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“You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression” and thanks to the ‘delete key’ this is especially true when it comes to email marketing.

Today there’s more than a 50% chance[1] that your emails will be first opened on a smart phone or mobile device. That said, it’s not a case of either or. At some point the email may also be viewed on a computer screen or tablet as people often access their emails from multiple devices at different times and for potentially different purposes.

For many of us, the mobile phone acts as a filter to quickly identify those emails that you want to review, read or action later. It is therefore important to make sure emails are suitable to be displayed in multiple environments. As we have discussed previously, consistent email presentation and rendering is a topic in itself.

1. Measure twice, cut once

Always have a pre-launch audit check-list, that is, have a system in place for checking key components of the email before you send it.

It is actually quite surprising how many email marketers rush the testing phase prior to email deployment. No doubt speed to market and resource pressures are demanding and whilst you’re not launching the Apollo 13, a methodical approach to pre-launch checks for eDM deployment is very important. Getting the basics wrong can result in wasted effort, it can be embarrassing and potentially very costly.

Always factor in time to send test emails (proofs) to at least yourself for checking. However, having a fresh set of eyes can be invaluable. When we create emails it’s sometimes difficult to spot our own errors. Where possible, having a proofing and approval process that automatically incorporates content stakeholders is useful. Combing vested interests with accountability will usually help ensure quality is maintained, at least in terms of content accuracy.

As a minimum, send yourself proof emails to make sure the content, pricing and other details are correct.

Other important aspects to check include:

  • Links work as expected

  • Images are clear on mobile and desktop

  • If you’re including personalisation and segmentation, always send “live proofs” to yourself to ensure it works

  • Check subject lines are accurate

  • Ensure SPF and DKIM sender authentication are set up properly

  • Link tracking code is enabled

  • Confirm scheduled deployment date and time set are correct

  • Preferred speed of deployment set

  • Check the unsubscribe link is included and functional

  • Make sure external analytics tracking is active

  • Ensure the layout stacks as expected on mobile and desktop (see above “Email client testing” for more).

Depending on what system you use to manage your email marketing, most of the items listed above can be checked automatically by the system itself, with a pre-launch audit report produced upon request. In Taguchi for example we provide a “Activity Check” audit for this purpose. Even so, make sure that as part of your pre-launch check list, you review the system's output to ensure each item is as expected prior to deployment.

Importantly, things change over time, so make sure you build in a process to routinely revisit your pre-launch check list to ensure it still covers all the key areas that need validating before you deploy.

Stairs

2. Unfortunately, size really does matter

When it comes to email marketing, believe it or not, size matters a lot. This is because your email has to be delivered to a range of different inbox environments, some that are old, some with viewing panes open, some closed, some with kb size restrictions, others that struggle with format consistency when emails are too long etc. That’s on top of ensuring your email renders correctly in the main desktop, webmail and mobile email clients. Therefore, when it comes to email size and width, it’s important to find the balance between catering for the lowest common denominator in recipient environments, the email client and accommodating the necessary content in the email.

Below are a few key best practice considerations when it comes to size:

(i) Keep your email pixel width within 600px

Whilst it’s not a fixed rule, 600px has been an agreed standard for email design for many years and still holds true today as larger screen sizes haven't really been widely adopted.

Unlike the kb size, the pixel width of an email rarely impacts on deliverability and 600px is generally considered best practice for a number of user experience (and therefore engagement) related reasons as described below:

  • Readability - having too many words on one line can make an email hard to read. 600px ensures that paragraphs of text are limited to only 10-20 words per line which makes it far easier to read and comprehend.

  • Because it’s a not too wide, it lends itself to readers who quickly scan an email rather than read it in detail.

  • In English we read from left to right so by default, the content on the left is looked at more than on the right, especially if the reader has to scroll to the right.

  • It looks reasonable in many of the key email client default viewing panes. That is, most of the content will usually be displayed in the client’s default setting.

  • A standardised size - makes it easier to control the design across multiple email clients. Having a fluid email width is often complicated to tame on older legacy email clients such as Outlook. A strict 600px wide email allows you to position items more accurately and ultimately have more control over the design across an array of email clients.

(ii) Limit the size of your email (kb)

Email kilobyte size (kb) can often be more important than the email pixel width. That’s because the kb size of the email can:

  • Determine whether the entire email gets delivered or not

  • Slow down the delivery to the ISP

  • Impact the loading time within the email client. If it’s too slow, the subscriber has probably left, significantly impacting engagement.

Gmail for example has a limit of around 120kb for loading all of the email content in a single view. Emails larger than this only partially load initially and require the recipient to initiate loading of the remainder by clicking on a link at the bottom. Aside from the potential impact on subscriber engagement statistics, any personalisation or dynamic content not presented on the first loading may have been completely wasted.

Email size has a habit of growing over time - not just because people add more images and content, but because templates are continually altered with new functionality and code (e.g. dynamic content and business rules around personalisation) that over time inherently increase the size of the email.

During testing, always check the size of the email when it arrives in your inbox. If it's too big, look at the content, and the construct of the email template code and remove any legacy code.

We always recommend trying to keep the maximum size to under 100kb where possible.

(iii) Mobile specific image size

Your emails can look great with Hi-DPI sized images on modern devices

Most mobiles today have high resolution (Hi-DPI) displays. Therefore a 750x1334 screen size is in reality 2x that (1516x2668). That means your images should be too. A 320px wide mobile hero image should be 640px in dimension (with as much compression as possible to keep the file size down without sacrificing image quality). In the email itself, it will scale down to 320px, but Hi-DPI displays will use those extra pixels to display a much sharper and blur-free image.

3. Get to the point

Marketing emails, no matter how good their content, are not like print publications. Many of your subscribers will often only read the subject line and scan the above the fold portion of your emails before determining whether they will read the rest or click through for more. Therefore, to maximise your chances of further engagement via a click through link for instance, you need to ensure that your message is brief but enticing and that your preferred action is represented by a clear and obvious call to action.

Be descriptive but succinct enough in the email so the subscriber is clear on the subject and what they need to do next. For instance, it needs to be relevant and enticing so that they want to read the full content on the website. Given that email content is often a replication of content that exists elsewhere, a common way to do this is to use the first line or paragraph (or part thereof) of the actual content from the landing page the full content is hosted on. This also ensures continuity in tone and user experience. Remember, “You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression”.

Wherever possible don't re-invent the wheel. Any writer knows the importance of a good introduction so re-use the work that’s already done. The other benefit of re-purposing the existing content is that the same logic can be applied for future content automation. Get it right at the source, so it can be re-used many times through different channels (email, social media etc).

The same philosophy can be applied in a retail environment to display product information.

It's not science, but rule of thumb - the more relevant links you have, the more engagement (e.g. clicks, pdf downloads etc) you'll get to the intended content, assuming that's the purpose of the email.

4. Make calls to action obvious and don't assume everyone will click where you expect them to, not everyone responds the same way (i.e. click on the button vs an image vs text links). Be creative and more accessible by providing different types of links to appeal to different types of recipients.

There you have it! Our insider tips for awesome email layouts and campaigns. If you’d like to know more about how Taguchi can help you automate some of these tips and help you be more efficient and productive, contact us today.

[1] Litmus Dec 2017**

Photos by rawpixel.comfrom Pexels and Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

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How do our email metrics compare to other companies? What’s the industry average open and click rate? Are our email campaigns performing better or worse than our competitors?

Why do marketers ask these questions? And why do they go to industry benchmark reports for the answers?

Perhaps they are looking for validation of their efforts or need to present stats to their Boards and Senior Management. Maybe they are simply curious, trying to measure their success, or looking for safety in numbers.

Whatever the reason, we know that all marketing teams at some point in time want (or need?) a form of comparison or benchmark as another way of measuring the relative performance of their campaigns.

When these types of questions are asked of our professional services and support teams, the response we give is sometimes interpreted as quite non-committal or even vague, leaving the client (perhaps to their frustration) without any direct answer to their question. But there is good reason for this – any direct answer to these questions could be misleading and filled with so many caveats the client could not possibly action the advice.

External benchmarking in this space is more often than not like comparing apples with oranges. Also, once you know an “industry average”, what do you intend on doing with that information?

I question whether industry benchmark reports really tell you anything of value, especially if you can’t draw actions from them that will increase your ROI. What’s more, I don’t see how they are ever used in a constructive way to track your success. The question I would be asking is – ‘How well do you understand your own metrics, their drivers, influences, limitations, opportunities and restrictions they imply?’ Otherwise you are potentially comparing an internal set of numbers you don’t fully understand against an external set of numbers you know even less about.

Apple Taguchi Dashboard

I was recently sent an industry benchmark report summary on opens, clicks and unsubscribe rates for a range of different industries. Whilst this was of some interest and gave a top-level view of things, in the absence of knowing the more granular detail behind the numbers, I found the report to be relatively useless in terms of actionable insights. Here’s why (in no particular order and not exhaustive):

  • How do they actually categorise these industries? For instance, there was a category called ‘Travel and Transportation’. This is such a broad category and when broken down, surely their respective results are not comparable. Two of our clients, Webjet and Big4 Holiday Parks would theoretically fit into this industry category however they are completely different businesses with different marketing strategies and ROI outcomes.
  • How big are the businesses? While it’s common for reports to distinguish between SME vs Enterprise, there can still be significant discrepancy within each especially when it comes to resourcing. For example, if I run an independent supermarket group, is there really any point benchmarking my results to Coles or Tesco's who have an army of marketers, analysts and suppliers focussing on their CRM programs.
  • What were the database growth and health strategies of the companies measured? I guarantee they weren’t all the same. Did they frequently add new subscribers to replace ageing email addresses? What was their list hygiene like? Did they remove inactive, invalid or disengaged subscribers regularly? Database management, list hygiene and and list residence (the length of time subscribers have been in your database) have a significant impact on open and click rates.
  • What was the call to action? Some emails are not designed for users to click through to anything, so the success of that email is not linked to a CTR. For example, the objective of the email may be to provide a printable voucher or bar code for in-store redemption. It’s the redemption number that is the important metric because that is the measure of the ROI not the number of clicks or opens.
  • Are the emails all marketing related? Or are there some mandatory or operational communications that should also be taken into account. For example, is an order confirmation counted in these types of reports? If so, depending on the proportion, it could skew the results, as they are often the highest engaged emails.
  • What’s the audience size and contact strategy? Simply put, assume I send to more people more frequently, and the result correlates with a decline in the average open and click rates. Does that mean the campaign is performing poorly? Should I send less instead? Not necessarily. The campaign might actually have increased overall sales or other conversions and overall customer lifetime value. Similarly, only emailing your most active subscribers, will improve these email engagement rates but that isn’t necessarily conducive to improving total conversions. Likewise, broadening the number of recipients may reduce your engagement rate but result in increased overall sales and ROI.
  • Did higher opens or clicks equate better ROI? We have seen more examples than I can count where products and services promoted in emails received the least number of clicks of all the promotions included and yet generated the best conversion performance, be it sales, leads, enquiries or entries. One example of many is related to the sale of technology products along with consumables such as printer ink and photocopy toner. The high value technology products such as laptop computers consistently generated the highest click rates, circa 70%+ of all clicks within an eDM. Consumables such as printer ink and photocopy toner generated the lowest click rates of any product category in the email. So low in-fact that that the marketing team considered removing them from the email altogether, saying “What’s the point? No-one’s interested!”. When conversion results were included into the post campaign analysis however, it showed that consumables were the biggest selling items directly attributable to the emails. It turns out email marketing is a great reminder to replace small ticket, low consideration, bulk purchase items.

Cellphones

Likewise, we see examples where A/B tested subject lines have shown emails with lower open rates can result in greater ROI. The post campaign conclusion was that the more reflective the subject line was of the actual email content, the better the conversion, despite the open rate being significantly lower than the other emails in the test. Therefore, building conversion metrics into your A/B or multivariate testing algorithm is worth considering if your system has that capability.

In the example above, greater ROI was not easily identifiable from reviewing standard click and open rate metrics. Understanding the impact on ROI is what opens the door to a range of actionable future communication options and tactics.

Reviewing the interrelationship between your own metrics will provide you with actionable insights. Tracking ROI is therefore an essential part of the mix. Importantly this knowledge is valuable IP your industry competitors don’t have access to.

Therefore when it comes to generic industry reports, even with more granular analysis, I’d question how useful they would be to your organisation other than for curiosity purposes. This is why we recommend you reference these reports with caution, and why we never recommend paying for them. Would it not be better to invest that money or time sending another email sales promotion, automating repetitive tasks or expanding your acquisition strategy?

Make the effort to thoroughly understand your own performance trends and what levers you have to influence these to improve ROI before being too distracted by how others “perform”. Just because the industry says that opens and clicks are the measurements to look at, they may not be relevant to your business or your campaign.

Review yourself against past performances and put measures in place for continual improvement. Focus on your businesses key metrics – align the outcomes of an email campaign with your company’s KPI’s, not the other way around. Taguchi can help you identify the metrics that matter – contact us today.

Photos by rawpixel.com from Pexels

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Design tips and tricks for responsive emails

“Looks good to me, but so what?"

Beauty may well be in the eye of the beholder but that’s not always how it works when you’re looking at a marketing email, especially if maximising the email's impact is the ultimate measure of beauty. If so, then you need to ensure that at the very least it presents consistently to your subscribers and customers, otherwise this can then impact on the effectiveness of the email content.

Just because an email looks good on your phone or PC, don’t assume it looks the same on someone else’s device. Viewing emails can be a vastly different user experience depending on the device you are using, be it a desktop PC, laptop screen, smart phone or tablet. With such a diverse range of email clients in circulation, it is almost impossible to have your emails render identically (look the same) on all of them, and in reality, you don’t need to. Focus your efforts by looking at your internal analytics regularly and identify the primary mail clients that your subscribers engage with.

Email templates require different coding and content to ensure they display appropriately depending on the device and email client they are viewed on.

Some basic rules that may help you maintain consistency across devices:

  • Use mobile appropriate images for mobile, and desktop images for desktop viewers. For example, a mobile banner image may contain a succinct message due to a smaller screen. A desktop computer doesn’t have the same problem, so the image could contain more words.
  • Design for mobile first – Given that more than 50% of emails are initially opened on a mobile device and that a mobile friendly design will usually look fine on a desktop (the same isn’t true for desktop specific designs viewed on a mobile), it makes sense to make mobile your priority.
  • Go mobile only - If you have the resources and expertise, create templates that work well in both environments. If you have to pick one for any reason, pick a mobile friendly design as your default.
  • Test it - Make it a routine to test for, at minimum, the most common devices. In the absence of knowing the specific environments related to your recipient audience, we would recommend starting with these:
    • Mobile - iPhone, iPad, Android
    • Webmail - Gmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo! Mail
    • Desktop - Apple Mail, Outlook 2016, Windows Live Mail

Email client testing

Make sure you know how your email renders (looks) on the major email clients (e.g. Hotmail, Gmail etc). While an email may look good in your inbox, it might not look so great for others. You’ll have to test it and see.

How you do this and how often will depend on the email marketing platform you’re using and how old the template is relative to new email clients in the market. For example, Taguchi’s Smart Template® system is a content management environment specifically designed for email creation. This means that the email client rendering rules are programmed into the template modules themselves and don’t have to be tested each time the template is used, no matter how the modules are moved around to accommodate different designs and layouts. This is because you are using the functionality and logic of the purpose-built modules and not manually editing the HTML code. Systems using this type of content management template approach usually only need to be tested when major changes are made to new email client versions or new modules and logic are added to the template

A common approach amongst many other email platforms, particularly older ones, is the use of HTML editing modules where email content is populated by editing the HTML code either directly or via some form of provided WYSIWIG (what you see is what you get) design tool within a pro forma layout (i.e. a template). With these types of systems, even small changes or additions to the HTML as a result of editing content can “break” the email design in certain email clients. This HTML document editing approach usually means that the email needs to be tested for rendering consistency frequently, possibly prior to each deployment depending on the extent of the changes each time.

As a minimum we recommend the following email client testing:

  • iPhone
  • Gmail
  • iPad
  • Apple Mail
  • Outlook
  • Samsung Mail

If you don’t have direct access to a wide variety of native email client environments, then you can use online rendering tools like Litmus to get an idea of what your email will look like.

Online rendering testing tools are useful because they're quick, relatively cheap, and give you a broad spectrum of tests. Many of these are emulating native email client environments and use intelligent screen-capture to replicate what your email would look like in a particular native email client; they're not actually showing you the email in the native email client itself. In our experience there's no substitute for testing email templates in native environments, even if this is done periodically in-line with major email client updates.

UX Colours

Now you see it, now you don't

Many email clients block images in messages either because that's their default setting or because the recipient has configured it that way. This means your important images may not be displayed to the recipient. If this is the case, the readable content of your email such as subject lines, text headlines and body copy have to do the heavy lifting to compensate and entice the reader to override their settings and “display images”. Despite this, there's no guarantee the recipient will load the images leaving your beautiful artwork to live invisibly in the ether. Therefore, the use of alternative text (i.e. alt text) provides a back-up to at least ensure the image message is conveyed when images are turned off.

Therefore, it’s wise to avoid embedding critical messages solely in images by having a fall-back using alt-tags which display even with images turned off.

Even the coolest Gif needs a plan B

As email clients improve and become more sophisticated, we're seeing an increasing use of gif animation as opposed to static images in emails. Terrific, who doesn’t love colour and movement?

Whilst this can improve the recipient experience, not all email clients will display this animation. Some will actually display a still image made up of one of the frames, typically the first frame. Therefore, always keep this in mind and ensure you have an appropriate first frame.

Similar alternative image consideration needs to apply to the use of video in email. It is changing, however currently very few email clients reliably support video. As most don't, make sure you have a relevant still image fall-back. Typically, this image is derived from a frame from the video with a video play button superimposed over it. The image then clicks through to somewhere from where the actual video is streamed.

Below are the email clients that do accept video:

  • Apple Mail
  • Outlook for Mac
  • iOS 10+, Native Client
  • Samsung Galaxy, Native
  • Thunderbird

Whilst it may not be possible to cater for every possible combination of email client and device, your template will need to be adapted regularly to cater for the most common environments. Focus your efforts by looking at your internal analytics regularly and identify the primary mail clients that your subscribers engage with. Talk to the team at Taguchi about how we can help you deliver a great campaign regardless of device or email client.

Photos by rawpixel.com from Pexels, and Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

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