Design strategies for e-mail marketing success

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In the world of e-mail marketing, many factors drive a successful campaign. A common aspect that many marketers overlook is the actual message content and layout.

A company might have the best marketing promotional offer, but if it's not appealing to the eye, it isn't going to drive results.

Here are 12 steps for successful message creation.

Logo placement. Best practices have always said that the logo should be in the upper left hand corner of the e-mail. However, due to the prevalence of recipients viewing e-mails in the preview pane, it has become more important to save the top two to four inches of the e-mail real estate for the critical elements of the e-mail. Try to keep the logo in the top two to four inches, but do not feel that it must be in the upper left hand corner. Check the "from" address, often times the company name appears there already, making it less crucial that the logo is front and center in the e-mail design. With newsletters, it's critical to have a table of contents with easy Web navigation.

Message dimensions. Best practices state that table cell width of an e-mail message should be between 550 to 600 pixels. To determine dimensions, right click within the message and click "view source." Then locate the table cell width. If the e-mail dimensions are greater than 600 pixels, there is a chance that the recipient will need to scroll right and left to view the content of the message. If the e-mail is designed with a width of less than 550 pixels, space becomes constrained and the marketer loses valuable design space.

Call to action. Calls to action are often different based on the promotional or newsletter focus of an e-mail. In either case, the call to action should be crystal clear and concise. It should also be consistent with the objective, content and subject line of the e-mail. With newsletters, sometimes a call to action is not as easy to identify - however you should always highlight a feature as your call to action in all newsletters.

Call to action placement. Call to action placement should occur above the fold. It's also recommended to highlight a feature. At the very least, make sure you have a call to action that stands out.

Content. The content of the message should be clear and easy to navigate. Avoid use of risky words like "free." Check to see if personalization and conditional content are being leveraged and if so, confirm that the positioning and use of the conditions are helping to drive the effectiveness of the mailings. Personalization might enhance the opens to click-throughs to call to actions. If your newsletter seems to be heavy on purchases or advertisements, you might consider an "editorial wrapping" versus a newsletter heavy on advertisements.

Above the fold design. Today, above the fold design is one of the most important sections of the Creative Scorecard. This is the top two to four inches of the e-mail. Above the fold design should always include: Web site navigation, logo, headline and call to action. In a newsletter, there must also be a table of contents. In a promotional e-mail, the headline is the definition/explanation of the offer

or promotion. In a newsletter, the headline is the title of the newsletter or perhaps the feature article. It is also important to keep "add to address book" copy above the fold.

Hierarchy of information. Based on Heat mapping research, recipients read HTML e-mails in an "F" shaped pattern. Recipients first read across the top of an e-mail. They then read down the left rail and finally read across the upper middle section. When reviewing the hierarchy of information, it is crucial that all critical elements of content occur in this "F" shaped design. Also, be certain that all calls to action and conditional content appear above the fold to enhance the campaign's performance.

Use of color and fonts. Best practices recommend the use of white backgrounds and dark copy. In addition, e-mail marketers should not use more than three to five fonts in an e-mail. A new font is considered to be any change font type, font size or font color.

Image versus HTML text. Best practices state that promotional e-mail messages should maintain a 50/50 image-to-text ratio. Newsletters, on the other hand, should have 30 percent images and 70 percent text. This is because recipients expect newsletters to contain more content.

Links. Be sure to check the key links within all compliant e-mails, specifically opt-outs, privacy policy and add-to-address-book instructions. There should be links to profile or subscription management pages. Is there useful Web site navigation? Do all the links work? Is it clear, based on the link, where you'll end up, and is that expectation met? Finally, avoid words like "click here." Use the design to make that obvious and further reduce spam-filtering scores.

Message length. E-mails should scroll for three screens. Newsletters are longer but include a table of contents above the fold.

Subject line. Keep subject lines to 37 characters or fewer (including spaces and punctuation). Avoid spammy words like "Free." Review the relevance of the subject line and insure it is personalized. Most importantly, does the subject line accurately describe the content of the e-mail? This is required, per CAN-SPAM. Make sure you are using subject line testing to determine the effectiveness of this critical design component.

Try these 12 best practice steps with an existing message. Give yourself a score between one and five for each and then an overall ranking by adding up the totals. If you have a perfect 60, you are certainly designing for success. If your total is less then 40, you can drive better results from your message by paying closer attention to each of these best practices areas.

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