The 7 deadly sins of email marketing

I just caught a great article over at Digital Web called The Seven Deadly Sins of Email Marketing Management by Véro S. Pepperrell. She does a great job of highlighting some of the big no-no's in email marketing today. Fortunately we take care of sins 3 and 4 for you automatically, but some of the others definitely need your attention.

Out of all the advice though, it was the closer that grabbed me. It seems obvious on first read, but week after week and template after template, it can get easy to become complacent about email marketing.

The bottom line is, be passionate. Don’t do a half-assed job: Write great content, manage your list well, and the results you’ll get will be both rewarding and motivating. Relationship management is all about common sense and respect, so take a step back if you’re unsure, and treat customers how you’d like to be treated.

Maybe it's time to take that step back from what you're doing, look around for some inspiration, and try a few new things your subscribers will love.

Read this post Posted by David Greiner - 24 Comments

Extreme Email Makeover, Vol. 2: Tangent Communications

Welcome to the second episode of our Extreme Email Makeover series with Dr. Mark Wyner. We’ll be running a series of email makeovers to help illustrate best practices for email design, layout and construction. Dr. Wyner will assess an existing email newsletter for ailments which can easily be cured with treatments in modern “medicine.” A patient’s vitals will be provided (email intent, target audience, etc.) and a diagnosis will be revealed. Finally a cure will be outlined, complete with a brand new email template designed and built by Dr. Wyner.

The Patient

Tangent Communications offers design/communication services in print- and digital-media. Customers who have registered on their website receive an email newsletter called “Breakfast Bytes” which promotes a presentation at their studios in London, England. Their presentations are focused on emerging business technologies, and thus their audience comprises those in the workplace.

Email Clients

With a B2B list comprising primarily office-based subscribers (both business and web-technology focused), it can be assumed that recipients are employing the following email clients:

  • Outlook 2007/2003/2000
  • Lotus Notes
  • Apple Mail
  • Thunderbird
  • Entourage

Note that because their presentations cover an array of web technologies such as podcasting and wikis, it can be assumed that many of their subscribers are web designers/developers and thus use Apple Mail, Thunderbird or Entourage.

The Diagnosis

Exploratory surgery quickly revealed the culprit of the pain: a single image which comprised all content. This was a life-threatening condition which would require immediate surgery to stop the bleeding.

[screenshot: original email template]

Design Ailments

The overall visual design of this email was appropriate for the target audience. However, it was lacking a connection to the company’s brand exhibited on their website. And with an email of this nature, intended in part to promote the business of its publisher, Dr. Wyner believes a relevant branding-relationship would be far more beneficial than a unique eNewsletter design. Moreover, the template contains one call-to-action (RSVP) which blends quietly into the content.

This template is also missing some key components to CAN-SPAM Act compliance. While the subject line (New social media trends and new ways to engage your online users) isn’t misleading, it certainly doesn’t describe the unique content of the email. Rather, it focuses on the recurring theme of the email newsletter itself. Recipients would receive a far greater benefit from a descriptive subject line about the event being promoted therein. And while Tangent does include an unsubscribe link, they do not include clear information about who is sending the email, including a valid physical address.

On the topic of ensuring readers feel comfortable with the receipt of an email, we can point to David Greiner’s post “One of the most underrated essentials in email design,” which discusses a best practice of including permission reminders as a preface to an email. Depending on the frequency of deployment, this can be a vital component to any successful email newsletter. Especially in the B2B market wherein many people are scanning/reading emails at dizzying paces.

Markup Ailments

The risks of sending a single-image email extend well beyond visual design:

  • Large file sizes trigger spam filters and increase bandwidth usage for mobile/dial-up recipients.
  • When images are disabled, the content is lost in its entirety.
  • Those with visual impairments are unable to access any content.
  • Recipients with small screen devices (mobile) either receive no content (stripped images) or an image reduced to a size in which the content becomes unreadable.

But the primary risk of sending a single-image email is the potential for legitimate emails to be filtered as spam. An emerging trend among spammers is a technique labeled “image spam,” whereby text is hidden within an image in an attempt to foil the filters. Though while it has been a successful technique for spammers, defenders are on guard with new systems to detect image spam.

Content management also becomes an issue whereby an author/editor must have a graphically-compatible application to create new editions or make modifications to existing content. Moreover, s/he must also have compatible fonts and the necessary skills to work in a said application.

Email Vital Signs

  • Standards-based markup: n/a
  • CAN-SPAM Act compliance: moderate
  • File size: 151KB

The Cure

Treatment was as clear as relief from the common cold. Introduction of HTML text and a few advancements for improved CAN-SPAM Act compliance would ensure a life of solid health for this email template. And some simple design evolutions would strengthen brand awareness for Tangent and bring vitality to the call-to-action. Finally, as always, trimming the fat is a great path to a healthy body.

[screenshot: new email template]

Treatment

  • Text-to-HTML: the graphic text was converted to HTML text to ensure accessibility and content readability, improve ease of use for content managers, reduce the overall file size and decrease the possibility of spam filtering.
  • Brand conditioning: the relationship between the company’s website and the email was strengthened with the integration of relevant graphics and familiar visual treatments.
  • CAN-SPAM Act compliance: physical address was added and a more relevant subject line was composed.
  • Permission reminder: a preface was integrated to help reduce spam flagging.
  • Strong call-to-action: two scannable instances of the call-to-action were integrated, clearly exhibiting the intent of the email. The first instance includes a graphic for emphasis and the second instance is HTML text to ensure call-to-action visibility when images are disabled.

Email Vital Signs

  • Standards-based markup: yes
  • CAN-SPAM Act compliance: perfect
  • File size: 17KB (11% of the original size)

Before and After

Let’s review a couple screen shots illustrating some key benefits of this surgery.

Outlook 2003: images disabled

[screenshot: email preview]
[before (top), after (bottom)]

These screen shots were taken in Outlook 2003 with images disabled. Looking at the original template (top) we can see that literally no content is available to the reader other than a link to see a version outside of the email environment. The title is unclear, it’s unclear who is sending it (other than the “from” field) and without a subject line unique to the content of the message we don’t even know what the email is about.

Note how the new template (bottom) offers critical information even with images disabled. It’s clear who sent the email, what it’s called and what it’s about (with a contextually-relevant subject line).

Outlook 2003: images enabled

[screenshot: email preview]
[before (top), after (bottom)]

These screen shots were taken in Outlook 2003 with images enabled. Notice how in the original template (left) there is only one call-to-action, and that it blends in with surrounding text. The new design (right) employs three call-to-action elements, one of which is a graphic button and all of which are emphasized with a unique color.

Notes on Outlook 2007

Outlook 2007 is a hot topic right now. Specifically because Outlook holds a huge portion of the business segment and because it is one of the worst email clients to hit the market in quite some time. Dave Greiner put it best: “Microsoft takes email design back 5 years.” So while I personally avoid business which requires me to conform to specific browsers and email clients—and abandon web standards in the process—I felt it was important to illustrate some possible compromises to accommodate the ineptitude of Outlook 2007 for the sake of posterity.

As painful as it was to use tables (none nested, though) for minor layout structure, the compromise proved to help visual integrity within Outlook 2007. Note, however, that margin/padding, background images and floating are still unsupported, leaving us with a visual design which remains somewhat broken. Font-sizing also becomes an issue once text is placed inside of table cells. I tried many combinations in hopes of finding consistent sizes across the board, but the TD tag itself causes inconsistency with fonts therein. The resulting design could potentially please a client seeking design consistency across the board, given proper explanation of the still-compromised result. So for those facing this requirement, the minor degradation of web standards may be a saving grace in avoidance of a complete breakdown of sensible markup.

Following, is a screen shot of the new template in Outlook 2007:

[screenshot: Outlook 2007]

Note that while we lose our trivial background image (coffee cup) and the padding necessary for spacing out elements, the overall design is mostly in tact.

Summary

It is clear that Tangent Communications put much thought into the design of their email, and Dr. Wyner believes they only needed a gentle push to polish it off. The critical ailment originated with the single-image syndrome, which has now been remedied with proper HTML. And while tables were used for layout/padding to accommodate Outlook 2007 (a target email client), all other styling was created using standards-compliant CSS. The compromise was minimal and appropriate for the audience.


Check out more handy work from Dr Mark

Don't miss the other makeovers in the series:

Read this post Posted by Administrator - 5 Comments

Reducing send button anxiety

I don't care who you are or how many emails you've sent in your time, you're not human if you don't get that horrible anxious feeling in your stomach right before pressing the "Send" button on a big campaign. Wait! Let me just triple check the creative one more time! Is this definitely the right subscriber list? Maybe I'll get the boss to give it one last look over.

You know the drill.

This anxious feeling is only compounded when the software you're using doesn't make the final sending process crystal clear. I've used plenty of email apps in my time where you're never really sure which button or screen would actually start the send process. It's always been a priority of ours to make this step as clear as possible and take any surprises out of the process. Even so, there's always room for improvement.

We just pushed a number of small tweaks to the create/send process live. Among other things, I'd like to introduce the "Big Green Button"...

Green means go

Hopefully this and a range of other small tweaks can take the old anxiety dial down a few more notches when sending your Campaign Monitor campaigns. We just pushed the same updates live in MailBuild too, which should help those nervous clients of yours when sending their own campaigns.

Read this post Posted by David Greiner - 3 Comments

“One of the best applications I’ve ever come across… a pleasure to use”

As a web developer I have a pretty good idea of whats possible with web applications and where they can go wrong. I've started making a point of emailing companies with detailed feedback of where they're going wrong when I've been banging my head on the keyboard. Which seems to happen with most applications I use.

Except yours. I've not come across a single avoidable error. I've hit the back button and things kept working. Buttons are where I expect them to be and they do what I expect. Almost every stage in the process has a nice surprise, like the 80 char ruler in the plain text editor.

So congratulations, this is one of the best applications I've ever come across and it's a pleasure to use.

Thom Shannon, Glow New Media

Read this post Posted by David Greiner

Can’t I just use Outlook?

Have you heard that question from your clients before? We have, and we thought it would be helpful to have a list of some good reasons to use when you answer.

Our newest resource covers the benefits of outsourcing your email delivery, detailing the ways Campaign Monitor can help save time and improve the deliverability of your email.

Check it out, and feel free to adapt it for use in your own pitch or project materials. We will be continuing to add new resources over the coming weeks, so if you have any requests for articles or resources, leave a comment and let us know.

Read this post Posted by Mathew Patterson - 1 Comment

Improve your email subject lines

Your email subject line is the first thing your subscriber sees in their inbox, and that can be the moment they decide to open it, ignore it or delete it. There is a risk that as designers we can spend all our time battling with rendering problems in Outlook or css in Gmail, and not even consider the subject line.

So we've dug up this little collection of links to help you and your clients craft more effective subject lines. Next time you send a campaign, spend a little more time working with your client on that subject line, and compare your open rates with previous attempts.

Friday links: Improve your subject lines

We've left the best for last - over at CopyBlogger, Brian Clark is taking headlines and rewriting them to be more effective. It's not specific to email subject lines, but Brian explains his process, and you can learn a lot from his approach.

If you have written a really successful subject line (or a spectacularly unsuccessful one!) , leave us a comment below.

Read this post Posted by Mathew Patterson

Extreme Email Makeover, Vol. 1: Teenie Tiny Tots

Extreme Email Makeover series with Dr. Mark Wyner. We'll be running a series of email makeovers to help illustrate best practices for email design, layout and construction. Dr. Wyner will assess an existing email newsletter for ailments which can easily be cured with treatments in modern “medicine.” A patient’s vitals will be provided (email intent, target audience, etc.) and a diagnosis will be revealed. Finally a cure will be outlined, complete with a brand new email template designed and built by Dr. Wyner.

The Patient

[Teenie Tiny Tots]Teenie Tiny Tots is an online retailer offering “unique gifts and keepsakes for infants, toddlers and kids.” Customers who have registered on their website receive an email newsletter with information about featured products and offerings. With a child-focused product line the target audience is parents and extended family members.

Email Clients

With a B2C list comprising primarily home-based subscribers, it can be assumed that recipients are employing the following email clients:

  • Apple Mail
  • Thunderbird
  • Outlook Express
  • Entourage
  • AOL
  • Yahoo Mail/Yahoo Mail Beta
  • Gmail
  • Hotmail

The Diagnosis

Exploratory surgery revealed some detrimental ailments. While no life-threatening conditions were discovered, it was clear that future health would be contingent upon proper treatment.

Design Ailments

The design of this email was a fair representation of the patient’s website design. However, there was room for a stronger relationship between the two without compromising best practices or adding gratuitous weight to the overall file size. Dr. Wyner addressed the following afflictions as part of his treatment:

[screenshot (fig. 1): original email template]
[fig. 1]

  1. Excessively large masthead, likely to ensure clearly-legible text.
  2. Omission of the gradient background from the website (a key ingredient to the website’s overall design).
  3. Font family used for category titles differed from that of the website.
  4. Bulky product shots (unfavorable in the email environment).
  5. Gratuitous tag lines (consume valuable real estate).
  6. Lack of clear segmentation of products (decelerates scanning and reading).
  7. Small, graphic add-to-cart buttons rendered unreadable/unusable with image blocking.
  8. Inflexible grid layout for product positioning, restricting each email to an even number of products.
  9. Missed opportunity to extend the website brand (uniquely colored boxes) to the email.
  10. Special offer of significant value placed at the bottom of the message.
  11. Absence of interactivity for “forward to a friend” call-to-action.
  12. Poor placement of “view in browser” link (if someone was having problems viewing the email, they likely wouldn’t reach the end of the message).
  13. Missing physical-address (non-compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act).
  14. Ambiguous subject line (“Gimme a Break! FREE SHIPPING!”) complete with excessive use of exclamation points and capital letters, both of which are commonly flagged by spam filters

Markup Ailments

The markup in this email was riddled with syntax errors, half-finished properties and incorrectly structured elements. The results of these types of errors range from minor variances to illegibility. One specific concern was regarding the use of type selectors such as img { border: 0; } which can inadvertently result in modifications of webmail client’s chrome. Another concern was the lack of descriptive ALT text. For example, the ALT text for the a photograph of a baby modeling an eating set is “Infants 0–18 months.”

Email Vital Signs

  • Standards-based markup: no
  • CAN-SPAM Act compliance: good
  • File size: 194KB

The Cure

The necessary treatment was very clear. Some simple design evolutions would strengthen the brand, improve information design and ensure a clear read for recipients. And reconstructive surgery with clean, well-formatted markup would help this overweight email slim down to a healthy size.

[screenshot: new email template]

Treatment

  • Masthead reconstruction: the overall masthead was reduced to a suitable size, important text was created with HTML (rather than as images) and migrated to the upper-left corner. This yielded a reduction in file size, prepared for image blocking and ensured important information would be available in both horizontal and vertical preview panes.
  • Brand conditioning: the union between the company’s website and the email was strengthened with the integration of relevant graphics and font families and consistent colors.
  • Layout/readibility enhancements: gratuitous information was removed, products were clearly segmented and made extensible, add-to-cart links were converted to HTML text and important messages and offers were relocated to appropriate locations.
  • Spam filter buffering: a sensible subject line was written, content-to-code ratios were reduced with standards-compliant markup and use of images was limited.
  • CAN-SPAM Act compliance: physical address was added.
  • Augmented value: anchor links were added to expedite content scanning, product descriptions were added for context, secondary content introduced the value of the company into their email messages and a forwarding utility was established and linked to.

Email Vital Signs

  • Standards-based markup: yes
  • CAN-SPAM Act compliance: perfect
  • File size: 28KB (14% of the original size)

Before and After

Let’s review some screen shots illustrating some key benefits of this surgery.

Outlook 2003: horizontal preview-pane, images disabled

[screenshot (fig. 2.1): email preview]
[fig. 2.1: before (top), after (bottom)]

Looking at the original template (fig. 2.1, top) we can see that little information can be gleaned about the contents of the email and the potential value of further reading. The following quirks are especially unfavorable:

  • The logo, tag line and description have been reduced to ALT text of the logo and have lost all visual impact.
  • An overview of the email is unavailable for a quick scan.
  • ALT text for the product photos offers no additional value considering how much real estate they consume.

Note how the new template (fig. 2.1, bottom) addresses these issues:

  • It is immediately obvious who sent this email, why the recipient is receiving it and how s/he can unsubscribe.
  • Even with images disabled, the integrity of the company name and tag line have not been compromised.
  • An overview of the email is provided complete with links to respective content.

Yahoo Mail Beta: images disabled

[screenshot (fig. 3): email preview]
[fig. 2.2: before (left), after (right)]

Looking at the original template (fig. 2.2, left) we can see that almost no information about the product is available, specifically the following:

  • The product photo lacks appropriate ALT text.
  • Incorrect CSS syntax renders the product name nearly illegible and partially cloaks the price.
  • The “add to cart” button is unreadable, obstructing sales.

Note how the new template (fig. 2.2, right) addresses these issues:

  • Appropriate ALT text is used to ensure a clear message in lieu of images.
  • Proper CSS ensures all text is legible.
  • Use of HTML text for the “add to cart” button ensures readability and usefulness of an important call-to-action.

Mozilla Thunderbird: plain-text view

[screenshot (fig. 4): email preview]
[fig. 2.3: before (left), after (right)]

It is challenging to extract a message from the original template (fig. 2.3, left); doing so would be labor intensive. The primary reasons for this are as follows:

  • Overuse of images results in an array of image paths (use to replace the images).
  • Lack of proper, semantic markup inhibits a plain-text engine to decipher headlines and paragraphs from one another, forcing an engine to clump all information together into a single block of text.
  • ALT text is given to visual separation from regular content and thus seeps into the general content flow.

Note how the new template (fig. 2.3, right) addresses these issues:

  • Limiting images to contextually relevant content reduces presence of image paths and ALT text.
  • Use of semantic markup creates appropriate visual separation of block-level elements (headlines, paragraphs, etc.), rendering content scannable and intelligible.
  • ALT text is given bracket bookends and prefixed with the word “photo” to help differentiate it from general content.

Summary

Teenie Tiny Tots had a great foundation for a successful email, and simply needed a push to maximize its potential. It is apparent that during the design/development of their original email many decisions were made with consideration for the email environment and for specific email clients. With the help of Dr. Wyner, Teenie Tiny Tots is back on track for optimum health.


Check out more handy work from Dr Mark

Don't miss the other makeovers in the series:

Read this post Posted by Administrator - 23 Comments
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