Email has more than proved its worth in the overall marketing mix, particularly when the rules are followed and sufficient focus is placed on the importance of wording, appearance and layout.
“Ask a group of people what they like least about email and most of them will probably say spam. A major problem is that there are many organisations worldwide that don’t adhere to eMarketing best practice, which creates additional barriers to getting the email delivered, as well as getting the best response from that email,” says Mia Papanicolaou, head of e-marketing at electronic messaging specialist Striata.
Careful planning and management of email marketing communications is critical, says Papanicolaou. A basic requirement is compliance with the Electronic Communications technology (ECT) Act but this in itself is not enough.
“There are basic standards that need to be met, from elements as straightforward as standardising on the ‘From’ name to ensuring the email is grammatically correct. Always provide a functional unsubscribe facility, never send email from an unattended mailbox and only communicate with customers that have requested to receive the information.
“It’s important to ensure the unsubscribe request is included in all emails, that it is easy to locate, read and use and that it actually works. The subject line must clearly convey what is contained in the email. Deceiving people in order to get them to open emails with misleading subject lines is an absolute no-no.”
Subject lines should make sense to recipients and encourage them to open the email. Capital letters, dollar signs, currency values and exclamation marks should not be used and the following words should be avoided – free, money, sex, girls, power, powerful, maximise and profit, as they could be stopped as spam.
Email campaigns must be carefully planned with great attention to detail. Beyond the wording, the design and layout are also critical because they influence response. Incorrect use of colours and images could result in the email being blocked as spam, says Papanicolaou. The logo should always appear at the top of the email and the layout should promote easy reading and navigation.
“It is advisable to keep email templates consistent. Ensure links and important information are always in the same position and never try to fit an offline mailer into an online environment – use elements but not the whole design. It pays to constantly think of how people read online and how the email appears in the preview pane.”
The lowest common denominator should always be considered. For example, many people read their email in a dimly lit room – a factor that affects background colours, because dark colours render the words difficult to read. Many don’t have high-specification equipment so it is important to create the template for a 800×600 pixel screen, and to keep the size of email small as landline connections to the Internet can often be very slow. A lot of people disconnect from the Internet after they’ve downloaded email so it is important to design the template so that copy can be read without need for images.
Papanicolaou believes it good practice to provide a text version for each email with copy adjusted to read well for text while still conveying the branding – graphics aren’t worthwhile when the audience can’t read the email.
Make the text as readable as possible and use shorter sentences and paragraphs with clear white space between them. This avoids the intimidating appearance of endless paragraphs of tightly packed text.
It helps to highlight the content with headings and a short ‘blurb’ with the rest of the copy posted on a landing page or webpage on the Internet. An index containing the email’s main points should be placed in the email preview pane. Simple colours are more important for legibility than the actual font type.
Studies by Eyetrack III on people looking at websites for an hour showed that their eyes most often fixated on the upper left of the page. Dominant headlines, especially those placed at top left, most often drew the eye.
“It is the little things that will differentiate between a successful email communication and a poor one,” says Papanicolaou. “Attention to detail and simplicity most often win the prize.”