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Latest posts | Feed | ...email marketing advice by Mark Brownlow

July 30, 2008
remorseful dogThere is no undo function on a "subscribe" button.

Except there is. It's called "report spam."

Just like some buyers regret the purchase right after paying, so some subscribers regret the sign-up before you've even had a chance to prove your emails' worth. An unsubscribe or spam report follows.

This new article over at the main site details eight tactics you can use to prevent subscriber's remorse.

Got any other suggestions? Just post them in the comments...

Permalink | July 30, 2008 | 5 comment(s)
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happyMany strive for glory. The mountain conquered. The battle won. The race decided.

My goal is smaller. To wake up one day, switch on the PC and see no spam.

I switched on my PC this morning, checked my oldest email account: no spam. So I checked the junk folder and it was...empty.

Imagine.

J.D wrote in a comment on why your open rates improved:

You forgot one of the most important, yet most overlooked reasons:
less overall spam in the inbox that day


Which is one of the many reasons why it will always be in the best interests of email marketers and the associated industry to support any venture, project, action, law or technology that makes life harder for spammers.

Even if it raises the standards required of permission-based emailers. There is much more to gain than to lose.

July 28, 2008
sample htmlLast updated February 9th, 2010

A summary of the best HTML email design resources, covering overviews, guidelines, standards, templates, checklists, design tools, galleries and more.

(Sharp-eyed observers will note that there are over 50 resources now listed. But 42 is a better number, so it stays in the title.)

There are numerous such resources, of course, but these are among the most useful...do suggest others in the comments.

Overview articles, collections, guidelines



Rock Solid HTML Emails: how to design an email that looks good in all popular email clients.

Design and Build Email Newsletters: design in the wider context of winning newsletters.

Email anatomy: outlines the structural anatomy of a marketing email and gives you a nice framework around which to hang your design approach.

Similar posts covering structure are The anatomy of an email and The perfect newsletter structure.

How to code HTML email newsletters: Extensive advice on use of HTML, CSS, tables (or not) etc.

Campaign Monitor: First port of call for HTML email resources. Check out their blog and HTML email design guidelines.

The Principles of Beautiful HTML Email: Looks at what makes "good, modern HTML email design."

A designer's guide to HTML email: Advice given in the context of a newsletter redesign project.

Email design for mobile devices: Articles and links on how to approach design in the context of mobile email.

Coding an HTML Email: Three-part article on how to turn a design into HTML.

Design and layout: ...category at the BeRelevant blog.

9 best practices for email design: Another good overview, this time from Vdot Media.

HTML email coding/delivery: Free 60+ page guide from MailChimp.

Email Design Review: Links, insight and examples at this design-dedicated blog.

Standards and support



Email Standards Project: Working to get email client developers to support a set of minimum standards for HTML email. Includes details of how each of the main clients currently in use shape up in this regard.

CSS support in email: Extensive guide from Campaign Monitor.

Forms in email: Details on which clients support forms, from Mark Wyner and from eROI.

Multimedia in email: Collection of articles and links on best practices with regard to videos in email.

Animated gifs: Another roundup from Campaign Monitor, this time of which clients support animation.

Email templates



Michael Fasani: Sample code and rules for robust emails that he says work well in various display environments.

The Holy Mail: Glen Lipka's universal template.

MailChimp: Free HTML email templates, tested for cross-client conformity and with coding tips to boot.

Campaign Monitor: 30 free "safe" templates.

CarbonGraffiti: Ten "safe" templates in various formats (postcard, columns etc.).

Sendcube: 25+ "safe" templates for one and two column newsletters.

CakeMail: Basic and advanced newsletter templates.

Checklists



The Email Experience Council: Their email design roundtable put together checklists for email coding and email design, which you can buy from their whitepaper room.

Smart Insights has a 24-point creative checklist for B2C and B2B newsletters.

Email design tools



Design preview tools: Inbox Inspector, Campaign Monitor, Email on Acid, and Litmus

HTML Email Analyzer: Firefox add-on that checks your email for potential problems relating to coding, deliverability and copywriting.

Fingerprint: Gives you information on which email clients your subscribers are using.

Premailer: Converts CSS styles to inline style attributes, plus other features.

More preview tools here, most of which are part of wider testing and service packages.

Design inspiration



BEN - Beautiful Email Newsletters: Design showcase for aesthetically pleasing commercial emails.

Spam Meltdown: Hundreds of screenshots of emails arranged by design and topic themes (e.g. "rounded corners" or "coupons").

Email Design Gallery: Showcase of attractive emails, arranged by layout and messaging type.

Retail Email Blog: Reviews and screenshots of emails from leading online retailers. Check the Design Hall of Fame.

Smith-Harmon: Blog showcasing creative designs. Also check out their Email Design Look Book 2009.

Style Campaign: Blog with a focus on the use of animation, video and images in email.

Email Gallery: Emails for inspiration, by Alex Volocaru.

The Email Wars | Email Design: Another marketing blog written by an agency, but featuring a range of good (and often cutting edge) design.

The Email Zoo: Evaluates the best and the worst of email marketing, drawing on the expertise of various authors.

Inbox Award: Another showcase for the best in email design, but not limited to marketing emails only.

MarketingSherpa's Email Award Winner Gallery: Details of all the winning email campaigns, selected for their actual success in driving action or reaching goals, rather than how pretty they are.

Email Design Review: The "inspiration" category from the blog.

Image blocking



Image blocking and suppression in emails: Articles and links on how to design with blocked images in mind.

Usability


Nielsen Norman Group: big report with email newsletter design guidelines from a usability perspective.

What about text?



Which is better? This post and this one list the reasons for and against text/HTML as your preferred format.

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Permalink | July 28, 2008 | 15 comment(s)
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July 25, 2008
A couple of recent posts here dealt with the effects of small changes to sign-up forms and copy (see here and here).

Just a quick heads up to another one just posted over at the AWeber blog: should you tell potential subscribers how many people already get your newsletter?

I'm sure there are more out there - let me know what you find!

Permalink | July 25, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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email symbolMost of us see problems with getting emails delivered and problems with getting emails displayed as two different issues.

But are they?

Should we think more in terms of deliverenderbility? (I promise never to use that word again.)

The two are connected because some tactics we employ to get more emails to reach the inbox also allow more functionality in those emails. So much so that these tactics are perhaps worth considering even when you don't have delivery problems.

Let me shoot you two examples...

Certification and embedded video


Consider videos in emails. At the moment, most videos simply do not display if embedded directly in an email. Nor do they even degrade to something vaguely clickable, in the same way that a blocked image does.

Mobilize Mail, for example, recently showed how flash videos "look" in several major email clients and webmail interfaces.

But the New York Times just revealed that select ISPs will support embedded video in the future through a new certification partnership with Goodmail Systems.

Email certification is still primarily regarded as a way of ensuring better inbox deliverability. But when you decide whether or not to certify, does it now pay to focus on the benefits for email functionality as much as on potential improvements to delivery rates?

Emails currently certified by Goodmail are already delivered with links and images intact to, for example, AOL users. And certification through competitor Sender Score Certified brings similar benefits at Windows Live Hotmail.

Adding to address lists


Justin Premick recently highlighted a standalone campaign by United Airlines to get people to add United's sender email address to their own address books.

Most commentators judged the effort in need of improvement. But one thought that emerged from the interesting discussion was the idea that this effort might be focused less on improved future deliverability and more on ensuring intact links/images in future missives from United.

Email clients like Thunderbird do not, for example, block images in email if the sender is in the user's address book.

Conclusion: even if you have great deliverability, it might still make sense to employ some of those deliverability tactics.

Any thoughts?

More on deliverability and design | Tags: , ,

July 24, 2008
crowded facesPart 11 of an ongoing series...

(We're looking at the strategies and tactics that distinguish a smart email marketer from a bulk email marketer. See the New Email Marketing index page to access the rest of the series.)

Have you ever wondered about the people on your list? Not the addresses in the database, but the people. They are...

Busy
Mobile
Human
Unique
Choosy
Changing
In control
Seeking dialog
Spoilt for choice
Easily distracted
Looking for value
Driven by emotions

It's tempting to end here and simply invite us all to reflect on how "subscriber as human being" affects the way we should do email marketing.

Be wary of considering that concept either pretentious or obvious. Just think how glibly and easily we talk of "non-responsive email addresses" or ask "which addresses are clicking?"

An email address is just a sequence of numbers and letters. It can't read or click anything: people read emails and click on links.

As Spencer Kollas writes:

"What's often forgotten is that there are actually people at the other end of the email address who want to be treated with respect."

This perspective goes further than just thinking in terms of keeping subscribers happy in an email relationship (see Part 2). Because not only are there people on the end of those emails, but they are a new generation of empowered (email) consumers.

They are not passive receptacles of one-way offers and information.

They want choice and control.

The wider Internet has shifted the balance of power further away from the marketers and back to the people. No more so than with email.

Not only can subscribers choose to get their marketing messages from another medium or email source at a drop of a mouse, but they can use "report spam" buttons to actively hurt your ability to get emails delivered to others.

Which is why it's so important to see permission (to email someone) as a temporary loan and privilege that needs to be nurtured and justified on an ongoing basis. That initial opt-in just isn't enough.

As David Baker so eloquently puts it...

"Protect each consumer that comes in and respect this asset as if your business depends on it, because it does. Think of how you attained this permission, how you'll respect it and how you'll build value in it over time."

Giving control and choice to the subscriber is a hot theme among experts right now and has implications beyond how you think about permission.

The future, according to Larry Chase and Janet Roberts, is:

"...subscriber-focused email marketing programs that give readers more control in what they receive."

(We'll examine concrete examples of this later in this series.)

Stefan Pollard agrees, writing:

"We must go deeper into how we use e-mail to see why meaningful choice has to be the standard now."

Choice and control also imply support for interaction and dialog.

Email marketers are already exploring ways of applying Web 2.0 concepts of user interaction to email.

And improved dialog can be as easy as doing something about that do-not-reply@ email address you use.

As Seth Godin recently posted:

"If you don't want to get email...don't send email."

Denise Cox adds:

"A company must strive to strip back as many barriers and layers as possible to allow people to actually get in contact with a real person at the company...Every email sent from a company, even a transactional email, should allow for two-way communication."

Once you accept this "vision" of the empowered individual viewing his or her inbox, forward-thinking strategies and tactics pop out naturally.

Consider, for example, this article from Karen Gedney. Herself an email marketing expert, she writes from the perspective of the would-be email recipient returning from a two-week trip to Iceland.

Her article is full of all the related consumer needs and marketing opportunities that travel organizations could have addressed through email...if they'd thought about things from the subscriber perspective.

Food for thought (Thorramatur presumably).

More on the New Email Marketing | Tags:

Permalink | July 24, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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Google's Knol is described by many as an alternative Wikipedia, supporting articles written by groups of named authors to ensure accountability.

I pitched in with an article on email marketing. It's intended as a more balanced view and introduction than you typically get from public venues.

You can help by reviewing or commenting on the piece at Knol. Or sign-up and suggest edits and additions. Knol credits contributors by name.

July 22, 2008
Now there's a thought. Bill Nussey raised the issue in a post a few days ago and I decided to test it out here at the Email Marketing Reports site.

The theory


Typical advice on optimizing sign-up forms and pages suggests including explicit reassurances on privacy, rather than just a link to a privacy policy. Here's how my sign-up form does it, with the little "your privacy is guaranteed" note:

sign-up form

On my sign-up page, there are also reassurances that submitted email addresses are not sold or passed on to third-party advertisers etc., reflecting my actual privacy policy and practices.

The research cited by Nussey suggests that in some circumstances, mentioning your privacy safeguards gets people thinking about privacy issues they might otherwise never have considered. The result can be increased reluctance to submit personal data.

Could it be that removing that privacy reassurance might bring more sign-ups?

Here's the alternative sign-up form that ran for the last two weeks:

sign-up form

(I also removed the privacy reassurance from the main sign-up page.)

The "visitor to subscriber" conversion rate for the "no mention of privacy" alternative was 23% higher than for the standard form with privacy reassurance.

Let's clarify that...by removing privacy reassurances on the sign-up forms and pages, visitors were 23% more likely to submit their email address.

Stop a moment, though, before you rush off to change your own forms.

1. This was not a statistically rigorous A/B test. The standard form ran for two weeks, then the "privacy free" form for the next two weeks. It could be that some other factor improved sign-up rates, such as better qualified website traffic.

2. Though 23% is a big difference, it's still just about within the boundaries of normal fluctuations in subscriber conversion rates.

So it may be that the improvements are random and there is no direct link between removing the privacy assurance and increasing conversions.

Nevertheless, it certainly suggests you might consider testing this phenomenon yourself with your site and audience.

3. Supposing you find that mentioning privacy hurts sign-ups...this doesn't imply you should ignore privacy. Your actual policies should still be protective of the subscriber in the spirit of ethical email marketing based on explicit permission.

It should still be clear what people are getting when they sign up, so they can make an informed decision about submitting their address. Equally, your privacy policy should also be accessible and address the fate of email addresses clearly.

4. Perhaps it's not about the presence or absence of a privacy reassurance, but the wording of that reassurance.

Is "Your privacy is guaranteed" too vague and tenuous to be truly reassuring? Does it instead raise doubts? Perhaps a more specific statement would have a more positive influence, such as:

"Your email address will never be passed on to others"
"Your email address is only used to send you newsletters"


...or similar.

The critical lesson is perhaps simply to be more critical about accepted truths and simplifications. Test, test, test and test some more. Then test again later to see if anything's changed.

If anyone else has tested sign-up form language, please let us know your insights!

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Permalink | July 22, 2008 | 6 comment(s)
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July 14, 2008
This blog is taking a vacation back home in the UK until July 22nd, when I'll post more sign-up test results, the final parts of the New Email Marketing series and reviews of some interesting reports.

My creative juices are so low, I'm thinking of entering them for the next Pan-Caribbean Limbo Dancing Invitational. So for the next few days, this is me:

a meerkat


Permalink | July 14, 2008 | 1 comment(s)
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July 10, 2008
new symbolThose looking for advice on how to deal with inactive addresses or old lists should head over to the new reactivation category at the main site.

The numerous articles referenced cover topics such as reactivation campaigns, tactics for reconfirming an opt-in, best practices for mailing to old address lists, and similar.

(The main site is undergoing a refit and more topic reviews like this will pop out of the process: watch this space.)

Permalink | July 10, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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Every article on growing your list says something like "ensure you have a sign-up form on every page at your website."

It's advice we never question. But is it really necessary to have the actual form on every page? Can we, instead, have a smaller newsletter box with no form, but a link to a more detailed sign-up page?

Why would we want this? Because forms take up valuable space on a web page. Remove the form and you free up space for alternative uses. And if someone wants to sign-up, surely the extra click won't matter?

I did a rough and ready test using two different newsletter sign-up boxes in the right-hand column here at the Email Marketing Reports website. Here the results:

sign-up box with form sign-up box without form

The "website visitor to subscriber" conversion rate for the box on the left was 8.3% higher than for the box on the right.

The result's not a big surprise: the box on the left likely grabs more attention on the page, leading to more sign-ups. But could we tweak the box on the right to eliminate that 8.3% difference?

What if we kept the box the same size, but dropped the form and replaced it with more copy "selling" the subscription? It wouldn't free up space, but it might lead to even better conversions.

And what about the extra space we gained? Can we measure the benefits and compare with the costs (i.e. fewer new subscribers). Maybe that 8.3% loss is worth it.

And what about subscriber quality? Those "forced" to visit the main sign-up page will have clear and accurate expectations of subsequent emails. Those who sign-up without using that "more info" link might not. Will the latter unsubscribe quicker?

How many do sign-up directly in that box? An average 72% do so, meaning at least 28% visited the "more info" sign-up page before submitting their email address.

A lot of sites have a sign-up form everywhere, but with no link to a more detailed page outlining subscription benefits etc. Are they missing out on that 28%?

Testing continues...fun, isn't it?

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July 09, 2008
one personRounding off a brief triumvirate of posts on personalization is a recommendation to get hold of a new Aberdeen Group report on the topic. (Temporary open access.)

The report looks at the challenges to improving personalization and highlights the best practices associated with high-performance email marketing programs.

There's also survey data on how tactics like segmentation and advanced personalization improve your numbers. The report ends with recommendations on specific actions and strategies to take to so you can capture these improvements yourself.

Much food for thought in there, even if putting those recommendations into practice is easier said than done.

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Permalink | July 09, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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one personWords and definitions are not a trivial matter in email marketing, as this post on opt-in definitions demonstrates. Which is why it pays to use the right ones.

One word bandied around with much abandon is "personalization" and it seems a good time to explain how it's used. That way you can ensure you understand exactly what practice relevant articles and blog posts are talking about.

In my experience, articles about personalized emails refer to one or more of three different things:

Use of first name or some other personal salutation


This is where the first name or similar is featured in the subject line or at the top of an email's introductory or editorial text. Examples:

Subject: Hey Mark, the new Acme catalog is online

Dear Mark,

Our all-new catalog is waiting with 2009 models...


This kind of personalization can raise responses but needs careful application.

First, different audiences respond differently to the use of personal salutations, so it always makes sense to test your list first to see the impact.

Second, personalization of subject lines used to be a common spammer tactic, so also needs careful testing before being used.

Third, you need to ensure your data on names is reliable, otherwise unfortunate things can happen.

Inclusion of personal data in the email


This is the kind of personalization addressed in the research reported yesterday. Information about the recipient is displayed or mentioned in the email.

Examples might be address details, lists of past purchases, personal preferences etc.

The research suggested this data is best included when the information displayed has a clear connection to the email's content.

Amazon does it well with its "You recently bought a book on Tibetan Buddhism, so we thought you might like this new book on the Dalai Lama" approach.

Another role for this kind of personalization is in reassuring recipients of the authenticity of the email.

Financial institutions might include the recipient's postal address to demonstrate that the email really is from the bank (since phishers have no access to this kind of data).

Customization of the outgoing email to reflect some characteristic of the recipient


This refers to all the different ways you might modify an email's content to make it more relevant and targeted to the recipient. (The Amazon example above combines the display of personal data with this third kind of personalization.)

An example might be only sending notice of a new store opening to email subscribers who live within a 50km radius of that store's location.

At its extreme, this kind of personalization involves sending unique messages to each recipient. Each such message is customized according to the recipient's expressed preferences and the demographic, transactional and behavioral data known about that recipient.

You can explore these concepts in the categories on targeting and advanced tactics.

Tags: , , , ,

July 08, 2008
upside down email symbolThere's nothing more satisfying than spreading a little chaos into our comfortable world of truisms and generalizations.

Only last week we discovered subject line length might be more complicated than we thought. And today it's the turn of personalization. Oh happy day.

Thanks to reader Todd Sweet for alerting me to some intriguing research work at the College of Business at the University of Illinois.

In the original research paper*, the authors examined how the presence of personal data in a commercial email influences clickthrough intentions.

Common sense suggests that, for example, incorporating the recipient's location in the email ought to boost results by connecting more with the reader:

"Dear Mark,

As a resident of Austria, you'll love our..."

Essentially, the researchers discovered that such use of personal data in a commercial email can have a negative impact where there is no clear justification for it.

They write: "Higher personalization appears to reduce effectiveness when the customer is given no reason for why their personal information is being used."

Further research showed that there was more tolerance for this kind of disconnect where the email had more value to the recipient.

Here are the lessons I took away:

1. Displaying a recipient's personal information just for the sake of it can backfire: recipients may feel threatened.

2. If you do display personal data, only do so where there is an explicit connection between this data and the email's content. Like this:

"As a resident of Vienna, we'd like to invite you to the opening of our new store in the 7th district."

3. The more useful your emails, the more recipients tolerate sub-optimal practices.

Most important:

4. Personalization is more about tailoring your email's content based on what you know about the recipient (demographics, past clickthrough behavior, purchase records etc.) and less about showing off to recipients how much you know about them.

But as always, don't take anybody's word for it: test your list to see what works for you.

*White, T.B. et al (2008) Market Lett. 19:39-50

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Permalink | July 08, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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Yesterday I subscribed to a newsletter at a well-known media site using a new email address. After submitting my information, this is the message displayed:

subscribe message

Fine.

I also unsubscribed from all emails from that site using my old email address. After submitting my unsubscribe request, this is the message displayed:

subscribe message

Spot the problem? This kind of "minor" error can plant enough uncertainty in the mind of the would-be unsubscriber for them to hit the "report spam" button just to be sure.

Checked your admin messages recently? (I haven't: time I should.)

N.B. Dylan Boyd has a quick overview of what to audit in your subscribe process here.

July 07, 2008
email certificateRounding off the mini-series on certification and accreditation is a look at what the future holds.

In this article, certification services and deliverability experts give their views of this future.

I see certification as unavoidable in the long-term, if you're running a high-quality email marketing program. But the article raises various issues, including the role of certification for those bulk email senders that don't have ready cash to "pay to play" (like non-profits or hobby discussion lists).

If you have any comments on these issues -- or if you disagree with the basic premise that certification is the future of email marketing -- do take the opportunity to comment.

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Permalink | July 07, 2008 | 2 comment(s)
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July 03, 2008
email certificateContinuing our look at email certification and accreditation, time to give some free PR to the more popular services involved.

I've outlined the main accreditation features, benefits and reach of the three biggies in the market, and invited each to submit their own comments on what makes them stand out.

So take a look at Return Path's Sender Score Certified, the Habeas SafeList and Goodmail System's CertifiedEmail.

Another option is SuretyMail, which operates under the radar of the email marketing media, but has strong relationships with ISPs and well-known anti-spam technology providers (like SpamAssassin and Postini).

Anne Mitchell discusses the SuretyMail model and why you've probably never heard of them before in this exclusive interview.

Still to come in this mini-series: what role will certification play in the future?

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Permalink | July 03, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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July 02, 2008
email symbolGetting emails into inboxes is the aim. And email certification / accreditation can be a big help. But how do you know if it makes sense for your situation?

This article identifies the issues you need to consider and gets industry experts to chime in with advice.

It's the first of several articles on the topic. Still to come: a look at the major certification options out there, a closer look at one option you probably don't know about (but should) and expert views on how certification might shape (or not) the future of email marketing...

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Permalink | July 02, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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July 01, 2008
You got a higher than normal open rate for the last email. Excellent. Must have been a great subject line. Unless, of course, the improvement was caused by...
  • a change in the from line so more people recognized the sender and opened the email
  • better branding in the preview pane, so more people recognized the sender and opened the email
  • clear information in the preview pane on the email's content, giving people good reason to investigate further
  • good use of alt tags, which led to people downloading images that were otherwise suppressed
  • you had an unusually large number of new subscribers arrive prior to sending the email, and new subscribers tend to produce the highest open rates
  • you added whitelisting instructions to your last email, meaning more people added you to their address book thus disabling image blocking
  • you sent the email at a different time to usual
  • you sent the email on a different day to usual
  • your reports include multiple opens and one of your subscribers forwarded your email to hundreds of colleagues and friends
  • you got more emails into the inbox and out of the junk file thanks to some backend deliverability improvements
  • you recently modified your sign-up form, so the newest subscribers were better targeted and more likely to open your email
Never assume the obvious explanation for improvement is the only explanation for improvement. Otherwise you might end up drawing the wrong conclusions about what works.

More on metrics | Tags:

Permalink | July 01, 2008 | 6 comment(s)
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