E-commerce Link: Time for a Tuneup
Is your e-mail design working hard enough for you? There are many elements that go into any e-mail template: the pre-header, the header, setting the appropriate width, deciding on the number of columns, calls to action and more. All of these need to fit together harmoniously to provide your readers with a good experience that motivates them to click through for more.
Here are some ideas you can put to use to help you tune up your e-mail template(s):
• The pre-header: This element is at the very top of your e-mail, which is usually above the logo. The text included here is generally smaller than the font size used for the body of the e-mail. Any recipient who has the preview pane enabled first will see whatever information you have here.
Consumer marketers should consider including a snippet or short statement highlighting the main message. Often, the snippet is a variation of the subject line, although it also could consist of a table of contents if the e-mail features multiple stories. Below that, the marketer could include additional administrative messaging such as "view online version," "add us to your safe list" and even "forward to a friend."
B-to-B marketers may have on-the-go professionals viewing e-mails on mobile devices. If so, there can be display or rendering issues with the balance of the message. The first item this audience should see is some variation of "view mobile version." If recipients click on this, take them to a text or HTML-lite version of the content with no images for ease of viewing.
• Header and navigation: This area contains your logo along with other elements such as the name of the e-mail program, a positioning statement and the date. Roughly, 30 percent to 40 percent of promotional e-mails and informational newsletters include site navigation tabs to major online departments. If you use this technique, cull the number of tabs to include only your major areas.
The height of the header should be compact. Those who view e-mails in the preview pane should be able to see some of your content or offer. A large header takes up a lot of room and cuts down on your effectiveness and readability.
• E-mail width: Conventional wisdom says that your e-mail should be between 600 and 700 pixels wide. This width gives you the best chance of having it display in the variety of e-mail readers used by your recipients.
However, width standards are likely to change over the next year or so as more people use smartphones and other mobile devices to view their e-mails. Keep a pulse on your audience, and when the time is right, you may want to reduce the width of your e-mails to 550 or 500 pixels.
• Columns: Should a marketer use one column, two columns or more? There is no pat answer to this question. For example, promotional e-mails that highlight a sale or special offer are often a single pane. Personally, I have a bias toward using a two-column design for most e-mails, whether for a content-driven newsletter, promotion of one or more products or services, an alert, or a seminar invite.
The beauty of a two-column design is that it expands your options and enhances the readability of your e-mail. It's difficult for the eye to track across the full width of the e-mail, and much easier if the span is shorter.
The ClubSymantec e-newsletter (on page 15) focuses on those who use Symantec's Norton PC security products. The company follows best practices in the header—notice how compact it is, although the newsletter date takes up a fair amount of room and pushes the actual content down.
The pleasing two-column design allows Symantec to pack in a lot of information. The smaller left column has a table of contents, a graphic that depicts the threat level for viruses and spyware, and a sidebar with monthly tips.
In the feature column, Symantec uses a few graphics to add visual interest to its e-mail. The main story has a larger headline, a short text introduction and a large "Read More" button in orange, an attention-grabbing color.
• Calls to action: Always make sure the action you want your reader to take is clear and prominent—whether it is clicking a link to read more content, to view more about the offer or some other activity.
Lyris, a provider of e-mail and online marketing solutions, uses various types of e-mails to promote its white papers, webinars and newsletter. For its newsletter, the e-mail header includes a table of contents, the newsletter name and date, a positioning statement, and the choice of viewing a mobile or Web version of the newsletter.
The company uses a two-column design, and the graphics included are minimal but important, breaking up the content display. The newsletter's layout is simple, but easy to read and digest.
For each story in Lyris' main section, two links are included. The link to "read full article" is in orange, and there is another link next to it with an orange outline for "free related resources." In the smaller right-hand column, Lyris uses a blue call to action for its webinar asking readers to "register for the webinar."
• Color palette: A pleasing design incorporates a standard color palette. Keep the colors you use in your e-mails to the variations of three main colors, and use no more than three different fonts.
• Social media icons: If you actively use social media or believe some of your content is share-worthy, incorporate social media icons into your e-mail. Most e-mails include the major social networking symbols—such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter—at the bottom of the content. Some informational newsletters incorporate the logos at the end of each content clip. This is certainly a way to extend your reach, because readers who have a particular interest can share this subject matter with their networks.
These ideas should stimulate your thinking. Although there is no one right way to design e-mails, my hope is that you take away one or two ideas you might plan to test. The more you test, the more you will learn.
Regina Brady is president of Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions, a direct and e-mail marketing consultancy. She can be reached at (203) 838-8138 or firstname.lastname@example.org.