By Christal Guziec
The first five Commandments dealt with the content of your emails, from the subject line to the unsubscribe link. The next five Commandments focus a little more on the mechanics of your email – what makes it tick, so to speak.
By putting together the two parts, and following all Ten Commandments, you’ll have an email program that wins customers, instead of driving them away. So, without further ado, here’s part two of the Ten Commandments of Email Marketing.
6. Thou Shalt Send Consistently
Over the years, a lot of studies have been done to try and determine the best time and day of the week to send emails. Several “magic” theories have been floating around for years – always send on a Wednesday at 8 AM; send on Fridays only, etc. The truth is there is no magic formula. The best time to send depends on a couple of things: who you are, what you’re selling, and who your customer is.
If you are trying to reach people during the 9-5 workday, for example, then you should probably stay away from sending on Mondays and Fridays (unless you’re reaching them at work about something they’ll be doing on the weekend,) and send during working hours only. If you’re targeting elementary school teachers, don’t send them anything during the summer. These are really just common-sense practices.
Some ESPs will tell you the optimum time to send, based on what time your audience is most likely to open your emails. Or they will offer personalized send time, so that if Jim Clark has opened several of your past emails at 12 PM, he will receive your next email at 12 PM, whereas Maureen Smith will receive your email at 2 PM because that’s the approximate time at which she’s historically opened your emails.
The bigger factor to when to send is how frequently to send. Again, honestly, common sense kinda comes into play here, and again it depends on your product and audience mix. You might have daily fresh info that’s relevant to your audience. You might only have something the audience will care about every two weeks, or every month, or quarter. The key is, once you determine how often you should send, make sure that you are consistent.
Along with this, manage your customers’ expectations. When they sign up to get email communications from you, tell them clearly what kind of content they can expect, and how often. For example, “Thanks for signing up to get our daily dealsdealsdeals alerts at 3 PM CST”. Or even “You’ve just requested that we send you a notice when this product is back in stock.”
Consistency is good because it shows your customers that they can trust you, that you’re dependable. And people can actually look forward to getting information from you. Otherwise, you’ll be viewed as disorganized, unreliable, and … the worst thing can happen: people will forget who you are, forget that they signed up for your newsletter, and ignore your emails or mark them as SPAM. Sad face.
7. Thou Shalt Test, and Test Again
There are a lot of ways to test your emails. You can test them for performance, to see whether subject A or subject B garners more opens, for example. The testing that I want to focus on now is more basic – you need to test in order to ensure that your email actually works.
Emails go through a lot of different channels before they reach your customer, and the path is winding and confusing. First, they leave your ESP – every email at this point, to every one of your customers, looks and functions the same. Then, they maybe get to a firewall. Or a server. And some of them start to function differently – maybe they won’t show images when they reach their final destination; maybe the images will be parsed into pieces so that they look wonky when they arrive; maybe (most likely,) the font that you carefully selected will instead display as a default “sans-serif” font. The point is, this is where things start to change.
Then your emails go to the customer’s ESP, and they can change some more. Then into the email client – more variance occurs. Then customer A has browser X, while customer B has browser Y, and their two emails look different. And then there’s screen resolution.
There are too many combinations of ESP, email client, browser, and screen resolution for you to be able to test for all of them. But you should test for the most popular ones. Set up accounts on Gmail, Hotmail, and yahoo mail. Set up an Outlook inbox, too, because for businesses, it’s still the most popular email client. Install the three most popular browsers on your computer: Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox. And look at your email through different screen resolutions on your desktop. Ensure that your email looks and functions optimally using as many combinations of these as you can.
Finally, your ESP probably has a feature that calls out SPAM triggers in your email: text-to-image ratio, certain buzzwords (though individual “bad” words like “Free” aren’t as dangerous as they used to be,) things like that. Take advantage of this and try to eliminate as many triggers as you can – you don’t want something easily preventable to keep your message from reaching the inbox.
Which is the point of all this testing – trying to get into the inbox. The inbox is like a mecca for your emails; the dedicated pilgrims sojourn through vast and harsh landscapes to reach their final destination. Do your best to make the trek easy for your little email friends.
8. Thou Shalt Prepare for Mobile
One more thing you need to test for, and even design specifically for, is mobile. The estimated number of people viewing emails on mobile is constantly on the rise; according to MailChimp, currently about 40% of US email opens occur on a mobile device. More B2C emails are opened on mobile than B2B, and there’s’ variance by industry, but it’s important for everyone to consider mobile.
Designing for mobile doesn’t have to be complicated. You can start by ensuring that your text-only version (you do have a text-only version, don’t you?) is broken into 65-character count lines – this way your customers won’t have to scroll horizontally to read the text. Similarly, ensure that your html emails are no more than 600 pixels wide (this is also good for optimal desktop and tablet display). Make sure that there’s enough space around each CTA button so that a clumsy, fat finger can easily press the button on a mobile screen.
Once you have those basics down, you can start looking into responsive design if you wish, but that’s a whole nuther ball o’ wax.
9. Thou Shalt Not Use One Giant Image
While we’re on the subject of good email design, here’s one thing you should never, ever do: Make your entire email just one big image. “Postcard style” emails are in now, because they look cool and people like them. And I like them, too. But you must make sure that there’s enough actual text (that’s not part of the image,) so that when people view their email with images turned off, they can still understand what your email is all about.
So Break up the email into multiple images with text interspersed. Or use your big image as a background (but be careful, and remember to test, test, test). There’s plenty of ways to have a rich-looking, image-heavy email without using one big image.
According to Campaign Monitor, only 48% of people automatically see images in their email – though I’ve seen stats that say approximately 70% of people view their emails with images turned off. Images-off is still the default for Outlook, and for some other email clients too, including web-based ones. You don’t want 50-70% of your audience to get your email, see a blank screen and go “Whatsa matter with this company, anyway? Can’t they do anything right?” and relegate you to the not-worth-my-time pile. So design carefully.
10. Thou Shalt Analyze Your Results
Tell me, what’s the point of following the previous nine commandments, if you’re not looking at the results? Why would you spend countless hours writing, designing, and testing if you have no idea how many people are even reading your email, let alone if you’re getting any conversions?
Look at your reports, people. Your ESP has standard reports you can run that will tell you, for each campaign and for groups of campaigns or periods of time, the open rate, clickthru rate, click-to-open ratio (though you might have to calculate this one yourself – it’s super important, though, so it’s worth it), and more. You absolutely need to know this info, so that you can make improvements. Further, you need to know if people are clicking on your links and making it to your website. Because if they’re not, you need to make changes ASAP or your email program is largely ineffective.
Your reports will also tell you things about your list: how many bounces, how many unsubscribes, how many SPAM complaints. This is all very important, too. List attrition is a big deal. Plus, if you are not maintaining your list by removing bad (bounced) email addresses, then your other metrics are off, too. Most ESPs calculate open rate, for example, as the number of people who opened the email divided by the number of people on the list (the number of sends) – not by the number of people who actually received the email. So if you’ve got a dirty list, your open rate will appear to be lower than it actually is. Clean it up!
In addition to the basic metrics provided by your ESP, you can sign up for a third-party service like Litmus, which will give you in-depth insight into how customers are interacting with your emails. Are they opening on a mobile device? If so, which one? What browser is most popular? Are they seeing images? What email client are they using? You can use this information to help you design your emails for your audience.
So that’s it, peeps. Now you know the Ten Commandments of Email Marketing. Don’t break ‘em! Go forth and populate the world with well-crafted, relevant emails. Woo your customers and escort them proudly, boldly through the conversion funnel.