Best Practices For Email Marketing Design and Content
By Becky Repka
June 23, 2010 — You need to implement an email marketing campaign to stay connected with current and prospective customers, yet you have no idea where to begin. Consumers are more savvy and selective about which emails they read, and email deliverability continues to be a challenge for legitimate email marketers. Campaign performance and success mandates professional design or content practices. To generate the strongest return on your investment, devise a strategy that builds on current best practice standards.
Get your message across.
Before opening email messages, recipients typically review the “from” address, subject line and often just a bit of the contents via a preview pane. They might also receive your message on a mobile phone, which means you’ll need to work harder – in less space – to draw them in. Put your most compelling pitch front and center – in the subject line and above-the-fold – to boost results. Also remember that many email clients automatically block images. But you can make sure your message gets across, regardless, by using a good amount of text as opposed to visuals and tagging images with alternative text.
Boost your brand appeal.
When designing your company’s email marketing campaigns, define a color scheme and font that complements your brand. Make sure all communications leaving your company are presented in a cohesive and consistent manner, so readers instantly recognize the sender and pay attention to the message. Always place your logo and tag line prominently. The upper left corner is an ideal location, as it shows on most screens and configurations. Also make sure your company name is clearly identified in the “from” address. Brand recognition can boost your credibility, increase your long-term pipeline and strengthen your company’s connection with its audience. If possible, you should have a professionally designed template to best complement your brand, versus using “stock” templates.
Break the template routine.
Templates are convenient and layouts are pre-tested, but customers respond to something fresh and new from time-to-time. When all of your messages look exactly the same, varying only in the text and information provided, subscribers may gloss over it, thinking written content hasn’t changed either. Businesses and merchants should periodically refresh their look while staying true to their brand image. Consider modifying the layout every few months or using several template designs on a rotational schedule to boost reader interest.
Eliminate spammy words.
Great email design begins with the right content. But if your message never reaches the inbox, you’ve wasted valuable time and money. Circumvent spam filters by proofreading message content to eliminate ‘spammy’ words and phrases in your subject line and body copy. This includes terms like ‘Free’, ‘Call Now’, ‘Click Here’, ‘Great Offer’, ‘Opportunity’, ‘Guaranteed’ and ‘Amazing’. Excessive capital letters, exclamation points, dollar signs, web links and toll-free numbers are other common spam identifiers. Opt, instead for alternate words that say the same thing.
Make the message come first.
Graphics and photos should consume no more than 40 percent of your overall visual real estate. A comfortable balance between pictures, copy and white space helps readers quickly find the information they want, skimming that which doesn’t pertain to them. Consumers often block or disable images and formatting options to protect their computer from spam and viruses. Many popular email client defaults – including Gmail and Windows Live Mail – will automatically block images. When messages include one large graphic or more image files than text, messages may also be identified and filtered as spam. If you send one large graphic and your customer has blocked images, no message will reach your recipient. So use photos as a means of enhancing text, not substituting it. When graphics are used, they should always be tagged with alternative text.
Stay mindful that your company’s email message will be read on a computer screen, often competing with upwards of 150 other email messages, deliverables and tasks. As such, readers never want to feel burdened with pages and pages of text blocks. Break content up into easily digested segments, compelling headlines and sub-heads, bullets and quick-reference information boxes, with links to longer stories or more information as needed. Avoid bombarding readers with too much content, limiting newsletters to around six to nine items with links to more information as needed for optimal engagement.
Give readers a choice of viewing formats.
While HTML email designs are eye-catching, marketers failing to offer a text alternative could be missing out. Not only does it provide a choice for customers, but deliverability is often better with major ISPs when a text version is included. Marketers can improve results simply by offering a text alternative along with a link to their web-based HTML version.
Keep coding simple.
Without proper guidance, email clients might present your design differently than you had intended. This leads to wide or narrow margins, embarrassing blank spaces and photos next to the wrong story. To avoid this embarrassing situation, use a table-based layout with inline styles, specifying margins and spacing so email clients aren’t able to create those for you.
Test across several platforms and readers.
Your design looks flawless on one email client, but the next program shifts tables, blocks images by default or breaks CSS. Additionally, different email clients have different standard lengths for subject lines. To ensure proper design and formatting across a broad range of email clients and ISPs, campaign managers should always test messages prior to full launch. If your list is primarily comprised of addresses from one web client, such as Gmail or AOL, pay special attention to visual rendering through that specific provider. Services are also available to enable email rendering previews in multiple email clients.
Review results and talk with subscribers.
Plan and continually refine email marketing campaigns by reviewing reports and surveying prospective and existing subscribers. Learn how your messages will be read. Will subscribers receive it most often on their computer, handheld device or mobile phone? Pinpoint topics of interest to your reader by asking them or evaluating customer and technical support logs. Use interactive blogs to gather feedback, then offer the content your readers want.
Focus on honesty and ease-of-use.