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One of the spam filters in our design and spam testing tool is Postini. This filter is now owned by Google, and is notoriously difficult to get past. Postini is like a bouncer at a nightclub who not only won’t let you in, but won’t even tell you if it is because of your shoes, or because you don’t have enough women in your group (not that it ever happened to us of course). Recently a Campaign Monitor customer, Dave Green, ran into this problem with his campaign, and was able to do some testing to find out why Postini was blocking his email. His results in the end were useful, but surprising: What I have found (8 tests later) is that I had to chop up the larger images into a much smaller sizes both in dimensions and also in byte size . The largest kb is 14.3 and found I had to chop files into physically smaller dimensions for Postini to pass it. Basically it boiled down to trial and error, chopping images up trying to optimise them without causing major loss of image quality and re-testing. Spam filters (understandably) don’t reveal exactly how they work, but it seems clear that Postini is placing a lot of importance on the balance between images and text (or HTML) in an email. Dave also pointed out that our simian friends at MailChimp have made the same finding. Given how prevalent image blocking is in email clients, it makes sense not to rely on big images in your emails, but this is one more reason to be cautious. We can add image dimensions and image file size to our list of factors impacting spam filtering. Here’s a reminder of some other things to watch out for: Avoid repeatedly sending messages to full or invalid mailboxes. You can do this by tweaking your bounce handling settings for each subscriber list. Minimize the use of these words and phrases in the subject line, message body, sender address, and reply-to address: Use of the word Free (although “free” tends to have more leeway than most other trigger words), $$, XXX, sex or !!! (any excessive punctuation) Subject contains “Double Your”, “?”, “For Only” or “Free Instant”. TOO MANY CAPS IN THE SUBJECT LINE Email contains at least 70 percent blank lines The from field appears to not contain a real name, ends in numbers or contains the word friend. The email claims not to be spam Monitor new subscribers in your lists. Set suspicious “spamflag” addresses such as “abuse@” or “spam@” as Inactive subscribers unless you know the subscriber is legitimate. There are no shortcuts or certain ways to avoid spam filtering, but these guidelines can help reduce the risk factors. Filter providers are less and less likely to provide helpful information about their products, so we will be relying on trial and error even more. Thanks to Dave for his great work in this case! More important than any of these tip, tricks and tests is understanding that spam filters are not the biggest issue. The key to modern email marketing is understanding that relevance beats permission. Even if your email is being delivered into the inbox, you can still get spam complaints if you are not ensuring relevance.
Thanks to the work of long time friend and Campaign Monitor user Grant Young, there is now an implementation of the most common Campaign Monitor API methods in Python. Subscriber.Add Subscriber.AddWithCustomFields Subscriber.AddAndResubscribe Subscriber.AddAndResubscribeWithCustomFields Subscriber.Unsubscribe Subscribers.GetIsSubscribed Visit the campaign-monitor-api-python page on Google Code to download it and get started. Also check out the quick sample code for help. We’re starting to build up a great collection of API implementations, extensions, plugins and modules for Campaign Monitor, and if you have one you’d like us to mention, or a request for a module you’d like to see, just let us know.
The second day of Web Directions began (for the Freshview team at least) at a more reasonable hour. The opening speaker Jeffrey Veen drew plenty of applause we heard loudly from outside in the expo hall. During the breaks, we spoke to tons of existing customers, interested newcomers and the occasional person yet to work out they were in the wrong part of the convention centre. During day 2 attendees also had their last chances to grab a code word to win the sweet MacBook Air we were giving away, and there was a rush of entries after the talks by Jina Bolton (shown below) and Laurel Papworth. The entry bucket was soon stuffed to overflowing. Before the closing talk, the draw took place on the main stage, revealing University of Technology, Sydney lead designer Andrew Francois to be the lucky winner. Andrew taunted the rest of the crowd briefly, before realising his peril and coming down to to collect his prize! From an exhibitor’s point of view, Web Directions was again an excellent use of our time. We met face to face with some of you guys and girls, and we got some great live feedback about our upcoming improvements to Campaign Monitor and MailBuild. So a big ‘well done’ to the Web Directions team of John and Maxine, and thanks to everyone who came up and said hello. Finally, a extra special congratulations to our friends and Campaign Monitor customers Propeller Global for taking out the McFarlane Prize against strong competition.
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?
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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