Browse by...
Home Resources Blog

Blog Post

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. 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. 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 [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 [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: 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: Vol. 1: Teenie Tiny Tots Vol. 3: EIU Alumni Association Vol. 4: Miroballi Shoes

Blog Post

Extreme Email Makeover, Vol. 1: Teenie Tiny Tots

Welcome to the first 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 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: [fig. 1] Excessively large masthead, likely to ensure clearly-legible text. Omission of the gradient background from the website (a key ingredient to the website’s overall design). Font family used for category titles differed from that of the website. Bulky product shots (unfavorable in the email environment). Gratuitous tag lines (consume valuable real estate). Lack of clear segmentation of products (decelerates scanning and reading). Small, graphic add-to-cart buttons rendered unreadable/unusable with image blocking. Inflexible grid layout for product positioning, restricting each email to an even number of products. Missed opportunity to extend the website brand (uniquely colored boxes) to the email. Special offer of significant value placed at the bottom of the message. Absence of interactivity for “forward to a friend” call-to-action. 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). Missing physical-address (non-compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act). 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. 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 [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 [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 [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: Vol. 2: Tangent Communications Vol. 3: EIU Alumni Association Vol. 4: Miroballi Shoes

Blog Post

Oh My God, You Guys Rock!

Oh my god, you guys rock! I just moved here from one of the big email providers and I’m never looking back. I can’t believe how lovely this system is in comparison. Thanks thanks thanks! Ben Parzybok, Ideacog

Blog Post

“Hands down, the Best User Experience of Any Newsletter Service”

After playing with both Campaign Monitor and MailBuild, I have to say you guys have, hands down, the best user experience of any newsletter service out there. Gilbert Wilson , Council for a Livable World

Blog Post

Designer Interviews: Catch Design

Welcome to the first in a series of mini interviews we plan on publishing in the blog over the coming weeks. Over time we’ll be bringing you more of these casual chats with the aim of giving you an insight into how others use Campaign Monitor, pitch email marketing to their clients and even charge for their services. Today we’re talking to Hamish Stevenson, Managing Director of Catch Design, an innovative New Zealand based design firm who we’ve featured on more than one occasion in our email design gallery. We couldn’t think of a better customer to get the ball rolling on our designer interviews and asked Hamish a few questions about how he and his clients use Campaign Monitor, how he got into email marketing and even how he goes about charging for his services. How did you find out about Campaign Monitor? It was a good friend of mine who’s a usability guru here in Wellington. But he’s more than that, his focus is more than usability, he loves promoting the idea that websites and web-based initiatives should be a pleasurable and good experience, as opposed to a hassle and frustration. So when he suggested I check out Campaign Monitor, I never hesitated. Were you using any email marketing tools before us? If so, how do we compare? Was it hard to move across to Campaign Monitor? “This was our first foray into email marketing. Campaign Monitor made the experience stress free, informative and fun!” Campaign Monitor was our first foray into email marketing. We were very much (and still are to a large degree!) a boutique web design company and I was a little reluctant to get into it really. But I have to say, the ease in which Campaign Monitor guides you through the process was extraordinary. The depth and quantity of useful information and advice goes beyond what you’d expect for free. For someone who was purely dipping my toes at first, Campaign Monitor made the experience of diving in so stress free, informative and fun! What would you say is your favorite Campaign Monitor feature? Mmmm, this is hard. So many: ease of use, personalization, the reporting and list management… but probably the thing I love the most is what I touched on above, the fact that Campaign Monitor is so incredibly fast and time saving is what makes this my favourite web application ever. How do you pitch your email marketing services to your clients? The best pitch we ever did was by sending all our clients a Christmas email newsletter towards the end of 2005. We had almost all our clients come back and say, “Wow, we want to do that!” Beyond that, I just listen to what my clients’ are spending their time on and where they could improve. One of the biggest reasons any company should build a website and/or email newsletter is because these solutions have the ability to reduce the load on staff. A good example is, a well designed and built site, along with thought through and intelligent copywriting, should decrease the amount of incoming phone calls asking repetitive questions that could be answered easily on a website and/or newsletter. When you explain that in a coherent way to clients, almost all of them have seen the benefits of a customized email marketing campaign. “The best pitch we ever did was by sending all our clients a Christmas email newsletter towards the end of 2005. We had almost all our clients come back and say, ‘Wow, we want to do that!'” Aside from that, we’ve had clients who literally spend hours and hours sending out email newsletters to mailing lists of 2,000+ from Outlook!! One client recently told me she used to spend one whole day just sitting there clicking ‘Send and Receive’! This has to be one of the biggest selling points for Campaign Monitor, the fact that you can send an email to thousands of recipients in a matter of minutes is just sensational. It saves my clients time, it heavily reduces the load on their office IT set-up (The same client often had to send their newsletters out after 5pm because sending it during the day simply crashed the entire office network! Hence, she never left the office till midnight.) and within a matter of minutes, they can see how effective their campaign was. How do you charge your clients for your email marketing services? There’s an initial design and build fee. Then, depending on how involved we are in each campaign, we charge for anytime spent designing and updating the email design(s), and then we charge for the set-up and delivery costs. Has Campaign Monitor impacted the way you design your emails? Yes and no. Mainly no. Campaign Monitor is so customizable that I can’t see any design we’d come up with not work within your software. Campaign Monitor is so flexible that there’s no need to be restricted to any style or layout. In saying that, Campaign Monitor has been brilliant in offering regular ideas and thoughts on best practice for design and build of newsletters. So in that respect, yes it has certainly impacted! :) Do you use Client Report Access? If so, what has your clients feedback been? Sure do. Yeah in general, we’ve had brilliant feedback. You always manage to find a client who can’t work things out (but they’re the clients who also struggle to use the right click on their mouse), but after a little explaining, they’re fine. Majority of our clients love the “big brother” excitement of seeing their campaigns report back in real-time. Thanks for your time Hamish No worries. Thanks again for such a great product guys! From the Catch Design portfolio… We’ve featured a number of Catch Design concepts in our email design gallery. Here’s a quick sample from their Campaign Monitor portfolio.

Blog Post

“A Dream Come True for Agencies”

In my opinion Campaign Monitor truly canes the competition out there, it’s cheaper, easier, and for agencies it’s a dream come true. Ben Pujji, Pujji like Gucci

Blog Post

We’re a Finalist for the 2006 Copernican Awards

Whoah! We just found out that we’ve been selected as finalists for Creative Good’s 2006 Copernican Award. Here’s what they’re all about: “The Copernican Awards are awarded annually to top companies and organizations that succeed by putting customers at the center of their ‘business universe’.” It’s an honor to be in the same company as the 16 other amazing finalists, such as Google, Threadless and del.icio.us. It’s been an amazing 18 months since we launched Campaign Monitor. We’ve made loads of friends around the world, helped almost 10,000 customers with their email marketing and even contributed to a book or two. We’re heading to New York in a couple of weeks for the awards dinner, and we look forward to catching up with plenty of you guys while we’re over there. You can check out more about the award here.

Straight to your inbox

Get the best email and digital marketing content delivered.

Join 250,000 in-the-know marketers and get the latest marketing tips, tactics, and news right in your inbox.

Subscribe

Get started with Campaign Monitor today.

With our powerful yet easy-to-use tools, it's never been easier to make an impact with email marketing.

Try it for free