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Optimizing for Gmail’s Snippets and Outlook’s AutoPreview

Inspired by Jeanne Jennings great write-up on designing emails for Gmail’s snippets and Outlook’s auto-preview, I decided to run a few tests of my own. First things first, a Gmail snippet is that small chunk of light grey text immediately following your email subject in the Gmail inbox. It usually includes the first few lines from your email to give the recipient a sample of what’s to come. Outlook’s AutoPreview feature is a very similar concept. Problem is, the first few lines of your email might be a link to your web-based version or an unsubscribe link – probably not the optimal text to encourage your recipient to dive into the email. Then Jeanne came out with this gem: Yes, you can simply place your fabulously engaging snippet/AutoPreview phrase at the very top of the e-mail where all will see it. Or you can use alt tags and place it beneath an image at the top of your e-mail (say, your logo). The alt tag text will come through in the snippet or AutoPreview area, but it won’t be seen once the reader opens the e-mail. What a top idea! We decided to have a go at this technique with the latest version of the Campaign Monitor newsletter, which of course, was sent a few hours before we saw this article. We left the original email completely untouched, but added the following single pixel transparent image to the top of our email with some alt text that gave a good overview of the email contents, like such: <img alt="14 new email designs in the gallery, loads of tips and the latest updates for Campaign Monitor" src="https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/explanation.gif" width="1" height="1" /> Here’s a before and after sample of the original version of the email in both Gmail and Outlook and the updated version with the transparent image: Gmail The alt text version now gives the recipients a much better idea about what to expect from our newsletter. Outlook For some reason Outlook was inserting a weird line-break in our alt text that we couldn’t avoid. If anyone knows the reasoning behind this we’d love to hear it. Either way though, a much improved bit of teaser text. As you can see, that small hidden image gave our recipients a much better teaser about the content of the email, which would hopefully encourage more of our subscribers to check the email out. Big props to Jeanne for introducing us to the concept. I’d say we’ll be using this approach for all our newsletters moving forward, and encourage you to do the same.

Blog Post

Tips on Effective Segmenting

As many of you know, Campaign Monitor makes it easy to create segments of subscribers within a larger subscriber list. This makes it much easier to target specific types of subscribers based on their demographics, preferences, etc. While creating a segment is easy, choosing the right segments and executing on a good segmentation strategy is much more challenging. Stephanie Miller recently put together a whole swag of tips on the best approach to list segmentation, specifically focusing on capturing the right data during the initial subscribe process. Well worth a read if you’re currently segmenting, or looking for a good place to start.

Blog Post

A Few Handy Plain Text Formatting Tips

We recently made a few subtle tweaks to Campaign monitor when you select the format you’d like to send your email in. We still present the same options – HTML only, HTML and text or plain text only – but we’ve tweaked the copy to encourage those sending HTML only emails to also include a text version. There are many reasons behind this. Including a text version can improve your deliverability, it looks much better when forwarded by many web-based email clients, and is a format some of your subscribers simply prefer. While your formatting options are obviously more limited, there are still plenty of do’s and don’t you need to observe when designing plain text emails. Stefan Pollard recently put together a few great tips on the best approach to formatting plain text emails that are definitely worth checking out. While you’re at it, take a look at Mark Brownlow’s tips for formatting plain text emails we published here back in December 2004. All his points are still very relevant today.

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Look for the Positives in Your Unhappy Subscribers

As you know, Campaign Monitor is directly integrated into the feedback loop for a number of large ISP’s like AOL, Hotmail, MSN, Juno, Netzero and a few others. This means that when any of your subscribers at these ISP’s mark your campaign as junk, we automatically remove them from your list and give you a detailed report about who made the complaint and when. Derek Harding recently put together an overview of how feedback loops actually work and there are two points we think he covered really well. The first is an explanation of why even the most well maintained lists can still see a few complaints. It’s important to understand that though your list may be 100 percent opt-in, it may still receive a substantial number of complaints. For years, end users have been told not to trust email unsubscribe links, so many users hit the spam button as a way of unsubscribing. While we do take action when a customer receives a significant number of spam complaints, we certainly realize that many of your recipients are just taking the easy way out or might not trust your unsubscribe link. Then there was this beauty. Too many marketers dismiss complainants as troublemakers and malcontents. The reality is there’s a wealth of data in who complains and what they complain about. Regardless of whether you believe the complaints are unfounded, if they complained they were dissatisfied. Smart marketers aim to avoid dissatisfied customers (or prospective customers). In my experience, the majority of complaints are caused by a failure to meet expectations. A common case is high complaint rates among new subscribers. This can be caused by subscribers not realizing what they signed up for, subscribers not getting what they thought they signed up for, or a long delay between sign-up and the first mailing. Just like the recent tips on getting the most out of your unsubscribes, there’s plenty we can learn from those marking our legitimate emails as junk. If you’re receiving complaints for any of your campaigns, it might be time to review your subscribe process and make sure you’re meeting and exceeding the expectations of your subscribers.

Blog Post

Hardware Upgrade Problems

A few hours ago we flicked the switch on a big server upgrade including a significant hardware boost and a brand new database server. Unfortunately the process hasn’t gone as smoothly as we had hoped and something that should have taken 5 minutes is going to take much longer. At this stage, it’s very unlikely that we’ll have Campaign Monitor up and running before 6pm (CDT) this afternoon. We can’t apologize enough for this, and please rest assured that we’re doing everything in our power to get things running smoothly again. We’ll post updates here the moment we’re back online and you can access your account. UPDATE – 12.45pm (CDT) All sent campaigns should be displaying and working fine now. Link tracking is currently disabled but we’ll switch that on soon. In the mean time though, your recipients won’t notice a thing. We’re now working on your subscribe forms and will post here as soon as they’re back online. UPDATE – 1.25pm (CDT) OK, subscribe forms are back online now. This means your campaign recipients and any subscribers are no longer affected by this outage. Link tracking is also back online and we’re now hard at work getting the application itself available UPDATE – 4.45pm (CDT) We’re making plenty of progress bringing the application back online, but it looks like we won’t make our self imposed deadline of 6pm (CDT). As it’s coming to the end of the business day for many of you, we recommend waiting until tomorrow to get any campaigns out. A hardware problem managed to corrupt some recent data, so we’re treading carefully to restore this problem before we open the application up again. It’s tough to give accurate estimates on when this will be complete but we don’t want to promise any less than 6 more hours (12am CDT). As usual, we’ll be posting here the moment you can access your account and thanks again for your patience. UPDATE – 2.00am (CDT) Right now it looks like we’re less than 2 hours away from bringing the application back online. All of our hardware issues have now been resolved and we’re tying up loose ends before flicking the switch back on. Thanks for all the kind words we’ve been receiving too, your understanding is very much appreciated. More news to follow real soon… UPDATE – 6.40am (CDT) WE’RE BACK! Access to all accounts has been re-enabled and all the queued campaigns are getting delivered as I type this. We’ll be closely monitoring everything, but please feel free to access your account. We can’t thank you guys enough for the kind words of support and patience as we got to the bottom of this issue. We’ve seriously got the best customers in the world. UPDATE – 8.20am (CDT) While the application is back online and fully operational, the hardware failure did mean that a portion of our customers data needed to be restored from a very recent backup. Unfortunately this meant that anything added to those accounts during this window was lost. We’ll also be restoring some data to these accounts to fill in some of these gaps over the next 12-24 hours.

Blog Post

One of the Most Underrated Essentials in Email Design

These days there’s a growing list of essential content you should include in every email you send. You know the drill. Unsubscribe mechanism, postal address, link to web version, the list goes on. The permission reminder message Of all the essential content though, there’s one I consistently see missing in many of the thousands of campaigns we deliver each week. What makes this more surprising is that this is one of the most important elements and also one of the easiest to add. I’m talking about the permission reminder message – a simple sentence or two reminding the subscriber how they gave you their permission to email them. Here’s a quick example: Hi, just a reminder that you’re receiving this email because you subscribed via our web site. As promised, this issue includes great tips on …… Simple hey. In 2 simple sentences you’ve assured each recipient that your email isn’t spam and reminded them why they were interested in hearing from you in the first place. Don’t stop there We’re nearly there, but now that you’ve reminded the subscriber how you got their permission and what you’re sending them, why not give those that are no longer interested the option to unsubscribe right there and then. Here’s a complete example: Hi, just a reminder that you’re receiving this email because you subscribed via our web site. As promised, this issue includes great tips on ……, but you may unsubscribe if you’re no longer interested. If you can’t summarise how you got their permission in a few words, then there’s every chance you don’t have it or they won’t remember giving it to you. “Remember that time you downloaded a report from our partner and gave them your email address” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. While we’re on the subject, we recently tweaked our anti-spam policy to make our permission requirements crystal clear. We give you a quick summary of this each time you add subscribers to your account, but it’s worth a peek if you haven’t already checked it out.

Blog Post

Making the Most of Your Unsubscribes

Yesterday we highlighted some great tips for welcoming new subscribers to your list, so today we thought we’d look at the flipside. Stefan Pollard just put together some great suggestions for getting the most out of anyone leaving your subscriber list. As you know, Campaign Monitor requires a single-click unsubscribe link to be included in every email you send. On top of this, we also let you set up a confirmation page to redirect the unsubscriber to, and this is where Stefan’s tips shine. He writes… Instead of letting unsubscribers go with just a thank-you note, give them the opportunity to tell you why they’re leaving. You can use that information to sharpen the focus of your e-mail program, redo your template or send schedule, improve personalization, or find other ways to become more valuable to subscribers or customers. We especially liked these 2 suggestions: Include a form giving that gives them an opportunity to let you know why they unsubscribed, such as no longer interested, was sent too frequently, etc. If you have other newsletters on different topics or sent less often, give them the opportunity to subscribe to them instead. Out of any subscribers in your list, it’s the people who are leaving that can offer the best advice on what needs improving.

Blog Post

9 Steps to Better Welcome Emails for New Subscribers

Mark Brownlow recently put together 9 common sense suggestions on ways we can all improve our automated welcome emails we send to new subscribers. As Mark explains… Somebody just felt interested and enthused enough about your products, services or publications to request regular emails from you. This is one of those precious marketing moments. You’ve got the prospect’s attention. You’ve got their interest. You’ve got their permission to send them email. And how do you communicate with them in this glorious, elusive moment? Unfortunately for many of us this is usually a pretty generic and boring confirmation email. Mark’s recommendations range from reminding them how often they’ll hear from you, giving an immediate feedback option and using conversational language. All great ideas. We’ve just updated the suggested text for the welcome emails in Campaign Monitor that embrace most of Mark’s suggestions. There are a few in there that you’ll need to add yourself though, like reminding them of the benefits of subscribing and rewarding them with some kind of treat. Check out the article and make the few simple changes to your welcome emails today.

Blog Post

Free HTML Email Templates

We often get asked by new customers if we have any sample email templates they can check out to get started. We’re psyched to say, of course, we do! These email templates cover everything from a simple announcement email to an email newsletter and much more.   If you’re looking for some further inspiration to get the creative juices flowing, our design gallery has now grown to 100 awesome examples of emails from some of the best-known companies on the planet. Plus, we’ve got a helpful post on the 4 ways email templates make your email marketing better.

Blog Post

Image Based Spam on the Rise

I’ve seen quite a few mentions about the growing problem of image based spam on the web and unfortunately in my inbox of late. I knew image-based spam was getting worse, but this statistic in a recent USA Today article blew me away: Image-based spam accounts for 21% of all spam, compared with just 1% in late 2005. It’s only a matter of time before spam content filters respond by coming down even harder on predominantly image based HTML emails. With the difficulties of coding a consistent design across all email environments, it’s little surprise that some designers are still opting for an image-heavy approach to their emails. With the continued popularity of email clients turning off remote images by default, and the continual tightening of content filtering rules, this just isn’t an option any more. This is another notch in the growing list of reasons why you should avoid heavy use of images in your HTML email designs.

Blog Post

Another Reason to Add a Text Version When You Send HTML Emails

Even when you’re sending a HTML email to your subscribers, it’s always a good idea to include a text version with the email. There are a few benefits to this approach, which I’ll highlight later, but I recently came across a great case study on MarketingSherpa that highlights another reason to always include a text version. As well as the standard preview pane window, Microsoft Outlook also includes an auto-preview feature that displays the first 3 lines of your email. This gives your recipients a chance to preview your email before deciding to open it. Here’s a screenshot of it in action. By default, the auto-preview will display the first few lines of your text email. If you don’t include a text version however, things can start to get ugly. Instead of seeing a nice intro to your email, your recipient will actually see the first few lines of your HTML version. Outlook still strips your HTML tags, so it’s not all bad, but most HTML newsletters begin with standard content like the name and date of the newsletter or “Having trouble viewing this email” kinds of messages. Not the optimal content to encourage your recipients to open your email. When you send a HTML email with Campaign Monitor and don’t include a text version, we still add a text version for you by default with a small message and a link to view your campaign in their web browser. Again, this works great if someone is having problems viewing your email, but not so hot in Outlook’s auto-preview area. Our recommendation Always include a text version of your email even if you’re only sending in HTML format. Try and provide an enticing summary of the contents of your email in the first sentence or two. This, combined with a good subject and a recognizable from name/address should have a big impact on anyone checking out your email using Outlook’s auto-preview feature. Other reasons to embrace a text alternative On top of the auto-preview benefits, sending both HTML and text in a single email means: Those recipients who have their email environment configured to display text only will still be able to read your email. You’re reducing the chances of your email being filtered as SPAM. Many popular spam filters like SpamAssassin will penalize you for not including a text-version. You’ll even lose points if your text version doesn’t contain similar content to your HTML version. Better formatting when your recipients forward your email. Many popular email environments such as Hotmail will display the HTML version of your message, but when you forward the email it will actually default to the text-version of the campaign instead of garbling the original HTML message. There you have it. A text alternative to your HTML email should increase the chances of your email being delivered AND being opened. Who can argue with that?

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