E-mail marketing: Design best practices
By now you’ve probably heard all about the wonders of e-mail marketing as a powerful cost-effective tool from a number of industry experts. You may also have heard that blasting out e-mails is definitely not the right way to go about it. Well, no problem! You’ve now caught up on all legal requirements and best practices. You’re using a professional e-mail service provider (ESP) to send your mailings. But what about actually designing your campaign?
Not all folks are tech-savvy enough to set up a visually appealing yet HTML-friendly e-mail campaign. Bear in mind that you’ll need to carefully code your HTML in such a way that spam filters (eg SpamAssassin) don’t mistake your newsletter for spam. This is a problem that affects a growing number of small and medium businesses taking their first tentative steps in the cut-throat world of e-mail marketing – if your e-mail design can’t successfully engage your mailing list subscribers in just a few seconds, you may as well call it quits.
No biggie, you say. After all, you can simply get a ready-made e-mail template off the Net and use it as your own. Googling up e-mail templates will get you almost 100 million results for you to tediously sift through, which neatly encapsulates your next problem: time and money, in that order.
Which e-mail template will you choose from the myriad of options available on the Web? Should you go for a free template or pay up for a tailor-made design?
We’ve recently got ourselves a similar dilemma when it came to deciding on which e-mail design would be the most effective. In this case, we wanted to invite our subscribers to take up a special offer by signing up at our website.
Design proposal 1:
After a quick project briefing, our designer fired up his graphics software arsenal, toiled away for about an hour and proudly came up with the layout below, which he then proceed to code in clean, elegant HTML. Looking good so far!
Design proposal 2:
Just for kicks, we set up a second campaign by simply editing an already existing e-mail template and replacing a few pics. We put this together in less than 10 minutes, with no coding or design knowledge.
We split tested both campaigns to find out which would get us the highest amount of new sign-ups. The first, all-singing, all-dancing, design-heavy campaign was sent out to 178 subscribers and brought in 44 sign-ups. Success rate: 25%.
But wait! The second, no-frills text-focused campaign, sporting the same subject line, got 39 sign-ups out of 128 people in the same subscriber database. Success rate: 30%.
That’s not a typo. The barebones version of the e-mail not only stood tall against the sleeker version’s results, but actually surpassed its flashier brother across all metrics. A campaign taking far less time and money to get up and running drove a higher response rate. Why? The fact that the second version’s call to action is both cleaner and looks more like a standard e-mail may have had something to do with it. Should you always opt for the simplicity of free templates then? Well, not necessarily.
A plain, almost text-only template served us well this time, but it might have not worked if the e-mail required a lot of pictures to be present (eg a product catalogue). Even then, designers tend to favour a glossy approach, but we may feel differently, especially in light of the above results. Programmers will probably be on our side though, as graphics-heavy e-mails are prone to trigger spam filters. So what does all of this mean to you?
Basically it means that first and foremost you need to set a clear goal for your email marketing campaign and keep it in mind at all times. Decide well in advance how exactly you want your target audience to react to your mailing and stick to this plan. Make sure that your design actually enhances rather than obfuscates your call to action. And if you do need a professional, tailor-made design, ensure that your creative brief is comprehensive enough to cover all bases.
Then, when your campaign is ready to go, test it across different webmail services and e-mail clients. Don’t forget to split-test it on a sample of your audience and analyze your results as well.
But don’t go overboard with testing. Eventually, you’ll need to go live and actually send your campaign out. Keep tabs on the results and learn from your experience by honing your e-mail design to suit your audience profile.
The lesson? Your subscriber’s behaviour is key to your e-mail marketing success. Follow their needs and preferred communication channels (tip: look beyond e-mail) and you’ll be sure to reap the rewards.