114 posts categorized "Design & Layout" Feed

Test Shows Embedding Images in HTML Emails Is No Solution to Image Blocking

Ron Blaisdell, a member of the Email Marketer's Club, recently tested whether embedding images in HTML emails could be an answer to image blocking. He shared the results of this test on the Club's forum and I thought I'd share them here as well:

Over the years, a number of folks have asked if "encoding" the images in their campaigns would allow more people to see their campaigns, with images, and not have them blocked by the various email clients.

Using a web application to encode an image in base64, allegedly will allow images to be displayed and by-pass image blocking.

Using a base64 encoded image, you end up with an image tag that looks something like:

[img src="data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAADIA..." alt="Encoded Image"/]

I created a custom xhtml campaign, encoded a single image, and sent this to my testing list. The results:

Gmail: Displays only alt text
Hotmail: Displays a grey square, not the image, and no alt text
MS Live Hotmail: Same as Hotmail
Outlook 2003: Display a broken image, with alt text displayed
Outlook 2007: Same as Outlook 2003
Yahoo Classic: Displays only alt text
New Yahoo Mail: Same as Yahoo Classic
AOL: Displays alt text
Hosted Gmail: Displays alt text
Thunderbird: Displays alt text
Outlook Express: Displays broken image, with alt text displayed

Apparently, since spammers have been using the encoded image trick for some time, email programs have adapted to stop their display!

Therefore, encoding images for campaigns is not worth your effort, and normal image linking, is the best solution.

(As an aside, this was tested using multiple ESPs, and the results were consistent, regardless of ESP used.)

Thanks for testing and sharing the results with us Ron!

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

Campaign Monitor's 2008 Email Design Guidelines

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:

  • Don’t waste your readers’ time — An email inbox is a busy place, you won’t get much attention.
  • Permission matters — Not only do you need to have permission to email people, but it helps to remind them of how they gave you permission, as specifically as you can.
  • Relevance trumps permission — Just having permission is not enough, the content you are sending must also be relevant.
  • Make unsubscribing easy — There’s no point emailing people who are not interested.
  • Image blocking is common — You can’t rely on people actually seeing your images.
  • Bring back tables — Structural tables are still often necessary for creating columns.
  • Add inline styles — Gmail removes anything else.
  • Don’t forget your plain text version —  You can make blocks of text more readable.
  • Meet your legal obligations — For example, CAN-SPAM for US senders.
  • Test, test, test — It’s the only way to be confident about your design working.

Read the full article on the Campaign Monitor blog.

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

How To Write a Powerful Call-to-Action

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:

  • Buy something? 
  • Sign up for a service?
  • Read an article or get more information?
  • Visit your website or store?
  • Make an appointment?
Make your call-to-action:
  • 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

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

Key Elements of Email Design

In this article, Amy Black talks about the key elements of email design. Here are some of the takeaways:

  • a well-designed email campaign is easy to read, it's simply designed, it's scanable, and it's professional looking.

    Next to that it should be inviting and professional, represent your company, and show your customers that you value them.

  • Use white space as a resting place for your eye. It's a part of the design and it helps the reader. If your email is completely filled, it's just visual noise; the person experiencing the communication doesn't know where to look. You use white space to create pauses between different elements on the page.
  • Longer copy can work for a newsletter, because the reader is expecting to learn something new. Shorter, more promotional copy works when you're trying to create action, like making a sale or inviting someone to an event.
  • Keep the "1-5-10" rule in mind. The reader will definitely give you one second; if you pass, they may give you five seconds, and then if they're really interested they'll give you ten seconds.
  • Limit the number of fonts you use as a means of keeping the communication easy to read. Make sure that the fonts you use are very legible, not fancy or distracting. And limit headline fonts to a single style.
  • Use colors for a little bit of flavor.

    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.

  • The human eye recognizes color and form more than anything else. Think of your colors and logo as the face of your business. People know my face. If I came into work every day looking like a different person, you wouldn't know it was me.

    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.

  • Make sure the image and the copy complement each other, that they are related and that the image supports your message. Avoid using images that are busy and have many patterns, like cats playing against an oriental rug and a printed couch. The point of the image is for the viewer to look at the cat, but there's so much else to see.

SourceLink: Constant Contact

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

How To Make Your Email Campaigns Mobile-Friendly

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/.

Source: EmailLabs

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

How to Use Alt Text?

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.

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

Maximizing the 5 Key Elements of E-mail Design

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.

Source: BtoBonline

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

A Simple Formula to Testing Email Creative

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

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

Linking to Video's Can Have a Positive Impact on Email Performance

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:

  1. Reference Video in Your Subject Line. Including the word “video” in your subject line can help inspire opens.
  2. Use Strong Visual Cues to Indicate a Link to Video. Recipients respond best to obvious treatments like play buttons, and frames that look like Windows Media or Quicktime video players.
  3. Match Your Video Content to Your Message. Video needs to support your ultimate goal, whether that’s to build your brand or inspire a direct response.

Read the full post here.

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

Adding More Images to Increase Open Rates?

One of the members of the Email Marketer's Club posted an interesting question on our forum yesterday:

Hello everyone,

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!

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

How To Combat "Inbox Triage"

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.

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

Reminder: Background Images Don't Render in Outlook 2007!

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.

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

Your 10-Point Quality-Control Checklist

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:

  1. I am sending to the correct list.
  2. I proofread all the text in Notepad before having it coded for my HTML messages.
  3. I verified that the offer or other purpose for sending the message is the correct one.
  4. I included an unsubscribe link and street address as required by CAN-SPAM. (Or, I included all the elements my country's commercial-email regulations require.)
  5. These identifying elements are present and accounted for:
    • The subject line is filled in with text that accurately represents the email message content. --
    • The "from" line shows my company or brand name, not an email address. 
    • Any dates, especially copyright, reflect the correct year. 
    • My company contact information, including name, street address, telephone numbers, Web site and email address for questions or concerns.
  6. I clicked every link and link-connected image to make they all work and checked to make sure each image has an alt tag describing the content.
  7. I previewed the message in my preview pane and with images disabled, in different browsers and on different computer platforms.
  8. I proofread my text message and included the link to my message on the Web.
  9. I had one other person look it over before I hit "send."
  10. I tested my body copy and HTML coding with a delivery monitoring tool to make sure it doesn't trigger spam filters.

Source: EmailLabs

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

How Eye-Tracking Can Help Improve the ROI of Email Campaigns

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.

A useful real life example to illustrate and verify that point is a study Realeyes and Communicator Corp did on one Christmas campaign email.

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.

Source: E-consultancy.com

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

Things to Check Before You Launch Your Email Campaign

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.

The list

  • Are you sending it to the correct list? Particularly important if you're an agency sending on behalf of multiple clients. Or, if you just want to send to your test list, make sure that it's selected here (and not your "real" list).
  • Do you have permission to send emails to the people on your list?

  • Does your brand appear in the “from” line?
  • Is the subject benefit-oriented instead of "selling"? Make the first 45 characters or so count. Ask yourself, "What will make a reader immediately open this message?" Rewrite the subject line at least 10 to 20 different ways to come up with the best approach. Test subject lines.
  • Are you sending the email at a time when the recipient is most likely to read it?

Top of Email or Preview Pane
  • Did you includes a link to view the email online?
  • Are you featuring your brand or logo prominently?
  • Does the email include the newsletter title or strong headline?

Body Content
  • Is it personalized with the recipient’s name? Do all the merge fields work properly?
  • Did you include an opening paragraph that pulls readers in?
  • Does the copy read like it comes from a person?
  • Does the email includes benefit-oriented information that is also engaging?
  • Are you making it clear to the reader what you want him to do? Make the call-to-action link prominent, not only on top of the message, but in several additional places in the email as well.
  • Do you have multiple calls to action? Both as text links and images? 
  • Can the email be easily skimmed? Did you use short paragraphs and bullet points?
  • Is it a manageable length to read online?
  • Did you not include too many topics in the email? Maybe it would be better to split the content over two emails?
  • Did you check the copy one last time for spelling mistakes?

  • Are you using images sparingly? (only when they advance the goals of the email)
  • Are your all your images loading and do they load quickly?
  • Do all the links work? Don't forget to check the links in the text version!
  • Are all the images linked?
  • Did you check what the email looks like in different email clients such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, Outlook, Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird, Entourage, Lotus Notes...
  • Are you using the correct email template for the campaign?
  • Did you remember to create a plain-text version of the email?

  • Do you have a working unsubscribe link?
  • Did you include your physical (USPS) address?
  • Are you protecting your content with a copyright notice?

Landing page
  • Is the landing page live?
  • Is the content and the design on the landing page consistent?
  • Is the content not too long?
  • Is the call to action obvious?
  • Is the landing page copy not too long?
  • Is the registration form not too long? Ask only for the basic information you need. Long forms have a higher exit rate. You can always ask more questions later.

  • Are you asking recipient to whitelist the “from” address so future e-mails get delivered to their inbox?
  • Are you including a viral call to action, encouraging the reader to share your email with friends or colleagues?
  • Did you include a subscription mechanism for people it is forwarded to?
  • Are you sending the email in multi-part MIME format?
  • Did you incorporate tracking and reporting?

Do you think something's missing? Add it to the checklist here.

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

Top 4 tips for Image Usage in HTML Email

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:

  • JPG’s are best for larger graphics that consist primarily of images, such as a masthead photograph. GIF’s are perfect for smaller items which contain less colour complexity and/or text – graphical buttons, for example.
  • Avoid saving anything in a format other than JPG or GIF. Though you might be tempted to save an image as a PNG for the sake of maintaining opacity percentages – it’s not a good idea. They work, but your file size will be huge. Instead, try to find a workaround or a different way to lay out the design.
  • the difference between saving a JPG at 80% quality in Photoshop as opposed to 40% is usually negligible. Tinker with it to see how low you can bring down the percentage before the image becomes distorted. A jump from 80 to 40 may only have minimal visual impact but can save you a lot in the file size department.
  • Take a step back and figure out what needs to be an image and what doesn’t. Often using simple HTML and inline CSS can replace the need for an image.

Read more tips here.

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

Using DOCTYPE in an Email Makes a Big Difference in Some Major Email Clients

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 :-)

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!

How Do Popular Email Clients Handle Image Maps

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:

  • The frequency in which images are disabled
  • Image maps and their respective images don’t marry well and therefore pose accessibility issues for those visually impaired
  • Gmail—a very popular email client—doesn’t support them consistently

Source: Campaign Monitor

Need help optimizing your email marketing results? Get in touch!