How to Create Great Emails for Your Clients: 9 Tips for Agencies

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A client asks you to create or redesign their email marketing campaigns—where do you start? Creating email is a lofty ask. And, if your team is used to offering web, mobile app, video, and other digital services, then creating great emails is a whole new ball game.

But, don’t fret! Here are 9 ways you can ensure your team delivers a quality campaign that engages your client’s subscribers. And, more importantly, these tips set you up as a force to be reckoned with in the world of email creation services, and position your team as a true “full service agency.”

PRE-BUILD TIPS

1. Email design ≠ Web design

Clients will often come with grand visions of what they’d like their email campaigns to entail. An email that embeds a high-res video from their website? Probably a no-go. An email that includes an attachment of their whitepaper? Not if you want to have good deliverability. Therefore, it’s key to lay out exactly what’s possible with email—and make it clear that emails and websites are not the same.

Clients need to realize that both technical constraints and content strategy are different when it comes to email creation. More importantly, your client needs to understand that their email is meant to be a vehicle—a gateway to a landing page that includes more details.

Like any other digital project, it’s important that you lay out all the constraints of email and set expectations ahead of time, and convey to your client how email is meant to fit within their multi-channel marketing program.

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2. Determine how the email will be sent

Clients often have lots of ideas, but rely on their digital agencies to connect the dots and make the vision happen. So, as part of this grand email design vision, you need to figure out at the start of the project how this email will be sent and from where.

Will you be sending the email on your end, or will your client? If you’re going to be sending it on their behalf, then you may need to purchase a license for an email service provider (ESP). However, if this is not feasible or if there are privacy concerns from the client, the client will need to do the actual sending themselves.

If the client will be pressing send, then you’ll need to determine how to get them the finished template, and how the template will be used within their ESP. Are you going to be using dynamic content, or personalization? If so, your client will need to know how to set it up within their specific ESP.

You’ll also need to keep in mind that ESPs can alter the code of an email. When a template is loaded into the ESP’s editor, ESPs often strip out or add styling to the template. This can affect how the email displays across inboxes. So, while the email may have looked great during the building process, putting it into the ESP could affect the way it displays.

Therefore, we recommend doing a final check by sending an email directly from the ESP into Litmus. This will ensure that you’ll see exactly what the subscriber does when they receive the campaign. Who will be doing this final previews test before the send? That’s another aspect to outline during the initial planning meetings with your clients.

Development & Design Tips

3. Learn the art of email development + design

Your design and development teams may have mastered the art of web design, but email design is a whole new monster to tackle. If your team is serious about adding email to your line of services, then they must learn how to build successful emails.

Luckily, there are many online resources to assist them in their learning. For starters, the Litmus blog is a great place to start (and you’re already here!)—it offers everything from dealing with the latest email client changes to tackling pesky email clients. Some of our other favorite email blogs are:

The Litmus Community is another great resource. It’s the perfect place to ask code questions, discuss email issues, and interact with the largest community of email designers and developers.

Prefer an online course? Lynda, Code School, and Treehouse all offer online email courses to get your team up and running. Looking for a good read? Modern HTML Email is chock-full of tips.

And, once they’ve got the hang of coding basics, they can try their hand at building emails in Litmus Builder. In Builder, they can code, review, and edit in real-time across 40+ email clients and devices.

4. Define who does what: Designer vs. Developer

Email resources frequently use the terms “designer” and “developer” interchangeably, and associate them both with the actual coding of an email template. But, in many agencies, designers still hold the traditional responsibility of creating the flat design and graphic elements of a project, while developers do the coding.

When it comes to creating a new email campaign, it’s important to determine if the email will include images and, if it does, who will be responsible for creating those. If your designer is tackling image creation, then they will need to work closely with your developer to ensure that the images not only display appropriately across email clients, but that they load quickly, too.

For starters, they’ll need to determine which image format is more appropriate—PNG, GIF, or JPEG? They all have their own unique benefits (and drawbacks). They’ll also need to determine where images will be hosted (on your end, or the client’s end), as well as how to properly size images so they look great across desktop, webmail, and mobile email clients.

Another thing for them to keep in mind? The size of the actual image files. While high-res images are great for viewing on Retina displays and animated GIFs are great for engagement, if they aren’t compressed they will take a long time to load. We recommend having your designer or developer (whoever’s task it is!) run the email through Litmus Image Check tool to see how long it takes each image to load, and see if there are any issues.

CLIENT MANAGEMENT TIPS

5. Focus design efforts where it matters

“My boss has a BlackBerry, so it has to look great on that client.” How many times have you had a client express something similar?

Clients may make assumptions about their email subscribers’ behaviors based on their own usage. In doing so, it not only clouds how their subscribers are actually interacting with their emails, but can affect how you approach building their email, as well.

Are your client’s subscribers primarily on mobile devices? Are they using Outlook and going to have images blocked by default? The sizes of devices, the particular email client rendering engine, and any attributes particular to how that email client handles messages will need to be taken into consideration. Knowing the real ways that your client’s subscribers are interacting with their emails will direct how you strategize, build, and design every part of the email.

So, how do you go about figuring out what this audience/email client/device breakdown looks like? If your client does not know what their breakdown looks like, then consider using a tool like Litmus Email Analytics to discover where their subscribers are opening.

Using actual subscriber data points will help steer the email project back to the email clients and devices that truly matter. No more Blackberry headaches (if you’re lucky enough to avoid them)!

6. Sharing email proofs with clients

As you likely know from working on other digital projects, sharing proofs or mock-ups with a client is crucial so they can get a vision of how the project will look when complete. However, email “proofs” are a little different. While a flat, traditional proof gives a nice preview, it’s also important to share a pre-send version of the email.

Sending an email to your clients before the final send allows them to interact with the mailing. It’s also a great way to physically show any email client specific constraints you had to overcome in the email build and design. For example, links that default to blue or spacing that certain email clients add.

How should you share your email? You can send a proof via an ESP or PutsMail. However, keep in mind that your clients may be looking on email clients or devices that you were not tasked with focusing on, or they may have custom/corporate settings that affect the mailing.

An alternative solution is to use Litmus Builder. Builder allows your team to create a project right within the editor, and share it with your clients. You can even include real screenshots of how the email looks in the inboxes you were optimizing for.

Do your clients have any feedback? Simply edit within Builder, and re-share the link with your clients.

PRE-SEND TIPS

7. Catch errors before sending

Mistakes in your emails are bad. Mistakes in your client’s emails are even worse. Whether it’s a subject line with a spelling error, incorrect preview text, or broken designs, your clients are not going to be happy if you send out an email with an issue.

Test your email from top to bottom and ensure that you catch any errors—and make adjustments—before the final send. We recommend either putting together an internal, step-by-step checklist, or using Litmus Checklist, which reviews every element of your client’s email—including preview text, image load times, and links. It also gives you previews of your design across 40+ mobile, desktop, and webmail clients. You can rest assured that your client’s email is error-free and meeting email industry best practices.

8. Subscriber list management

Knowing where your client’s subscriber lists live is incredibly important. Your client may have their subscriber lists living as manual or static databases within their ESP or maybe in a data warehouse.

If the lists are living outside the ESP, then you must make sure these lists are imported into the ESP, labeled appropriately, and easily accessible when the final send is ready.

Additionally, if your team is using static lists, make sure that these are “clean.” Clean lists do not include duplicates (unless the ESP de-dupes during sending), partial email addresses, bounced email addresses, or anyone that has opted-out from communications. If these lists are not clean, it will likely negatively affect the delivery of the campaign.

Are you working on an automated, behavioral drip program? Spot check the lists before sending. If you’re not in charge of the final send and drip campaign setup, remind your client to double-check the lists.

In addition, if your campaign is using dynamic content, be sure to review each content block and the correlating subscriber list that will see this particular information.

Sending to the wrong subscriber list can be an even worse nightmare than a broken email, so save yourself some sleep and check those lists ahead of time.

POST-SEND TIPS

9. Test, iterate, rinse & repeat

Your email strategy is always going to be a work in progress. Even if your team has invested significant time in researching design best practices, tested relentlessly, and know the audience breakdown, it will always need to be adjusted over time.

Analyze the data and see where you can continue to improve your metrics. Pick apart different metrics including clicks from your ESP, and opens, engagement or time spent on email, forwards, and even prints (you can find these latter items in Litmus Email Analytics).

When thinking about ways to possibly improve these metrics, you may want to consider A/B testing. Whether you test a different subject line or create a whole new template, you should work with your client to continuously refine their emails and relationships with their subscribers.

Keep in mind that your team may not simply be doing a one-off email project—you may develop a relationship with this client going forward and continue to refine their email marketing approaches and strategies.

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