From the Inbox to the Landing Page: Email Marketing Best Practices In Action0
When it comes to doing email right, there’s a lot to consider. And, whenever we’re analyzing emails for our email inspiration blog series, we’re always looking for what aspects of email marketing a brand got right (and what parts could use a little work). After reviewing dozens of emails, it’s time to sit back and reflect. Below you’ll find a roundup of email best practices in action—complete with plenty of examples!
USE A TRUSTWORTHY & RECOGNIZABLE FROM NAME
Is your “from name” recognizable and trustworthy to external audiences? Since this is the field that appears first in most email clients, and likely the first thing your subscribers see, the answer to that question should be yes.
Typically, you’ll find the names of companies, brands, or individuals here. However, if your subscriber doesn’t know who an email is from, the likelihood they’ll open diminishes. In fact, subscribers may even mark an email from an unknown source as spam!
In this example from Banana Republic, their brand name was shortened to “BR” in the from name, potentially causing confusion amongst their readers. We didn’t recognize the sender and almost clicked the “Report Junk” link.
A successful from name will be recognizable and relevant to your audience, imparting trust and a desire to open. Carefully consider the relationship between the subscriber and your brand—are they more likely to recognize the name of your brand/product, or the name of an individual at your company? A/B testing over time can reveal the right approach for you—it may be a mix!
In the examples below, each company used a straightforward approach—minimizing potential confusion and leveraging earned influence by simply using their brand name.
Using a “friendly from name” can also encourage subscriber feedback and interactions—read on!
ENCOURAGE A FRIENDLY REPLY-TO-YOU!
Email is a great medium for communicating with your audience, not to mention the perfect way to receive vital feedback from customers. It’s also an ideal way to answer questions and create a line of communication between brand and consumers. However, when an email’s reply-to address is a variation of “firstname.lastname@example.org,” it turns what should be a communication highway into a one-way street—eliminating the opportunity for further customer interaction. It also appears unfriendly, uncaring, and may even affect your delivery rates.
Consider the context of your email when choosing a from name and reply-to address. It may be appropriate for responses to an email to be directed toward specific individual, a shared mailbox or a customer service team. Avoid the inevitable confusion of combining a friendly from name with a no-reply email address, or vice versa. Chances are, your subscribers aren’t paying close attention to fine print or specific instructions on how to respond to messages—instead, they’ll simply hit reply, and expect a response.
Make your “reply-to” address something friendly that will encourage customer engagement—in addition, make sure someone is actually monitoring that inbox for prompt replies. Here’s a great example of a reply-to address from Timbuk2:
CAN-SPAM legislation even dictates that your from and reply-to address “must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.”
GET THE OPEN WITH AN OPTIMIZED SUBJECT LINE
There is no set formula for creating the perfect subject line. What works for one brand may not work for yours; it all depends on your audience. As a result, A/B testing subject lines is a great idea. In addition, many email clients will truncate subject lines after they reach a certain limit—cutting off a portion of your subject line.
Since you only have about 50 characters standing between you and your email’s success, optimizing this portion of your email is crucial. There are lots of tips on how to write the perfect subject line, but generally you want to:
- Be useful and specific
- Use timely topics and urgency
- Avoid using promotional or spammy language—keep it straightforward
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PREHEADER SPACE
Since subscribers only spend about 3-4 seconds determining whether they are going to open your email, you must grab their attention and interest immediately. Some email clients (such as Gmail, Outlook and iPhone/iPad) display a snippet of preview text next to or near the subject line. This bit of text—commonly called a preheader— is usually limited to around 100 characters and will be pulled from the first few lines of text in your email.
Depending on the ESP or messaging platform you use, a default or standard language may be found in the preheader. The most frequent language is a variation of the “Having trouble? View as a web page” link, which provides subscribers with the option to view the email in a browser. While this can be useful in cases where images are blocked or the email doesn’t render properly, it doesn’t do much to further encourage the subscriber to open the email.
Get creative with preheader text (and, of course, test your results)! For example, try adding a call-to-action (CTA) or special offer and see whether your open rates increase. Both HootSuite and Jack Spade make good use of preheader space in their emails.
RELEVANT CONTENT IS KING
Relevant content is key to grabbing your subscribers’ attention and holding their interest, decreasing the likelihood that your emails will be deleted, ignored or even marked as spam. Keep in mind that 25% of people unsubscribe from permission-based emails due to irrelevant content.
Be sure to balance value and frequency, avoid over-sending promotions, and plan carefully to prevent vacuous messaging. Consider the WIIFM factor—put yourself in your subscriber’s shoes and ask, “what’s in it for me?”
An amazing example of relevant content is this email from LinkedIn:
This email is great because it is unique to everyone who receives it; using customer data to drive relevancy in a non-creepy way can be difficult, but LinkedIn pulls it off brilliantly. What is more relevant than knowing every person in the email—and see all their smiling faces in your inbox? Even the subject line was personalized with the name of a contact in my network!
In addition, when it comes to content, keep it short and to the point. There is no need to cram a bunch of information into an email—save some of it for the landing page! Include only the relevant key highlights, and link to a site for more details. For example, in an email from JCrew, the amount of disclaimer text is extremely long and somewhat distracting.
JCrew footer — lots of text!
CONTENT HIERARCHY IS KEY
In addition to including only relevant content in your email, it’s necessary to organize your content appropriately. Your subscribers should easily be able to decipher the main CTAs from secondary and tertiary ones.
In example below from iProspect South Africa, all of the main CTAs in the body of the newsletter are the same—orange buttons with the text “Read More.” As a result, there is no clear hierarchy in terms of which CTA is most important. iProspect could use variations in color, language, or size on their buttons to make sure the most important links stand out.
However, the newsletter below from Smashing Magazine demonstrates excellent content hierarchy.
The main CTA, which is to sign up for the Smashing Library annual subscription, has the largest and brightest CTA button in the entire email. Secondary CTAs are bold, blue text links, while tertiary CTAs are simple black links. With a quick glance at the email, the content hierarchy is clear.
OPTIMIZE FOR IMAGES-OFF VIEWING
Since not all email clients show images automatically, it’s important to optimize your emails for images-off viewing.
Through the use of ALT text, styled ALT text, background colors, image slicing, bulletproof buttons, and live text, it’s possible to optimize your emails for when images are disabled. In addition, be sure to avoid all-image-based emails! For example, in this all-images email from Jack Spade, it’s difficult to discern the message when images are disabled, despite the presence of ALT text:
While this is an extreme version of images-off optimization (email doesn’t get more optimized than this!), let’s take a look at this email from PizzaExpress:
The colored boxes in the email are a result of assigning colors to each of the table cells in the right-hand column for the callouts. This effect makes it appear as if the images are still there (a little less appealing than the actual images, but nonetheless it has a similar effect). In addition, they use styled ALT text to make headlines stand out in an images-off environment. The only thing missing is a bulletproof button!
By no means is it necessary to make your emails look this good with images-off. By using simple tactics, like ALT text and background colors, it’s a possible (and not painstaking) task.
Other brands with great examples of images-off optimization:
For a full report on which email clients block images by default, check out this chart from Campaign Monitor.
MAKE YOUR EMAIL ACTIONABLE IN ANY ENVIRONMENT
No matter how great your content is, if your subscribers can’t read or interact with your email, why send it at all? It’s important to make sure you are designing your email to be optimized across all screen sizes—mobile, webmail and desktop. Since only 3% of subscribers will view a single email campaign in more than one environment, you only have one chance to get it right.
Here are some helpful tips for creating beautiful and functional designs that look great in all environments:
- Enlarge fonts: We recommend striving for a body copy minimum of 16px and headlines of 22px so that it is still legible on a mobile device.
- Use a clear call to action: Make it obvious and clear. Also, make sure it’s “touch-friendly.” We recommend a minimum size of 44 x 44px.
- Simple layout: Using a skinny, one-column approach helps to accommodate viewing on smaller screens by increasing legibility.
- Streamline content: Get to the point! Be short and concise, yet still approachable.
- Know your scale: Consider trimming your emails to be between 320-550px wide.
In addition, there are three main approaches that you can take in order to optimize your emails for viewing in all environments: responsive, fluid, and scalable/aware. In order to determine which of these approaches is right for you, you need to understand your audience. Determine your percentage of mobile opens and then make a decision—the higher the percentage of mobile opens, the more thought and in-depth strategy you need to put into place.
In addition, make sure you plan for the long term. Choosing a mobile strategy isn’t simply tweaking the code of a single email, it’s optimizing your entire email marketing framework, so make sure you plan thoroughly, code and design and test your new approaches to see what resonates with your audience best.
Once you’re ready to tackle mobile optimization, learn about responsive, fluid, and scalable/aware approaches in-depth.
DON’T FORGET THE LANDING PAGE
Your subscriber’s experience doesn’t end with your email — it continues onto the landing page. In fact, for some emails, the entire point is to drive users to the landing page!
In order to get your subscriber to take action, you need to make the CTA clear, desirable, and easy for them to follow. That said, even if your email is amazing and easy to interact with, if the landing page isn’t, your subscriber may lose interest and it may even negatively affect their perception of your brand.
This email from OpenTable, left quite the positive impression when viewed on my mobile device. Its slender design, larger text, and touch-friendly buttons made it easy to interact with on a smaller screen. The landing page, however, was a bit harder to read and navigate on my phone.
The landing page is quite the contrast from the email experience. Instead of large, easily readable text, I had to zoom in to read and click.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TESTING
We are big advocates of testing here at Litmus. Whether it’s A/B testing, a QA test, or rendering test, we’re in full support. When it comes to email, you want to put your best foot forward.
While it’s hard to say exactly where and why the testing process went wrong, even the most carefully crafted messages don’t always render properly:
The moral of the story? Avoid letting your best-planned strategies fall flat—TEST!
A FEW EXTRA EMAIL TIPS
- Gmail has a 102kb limit on email size—just the HTML, not including images. Emails over 102kb will be “clipped,” cutting off the bottom of the message. The only solution is to simplify the HTML or remove some of the content.
- Some webmail clients (Hotmail, Yahoo! and Outlook.com) will strip the <body> tag from emails. Place background colors not only in the <body> tag, but again in container <div> or <table> cells as well.
- Use the HTML bgcolor attribute with a 6-digit HEX code instead of shorthand or 3-digit HEX colors.
- Remove blue links from emails view in iPhone or iPad with a little bit of embedded CSS.
- Use JPGs or GIFs in email, since early versions of Lotus Notes do not support PNGs.
- Ban blue borders around linked images with a little HTML or CSS.
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