Some may think that things like spam, Twitter and Facebook have ruined the ability for email marketing to be a viable option in communicating with customers but the practice of marketing through email is still as strong as ever.
In March of 2009 The Ad Effectiveness Survey, that was commissioned by Forbes Media, showed that email marketing is considered the second-most effective tool for generating conversions, just behind SEO. Other research conducted by the Direct Marketing Association predicts the 2009 ROI generated by email marketing to be $43.52 for every $1 spent. With this kind of information it’s no wonder that a Q2 2009 survey of over 5,000 senior US executives revealed that email marketing was the channel most likely to see an increase in marketing budget.
With the popularity of email marketing and the willingness for companies to invest more in their email marketing strategies they’re going to need people who can design effective, usable, HTML based emails. Here are some tips to help you be the one those companies come to.
1. Unlearn what you have learned.
Tables are for tabular data… unless you’re creating an email. Email clients don’t support external CSS files so in order to layout an email we have to dust off our table tags, reach way back into that locked room in our heads and remember how to use tables as a layout tool.
2. Get in line.
Email clients don’t support external style sheets and most email clients completely strip any CSS from the head section of your HTML file. How are you supposed to style anything? Get in line. Add inline styles to your elements but be careful, even with inline styles CSS support is limited. Make sure you stay up-to-date with what is supported and what is not by checking Campaign Monitor’s Guide to CSS Support in Email or the Email Standards Project’s Standards Support in Popular Clients
3. The window to your email’s soul…
…is the email client’s preview pane. Most email clients are defaulted to use a preview pane which is usually only a few hundred pixels wide and tall. Although the area is small, it is very important in your recipient’s decision to open and view your entire message. Make sure the most important parts of your email are visible in the preview pane and make sure those parts answer two questions: Who is this email from? What is this email about?
4. A picture is worth… not a whole lot.
Another default of most email clients is to have images blocked. Most people will be asked to click on another link in order to display images or be shown a placeholder with instructions on how to turn images on. This being the case, your email needs to be readable and understandable without any images. Make sure all headlines and copy are HTML and include alt tags on any images that you do have.
5. Make it a double… wait, no, a triple.
No matter how thorough a designer is, due to the nature of the beast something is bound to break in an email client. For instances where this happens, you should have a web based version of your email that people can view through their web browser. Make sure the link to the web based version is in an easy to find area.
Along the same lines, there are still people out there that may not be able to view an HTML email. You can fix this problem by including a text based version of your email.
6. Keep it simple.
7. Like Joe Friday
Follow the law. The company sending the email has certain legal obligations that need to be met. While each country’s laws are different the most recognized laws are the CAN-SPAM laws which require, among other things, an unsubscribe link, a physical address and the recipient’s permission for emails to be sent to them.
Most of the laws surrounding email marketing won’t be a concern to you if your only duty is the design of an email. Things like permissions are the person managing the mail lists responsibility yet there are some things a designer can do to help adhere to certain laws like making the opt-out/unsubscribe link easy to find and featuring the physical address in a logical, easily read position.
8. Testing… 1… 2… 3
Test, test and test again. Unlike a web browsers there are many email clients with decent market share. The Email Standards Projects tests 14 email clients for standards support and depending on your audience you may have to test for all of them as well.
Some email marketing companies such as Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact or MailChimp will have testing tools available for additional fees or allow you a certain number of test emails that you can send to a limited list. Other options include stand alone apps or websites like Litmus, PreviewMyEmail or Email On Acid.
Now you know
Email design can be a pain, it can be frustrating and it can make you pull your hair But it can be done well. Starting with these simple tips you can create effective, attractive and understandable emails, adding one more service to your arsenal of abilities.