So, you want to launch an email marketing campaign and access an untapped source of prospective clients? That’s a great idea — email is a low-cost, instant and interactive way to reach an audience.
But before you break out a text-heavy email equivalent of “War and Peace,” or a hodge-podge of swirling GIFs and flashing, colored typefaces, ask yourself two questions:
- How many marketing emails did you get today?
- Of those, how many did you actually read?
Let’s face it: We’re all overwhelmed with email. A report from The Radicati Group states that 269 billion emails are sent daily, and it predicts the number will reach 319.6 billion by the end of 2021.
If your email doesn’t make an immediate impression, it’s going to get lost in that swirling sea of mediocrity. Chances are, it will either go straight to the trash bin, or — if you’re lucky — be relegated to an ever-growing e-stack of “I’ll read that later” messages.
The first things a reader notices when surfing their inbox are the subject line and summary. If you don’t pique their interest there, the rest of the email may as well be blank.
One of the best ways to do this is through personalization. You might recall a famous tip from Dale Carnegie, who developed influential courses in salesmanship and corporate training: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
However, unless you’re sending just a handful of marketing emails, using someone’s name isn’t recommended — it’s a spam trigger, which we discuss below. In fact, it’s not even possible with most email management software systems.
Instead, personalize by using the next-best thing: the pronoun “you.” The concept is the same as one we pointed out in our recent post on fundraising brochures: It’s a “power word” that appeals to emotion, because it makes potential customers feel like you’re talking directly to them.
Eye Candy: How Much Is Too Much?
An eye-catching image is always a great touch. However, while a picture may be worth a thousand words, if that picture doesn’t load — a reality in many email inboxes — all your reader will see is blank space. And while one or two blank spaces might be forgivable, a whole page of them won’t go over well.
Those blank spaces are why using alt tags and title text properly is crucial. Alt tags and title tags are text that explains an image — they’re used by screen readers for those who are visually impaired, but also to take the place of an image if there’s a problem. So if that “thousand word” photo doesn’t load, at least a few words will appear in its place so the reader can get the gist. You can learn more about both in this tutorial from Yoast.
Steer away, too, from excessive use of email graphics that may not load — both in the email preview pane and in the body of an email template, as well as gimmicks such as the aforementioned multi-colored, flashing type or animated GIFs. As the saying goes, “everything in moderation.” Still, you need some sort of visual hook, or you risk boring the reader with too much text — which brings us to the next point:
Don’t Get Text Heavy
The text, or content, of the email is important. While it needs to present your pitch and describe your product or services, too much text will overwhelm the reader.
To avoid this, write succinctly. Edit, and re-edit, for clarity and brevity. If longer explanations are needed, use short text blocks that contain a link to the full articles, landing pages, or descriptions of products or services, all housed on your website.
Break up the text with subheads, which will guide a reader to relevant information. That ensures they’ll be able to quickly find what they need, or want, without feeling like they’ll have to slog through every word.
Provide an Exit Plan
All marketing emails must comply with the 2003 CAN-SPAM Law. Part of that compliance means providing recipients with an easy-to-find “unsubscribe” option.
This not only is the law; it’s smart. If a reader can’t find an unsubscribe option, they’ll most likely mark your email as spam. That usually means email servers across the board will be more likely to flag your emails as spam, too, affecting your deliverability to other potential customers.
Your marketing email also needs to include your company’s physical address, and in some cases, a notice that the email is an advertisement. Read the CAN-SPAM law to ensure you’re compliant.
Beware the Spam Filter
Spam filters look for specific words. The more of those “spam triggers” your email contains, the higher the likelihood it will be assigned a negative spam score. And if those words are in the subject line, the filters will likely go into overdrive.
Automational put together a pretty comprehensive list of spam trigger words — 438 of them — in 2016. For instance, phrases such as “This isn’t a scam,” “Eliminate bad credit” and even “Email marketing” are all spam triggers.
The Oxford Dictionary, on the other hand, lists 171,476 words currently in use in the English language. Yet even with 171,038 words left to choose from, you’ll still be hard-pressed to write an email without using some of those spam triggers. Your best bet is to avoid them when possible, and limit their use when it’s not.
Other spam triggers: subject lines with both an exclamation point and a question mark; emails that are heavy with images or GIFS; using free webmail providers like Google or Yahoo; and using subject lines that contain numbers over 100 percent (for instance, “There’s a 110 percent chance this email will be marked as spam.”)
It’s All About Format
Sending just an HTML email — or sending only a plain-text email — will increase the likelihood of triggering a spam filter and adding to the spam score we mentioned earlier.
It’s best, then, to send an HTML-email that contains an option for a plain-text version. Most email management software systems make allowances for this; just ensure that the plain text version isn’t wildly different from the HTML version — that’s also a spam trigger.
One last note: Many email service providers strip CSS coding from the <body> and <head> portions of an email template. Inline CSS is a better bet; using <font> and <p> tags within your email template is better yet for consistency.
Testing — and Proofing — Makes Perfect
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: proof your work. If a reader sees a glaring error, that email is most likely headed straight for the trash bin or spam folder.
As part of your proofing process, test your marketing email by sending it to a small group of recipients — and not just the ones on your office’s email server. This way, you’ll be able to ensure the design shows up the way you intended across multiple email service providers; that it doesn’t go straight to the spam folder, and that all links work properly.