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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Email Design Best Practices

One hour before the event started, I learned about a webinar titled "Email Design Best Practices" presented by Kara Trivunovic, the founder of The Email Advisor ( I'm very busy but the recent Email Marketing Certification course I took last week with MarketingExperiments ( still has be buzzing with interest, ideas and questions about optimizing email design. One more hour with a leading industry expert is easily justified.

Kara covered a lot of ground in an hour but here are the highlights. Firstly, she defined email success using a 40/40/20 rule.

40% of success requires a good audience
40% of success requires a good offer at the right time
20% of success requires good creative design

She followed this up by quoting a colleague of hers saying something like "writing about a good offer on a cocktail napkin using lipstick is acceptable as long as you give it to the right person and the right time." Clearly, Kara is referring to the big buzz word in our industry...RELEVANCE. It's important to send interesting and engaging emails to your customers at the time they're most likely to be receptive in order to maximize effectiveness and minimize unsubscribers due to recipient frustration. As an accountant, "relevance" as outlined in the FASB "Statements of Financial Accounting Concepts" is easy for me to relate to.

Five Email Design Secrets

I'll only summarize Kara's "Secrets" here and hope that you'll read more on The Email Advisor blog and sign up for their newsletter on the website at

Secret #1:
Limit font variations because it's distracting, and don't make it flash on and off. This refers to the font face, weight, color and size and includes the use in text and image copy.

Secret #2: White is the new Black - Keep background colors white or light because it improves readability. This is in contrast to the recent trend towards dark or black backgrounds with white/light text. I wear glasses now that I'm ... ripening and could not agree more with this. I'm sure that if your message is targeted to a younger crowd, rules like this need to be flexible.

Secret #3:
Images don't have to be static. In other words, if you can identify two or more different audiences within your mailing list and feel sending each their own version of an image in the email would make the email more relevant, then do it. All Web Email, and many other ESPs, can customize virtually any piece of your email from email header fields, Subject, body copy (text) and even images. (We don't actively advertise this, but we even customize your messages to ISPs like AOL, Yahoo & Hotmail using individualized delivery rules, in order to maximize your deliveries to the Inbox).

Secret #4:
It's all about the Golden Triangle. The what?? In short, your message has to do a lot in the top 250 pixels (2-4 inches) of the email. You need to squeeze in your Headline, Brand, Navigation, Offer, Call To Action, Table of Contents (newlsletters) and potentially Unsubscribe instructions. WOW! Don't waste the top of your email with pretty logos and other irrelevant information. Get right to the meat and potatos.

Secret #5:
Write at 60 miles per hour. Kara refers to scanning emails with a billboard mentality. You've got about 3 seconds to communicate your message and get them to engage, Folks don't read email any longer, they scan ("F" shaped eye-scan pattern). It's important to keep your message short and sweet. Newsletter type emails have a bit more flexibility here due to the nature of the content and the audience. However, I would still suggest you stay on topic.

Here is the most important lesson I learned. "Never use the same Subject line over and over". I am so guilty! Actually, this makes perfect sense. Kara suggests that using the same Subject line repeatedly, like you might do to announce your recurring newsletter, causes the Subject to become "virtual wallpaper". Recipients simply recognize the Subject, glaze over, and move on to the next message in their Inbox. Subjects should do more to excite the reader and lead them to Open it and read it. I was able to apply this new secret golden nugget for a client, about 30 minutes after the end of the webinar. We have a client that sends a newsletter to their entire list once a month.

Old Subject: Skyline Update...

New Subject: Skyline New Club Skyline Benefits

This email isn't scheduled for delivery until Friday, but I will report back on the Open rate statistics of this campaign, as an addendum to this article. Stay tuned!

Thank you Kara and The Email Advisor for a great webinar. I hope those of you reading this will get one or more golden pieces of information that you can instantly implement, to improve your email effectiveness. I did!

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