Aug 31

If your message isn’t ending up in your recipient’s inbox, what’s the point of the email? Deliverability is essential in every email marketing campaign. If you’re ending up in the spam folder every time, something needs to change. Deliverability can be affected by many different variables not limited to just your email service provider.

There are hundreds of email service providers out there which give you the capability to “check for spam” in your outgoing email messages. So what is your provider doing when it’s checking your email templates for spam? I’ve put together a list of tips for optimizing your email messages for maximum deliverability.

Think like an email marketer, not a spammer

email templates
The most obvious rule of all deliverability tricks is to create your email from a business and marketing standpoint, rather than a spammer’s standpoint. Spammers are looking for little backdoor nuances to sneak their email into your inbox. Such a tactic is the manipulation and misspelling words which are generally flagged as spammer words (ie: v^i^c^o^d^i^n…look familiar?) It may seem sly, but trust me it will only hurt your campaign. Why? Spammers send out millions of emails in very short periods of time to low quality purchased and harvested lists.

To get a better idea of what I’m talking about, try this; for the next few days don’t delete the spam that comes into your inbox. Carefully analyze these emails and take notes on which tactics you think they used to get into your inbox. Also make note of whether the unsolicited email was in HTML or plain text format. Once you have a good list of 10 different messages, review and post this list near your desk. This will help you to not do what spammers do every time you blast out your email campaign!

Template Optimization

The biggest mistake I see when I watch the spam accumulate in my inbox is poor HTML email template optimization. Of all of the mistakes you could make when designing and coding an HTML email is poor slicing techniques. We’ve all seen the emails that are just one big graphic with small text at the bottom. Although these are not always necessarily spam, they will almost always end up in the spam folder your client’s email program.

I am by no means discouraging the heavy use of graphics in emails, in fact I am a big advocate of eye-catching email designs. However it must be done properly so you don’t waste your time and money blasting out useless email templates. The best peice of advice I can give regarding graphics in emails….Slice away! Your graphical HTML email should consist of at least 5 separate graphics, but don’t stop there.
html email templates
Add inline CSS so that when you’re email images are blocked automatically (ie: yahoo, gmail, hotmail), your recipient is still seeing a shell of colors of what the email looks like. Rather than a completely blank white screen with opt-out text at the bottom. Clever use of inline CSS in your email designs can convince your recipient to unblock those images, and view your message.
Aug 23

When presidential candidate Barack Obama relies on email marketing for one of the most important announcements in his candidacy, it really shows the awesome power of an effective email marketing campaign. “Be the First to Know”, a catchy phrase that says it all. This massive email marketing campaign went off without a hitch, and boy would I love to see that golden opt-in list he’s accumulated since it’s launch.

html email templates

This well crafted email marketing campaign goes to show that building a targeted opt-in list, is actually very simple. In essence, it all comes down to one thing; you have to have something that they want. Of course a well designed landing page, auto-responder, and a great email service provider are also required. Put these 4 items together and you’ll be well on your way to email marketing success!

Aug 20

When should you send a designer made email, and when should you send a good ol’ fashioned plain text email? This question has aroused a massive debate in forums and blogs all over the ‘net in recent years. I’ll give my personal experiences when dealing with both types…

Use an HTML template with…

  • Auto-Responders: Payment notifications, email verifications, and account confirmations all fall under this category. Branding is very important when sending out these types of emails. This could just mean placing your company logo somewhere in the message, accompanied by a simple graphic to separate the heading from the content. But don’t forget to include a footer bar to separate your content from the can-spam compliance information. I’d recommend always using an HTML email template in your automatic response messages.
  • Product Promotions:  When sending out product announcements, promotions, and sales notifications always use a nicely designed HTML email template. These emails should immediately grab the attention of your recipient, hopefully converting into a sale. When you walk in to Best Buy, you don’t see a bunch of plain text ads hanging from the ceilings and pasted to the walls. You see big text with pictures and bright colors. The same rules apply for email marketing. If you’re still using plain old text emails to sell your products you’re missing the boat, big time.
  • Newsletters: In my experience, a well designed HTML email newsletter can be a very profitible marketing tool. Have you ever read a plain text email newsletter? Probably on your email enabled phone, but with the advent of the iPhone your emails can now look just as great on mobile devices as they do on your computer screen. I can’t stress enough how profitable a carefully crafted newsletter can be to your email marketing campaign.

email marketing templates

Use plain text with…

  • Sensitive Information: This mainly applies to companies dealing with money, and other sensitive information such as banks, and stock traders. Always leave these emails as plain text as there is less of a risk it will be flagged as spam. When I receive my weekly bank statement via email, I’d be discouraged to see bright colors and graphics next to my sensitive account information.
  • Internal Business Communications: If you think that pretty background with colorful text is going to impress your fellow co workers in an important email, well, think again! Always send plain text emails when communicating with co-workers internally via company email. This practice is normally frowned upon, and many companies even have policies on proper email usage and mailbox disk space usage. Play it safe with this one, keep it simple so you can keep your job.
  • External Business Communications: Unless you’re a business to business email marketer, you should not be sending HTML emails to your company’s business partners. This could potentially hinder important business relationships, and make your company look less professional. Again please refer to your specific company policies, and if it is not mentioned in the policies, always play it safe and just send it plain text.

Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas about these, or any category I may have missed via comments.

Aug 19

Here is a topic troubling email marketers, template designers, and business owners since its pitiful release. Outlook 2007 is beyond frustrating for all of us, why? If you’re asking why, allow me to introduce you to the most unpredictable aspect of email marketing:

Email Rending Problems.

Outlook 2007 has essentially gone back in time to the year 2000, crippled with multiple email rendering issues and stripped of its credibility among email marketing professionals.

html email templates

When an upgrade is released for a software program, it is supposed to be a step up from the previous version…hence the word “upgrade”,…Right?! Many people claim Outlook 2007 is anything but an upgrade. Apart from it’s painstakingly slow loading time, and bulky user interface, Outlook ’07 is destroying beautiful HTML emails worldwide! As a direct result, Outlook 2007 is rapidly driving up email template prices. I wouldn’t blame the template price increase on sheer frustration, but rather on of the extra time it takes an email designer/developer to get their email to render properly in Microsoft’s  Outlook 2007

As an email marketer/template designer you need to be constantly ‘digging’ for email compatibility issues and solutions.

3 Must Haves For All Email Marketers:

Outlook 2007 Email Validator

This goes out to Microsoft: Please release an HTML email rending PATCH for Outlook 2007!

Wishful thinking but hey, who knows? In the mean time, Microsoft has created this HTML and CSS validation tool which will “validate” your HTML email template for use in Outlook 2007.

Although it doesn’t correct all rendering issues this tool is great for email code validation.

Conditional Comments

What an awesome discovery. Sitepoint has hit the nail right on the head with this article on conditional comments. Conditional comments essentially tell Outlook 2007 “well, since you are completely unable to render my beautiful email template, follow this alternate set of instructions so you render properly”.

eCommerce Times

An introduction to the differences between Outlook 2003 and 2007. This detailed article boasts an excellent case study. It shows the same email in Outlook 2003, then in 2007 and explains the differences between the two.

If you know of any other tips or tricks that aren’t listed, feel free to add your comments.