and how many simply hit delete or, even worse, report your message as spam.
These quick tips to help you maximize those five key elements:
1) Consistency is key.
B-to-b recipients expect instant recognition; if they signed up for “XYZ Newsletter”, they want to get “XYZ Newsletter". You can make sure they recognize your e-mails by standardizing messages with your company, or brand name or the name of someone they deal with often at your company. More than 73% of people will report spam based on the “from” field, so you have to remember that’s the critical first piece.
2) Optimize and test content in the preview pane.
More than half the people who open an e-mail do so because they like what they see in the preview pane. The key quadrant is definitely that four-by-four-inch square. Keep this area clean and to the point. Include your brand name and the call to action in this space; and weave in information that taps into both rational as well as emotional arguments, she said. This is an area where links can also be valuable so people can go directly to a more comfortable viewing paradigm.
Another point to remember: Keep designs at no more than 600 pixels wide so readers won’t have to scroll horizontally.
3) Design for common e-mail clients.
Your design is going to look different depending on which e-mail client your recipients are using. The most common b-to-b clients, according to the ExactTarget white paper, are Microsoft’s Outlook and IBM’s Lotus Notes; about 75% of all b-to-b recipients are using one or the other. However, many businesspeople use free mail services to receive marketing messages. The most common b-to-c clients are Yahoo, which garners 25% of e-mail recipients; Hotmail, which accounts for 20%; and AOL, which accounts for 18%.
4) Include just enough of a tease. Should you include a paragraph summary of an article along with a link or just a short sentence and a link? It depends on how much content you’re trying to get into your message. If you’ve only got a few stories, go with the synopsis and the link. But if you’re trying to get a lot in, a sentence or small teaser line is a better option since time spent on e-mail deteriorates as a reader moves through it. If you’re asking someone to scroll, you’re expecting a lot of someone.
5) Another tip: Include a screen grab of any video you’re linking to. A frame of the video with an arrow is the best way to go, so people see what they can expect when they click through.
In this article, David Baker provides a simple formula to testing email creative:
1. Draw a wireframes of several templates (they vary by purpose). These are simply boxes designed for the optimal width and length. Rule of thumb is, keep promotional messages and email that is designed for early lifecycle simple and straightforward and minimize the length. Newsletters and community publications can support longer-form wireframes.
2. Assign a description to each box and bullet the things that you can potentially test within those guides. For example, if your top box of 50x 700 is for “Click to add your email address to the address book,” think about what else you could test in this area. (User Name, Promotional Message, site reminder message, or leave it out altogether). If it’s a header image or text block, then think about testing typographic treatments, background colors, blending with imagery and replacing with imagery.
3. Sit down with your designer and walk her through the wireframes and what options she has for each section. Ask her, if she had two things to test in each box, what would she test — and if you tested them and they worked, what would that do to help streamline creative next time?
4. Lastly, show her past results of emails that performed, which links performed best (in a visual format). Most email systems will give you a click map overlay report to show clicks by popularity and color code.
Do remember, you aren’t limited to the email only. The email is designed to get the receiver from the email to the landing page, so test the exchange between the two. You may be surprised at what can be left out and provide better value at the point of conversion.
Source: Email Insider
Although it’s still as good as technically impossible to embed actual videos into email messages with reliable success, linking out to hosted videos can have a positive impact on email performance.
In this blog post on the EEC blog, Lisa Harmon provides these 3 tips:
One of the members of the Email Marketer's Club posted an interesting question on our forum yesterday:
One of my managers asked me recently about adding more images in hopes of getting our open rate increased. The thought behind adding some more images is that you may force the person receiving the email to download images and thus be able to track it.
I orginally designed the HTML email with very few images so if the person does not download images or have us added to thier safe list, they can still easily view the email and click on links.
Has anyone else thought of adding more images to increase open rates and does it work?
The best way to find out is of course to test it, especially is the manager is very persistent. Common sense and best practices tell us though that adding more images will do you more bad than good. What's your opinion on this? Let us know!
The Email Marketer's Club is members only. To become a member, the only thing you need to do is request an invitation to join. Looking forward to seeing your responses!
What do you think your subscribers are doing with your e-mail right this minute?
Most likely, they aren't sitting at a desk scrolling patiently through their inboxes, looking for your message.
Instead, they're doing what David Daniels, Jupiter Research VP, calls "inbox triage" -- wading through their increasingly cluttered inboxes quickly to remove the junk (permission e-mail as well as spam) before they start reading and responding.
They're multitasking like crazy, too: watching TV, talking on the phone, instant-messaging, listening to their iPods, downloading, taking a break from an online game, or even all of these at once.
They're also getting sidetracked by their e-mail clients, which keep squeezing the inbox into a smaller space to make room for RSS feeds, social-networking tabs, instant messaging clients, calendars, contact lists, notepads, and display ads.
Here's a snapshot of your subscribers' inbox behavior, according to Daniels' research:
- The average person gets 274 personal e-mail messages a week and 304 work e-mails.
- 74 percent have at least two e-mail accounts (either personal and work, or shared and personal, or public and private accounts)
- The average reader takes two to five seconds to decide whether to read or delete an e-mail.
Studies of how people manage their cluttered inboxes vary, but the results are the same: They hit the "report as spam" button when they don't recognize the sender, often without opening the e-mail.
Continue reading here to find out what you should do to get your messages recognized and read.
I received Casio's newsletter today and I opened it because the subject line referred to the new Exilim EX-S10 which I bought on the airport last week. (It's all about relevance, right?)
This is what I saw in my Outlook 2007 inbox:
I immediately noticed that something wasn't rendering properly. This is what I was meant to see:
What is the problem here? Simple: the camera picture was included as a background image and background images don't render in Outlook 2007.
It's every email sender's nightmare to launch a bug-filled campaign where everyone will see your mistakes. But, if you exercise strict quality control all along the production line, you'll reduce your potential exposure and send campaigns with confidence, even the last-minute ones.
Stefan Pollard shares this 10-Point Checklist:
Basically, eye-tracking technology is a neat way to figure out how your customers want your page to look like.
At least theoretically, such technology can increase both company profits and customer satisfaction. Costs must be reasonable, data reliable and interpretation correct, but the potential for tasty ROI is clearly out there.
People can only click on things that they actually see i.e., find with their eyes. It can be a costly mistake to assume your important call to action or message is there for users' eyes without actually testing it.
Or to put in positive terms - there’s a lot to be gained by allocating your priority content to visually most valuable areas.
The study (pdf) concluded that eye-tracking data could predict where people are going to click in the actual email campaign with over 95% accuracy.
A much tougher question than whether eye-tracking data has any value is how to actually extract value from this data.
Eye-tracking by itself, most often, does not automatically give solutions. It will take a skillful person to interpret the data and draw the right conclusions. Whether that person is an outsourced consultant or an in-house designer does not really matter. What does is that eye-tracking brings objective reality to debates often based only on opinions.
Quantitative results can be delivered in intuitive format and quickly understood by different stakeholders in front-end design. Consequent faster and more rational design decisions can yield a very hefty return for the cost that eye-tracking studies go for these days.
Eye-tracking is clearly breaking out of the labs and will soon overcome the sort of mysticism that still surrounds it.
The bottom line is that eye-tracking is just a good tool to make sure real user needs are served by front-end design and aligned with business goals of any online organisation.
I just added the following checklist to the Email Marketer's Club Wiki. It contains the things you should check before you send out your email campaigns. I'm sure I've missed stuff, so feel free to help build a thorough checklist here.
Do you think something's missing? Add it to the checklist here.
Another great post on Mike Kleiman's blog. This time he offers some great tips with regards to image formats, size, etc. Here are some of the takeaways:
Thindata's Mike Kleiman was wondering what happens when you include or exclude a DOCTYPE from an email code so he decided to test it. He shares the results of his test on his brandnew blog.
Main finding: putting the DOCTYPE in doesn't actually do harm, if anything it helps ensure you're rendering to compliance spec in Outlook and Mac Mail... however the downside is since all web clients seem to disregard it or use their own DOCTYPE standard you have to pretty much code for both.
Coding for email is BIG fun :-)
Campaign Monitor tested how image maps perform in the popular email clients. This is what they found:
The results indicate that it’s not a good idea to use image maps. Specifically because of the following issues:
Source: Campaign Monitor
Here are ten ideas that will help you do more than just say, "Happy Holidays" with your e-card. Instead, you'll send one that makes your subscribers smile.
Show your face - Include a photo of you and your staff (or you and your family, if you're a one person shop) in your e-card. This is a great way to make it more personal. You can take a traditional photo or take a fun one of your employees decorating for the holidays, you with a set of antlers on your head, or everyone with a glass of eggnog held up, saying "cheers." A more interesting photo will get more attention!
Give a little gift - Say thank you with an exclusive coupon. Ask them to print the e-card and bring it in for 20 percent off their next purchase, or to receive a special gift. You know what kind of "gift" is valuable to your audience. Make it special and make it clear that this offer is only for those on your email list, then it truly is exclusive.
Spread some cheer -Thank your list members by giving them something intended for forwarding. Include a family and friends' discount in your e-card. An enticing offer can make your e-card go a long way and get great results. Also, you can grow your list by adding a sign-up link at the bottom of the cards.
Eat, drink, and be merry - Share a favorite holiday food or drink recipe. Most people have a number of parties that they attend over the holidays, with workmates, friends and family. And many times they need to bring something. Help them be the life of the party by sending them a recipe for a dish or beverage that's guaranteed to hit a homerun. Make it quick, easy, and enticing. Include a photo (if you have a good one).
Ask for some love (nonprofit) - In the spirit of giving, invite list members to donate to or volunteer time to your worthy cause. Do you do something special for those you serve during the holidays? Let your list members know how they can get involved.
Be wise - Instead of the standard holiday greeting, include an uplifting quote, saying, or poem that will enrich one's soul. Look for something unique and inspiring that will resonate with your readers.
Have a little fun - How about using video? It's easy to upload a video of your staff on YouTube. You can then link to it from your e-card. Record your staff singing a holiday song, just saying happy holidays or, if you have some creative bones in your body, write a little two minute script and record a funny skit. Your list members will love that you tried to do something different.
Share the warmth (nonprofit) - Include a short story (and photo) about a person your organization helped. What a great way to end the year and thank your donors and volunteers for their efforts, by giving them an example of how they are making a difference.
Give a tip - Serve up a few helpful tips (relevant to your audience, of course!). You can send some general holiday tips like "5 ways to cope with holiday shopping" or tips that fall within your area of expertise. For example, a financial planner may send "5 Easy Ways to Save Money in 2008." Think about what would be useful to your audience. Be creative. And if that's not your forte, then brainstorm with a creative friend.
Remember to keep your e-card short and simple. That's what makes it an e-card, and not an e-newsletter. The holiday season gives you a unique opportunity to communicate with your list members and to do it in a fun and spirited way!
Source: Constant Contact
This blog offers an "I read so you don't have to" service to its readers. If you want to stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices in email marketing, but you don't have the time to wade through hundreds of articles to find the one that actually provides value to you, then subscribe to this blog's weekly newsletter:
Tamara Gielen is an independent email and digital direct marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience in online, email and direct marketing.
Whether you are just starting with email marketing or you are ready to take email marketing to the next level in your organization, Tamara offers training, coaching and consulting services to help you achieve the best results possible. For more information, visit www.PlanToEngage.com.