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37signals on improving email design

Over on Signal vs. Noise, Jamie Dihiansan has written about his approach in evolving the email marketing and triggered messaging design for 37signals’ products. Often the job of designing emails is seen as a one-off task- build it once and it is triggered off and sent for ever more. Taking this approach can mean you miss out on a great opportunity to improve the way your company and products are seen by your customers. After the signup process, triggered emails like signup confirmations and welcome messages can be the ‘last chance to make a first impression’. So it makes sense to revisit them regularly to look for ways to improve them. In the case of the Basecamp Max welcome message, the 37signals team thought they could make the messages less confusing, and ultimately split the emails content into two separate messages for clarity. Here at Freshview, we’ve gone through a similar process with our request for feedback emails, and the changes we made improved our results dramatically. Here are a few areas you might like to look at in your messaging and newsletters: Is the content still up to date? It is common to make changes to features in your application, but forget to update your welcome message to accurately reflect the change. Are the important parts obvious enough? You might want to mention all the cool stuff people can do with their accounts, but what do they really need to know to get started? Do those things stand out at a glance? Are you using the right format? Would using some HTML let the important content stand out better? Or, might you be scaring people off with an over designed email, and do you need to simplify? Don’t let your recurring emails stagnate while your website is continually refreshed. Although they might be out of your mind, for your customers, email is just the opposite. It’s an ongoing reminder of what your company does and how it does it. Personally, I loved receiving the Moo order confirmation email. Have you received a great ‘triggered’ email?

Blog Post

Discuss: What kind of email newsletters will last?

Here at Campaign Monitor we’re all big RSS users. Personally I love NetNewsWire and have a ton of feeds I review on different schedules, depending on their content. Web designers and techies in general have really taken hold of the idea of RSS, even though so far it has not spread much into the general public. Still, I’m not 100% RSS only, there is still some information I prefer to get via email. The canonical example for me is Threadless, who pump out a newsletter every week, sometimes more. Seeing the new shirts in my inbox is a thrill, and it’s one email I always open. There are other emails I have stuck with too: tidbits and Catch of the Day are two favourites. I’m interested to know whether you also have a few core favourites that you stick with. It seems clear that a lot of what is currently filling up inboxes actually belong in a different medium, like RSS, or even SMS alerts. When those things get out of our way, there will be more space for the truly valuable, the really funny, the most worthwhile emails. I’d love to hear from you all on this topic: What makes an email newsletter worth subscribing to in 2008? Answer purely from your own perspective, or think about the content your clients are sending. Will the best newsletters be the really personal ones? Short, to the point value? Content not available anywhere else? We’ve got Campaign Monitor t-shirts to give away for the three best comments, so have a think and leave us your thoughts.

Blog Post

Less stalking, more talking

You’ve sent out that latest newsletter on behalf of your client, and excitedly they login, watching their pie chart change colours as people open the email. Everybody loves the reporting and statistics you can get from using Campaign Monitor, because it makes it so easy to see what is working, and what is not. In fact, it can become quite addictive! So it is easy to forget that your subscribers might not feel quite the same way about being tracked and recorded. While many people have some understanding about click tracking (and things like Outlook’s read receipts), they can be understandably uncomfortable with the idea of someone watching everything they do. Recently Neville Hobson wrote on his blog about an email he received from Dell Computers. The email was targetted at people who had not opened Dell’s previous campaigns. … I was taken aback when I read the text alongside the ‘Shock, horror!’ title: Can we take a minute of your time? It’s just that it seems you haven’t opened any of our recent emails. Wtf? I thought to myself. How does Dell know I haven’t opened an email? Leaving aside the fact that not all opens can be recorded, clearly Neville was surprised and shocked that the information was known about him. Neville later goes on to clarify the core of his feelings: Maybe it’s the approach in Dell’s email that offends me, the wording that in one way or another says “We’re watching you and what you do on your computer, and you won’t know about it – unless you don’t open our emails, and then we’re gonna jump on you.” It’s a timely reminder that privacy and the ownership of their own activity is very important to most people. Even though the open and click tracking is available, we should treat it very carefully. That means not being too aggressive in your phrasing, and not assuming that the small amount of information you have about someone’s activity means you understand what they want and need. Most of your subscribers won’t be upset if you use your reports to decide what content is not as interesting to them, and drop it from the emails they see. They would probably be happy to see the improvement! They don’t need to have shoved into their face how you worked that out though. You could end up like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, gleaning more and more information each campaign until it gets you into big trouble. So tread carefully, be respectful of people’s inbox, their privacy and the complex balance between making an email useful, and abusing personal information. If you are dealing with particularly sensitive topics, like health, then you probably need to be even more cautious. How do you think your subscribers would feel if they understood exactly what was being recorded when they read your emails?

Blog Post

Web Directions South 2008

In just 3 weeks it will be time once again for the always excellent Web Directions conference in Sydney. Like last year, we’ll have a stand in the expo hall, where you can come up and lobby for your favourite feature request, ask questions or just say ‘hi’. If you are going to be there, then make sure you drop by, because we love to see people face to face. In 2007 we gave away an iMac — this year we also have a prize, to be revealed later. I can tell you right now that wearing a Campaign Monitor shirt will get you an extra entry into the competiton, so buy, borrow or steal one before you go! Speaking of shirts, the fun new Web Directions shirt is now available too, as is the artwork for remixing. Here’s a Campaign Monitor version: Don’t come to Web Directions just for the shirt, or just to see us! Come for the awesome (that was for you Dean;) line-up of speakers including Jeffrey Veen, Jina Bolton and Mark Pesce. See you there!

Blog Post

Subscribe your Shopify purchasers to your Campaign Monitor list

If you’ve checked out our Campaign Monitor shirts then you’ve experienced Shopify, a slick hosted ecommerce product. It’s super fast to setup and a great choice for selling anything from t-shirts to toasters online. This morning on the Campaign Monitor forums, Alex Dunae has just announced his Campaign Monitor “Subscribe” Web Hook for Shopify You may remember Alex from such hits as Premailer and Gladys the Groovy Mule. Alex’s code allows you to easily process a Web Hook from Shopify and subscribe the purchaser to a specific Campaign Monitor list via the API. Read more and download the code to get started. Another great job Alex! Finally, speaking of our shirts, if you’ve got one, and you are coming to Web Directions in Sydney, make sure to wear it. You’ll an extra entry in our competition…more on that later.

Blog Post

CSS Support for MobileMe

Last month Apple replaced .Mac with a new service called MobileMe and while it is certainly slicker visually and nicer to use, in terms of CSS support the results were mixed. We ran MobileMe through our baseline CSS test, and found that there were improvements in some areas (see our Email Standards Project test result) but in other places some CSS support was actually degraded compared to .Mac rendering. It is still a very solid client, but of course it is never nice to see the level of support going in reverse. MobileMe lost point in CSS selectors, and we saw odd results with link colours and heading styles. CSS defined in the head is partially ignored (for example in lower level headings) but if you drop the styles inline, everything seems to render much more reliably, much like Gmail. Nonetheless, MobileMe dropped a few points in our test. We’re already planning the next version of the CSS test, which will broaden its scope to better cover both inline styles and styles in the head, giving you as much information as possible to build emails which will render more consistently. If you haven’t already checked them out, take a look at our free email templates which are built using all the information gathered during the CSS test.

Blog Post

Teaser Signup Pages with Campaign Monitor

What is a ‘web 2.0’ type experience? Nobody seems to know for sure, but there is a few common ideas. There’s the gradients and corners, the community-social-linking-sharing love in and the catastrophic shortage of vowels. While there is debate about whether or not CampaignMonitr itself qualifies (surely email is pretty much web 0.5!), we do see Campaign Monitor used a lot for one more web 2.0 ingredient, the teaser signup page. You know the ones, with the enormous text field for adding your address, the big logo and the promise of an impending launch for a new web application. Ideally the page should give almost nothing away about what the application actually does. We love a good teaser page, and Campaign Monitor is a great tool to use when setting one up. You can create your account, setup a list, and collect names and email addresses as long as you like for absolutely no cost, you only pay when you send (which gives you time to secure that second round of funding!). Super designer Shaun Inman, creator of the excellent Mint which we use ourselves, has written up how he built his teaser page for the upcoming Fever. My sign-up pages usually have three states: The sign-up form The status message for subscribers The unsubscribe message for the dearly departed All three states are served from the same page. Which state is displayed depends on an optional query string and the presence of a cookie. Shaun goes on to provide his actual PHP code to make it all work, which you can use for your own pages. The technique uses Campaign Monitor’s ability to have custom unsubscribe and subscribe redirect page URLs for each list. Jump over to the Fever site and add yourself to see it in action. Thanks to Shaun for sharing his code, and for his kind words about Campaign Monitor! p.s Please consider this your invitation to post a link to your own teaser page, we’d love to see them!

Blog Post

Designers Are Everywhere!

A little while back I posted a poll that asked ‘Who do you design for?‘. The idea was to find out whether you were mostly freelancers, design company owners or employees, inhouse designers or something else. We’ve had over 300 responses covering all areas of design, and we wanted to let you know how the votes have played out. Who do you design for? Votes % Run my own design company 81 25% Freelancer designer 49 15% Inhouse designer for a web/software company 45 14% Inhouse designer for a non-web company 42 13% Designer for a marketing agency 34 10% Designer on the side, not my main job 32 10% Work for a pure design agency 16 5% Other 14 4% Designer for an educational institution 12 4% Designer for a government body 4 1%   Clearly the dominant group is designers running their own companies. 25% of you are in that position, which is fantastic. One interesting piece of information is that the responses were heavily skewed towards owners and freelancers when the poll first went live. However, after we mentioned the poll in our newsletter, we had a big jump in the number of inhouse designers. Perhaps inhouse designers are less likely to spend time on the blog? Inhouse designers (at web and non-web companies combined) make up slightly more than a quarter of respondents. Designers in marketing agencies, and ‘on-the-side’ designers make up the other big groups. So what can we learn from this? For one thing, clearly design is being integrated into all forms of business, so the opportunities for designers to work in a variety of areas are huge. On the other side, Campaign Monitor customers seem highly likely to be business owners as well as designers, which is a whole other area of expertise. So we’d love your feedback on this: Should the Campaign Monitor blog stick to the technical side of HTML emails? Should we include more content of general interest to web designers? Don’t worry, Campaign Monitor will always be the place for in depth research and guidance, but our ultimate aim is to help designers build their businesses. If we can do that in other ways, let us know! Don’t forget that we also blog (sporadically!) over at Freshview about the company, and we could perhaps talk more about business on that blog. Thanks to everyone who took the poll, we appreciate your time, and please do leave us a comment!

Blog Post

33 Brand New HTML Email Templates!

Today we’ve uploaded a hot new set of totally free templates you can use for your email campaigns. If you’ve read our reports on CSS support in email clients you will know that it can be very tricky to get an email looking good in all the major programs. You may remember that we have previously released a set of free templates. With those designs, what we tried to do was stick as closely to clean, semantic code as possible. In doing so we made compromises in the design consistency in order to keep the code easily editable. While that was fantastic for many designers, who took them as a base and built up beautiful designs on them, for others it was a bit frustrating. We heard some feedback that you were expecting designs which varied less between different mail programs. So this time we’ve changed our approach and gone all out to get the rendering as close as possible in everything from Outlook 2007 to Thunderbird. That means using HTML and CSS that’s more complicated than before, and a little trickier to edit. If you do make changes, make sure to re-test before sending! We’re not saying the design will be 100% the same in every email client; sometimes there are limitations that can’t be worked around. You will find that they are pretty close, most of the time, and always end up looking good. We think you’ll love the visual impact of these designs too, as we’ve added some more personality and character to the new layouts. Each template comes complete with its original Photoshop file which you can use to edit the graphical touches. If you’re a MailBuild user too, then you get double benefits, because we’ve also included a version with MailBuild template tags built in, and they even take advantage of the new multiple repeater functionality. So visit the templates page now and check them out!

Blog Post

DomainKeys and SenderID on CPanel Systems

Setting up DomainKeys and SenderID is well worth doing as a way of authenticating your emails, officially nominating Campaign Monitor as an authorised sender for your domain. However, it can be a tricky process because it relies on DNS changes being made, and every host and DNS provider seems to use a different method. We’ve listed guides for a few specific providers already, but today’s guide covers a multitude of hosts who use a recent version of CPanel to administer domains. How to add authentication records to your CPanel domain First off, a big thank you goes to Campaign Monitor customer Brad Schmidt for providing these instructions for us. Adding SenderID Select DNS Functions, Edit DNS Zone Select domain you want to edit. In the first field, put yourdomainname.com. (be sure to include the trailing “.”) Select TXT Enter the SenderID value in right field, which you can get from your account. It looks like “v=spf1 mx include:cmail1.com ~all” Adding a DomainKey In the first field put: cm._domainkey (this time there is no trailing “.”) Select TXT Paste your key from your account into the right field The quotes around the text may be added automatically for you, or you may have to add them in – we’ve heard conflicting reports, so just check what happens when you save. It should look like this: Now go to restart services Restart the DNS Server (Bind) That’s it! You may have to wait a few hours for the DNS changes to propagate, but eventually Campaign Monitor should be able to verify that your records have been added. Make sure you have clicked the ‘I’ve added the records, verify them for me’ button in your account too.

Blog Post

Email Standards Project: Test Your Email Client

Over on the Email Standards Project blog we’ve posted about how you can get a copy of our email ACID test sent to your own email address. That means you’ll be able to check how our base test renders in your email client of choice. We’ve heard from a few developers of smaller email clients, and this is a great way to compare their rendering prowess to the big market players. So jump over to the “Want to test your own client?” post, and add your address if you are interested.

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