Litmus Blog Litmus Company Blog Mon, 24 Aug 2015 16:21:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 6 Alternatives to Spending Thousands on an Email List Mon, 24 Aug 2015 15:35:07 +0000 Email has the highest ROI across digital channels—and revenue from email has increased 28% in 2014. It’s no wonder that marketers are on the look out to grow their email lists quickly (and, hopefully, inexpensively).

Purchasing a list of email addresses may seem like a great solution, but it’s not.

While you get a list of leads instantaneously, there are some major drawbacks. It not only costs thousands of dollars, but purchasing a list can negatively affect your deliverability and sender reputation.

Under anti-spam laws, like the Canadian Anti-Spam Law, you cannot mail to those that did not opt-in to receive emails from you or partake in a business transaction with you. In addition, many Email Service Providers (ESPs) won’t let you send to a purchased list and, if you do, it can lead to an immediate termination of your account.

But, building a subscriber base is hard and without a good list, all of your hard email marketing work could be undervalued.

So what do you do? How do you grow your list with only opt-in subscribers?

Luckily, there are alternatives to building your lists—alternatives that are cost-effective and not detrimental to your sender reputation.

Optimize your signup forms

Signup forms should be easily accessible throughout your website.

Whether it’s a signup form on your blog to subscribe to new posts, or a form on one of your product pages to subscribe to product updates, forms should be prevalent throughout your site.

Potential subscribers should never have to search for a way to subscribe.

Your potential prospects are busy and don’t want to spend time filling out forms. For that reason, less is more when it comes to fields in signup forms—they should be ruthlessly stripped down to their minimum. Be strategic in the fields that you include (and A/B test to find the right mix of information).

Clearly indicate the value of what your subscribers will receive by signing up. They are giving you their email address—what are they getting in return?

Let them know about the valuable content they’ll receive, or a discount, or free swag. Make the benefit clear.


The Ultimate Guide to Email Signup Forms

Grow your subscriber list by optimizing your signup forms and overall conversion path. Download the report to find out how.

Download Now


Provide multiple subscription options

As inboxes become more crowded, subscribers expect messages tailored to them. When it comes to email, the more relevant it is, the more successful it will be.

One way to provide subscribers with relevant content—and encourage potential subscribers to sign up for your emails—is by providing several subscription options. If someone only wants to subscribe to blog articles or a niche-specific newsletter, give them that option.

For example, you can subscribe specifically to our Email Design Monthly newsletter. It doesn’t opt subscribers in for other communications, so they are only receiving the content that they are interested in.


By providing different subscription options, potential subscribers will feel more in control of the emails they’ll be receiving and therefore more likely to sign up.

Host or participate in a webinar or event

Attending or hosting a virtual or in-person event enables you to reach new audiences—and collect new email signups. Requiring registration for the event—even if it’s not paid—is a great way to build your list.

Promote your event to your current subscribers and social media followers and encourage them to share it with others. We found that emails about an event were 3.2 times more likely to be shared, than those that were not. Include social sharing and “share with a friend” links to make it easy!

Participating in an event with a partner is another way to build lists by reaching new audiences.

If both parties promote the event to their respective audiences and offer opt-ins during the signup process, the potential to quickly add new subscribers is massive. Explicitly add a checkbox that indicates which company potential subscribers will be receiving emails from.

Offer opt-in incentives

One of the easiest ways to grow your list is by requiring visitors to provide their email addresses in order to view a piece of content.

You already have the content ready—so why not require visitors to fill out a form to download it? It’s a swap—you get their email address, they get a valuable piece of content.

While we definitely don’t recommend gating every piece of content; ebooks, reports, whitepapers, Slideshare presentations, and videos are all lead generation opportunities.

Collect email addresses on social media

Promoting your newsletter on social media is a great way to collect new signups with ease.

Share past emails so your followers have an idea of what type of content they would be receiving—and link to your subscription center.

Twitter’s Lead Generation Cards allow you to attach a form to your tweet so that subscribers can send you their contact information with a single click. (They don’t have to fill out any forms!)

These cards sync with the majority of ESPs so any signups go directly into your database. In addition, you can create them for free and promote them to your followers, or pay to target them to a larger audience. MailChimp grew one of their lists by 12% through this method!


With Facebook’s call-to-action button, you can add a newsletter signup directly on your page. Or, you can create a tab for email signups within your account.

Potential subscribers don’t have to go to your site to sign up for your emails—they can do it directly on your social media page.

Campaign Monitor uses this technique.

Campaign Monitor

Send emails that gets shared

Your current subscribers are a great avenue to reach new subscribers. By encouraging your subscribers to forward and share your email, you’re expanding the reach of your messages and increasing the possibility of additional conversions.

You explicitly ask your subscribers to “download” an ebook or “signup” for a free trial, so why not ask them to share your email?

We found that emails with “share with your network” calls-to-action were 13 times more likely to be shared that the typical email.

In addition, emails that were personalized, or focused on events, helpful content, or transactional updates were more likely to be shared.

For more tips on sending emails that get shared, download The Viral Email Report.

Subscribe to get more helpful tips

We couldn’t write a post about growing your subscriber list without including a signup form, could we? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to get the latest email tips and tricks delivered straight to your inbox a few times a month.

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6 Steps to Creating a Successful Welcome Email Experience Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:00:04 +0000 You’ve honed your email signup appeal language to entice people to subscribe. You’ve created a signup form that minimizes friction. You’ve placed that form on your website, in your mobile app, on your Facebook page, and in other places where your customers and potential customers will see them. And—success—people are subscribing. Now what?

Sending a welcome email is that next crucial step. Here are six tips to ensure that your welcome email creates a great subscriber experience:

1. Send a welcome email immediately!

Don’t settle for overnight batched welcome email sending. It has to be sent immediately after someone signs up.

The reason is that the new subscriber is engaged with your brand at that very moment. They’re on your website, in your app, or wherever they signed up from. They were not only engaged, but interested in hearing more. They’ve started a conversation. Don’t let the moment slip away. Send your welcome immediately and continue the conversation.

Another reason is that it lets the person know that their signup was successful. They asked for you to send them emails and you’ve already started fulfilling that promise. That creates a good brand impression by itself.

2. Generate value right away.

What did you promise people in your email signup appeal? Was it to send them helpful information? Great deals? Perhaps you promised a signup incentive? Whatever it was, your welcome email should at least start to fulfill that promise.

This is one of the big reasons why signup confirmation emails like this one from MASS MoCA are pointless—and have fallen almost completely out of favor. Why send an email that simply confirms a subscription and then makes subscribers wait to receive an email with something good in it when you can send a welcome email with valuable content instead? A welcome email can easily—and warmly—confirm a subscription and then quickly pivot to delivering value.

0113 MASS MoCA

To get to the value generation quickly, some brands will skip the welcome email all together and just start sending promotional emails. We don’t recommend this approach as it can be jarring—as if you’ve skipped all the niceties of conversation etiquette—and may make new subscribers think that they missed out on a welcome email.

3. Put subscriber-provided data to use.

Hopefully you asked new subscribers for as little information as possible during signup—perhaps only their email address—knowing that you’d be able to collect more information from a happy subscriber or customer later. However, if you did ask for additional key pieces of information, try to put those to use immediately in the welcome email.

For instance, if you asked for their name, include a personalized greeting. If you asked for their zip code, include some local store information, for example.


The Ultimate Guide to Email Signup Forms

Grow your subscriber list by optimizing your signup forms and overall conversion path. Download the report to find out how.

Download Now


4. Use context to tailor your welcome message.

A non-customer who signs up for emails on your homepage is a different subscriber than an existing customer who signs up during your checkout process, as is a non-customer who signed up via a sweepstakes.

The email acquisition source can tell you a lot about a new subscriber—how familiar they’re likely to be with your brand, what their expectations are, etc. If you track new subscriber by acquisition source, you can analyze their subscriber behavior—their tendency to purchase, engage, and complain, for instance—and formulate messaging strategies based on that.

Use that context to tailor your messaging so that it really resonates with those subscribers. For instance, that customer who opted in during checkout on your website, pitch them on downloading your mobile app, if that’s a high-value action that’s going to increase interactions and revenue for your brand. Whereas the best strategy for that non-customer who signed up on your homepage is probably to incentivize them to make their first purchase, so deliver a generous offer that will turn that prospect into a customer.

5. Don’t try to do too much in one email.

Especially in the age of mobile when screens are small and attention spans are short, there’s only so much that one welcome email can do. So don’t limit yourself to one welcome email. Send a series.

Keep that first email in the series focused on the most high-value action—the one that’s the most predictive of continued engagement and of generating the most subscriber lifetime value. Then use subsequent welcome emails to further educate subscribers on the value of engaging with your brand and with your emails.

A few of our personal favorites include:

Sending a chain of welcome emails allows them to emphasize different aspects of their businesses, and even to reiterate key calls-to-actions.

6. Ensure that you’re making a great first impression.

Your welcome email will be the first email that your new subscribers get from you. Will it get them excited about receiving more email or will it make them regret signing up. Part of that equation is messaging, but part of it is design and ensuring that your welcome email looks great and functions properly.

Chances are this Tide welcome email didn’t create much excitement. Besides the vague promises of emails to come, the broken logo image sends the message that they’re not taking the most care with their messages. No brand wants to give subscribers that impression.

0113 Tide

Keep in mind that just because your welcome email looks perfect on day one doesn’t mean that it will stay that way. ISPs are constantly changing HTML and CSS support and new and updated email clients and web browsers can affect how your emails render. No email is “set it and forget it,” so create a schedule for periodically reviewing all your triggered emails, including your welcomes.

Follow those 6 steps and you’ll be well on your way to having a high-performance welcome email program.

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9 Tips to Optimize Your Subscriber Journey Thu, 13 Aug 2015 13:39:33 +0000 Of all the communication channels available, 72% of consumers prefer companies to interact with them via email. Email marketing also happens to have the highest return on investment across channels, and companies have attributed nearly 23% of their total sales to email. Consumers want to receive email and data shows that it’s worth the investment—are you getting the most out of email that you can?

Using email to its full advantage is all about providing your customers with best possible experience. If they’re happy with the emails they’re receiving, then you’ll reap the benefits (which hopefully includes lots of sales). From the email signup, to the email itself, to the landing page—and everything in between—optimizing for every step of the subscriber experience is key to email marketing success.

The Signup

Email marketing starts before you actually send an email—it begins with your signup process. The difference between a well-designed signup process and a sub-optimized one can be the difference between a growing list and one that’s shrinking due to unsubscribes.

For starters, your subscribers should be obtained by filling out a form of some type—registering for a conference, downloading a report, or signing up for your tools or services. Never purchase an email list—everyone that you send to should have explicitly agreed to receive emails from you. You run the risk of being unsubscribed from, marked as spam, or even fined under some anti-spam laws, like the Canadian Anti-Spam Law, if you send unsolicited emails.

Your forms are the first step in the subscriber journey so it’s crucial you get them right. With optimized signup forms you can acquire more organic subscribers—the ones likely to exhibit the strongest engagement and stick with you the longest. While The Ultimate Guide to Email Signup Forms outlines many tips for getting your forms right, here are a few pointers:

  • Strip form fields down to their minimum: Adding form fields can decrease conversion rates, so only include fields that are crucial. A/B test to see what works for you, or consider using progressive profiling to build your subscriber’s profile over several interactions.
  • Provide valuable content: Include a clear value proposition about why subscribers should give you their email. Are they going to receive helpful content? Get a free t-shirt?
  • Test your forms: Ensure that your forms work and that each signup is going to the right list in your email service provider (ESP).
  • Allow all email domains: It’s a mistake to try and prevent certain email domains from signing up using your forms—don’t create any additional friction.

Once your subscribers give you their email address, be sure to send a welcome email. Whether it’s welcoming them to a newsletter, or a free trial, thank your subscribers for signing up. You’re top of mind at this point, so they will be expecting an immediate email from you.


The Ultimate Guide to Email Signup Forms

Grow your subscriber list by optimizing your signup forms and overall conversion path. Download the report to find out how.

Download Now


The Inbox

You’ve accomplished your goal of growing your email lists. Now what? Don’t blow it by sending emails that don’t get opened. With an increasingly crowded inbox—and ever-decreasing attention spans—getting your subscribers to open your emails is a challenge. You only have seconds to grab your readers’ attention and interest them enough to open and read your email—you’ve got to get it right.

Use a 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. Subscribers may even mark an email from an unknown source as spam.

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.

Include 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. This is another aspect of your email that is ideal to A/B test.

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

In addition, many email clients will truncate subject lines after they reach a certain limit—cutting off a portion of your subject line. Preview your subject lines across mobile, desktop, and webmail inboxes to verify it’s displaying as you intended.

Take advantage of preview text

In many inboxes, there is an extra line or two—or even three—of text that can work with your subject line to encourage the open. Preview text is a snippet of copy pulled in from the body of your email and typically displayed underneath the from name and subject line in a subscriber’s inbox. It is alternatively referred to as snippet text or a preheader.


Like everything in email, support for preview text varies. Even when preview text is supported, no two inboxes look the same—both placement and character count vary.

While there are lots of tips and tricks for optimizing your preview text, here are a few bits of advice:

  • Think of it as a second subject line: Use similar testing strategies like you would for subject line testing. Do your subscribers respond better to urgency, humor, or symbols?
  • Front load keywords: Since some clients only supported a few characters of preview text, pack the beginning of your preview text with keywords and phrases that perform. However, make sure it’s long enough to fill the space in iOS and Apple Mail inboxes.
  • Avoid repetition: Don’t just copy the subject line or headline! Try personalization, including a call-to-action (CTA), or even try mentioning an article that’s located further down in the email to encourage scrolling.

The best part is that changing or testing preview text is easy—there’s no HTML or design required. It’s pulled from the first few lines of text found within an email and can either be displayed or hidden in the body of your campaign. If you’ve planned for the headline or first few lines of text in the body of your message to play off the subject line, adding separate preview text isn’t necessary.

Oftentimes preview text contains social sharing links or instructions to “View this email in web browser,” “Forward to a friend,” or “Having trouble viewing this email?, as it’s pulled from the logo or hero image in an email. Since text like this doesn’t encourage your subscribers to open your email, use a little HTML and CSS to hide or define your preheader text.

The Email

You’ve convinced your subscribers to open your campaign. Now it’s time to get the email right. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Optimize for viewing across environments

Discovering where your audience is opening your emails can help you focus your design and testing efforts. While responsive design is great tactic for ensuring compatibility across all environments, it’s not supported everywhere. Consider using these mobile-friendly elements as a backup for when media queries aren’t supported:

Simplify content and design

Your subscribers are distracted—so keep your content and design simple, allowing them to scan your email quickly. Only include information that is relevant and needed to convince your subscribers to take an action. Nix all of the extra content and consider putting that on a landing page.

If your design is two or more columns, chances are it’ll look crowded on the small screen of a mobile device. Consider using a one-column design for increased legibility, allowing your subscribers to easily read and interact with your email.

Make text bigger

Your subscribers shouldn’t have to zoom in to read your message, so use large fonts. We recommend using a minimum size of 14px for body copy and 22px for headlines. Keeping text at least 14px will avoid broken navigation bars and other layout elements on iOS, which automatically resizes small copy to a minimum of 13px.

Use clear, touch-friendly CTAs

Once someone opens your email, they should almost immediately be able to identify what the CTA(s) are in your email. The content should clearly point to the action that the subscriber is supposed to take.

In addition, the CTA(s) should be extremely easy for the subscriber to take action upon. Ensure that your links and buttons are touch-friendly. Don’t include back-to-back links or lots of text near CTAs. You’ll want to surround each one with plenty of white space so they are easily clickable—and touchable. If you’re using buttons, we recommend using at least a 44x44px minimum button size.

Don’t forget the text version

Unless you’re sending a plain text email, multi-part MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) should be part of every email campaign. Multi-part MIME bundles together a simplified plain text version of your email along with the HTML version of your email.


Here are some reasons why sending in multi-part MIME is a necessity:

  • Spam filters like to see a plain text alternative
  • Some email clients and apps can’t handle HTML (we’re looking at you, Apple Watch)
  • Some people simply prefer it and opt to only receive the plain text version

While we have plenty of detailed tips for optimizing plain text emails, here are a few to keep in mind:

  • Define headers and CTAs: Try using capslock or symbols to create hierarchy, differentiating headlines and CTAs from body text.
  • Include whitespace: Use line breaks between different content sections, headlines, and CTAs for increased legibility.
  • Use bulleted lists: While bullet points aren’t supported, you can use other characters, like -, *, or +, to assist with creating hierarchy.

Design defensively

While images will be displayed in many desktop, mobile, and webmail inboxes, in many they will be disabled.


With so many email clients blocking images by default, email designers have to be prepared. Luckily, there are a number of strategies to help combat image blocking:

  • Include ALT text: When images in email are turned off or disabled, ALT text (which is short for alternative text) often renders in place of the image. Use ALT text to provide some context for subscribers when images are disabled.
  • Use bulletproof buttons: CTAs should be viewable—and actionable—regardless of whether images are present or not. While text links will display in an image-off environment, typical image-based buttons will not. Add a little HTML and inline styles and rest-assured that your CTA buttons will display even when images are blocked.
  • Balance imagery and text: Ditch the solely image-based email and opt for a balance of live text and imagery. It ensures that your emails are accessible, eliminates the HTML-to-text ratio spam issue, and allows for the email to be legible and easy to interact with regardless of whether images are present or not.
  • Add in background colors: Adding background colors throughout your email, particularly behind images, allows for hierarchy and, to an extent, design to be present in an images-off environment.
  • A/B test and preview your designs

    We’re big advocates of testing—whether it be A/B testing or QA testing. Both are great tactics to ensure you’re providing your subscribers with the best email experience possible.

    Use A/B testing to compare the results of one version of an email against another version of an email. It can give marketers concrete evidence of which tactics work on their audiences and which don’t. There are countless things to test, including headlines, preheader text, from names, and images. It’s one of the most effective and easiest ways to make measurable improvements to your campaigns.

    There are seemingly countless ways that email clients can break your designs. What looks great in one inbox, could look completely mangled and broken in another. Preview your campaigns across mobile, desktop, and webmail clients before sending. You’ve convinced your subscribers to open your email—don’t ruin it with a broken design.

    Preview your campaigns across 40+ real email clients with Litmus. Try us free for 7 days!

    The Landing Page

    Your subscriber’s experience doesn’t end with your email—it continues onto the landing page, or website. Similar to the email, keep the content streamlined and include a clear CTA. Also, if your email is mobile-friendly, your website should be, too. You wouldn’t want your subscriber to get all the way to the landing page only to be turned off by an inaccessible experience.

    PS. Elements on the landing page are great to A/B test, too!


    Subscribe to the Litmus newsletter and get email tips about creating great email delivered straight to your inbox.

    ]]> 0 The Responsive-Aware Approach: Optimized Design Effort With Great Gains Wed, 12 Aug 2015 17:50:05 +0000 Sometimes it seems like the choice in email design is responsive or nothing. But that’s not the case. There are several buckets of email design that vary in terms of mobile-friendliness, technical expertise needed, and production time requirements.

    The 5 levels of mobile-friendly email design

    5) Responsive email design: Email content and layout adjust to user’s screen size

    4) Responsive-aware design: Headers and footers are responsive, while remaining body content is mobile-aware

    3) Mobile-aware design: Single-column layout, large text and images, large and well-spaced buttons and links

    2) Quasi–mobile-aware design: Header and footer are desktop-centric, while significant portions of the remaining body content are mobile-aware

    1) Desktop-centric design: Multiple columns, small text and images, tightly clustered buttons and links

    In the past few months, responsive email design has become the most popular email design approach, with 32% of B2C brands using it for their promotional emails as of June. Responsive design adoption has driven much of the gains in mobile-friendly email design use over the past two years, and there’s every reason to believe that it will remain dominant for some time.


    However, it’s responsive-aware design that’s really caught my attention lately. As the name implies, it’s hybrid of responsive design and mobile-aware design. In most cases, brands will use responsive for their headers and footers, and mobile-aware for their primary content block and any secondary content blocks.

    I’ve been tracking email design approaches since late 2013, but this is the first time I’ve broken responsive-aware out as distinct from responsive. While I don’t have historical data, currently about 9% of B2C brands use this approach for their promotional emails. And I suspect that we’ll see an increase in the months ahead.

    This is a savvy approach to email design for a few reasons:

    First, this approach uses responsive design in the portions of an email where the highest link densities and smallest text font sizes are found. Using responsive design to turn an 8-link desktop navigation bar into a much more tappable 3-link one for mobile, for instance, or converting a horizontal nav at the top of the desktop email into a vertical nav at the bottom of the mobile email makes the subscriber experience much better. And navigation bar links generally convert at a high rate, so ensuring that they’re easily tappable with a finger is smart business.

    Second, header and footer coding is built into your templates, so once you convert them to responsive, all you need to do is periodically check them to make sure they’re current and optimized. The one-time investment you make in responsive headers and footers pays you dividends every time you send an email, making this a high-ROI move.

    And third, if you’re not quite ready to go full-responsive because of your audience’s use of mobile isn’t quite high enough or you’re concerned about the added email production time, graduating to responsive-aware is a great intermediate step. You gain some experience with responsive and you make it a little easier to take the next step up.

    What does responsive-aware look like?

    In general, brands using responsive-aware design have their navigation bar horizontally at the top of their emails in the desktop rendering and have it vertically at the bottom of their emails in the mobile rendering.

    Here’s a great example of this from a recent Banana Republic email:


    Instead of moving the nav bar down, some brands used responsive to reduce the number of links in their horizontal nav at the top of the email, while others dropped their nav completely, which I wouldn’t recommend.

    Nav bar links generally perform quite well, especially when you judge them by conversions. So be thoughtful in how you change them from desktop to mobile, and make sure that you thoroughly A/B test difficult options.

    More on the 5 levels of mobile-friendly email design

    For a discussion of all 5 levels of mobile-friendly email design, check out my latest Marketing Land column.


    5 Responsive Templates

    Optimize your emails for small screens with these 5 free responsive templates! They’ve been tested in Litmus and are completely bulletproof—they even work in Outlook!

    Download Now


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    Win Your Way to The Email Design Conference 2015 Tue, 11 Aug 2015 15:14:23 +0000 The Email Design Conference has been sold out for weeks, but—thanks to some generous email lovers—we’re happy to announce there are four ways you can win your way to the conference!

    With the support of Constant Contact, Emma, MailChimp, and Movable Ink we are thrilled to offer the following ticket giveaways.

    Constant Contact

    Do you provide email marketing services to small businesses or nonprofits? If so, the generous folks at Constant Contact would love to send you to the conference! They’re offering two lucky winners a trip to The Email Design Conference: Boston. Each prize includes one event ticket, a $500 travel voucher and two nights lodging at the conference.

    Enter here →


    The wonderful folks at Emma want to send two people to the The Email Design Conference: Boston for free. But first, you have to send them your best email explaining why you should win one of the tickets. And in order to be considered, you must include the following three things in your email: Litmus email extraordinaire Justine Jordan, Emma (of course), and Boston.

    Enter here →


    MailChimp has graciously offered to send ten people to The Email Design Conference! They’re giving away five tickets each for Boston and London. All you have to do is tell them why you should receive a free ticket to the conference and you’ll be in the running for a great prize.

    Enter here →

    Movable Ink

    Do you love all things email? Movable Ink does too and wants to give all the email fanatics out there a chance to geek out over email at this year’s TEDC. They’re giving away two tickets to The Email Design Conference so enter now for your chance to score a ticket.

    Enter here →

    Winners of all contests will be notified via email (of course).

    Good luck and we hope to see you there!

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    Episode 17: An Interview with Designer Brian Graves Tue, 04 Aug 2015 16:44:26 +0000 In the 17th episode of The Email Design Podcast, hosts Kevin Mandeville and Jason Rodriguez talk to email designer Brian Graves about his career in email, working with large teams, and the future of email. Be sure to follow along and join in the discussion on Twitter using #EmailDesignPodcast.

    Watch the full video above or listen to the audio-only version below.

    Download the MP3

    In this episode:

    Follow the Email Design Podcast

    Subscribe to the Email Design Newsletter to get updates on the Email Design Podcast along with a curated selection of our favorite articles and resources on email design.

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    7 Tips for Creating a Functional Email Experience Mon, 03 Aug 2015 20:04:08 +0000 Delivering relevant messages is a key to email marketing success. While relevance is typically talked about in terms of targeting and personalization, relevance is much bigger than content and targeting.

    The Hierarchy of Subscriber Needs, which we debuted in The Viral Email report, provides a big picture view of relevance and illustrates the need for marketers to create a subscriber experience that is Respectful, Functional, Valuable, and Remarkable.

    While marketers must respect their subscribers’ wishes by only emailing to those that have opted-in to receive communications, your emails can’t be valuable or remarkable if they are not first functional. Functional email experiences are key for your subscribers to easily read and interact with your campaigns. If your emails aren’t functional, you run the serious risk becoming irrelevant to your subscribers.


    Functionality is all about quality assurance. Or put another way, it’s about eliminating friction that can degrade the effectiveness of your messaging, erode the subscriber experience, and ultimately damage your brand image.

    To create functional email experiences, ensure that:

    1. Your emails display appropriately across mobile, web, and desktop applications that your subscribers primarily use. You can use Litmus’ Email Analytics to determine where your subscribers are most frequently opening your emails. Then, use Email Previews to verify that your emails are displaying as intended in those email clients.
    2. Text is legible, particularly in the uncontrolled lighting environments where mobile rendering often takes place. For example, if you don’t use at least 13px font sizes, iOS will auto-adjust anything under that size, often breaking navigation bars.
    3. Links are spaced far enough apart so they can be accurately clicked with a mouse or, more importantly, tapped with a finger.
    4. The content is clear and free of errors. Read—and re-read—your emails before sending. Also, it never hurts to have a second or third set of eyes look over it, as it’s more difficult for you to catch errors if you wrote the text.
    5. Any special email functionality has a good fallback for when that functionality isn’t supported by a particular email client. Using advanced techniques, like HTML5 or CSS3, should have proper fallbacks in place.
    6. The links in your emails take subscribers to the intended destination. You can use Link Check to ensure your links are working, being tracked, and going where you intended.
    7. Email landing pages greet subscribers with wording and images from the email so they know they’ve arrived at the right place to continue the interaction.

    Creating a functional email experience requires a sustained effort because of the patchwork and non-standardized environment that is email inboxes. Unlike the web, there are no standards for email coding support. So CSS coding that works in Apple Mail may not work in Outlook 365 or Gmail, for instance. And support is subject to change without notice.

    The email environment is further complicated by the number of devices that can now read emails—which currently include desktops, laptops, tablets, ebook readers, phablets, smartphones, and the Apple Watch, which recognizes a new version of HTML, watch-HTML. And thanks to the Internet of Things, email reading devices may eventually include your car, refrigerator, toothbrush, and light bulbs. (I’m exaggerating, of course, but time will tell just how much I’m exaggerating.)


    Clicks are a primary gauge of determining functionality in email messages. If your emails have broken links and images or have text that’s too small to read on mobile devices, clicks will suffer.


    In this post, we covered functional email experiences. If you want details on all four subscriber needs in the hierarchy pyramid, check out our guest post on the Convince & Convert blog.


    The Viral Email Report

    This exclusive research provides benchmarks for forward-to-open rates, discusses tactics for spurring forwards, and shares real-world examples of viral emails.

    Download Now


    ]]> 0
    How 5 Email Easter Eggs Helped Sell Out The Email Design Conference Fri, 31 Jul 2015 14:36:19 +0000 Using HTML5 video background or including a live, dynamic Twitter feed in our emails have created major hype around the launch of The Email Design Conference. We’re sending emails about emails to email lovers (so meta) and they love these out-of-the-box techniques. These emails were repeatedly forwarded, shared on social media, and even written about. While there are proven tactics and topics that increase email virality, being the email geeks that we are, we’ve found including advanced and interactive techniques has led to some major buzz.

    When it came to launching ticket sales for this year’s event, we wanted to keep the excitement going. We opted to combine advanced email hacks with some fun by hiding five “golden tickets” within the email. Each ticket was hidden using a unique email hack and the first subscriber to find a specific ticket and tweet about it (using the #TEDC15 hashtag and including a screenshot) won a free ticket to the conference of their choice: Boston or London.

    The email was a huge hit—all tickets were found within moments (and we sold all of our early bird tickets in under 10 minutes with the buzz generated from this email). Email geeks loved the concept and playfulness of the email. View the email here:

    Here’s a breakdown of the five hacks used to hide the golden tickets inside the email.

    Golden Ticket #1: Hidden ALT Text

    One of our favorite techniques to enhance email design is ALT text, which helps communicate the message when images cannot. The first golden ticket was a message hidden in the ALT text of an image. So, only users with images disabled could see this message. Fun fact: 43% of Gmail users view email with images off by default.

    Here is what the ticket looked like with images on:

    Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 1.32.53 PM

    Here is what the ticket looked like with images off:

    Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 1.33.14 PM

    To create the ticket through ALT text, we first broke up the image into 3 different images each within their own table row and cell.

    <table cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" border="0" width="100%">
              <img src="" width="600" height="55" border="0" alt="Congratulations!"/>
              <img src="" width="600" height="56" border="0" alt="You’ve found a golden ticket! Take a screenshot and tweet to @litmusapp with the #TEDC15 hashtag. Act fast—if you’re the first, you’re the winner!"/>
                <img src="" width="600" height="56" border="0"  alt="GOLDEN TICKET #1: HIDDEN ALT TEXT"/>

    This allowed us to better style the ticket. Then, we simply styled the background of the images to contain a gold color and added in some simple font styling on the images. Here is an example of one of the images:

    <img src="" width="600" height="55" border="0" style="display: block; color: #333333; font-family: 'futura_md_btbold', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; background-color: #f3c478; font-weight: bold; text-align: center; font-size: 26px; line-height: 36px;" class="white-walkers" alt="Congratulations!"/>

    (*Note: To make the ticket search harder, we converted all of our CSS class names to Game of Thrones references!)

    Golden Ticket #2: Hidden Image

    The second hidden golden ticket was one for the true email geeks that were searching the code of the email. This ticket was the most literal of the bunch, as it was literally a hidden ticket. We simply inserted an image into the email, but didn’t display it in any email client. Only subscribers who searched the source code would be able to find the unused image URL.

    We hid the image in the email for all clients using this code:

    <div style="width: 0px; height: 0px; display: none; mso-hide: all; overflow: hidden; position: absolute; z-index: -99;">
        <a href="" target="_blank">
            <img src="" style="width: 0px; height: 0px; max-width: 0px; max-height: 0px;"/>

    When users visited the image URL, they found the golden ticket:


    Golden Ticket #3: Hidden ASCII Art

    For the third hidden golden ticket, we used animated ASCII art right inside the email. We simply used the same text color as its background to hide the ASCII art.

    Here’s how the ticket looked by default:

    Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 4.17.33 PM

    The only way a user would be able to see this ticket would be to highlight that area of the email. Highlighting that section would reveal the ticket:

    Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 4.18.05 PM

    Here’s how we implemented it:

        <span style="color: #ffffff; font-family: 'tisaproregular', Tisa Pro, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 16px;">
            You’ve found a golden ticket!<br/>
            Take a screenshot and tweet to <a href="" target="_blank" style="color: #ffffff;">@litmusapp</a> with the <a href="" style="color: #ffffff;" target="_blank">#TEDC15</a> hashtag. <br/>Act fast—if you’re the first, you’re the winner!
        <pre style="font: 4px/2px monospace; color: #ffffff;">
            <!-- ASCII art inserted here -->

    And yes, we went old school and used a <marquee> tag to animate the ASCII art. We used picascii to generate the ASCII art. This was by far the most tweeted about ticket—people love highlighting text!

    Golden Ticket #4: Hidden Hover

    We started to ramp up the technicality and difficulty with the fourth hidden ticket. This ticket could only be found if hovered over on the exact area. Not only could this ticket only be seen on hover, it could only be seen in a specific email client:

    Here’s what the ticket looked like when found:


    Here’s the base HTML for the ticket:

    <div class="daenerys" style="width: 0px; height: 0px; max-height: 0px; overflow: hidden;">
        <div class="the-wall">HOVER ARROW FOR A SURPRISE =)</div>
        <div class="tyrion">→</div>
        <div class="wildlings">
            <div class="valyrian-steel">
                <img src="" style="width: 0px; height: 0px;" />

    We used a targeting hack to make this ticket only display in Inserting .ExternalClass before a class name and prepending a class name with .ecx is a way to use CSS.

    We simply hid the area by default and only displayed it on hover for using the following code:

    .ExternalClass .ecxdaenerys {
        display: inline-block !important;
        width: auto !important;
        height: auto !important;
        overflow: visible !important;
        opacity: 0;
    .ExternalClass .ecxdaenerys:hover {
        opacity: 1;

    The button had an opacity of zero by default, but turned to full transparency on hover. When users additionally hovered over the arrow on the button, it displayed the hidden ticket using the following CSS:

    .tyrion:hover + .wildlings {
        display: block !important; 
        position: absolute !important;
        z-index: 10 !important;
    .ExternalClass .ecxvalyrian-steel img {
        width: 650px !important;
        height: 350px !important;

    Golden Ticket #5: Hidden Keyboard Command

    The final ticket was perhaps the most difficult one to find and decode. Using only CSS, we created a hidden keyboard command for WebKit clients that displayed the hidden ticket when entered.

    Here’s what the ticket looked like when found:


    We drew inspiration from Mark Robbins’ CSS Super Mario game, which used CSS keyboard shortcuts. We ended up using several different email hacks to make this work, but the implementation ended up being pretty lightweight and simple.

    First, due to limited support for the keyboard command functionality (and to make it somewhat tougher to find), we only enabled this hidden ticket to display in WebKit email clients. To do this we wrapped the CSS in a WebKit targeting media query:

    @media screen and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 0) { /* Insert CSS here */ }

    To achieve the keyboard shortcut command, we use the <button> tag and some CSS magic. Also, since we only wanted this content to display for WebKit, we ended up using the content property to inject and draw all of the content of the ticket when triggered with the keyboard command. Thus, our HTML simply consisted of empty <div> tags:

    <button class="kings-landing" accesskey="t" style="border: 0px; padding: 0px;"></button>
    <div class="sansa lannisport">
        <div class="ramsay">
            <div class="winterfell"></div>

    We have used this content hack for a couple of our previous emails including the launch email for this year’s The Email Design Conference.

    The keyboard command was able to be triggered using the following CSS:

    .kings-landing:focus ~ .sansa {
        display: block !important;

    By using the :focus state and selecting the sibling class of .sansa, the keyboard command of CTRL + ALT + T (since “t” was defined in the accesskey attribute in the button) triggered the hidden ticket as a fullscreen overlay. Here’s the CSS that made the overlay possible:

    .sansa {
        width: 100%;
        height: 100%;
        position: fixed;
        top: 0;
        left: 0;
        z-index: 9999;
        background: rgba(131,189,193,0.7);
        display: none;
    .winterfell::after {
        content: url('');

    Updating the Golden Tickets in the Email

    As the hidden tickets were found, we updated the email in real time. Here is an example of what a golden ticket looked like:

    As soon a golden ticket was claimed, we updated the ticket image to show that it had already been found. Here is what an updated ticket looked like:

    We also created a status board for the tickets at the bottom of the email to let subscribers know how many tickets were still available. This is what the status board looked like before any tickets were found:


    We made each ticket an image so we could easily update and overwrite it to reflect its status. Here’s what it looked like when they were all claimed:

    Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 4.05.00 PM

    Get awesome emails about emails

    Don’t miss our next mind-blowing email—or tips on how to create ones yourself. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and get the latest email tips and tricks delivered straight to your inbox.

    ]]> 2
    5 Reasons External Email Benchmarks Make Poor Success Metrics Thu, 30 Jul 2015 19:04:58 +0000 It’s our competitive nature that drives us to want to know how everyone else is doing in terms of their open rate, click rate, and other email marketing metrics. However, once we have this aggregated, averaged benchmark data, we don’t always know how to act on it. For some, they provide false comfort; for others, false alarms.

    Often calculated out to hundredths of a percentage point, benchmark averages appear to be a very specific bar to clear in order to be “above average”—and some marketers use them this way, occasionally with bonuses on the line. However, the deep specificity of these data points really just reflect the incredibly rich data behind the calculation.

    In actuality, these numbers are very fuzzy because of the apples-to-oranges comparisons taking place behind the scenes. Knowing that hundreds or thousands of companies collectively average an open rate of 20.45%, for instance, is actually less valuable to an individual company that it appears. I’m not saying benchmarks are completely unuseful, just that they’re usually only helpful in a very general way for the following reasons:

    1. Audience response is different depending on the subscribers’ country or region. Cultural norms and expectations can vary greatly from region to region—and often those norms get translated into laws and regulations. For instance, Europe is much stricter about permission than the United States is. These variances create differences in list growth rates, engagement rates, etc. So beware of comparing your metrics to those from companies in another country.

    2. Audience response is different depending on the industry vertical. Subscribers have different expectations around frequency and messaging for emails from, for instance, a school or university versus a retailer. Aggregate figures can skew things one way or the other, so look for a breakdown of stats by vertical.

    IBM Silverpop’s 2015 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study does a great job of tackling these first two limitations of benchmarks—as well as breaking the data down into more useful quartiles and acknowledging the limitation of benchmarks. They break down metrics into 5 global regions and 17 industry verticals. However, even doing that, there are more limitations.

    3. Audience response is different depending on the industry sub-vertical. Retail, which I’ve been covering for nearly 15 years, is the perfect example. The buying cycles and shopping frequencies for big box retailers like Walmart and Target are wildly different than those for big ticket durables retailers like Dell and Tiffany & Co. Beyond that, there can be very different email expectations depending on a retailer’s business model. For example, deal-a-day retailers like Zulily can get away with daily mailings while most other retailers cannot.

    Benchmarks are rarely, if ever, reported at this level of granularity, because we’re really at the level of competitive sets at that point, which is the territory of consultants and competitive intelligence providers. But even at that level, businesses are unique, making them only roughly comparable to each other, which we address further in looking at the next two limitations.

    4. Audience response is different depending on the brand’s business strategy and email marketing goals. Your strategy may not be the same as other companies for a variety of reasons, and therefore the behavior you are trying to drive with your email program may be different. For instance, sticking with the retail industry, IKEA and some other retailers don’t sell online, so their email marketing strategies are all about getting subscribers to visit their stores. That affects how they message their subscribers, the calls-to-action they use, and most assuredly their email success metrics.

    Media is another industry where goals may vary. For instance, some outlets may be all about driving traffic to their websites so they only include content teases in their email to spur clickthroughs, whereas others may include a lot of content—and ads—directly in their emails, so maximizing opens (and therefore ad impressions) is the goal.

    5. Audience response is different depending on how a brand manages their email list. This is probably the biggest unknowable and could be the biggest reason why your numbers may be wildly different from other companies. How a brand manages their email list can massively change their metrics, particularly those where emails sent is the denominator, such as open rate and click rate.

    At one end of the spectrum is segmentation and triggered emails, which generate high response rates because they deliver messages to the people who are most likely to respond to them. If your brand sends a lot of these, your open and click rates will be substantially higher than brands that send less.
    At the other end of the spectrum is inactivity management. If you have a lot of inactive subscribers on your list and mail them frequently, that suppresses your open and click rates since very few of these subscribers are likely to engage. On the other hand, if you keep a tight rein on inactives by dramatically reducing the frequency at which you email them and re-permissioning them if they continue to not respond, your open and click rates are likely to be much higher.

    Dramatic changes to how often you email your inactives can double your open and click rates overnight. The following chart demonstrates how changing the frequency at which you email inactives can benefit how engaged your subscribers appear in the eyes of ISPs, which take their user engagement into account when deciding whether to filter your emails.


    How to Use External Benchmarks

    Given all of these limitations, here are a few ways that benchmarks can be helpful:

    First, focus on the trends over times. Oftentimes the change in a benchmark over time is way more useful than the absolute value at a specific point in time. Have open rates risen or fallen over the past 6 months? How did yours change over the same timeframe? If rates generally improved while yours fell, then that may be worth investigating.

    Second, pay attention to variations across regions. If you operate in more than one country or region, and you can find benchmark data that matches those areas, then look at how metrics differ from one to the other. Do you see a similar spread in your own data?

    Third, focus on metrics that are pegged to opens rather than sends, such as click-to-open rates and forward-to-open rates, which is the metric that we focused on in The Viral Email report. These metrics are more stable because they are affected much less by how often marketers emails their inactive subscribers.

    And fourth, being in the bottom quartile should raise concerns. Companies often treat benchmarks as concrete goals to match or beat. To do so ascribes way too much precision and relevance to benchmarks in relation to your company’s business model, audience, and goals. However, being in the bottom quartile of a benchmark should sound some alarms and demand a little digging to determine why your performance is so comparatively low.

    Why Internal Benchmarks Are Better

    Rule 17 from my book, Email Marketing Rules, is: “Benchmark yourself primarily against yourself.” Even if you have the best benchmarks in existence, the data that is most relevant to your company’s future success is your own data. Especially in the Age of Big Data, marketers have tons of information about their subscriber and customer behavior at their disposal.

    Identify the metrics that move the needle for your company and then reflect that in your email marketing strategy and goals. From there, focus on systematically beating your own performance by embracing a philosophy of incremental improvements to the subscriber experience through testing, segmentation, personalization, triggered messaging, and other enhancements.

    If you’re constantly generating small year-over-year improvements to your email metrics, chances are you’ll have very little need to be concerned about external benchmarks.

    ]]> 1
    2015 Mobile-Friendly Email & Landing Page Trends [Infographic] Wed, 29 Jul 2015 16:48:08 +0000 We’ve been sharing environment market share data and talking about the “Smartphone Threat” since way back in September 2011. Mobile email reading has grown swiftly since then, primarily at the expense of webmail.

    Over the past year or so, email reading on mobile devices seems to have plateaued right around the 50% mark. While there are still some brands—including Litmus—with small mobile email audiences, most brands reached a critical mass of mobile email readers at least two years ago. That’s especially true when you consider that the first consumers to make this shift were probably brands’ more valuable subscribers.

    Despite being many years into the Age of Mobile, marketers are still playing catchup when it comes to making their emails and websites mobile-friendly. Joint research between Litmus and Salesforce found that 56% of B2C brands use either responsive or mobile-aware email design, while the rest still use designs that are largely desktop-centric.

    Our research, which we’ve summarized in the infographic below, also found disconnects in the subscriber experience when transitioning from emails to their associated landing pages. Fewer than half of brands have mobile-friendly emails that lead to mobile-friendly landing pages. That’s a big disconnect that deserves attention from both email and web teams.

    The entire text of the infographic is also available below.

    2015 Mobile-Friendly Email & Landing Page Trends

    Should your emails be mobile-friendly?

    Make an informed decision about where to focus your mobile design efforts with Email Analytics, and use Email Previews to make sure your emails are rendering properly in those mobile inboxes. Sign up for a free 7-day Litmus trial today!

    Discover your mobile audience →

    Mobile-Friendly Email & Landing Page Trends

    Consumers’ mobile email reading habits are well-established and while brands have been relatively quick to create mobile-friendly websites, marketers have been slow to adopt mobile-friendly email design techniques.

    Email opens by environment

    According to more than 1 billion email opens tracked by Litmus’ Email Analytics in June 2015, the percentage of email opens on each platform are as following:

    • 48% Mobile
    • 30% Webmail
    • 22% Desktop

    Email opens by environment: 48% mobile, 30% webmail, 22% desktop

    Website mobile-friendliness

    The percentage of B2C brands with mobile-friendly website landing pages for their promotional emails are as followed:

    • 85% in June 2015
    • 74% in June 2014

    Email mobile-friendliness

    Looking at the percentage of B2C brands using a mobile-unfriendly desktop design vs. a mobile-friendly responsive or a mobile-aware design for their promotional emails, over the past two years:

    • Desktop-centric designs have decreased
    • Mobile-aware designs have remained relatively stagnant
    • Responsive designs have increased

    56% of B2C emails are now mobile-friendly—a 155% increase since October 2013

    For reference, these are the definitions used to define these three approaches:

    • Desktop-centric design: 2+ columns, small text, and small, tightly grouped links and buttons
    • Responsive design: Email content and layout adjusts to screen size of user’s device
    • Mobile-aware design: Single column, large text and images, well-space links and buttons

    Disconnect between mobile-friendly websites and emails

    Emails lag websites in terms of mobile-friendliness by 29 percentage points, which creates disjointed subscriber experiences.

    • 16% of mobile-friendly emails lead to websites that aren’t mobile-friendly
    • 52% of B2C brands do not have emails and websites that are both mobile-friendly

    Emails lag websites 29 percentage points in terms of mobile-friendliness

    Fix the disconnect!

    1. Determine what percentage of your subscribers are reading your emails on mobile devices and which email clients they’re using.
    2. If a significant portion of your subscribers are reading on mobile devices, adopt either mobile-aware or responsive email design.
    3. If your emails are already mobile-friendly, work with your web team on a plan to create a mobile-friendly website.

    *“Email opens by environment” data is from Litmus’ Email Analytics. All other data based on observational research performed by the Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Litmus involving more than 140 B2C brands using anonymous email clients.

    ]]> 3