How to design your e-mail copy to maximize response

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All too often e-mail marketers make mistakes that can easily be avoided with an understanding of the subtle differences between postal and e-mail campaigns.

In the postal world, there has evolved an area of expertise in the design of direct mail pieces. Consultants regularly tout their success in developing "controls" - mail pieces with a proven track record of high response.

Unfortunately, the e-mail world has some catching up to do. A committee often designs e-mail messages, generally with less than ideal results.

The key to developing an effective e-mail campaign is to remember that everything about your e-mail copy should be focused on one objective - getting the recipient to click through to your landing page. Everything else, including branding, product details and awareness, is secondary.

Understanding this is just the first step. Common, yet easily preventable mistakes, include:

Too much copy. Unlike direct mail, the longer the copy the lower the response. The point of e-mail copy is to motivate the recipient to click on the links that take them to your landing page, not to sell the product.

Lengthy subject line. Subject lines of 35 characters or less are best. Why? Most e-mail clients automatically cut off the subject line after 40 characters (look at your own and count them).

Only one thought per subject line, please. Use the subject line to communicate one clear idea. Remember that you may be competing with hundreds of other e-mails in the inbox.

At that volume, the recipient can only scan the subjects, and if your subject is too complicated they'll hit the delete button. Take your cue from the leading e-mail marketers - the spammers. Their subject lines are short, to the point and rather effective.

No clear call to action. The subject line should compel the recipient to take action. The subject is no place to for branding, product announcements or listing the products benefits. Ask the recipient to DO something.

Hard-to-find URLs. Fit your link in the preview pane. The top two inches of your message is the most valuable real estate. Put your landing page URL in that space so the recipient does not have to hunt for it. URLs that are set apart in large boxes with a different color also tend to do well.

Too many offers. Make one offer and stick to it. Resist the temptation to load your message with too many offers. Again, remember that the job of the e-mail is not to sell but to get the recipient to click. More than one offer requires the recipient to give too many items consideration before making a decision, which decreases response.

Poorly worded opt-outs. Word the opt-out carefully. Spam filters are designed to find words that are unique to promotional messages. Words or phrases like "remove me" or "unsubscribe" are rarely, if ever, used in personal correspondence, so you need to avoid these obvious marketing terms.

Try something innocuous such as "If you don't want to hear from us" and be sure the URL does not contain trigger words either.

Failure to get spam scored. If you're renting an e-mail list, ask your list firm if it can spam score your e-mail. If it does not offer scoring, look into commercial products from providers such as Return Path (www.returnpath.com) or investigate open source alternatives such as SpamAssassin (www.spamassassin.org).

Bad timing. Ask your provider what times tend to work best for your type of offer. For business to business, we find that from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST works best for a nationwide offer. For consumer offers, we find that weekends yield the highest response.

Poorly designed landing pages. Make it obvious what you want the recipients to do. Whether they just need to give their e-mail address or fill out a qualification form, put it right up front. Do not fill your landing page with a lot of text, requiring the recipient to scroll down to fill out the form. Never force recipients to click to another page before they can take action.

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