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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Best Practices For Email Design

Business before pleasure. So goes an old adage that reminds you how you should place your obligation above the pursuit of your own gratification. The same can be said of graphic design in emails. Graphic designers, biased by their training, often place beauty above function and what works. The designs in emails that get the highest readership and response are often night and day apart from what looks good to the eyes. Many high converting emails may not win an art award but they accomplish what they were meant to do-make more sales.

Here are the six most important factors you should consider when designing your emails.

1. Do not overshadow the message with the graphics.

If your graphic design is so fancy that it causes the reader to pause and be wowed by the design, then your message will be likely to get lost. The purpose of the graphics is to help relay your message, and not compete with it. This does not mean that you want your emails to have a shabby design because this is just as harmful, but like salt which enhances the flavor of your food, too much can kill you. The purpose of the design is to make a professional first impression and lead the email recipients into the marketing message of the email and not to blunt this message.

2. Go easy with the header graphics.

Most websites would have a 'header graphic' across the top of the page which may show your company's logo and a tagline. Most email graphic designers may try to repeat this in the email itself. Now keep in mind that the preview section of the email (what the reader sees without scrolling) is the most crucial real estate for your email. If you fill this section with your company logo and graphic, then you are missing an important opportunity to pull the reader into reading the remainder of your email. The point here is that this preview section of the email should be used to convince the reader to continue reading the email. While brand recognition is important and a logo does this easily, don't make it any larger than absolutely necessary.

3. Design with graphic blockers in mind.

Keep in mind that most popular email clients such as AOL Desktop, Gmail and Outlook 2003 & 2007 block images as the default setting. This means that these clients would only see space holders or Alt tags where the images should be. (Don't forget to use ALT tags!) Of course the email recipients can choose to turn on images, but this is an extra step that you don't want to count on. What the designer must do then is create a layout, so even if the images do not show up, the message would not be adversely affected. Also keep in mind that the design elements and technology available in email is still behind that for the web and not every HTML design element is available for the email platform.

4. Avoid graphic response buttons

Your emails are sent out with a response device that usually involves a link that the reader must click to get to a website for more information or to make a purchase. If your "click here" links are replaced with graphics and the email client doesn't show these graphics then the reader cannot respond to your email. This would drastically reduce your click-through rate (CTR) since there is nothing to click on. It's best to keep all your calls to action as simple text links that would show up in both text and HTML formatted emails. This doesn't mean that graphic button cannot be used to support the text link, but the graphic buttons should not stand on their own.

5. Keep the unique email medium in mind.

Email is a unique medium quite unlike a webpage, a flyer or print ad. In order to adapt to the more popular email clients, it is wise to view your messages in these clients before sending out a campaign to your subscribers. Email clients like Microsoft Outlook can have a preview pane for viewing a portion of an email without actually opening the entire message. These preview pane areas are further limited depending on the screen size which can drastically affect how much of your message the recipient sees without scrolling down through the message.

Just as web browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox & Safari render the same web page differently, each email client renders an HTML email differently. Additionally, the HTML language commands we take for granted when creating a web page don't necessarily work as intended in the HTML email client. Explaining exactly what does and does not work is beyond the scope of this article, but as a rule, keep things simple and test your copy before sending. Many email service providers, like All Web Email, have tools to help you see exactly what your email will look like in all of the top email clients, with images turned on and with images turned off. This identifies areas to fix BEFORE the message gets to your customers.

6. Remember the purpose of your email.

Keep in mind the purpose of your email when considering your design AND that you can only do the following two things in an email:

A. Share information or knowledge (Order confirmation, newsletter article, dates, reminders, etc.)

B. Guide the recipient to your webpage where you can actually sell something or gather additional information. (You can't sell anything in an email)

Since you can't sell or gather anything in an email, don't try. If you're trying to gather information or sell something, use the email opportunity to make a strong case that the recipient should click on the email link taking them to your website where you can continue the conversation. And don't forget to ask for the click using a clearly defined link that restates your value proposition. Don't simply say "Click Here". Instead use something like "Click here for your free report" or "Start enjoying now".


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