This week, I am doing a series on three easy ways to improve your email campaigns. There's no rocket-science here, but the basics are often over-looked. On Monday, I posted about making your emails personal and on Tuesday I posted about making them targeted and relevant. While content is important, we can't forget email design either. Here's a viable candidate for the mistake most often made by well-intentioned marketers: they over-design and don't do enough usability testing. For instance, have you ever opened an email only to be greeted by one huge white box with a red "x" in it? No Sweat makes some great all-union-made clothes, but their enewsletter is one big image. And images are disabled automatically by most email vendors (including Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and AOL - that's a lot of your email audience).
Secondly, don't forget the preview pane. Most Outlook users only view your email through their preview pane and this has two major results: emails viewed through the preview pane without enabling images do not count as opens and the preview pane blocks most of your email's content.
Hence, advise your boss to relax a little when it comes to open rates (especially you B2Bers) and remember to design with the preview pane in mind. If your audience only sees the first 2-4 square inches in the upper left corner of your email, make them important!
I used a table of contents to good effect in a former job and we increased our open rate substantially because readers knew from the preview pane whether they wanted to read the full content of the email. And take special care to craft really intriguing subject lines and headlines.
Keep your logo prominent and small so that they know it comes from a trusted source if they can see the image and so it doesn't take up too much valuable space if they can't.
The art guys in your office are probably really good at what they do, but don't forget that marketers are responsible in the end. Use their talents but don't let them dictate what goes where. In my personal experience, I have found art directors very understanding and willing to work with me, once they understand the limitations imposed by the medium. (After all, they want their work to be seen too!) This article from 2005 still has relevant material about blocked images and preview pane hassles.
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