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Back to Basics: 5 Fundamentals for Building Successful Emails
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By Becky Repka

Email marketers are in an ongoing quest to send emails that make an impact and generate responses. They tirelessly fret over crafting the perfect message or offer and strategies for breaking through inbox clutter. Then they scrutinize results for hints of what to do more of or less of in the next round. And they start again - revising, testing and sending a better version. However, no matter how much is learned in tweaking and testing, email marketers are always well-served by remembering the basics. It is in fact, when these are overlooked or forgotten, that email marketers get in trouble.

These tried and true basics, used as the foundation for any email marketing campaign, can help boost the success of any email:

• Focus on the Call to Action – Start by identifying your purpose for sending the email and define the message you want to convey. Then, most importantly, determine what you want your subscribers to do as a result of reading your email. Carry this thread throughout the rest of your campaign – from subject line to email design and the landing page. Make it as easy as possible for your recipients to get the message and know what you want them to do. Keep the call to action simple, prominent and near the top of your message.

• Craft your Subject Line Carefully – Subject lines are still the most important factor in getting your message opened and read. Make sure the context and benefit of your message is clearly communicated and matches the content within the email. The main benefit of the subject line should be front-loaded, within the first 30 characters, so the message comes across in various email clients and mobile devices that can truncate subject lines. However, it is ok to have a longer subject line as long as it is clearly communicating the content of the email. Don’t forget the ‘From Address’ line. It should be recognizable and branded with the sender’s name.

• Design for the Preview Pane/Mobile Devices – The majority of email users view messages in a preview pane or on a mobile device. This means that there is a very small space to communicate your primary messages – brand, benefit and call to action – to establish rapport with the reader, entice them to open it, read further and act. These should be clearly positioned and not buried under unnecessary graphics. Depending on the configuration of the user’s preview pane, it could be it horizontal or vertical, but either way, the one space that will always show is the upper left corner. This is the prime real estate, you should use it first and foremost to show who you are. Most email users read emails in an “F” pattern. That means down the left rail, and twice across the top. Utilize this to identify yourself (your brand), communicate your message (benefit) and lead them to interact (call to action).

• Remember Image Blocking – Image blocking happens with email more often than not, so design with that in mind. Focus on the messages first, and the graphics second. And when graphics are used, make sure to use ALT IMG tags to convey the message as intended. Remember that simple is good; more design is not necessarily better. The general rule of thumb is to have graphics comprise no more than 40 percent of your email message.

• Stop Unsubscribes – This does not mean “don’t let your recipients unsubscribe.” To the contrary, you should make it as easy as possible for people to unsubscribe. What it does mean is make it so your recipients don’t want to unsubscribe. According to Marketing Sherpa, the top reasons that recipients unsubscribe are 1) Emails lack relevancy – 58% and 2) They receive too many emails from the sender – 44%.* You can fix this by knowing your customer. Send them what they signed up for, what they want and expect. Frequency can be a little more difficult to gauge, because everyone has different preferences. But you can ask your subscribers their preference when they sign up, and send accordingly. Or, you can be very clear about how often they can expect to hear from you at the time of sign up, and stick to that agreement. If neither of these are options for current campaigns, make sure to monitor your sends for complaints and unsubscribes as they relate to the frequency of emails sent. You will likely be able to identify some trends and adjust your send schedules accordingly.

It doesn’t need to be complicated to create great emails, and sometimes it pays to get back to basics. Build on these fundamentals when creating new emails, or even to refresh existing ones, and see how well your campaigns can perform.

*Marketing Sherpa Email Benchmark Guide 2009

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