EMAIL MARKETING BEST PRACTICES GUIDE
Designing successful email marketing campaigns is dependent upon having a clear understanding of marketing goals, whether they are for prospecting or CRM initiatives. This helps to determine “who” to target and with “what” to offer.
The following are some examples of campaign goal objectives:
- Acquiring new customers
- Converting prospects to first time buyers
- Growing current customer relationships with additional client offerings
- Retaining loyal customers
- Enhancing customer satisfaction and brand loyalty
- Reactivating lost or lapsed customers
Once the goals are clearly defined, the email marketing campaign can be designed to target a specific audience with personalized relevant messaging. It’s important to note that the email design guides for prospecting and acquisition are much more stringent to accommodate for spam filter issues. CRM based emails can be much more flexible with their design and subject line selections.
Enhance Email Communications
- Personalization: Addresses the recipients by name, and can include other personalized information (i.e. demographic) about them, which increases the likelihood of the email being opened.
- Flexible Content Format: Ensures that the message gets to the recipient in the proper format that your client prefers. For example, send text for a simple message or HTML to enhance the content.
- Format Sensing: Determines which of your client’s customers can receive the more graphically intensive HTML message format and then multi-part messaging is sent with both text and HTML so the recipient can view in whichever format is readable. URLs and Hyperlinks: Used within the email content encourage the recipient to click-through to a website or landing page for more information on the offer. URLs are necessary for click-through tracking reports that allow your clients to evaluate how effectively an email directs the recipient to various URLs within the content.
Keep Copy Short and to the Point
- Engage interest with short, easy-to-read, and relevant copy.
- Use pre-header text. Pre-headers are 1-2 lines of HTML text at the very top of the email. They are ideal for hand held devices so repeat or highlight the offer making it the first thing a prospect reads before they even consider enabling images.
- Using bullets is a good way to call attention to important details. But don’t use images as bullets in unordered lists (UL).
- Avoid spam filter words and phrases.
- The first point of contact is the subject line, which also creates the initial impression about your business.
- The goal of the subject line is to reach an audience that is literally bombarded with email advertisements and convince them to open your email. Be compelling and unique to set yourself apart from the competition.
- Subject lines greater than 50 characters are likely to be cut off, particularly on mobile devices where 49% of email opens take place.
- We suggest refraining from the use of punctuation and other non-text characters since they can affect some spam filters (i.e. !@#$%^&*()+=).
- Headlines should contain a compelling offer and/or saving message.
- Include brand name and/or logo in the headline to identify the sender and increase brand recognition.
- Avoid large font sizes and spam trigger words and phrases.
- Restate the offer from the headline at the top of the body copy-make sure the offer is relevant to the recipient.
- Include 1-2 short paragraphs with details of the offer and a brief company description, when applicable.
- Convey benefits and features succinctly. Email messages should be brief and compelling outlining the unique selling points. Longer sell copy should be reserved for the landing page where the actual sale happens.
Call to Action
- Include a strong call to action that tells the recipient what want them to do (i.e. sign up, join, buy, etc.) and place it above the fold (top 250 pixels).
- Identify calls to action with a graphic icon and/or within a blue underlined URL link.
The CAN-SPAM Act requires that the physical mailing address of the advertiser be included in the footer of every message. This helps to clearly identify the sender making it a legitimate advertisement. An unsubscribe link is also required in the footer so that the recipient can opt out of future messages.
The DMA Email Best Practices highly recommend including a link in the footer to the client’s web page describing their privacy policies.
Design and Technical Guidelines
Designing for an email is quite different than designing for a web browser. In fact, email reader standards are outdated in the sense that (a) they require designers to simplify their modern coding practices and (b) there really are no true standards that apply across the various email platforms. You can read more about email standards at http://email-standards.org/
The goal is to ensure that emails render consistently no matter what email client is used. Here are some basic best practices to follow when designing for email that will ensure your work displays as intended.
Design for Quick Viewing
- Use basic HTML coding and keep it simple.
- Create the HTML in an HTML editor in plain HTML. Do not use MS Word, layers, CSS, or PageMaker.
- If Dreamweaver is used, be sure to use Inline Styles only, avoid CSS.
- Keep offer information above the fold. The top 250 pixels (or area above the fold) are vital since it is prime real estate for the 3-5 seconds a prospect is focused on your email message so it needs to have useful, readable text not embedded within an image. Be mindful to incorporate your branding and benefit-driven offer text above the fold.
- Design as half-page rather than a full-page ad. Do not force the recipient to excessively scroll to read your email.
- Be considerate of screen resolutions and window sizes. Email readers often have added sidebars and navigations on both sides of where your email content is displayed, further decreasing the amount of space you have to play with. Be safe; set the width or your email design to be no more than 550-600 pixels maximum.
- Do not rely on image to communicate your message. Avoid replacing too much text with images and make sure your email design still gets the point across even when images are not displayed. This also applies to use of background images. There is such an inconsistency between which browsers will actually display background images that it’s best to not rely on them.
Use of Graphics
- Avoid the temptation to build your message using only images. Loading up your email design with large images will slow down the download process on the reader’s end and may deter them from reading it altogether. Aim for a 60 (text) to 40 (image) ratio on your campaigns. The purpose of this strategy is to engage the reader with promotional text that entices them to enable images and view your entire email.
- Use bold graphics and design. Lifestyle graphics work best. Remember to optimize to smallest possible file size.
- A “Learn More” or “Buy Now” call-to-action graphic should be placed in a location high up in the email to entice your reader to advance to the next step in the selling process, but use it in conjunction with HTML text that is visible when images are still disabled. It should also appear as a text based link.
- Unlike web design, email design must use absolute paths when referencing images.
- When using images, use ALT tags as component of tag. This will ensure copy shows up in place of the image for those recipients who have their image reader turned “off” or the reader is set “off” as a default.
- Avoid rich media and forms. We do not recommend the use of forms, flash, nested background colors, background images in DIV tags or TABLE cells. Animated GIFs can be used in many email readers today, but some will still prevent them from functioning, so be sure that the static image will still convey the image’s message. Background colors work if used properly, they should always be included in the table tags or individual cell tags, they should not be included in the body tags as these will not render in most email readers. DIV tags should not be used are they are not uniformly accepted in all email readers.
- We do not recommend embedded images.
- HTML and graphics should be 50-70kb in weight (HTML 10kb or less and images 20kb each or less).
- Save graphics with large blocks of flat color or plain text as GIFs or JPGs.
- If the layout has one larger graphic, slice it into smaller pieces and spread throughout the email, however, be sure to also include text. Aim for 60 (text) to 40 (image) ratio on your campaigns.
- Use a text-based link to a web version of your design at the top of your creative. (Add a link to a landing page where you are hosting the marketing message so an individual can view the marketing message in its entirety.)
Design Format Tips
- Be mindful of punctuation and font colors. Excessive use of exclamation points (!) as well as red text may be spam triggers, which should be avoided. Use email safe colors and fonts = *Arial, Book Antiqua/Palatino, Comic Sans, Courier New, *Georgia, *Helvetica, Lucida Console, Tahoma, *Times New Roman, Trebuchet MS, Verdana (*= Most Popular Fonts Used)
- Use a banner or logo at the top of your creative to attract attention and quickly promote your product. Ensure the banner/logo links to a landing page with your offer, not your company home page.
- Use of text-based URLs should be strategically placed throughout the email copy. Commonly, they appear underlined and in blue. We recommend including three opportunities to click through to a landing page that reinforce your offer/messaging.
- Test your design in a preview pane, full screen and with images turned on and off before you send it.
- Ask your recipient to add your “From Address” to their address book at the bottom of the creative.
Be sure to look out for our next blog where we discuss mobile friendly email design guidelines and best practices.