Email Marketing for Branding

Whether it is a conscious or unconscious decision your business has a “look.”

When you think of any major corporation or retailer you know their brand because of their visual image. So it’s imperative that you keep your emails in the consistent design associated with your other marketing materials.  Ensure that everything meshes and reinforces your overall brand identity.

Whatever your branding aim, keep your goal front of mind at all times and stay focused in the design of your message. Make sure that pictures support your brand. A poor design can immediately turn off potential customers. And, a great message can be lost, or overlooked, if it is not presented in a pleasing manner.

Another important fact is to keep your audience in mind. Design your email around what will impress and interest that particular population. What is engaging for one audience might put off another—know who you are talking to at all times. Some people need to be motivated, some need a bit of guilt, while others might need a glimpse into a better life, or promises of a brighter future. Know the wants, needs, likes, lifestyle and trends that pique the interest of your email recipient and design your email to be something that captivates them so they’ll want to know more!

Here’s another aspect of your email design that you may not have considered—fonts. The font you use for your email text delivers as much of a branding message as your actual words. You wouldn’t deliver a serious corporate email in comic sans, so take a moment to really consider your audience when you pick your fonts.

When you sit back and evaluate your email design you need to determine if your email was understood, accepted, and acted upon.

Each type of branding media you use has its own nuances and key design best practices. However, you need to keep a uniformity in look and messaging to avoid confusing your customers and prospects.


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Common Email Design Mistakes to Avoid

Email design mistakes have a lot more to do with your ultimate email marketing success than you may realize. More than putting a pretty face on your message, the design of your email can really make or break your campaign.

Combine both images and text in your email design for the most effective messaging.  If graphics are stripped from your emails due to the recipient’s preference, they’ll at least be able to read your text. If your entire email is one large image—and a recipient has their preferences set not to display images—they will only see a big blank screen. If you must use an image as the dominant form of communication (we know, some graphic designers won’t have it any other way), then insert a link at the top of the email that lets people read the message on a hosted web page.

Do not use background images unless you are OK with them not showing up in certain email clients. Be certain the email will not lose its integrity if those images do not appear. The same holds true if you plan to use an animated GIF.

The area on your computer screen that is viewable without scrolling down is said to be “above the fold.” Think of it as the area you see on a newspaper without having to unfold it to see the bottom of the page. When you only have a few moments to catch a recipient’s attention be sure that your most compelling information is up on top. This information is especially important when you take into consideration that many people view their emails in a preview screen, tablet, or on their phone which cuts down your critical area even further.

If you don’t capture someone’s curiosity to read more they will never get to “meat and potatoes” of your message.

Avoid Common Email Design Mistakes such as these:

  • One big image
  • Too many Exclamation Points!!!
  • Too many colors
  • Emails that are too long
  • Avoid Flash & Videos
  • Keep your “look” constant across media


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How Does Email Tracking Work?

When you receive an email tracking report from your provider it will give you  the following statistics: how many emails were deployed, how many were delivered, how many emails bounced, how many emails were opened, how many people clicked on your link(s), and how many Unsubscribes you had.

Open Rates

There are many factors that can determine the accuracy of open rates, so this statistic should always be looked at as a reference rather than a complete statistic. When your email provider sends out your email, they include a piece of code in each message that calls back to the server to request the display of a tiny, transparent (i.e. invisible to the viewer) tracking image when the email is displayed.

When the provider’s server receives the request to display the image, it records it and uses it as an indication that the recipient has “opened” the email. By giving each email its own unique tracking image, the service can tell which email was opened and by whom.

Where inaccuracies can occur–
Many people have their browsers set so that images are not displayed. Unless they manually do so, no image will ever be displayed. In this case an open will never record.

The opposite holds true for email preview panes. The email can be displayed in a preview pane, but the recipient may never actually read it. But because it was displayed, it counts as an open.

So you can see where open rates for a message may not be associated with actual activity.

So how do you best use open rate statistics?
Open rates when used to test messaging, subject lines, or offers can be great tools.
As long as you have set methods for the calculation of open rate in conjunction with click rates, then changes can reflect good or bad news in something you’re doing with your email marketing.

But using open rates as a “be all and end all” statistic for one single email message sent one time is a very poor indicator of the success of a campaign.

Many people always ask what is the average open rate? But this is not a quantifiable or fixed number that can be applied to all email messaging as a benchmark. First, different marketers and vendors calculate open rates in different ways. Second, a good open rate for one type of email and list may be a poor one for another. Since benchmark figures are based on different lists and emails, comparisons only make sense if you’re looking at like with like—from your own emails send to similar lists.

Click Rates

Within an email message you may have one or more clickable items.

Understanding how click rates work gets complicated because the re-direct tracking link used in the email sent by your provider is not the actual URL webpage address for the ultimate destination.

When the re-direct link is clicked it goes to the email provider’s server where it is calculated as a “click” and then re-directed to your designated URL.

If you hover over the link in the email you’ll see that the re-direct link is actually quite long and complicated. This is because the re-direct link is a dynamic code generated to not only track the click on the link, but also recognize who clicked it.

Just like open rates, how click rates are tabulated vary from provider to provider.
Some provider’s tracking software will detail unique clicks, meaning that they will only count one stat per unique email address. Others may count each and every click as a stat. So you can see that trying to match statistics from one provider to another is an exercise in frustration

Be sure to also read Why Doesn’t My Google Analytics Tracking Match Email Tracking?

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Why Doesn’t My Google Analytics Match My Email Tracking?

Google Analytics is designed to track incoming traffic to a website or landing page–from another web page, search engine, or via a URL typed directly into your browser. Because email tracking is server-based, rather than browser-based, Google Analytics cannot read incoming traffic from a click within an email that never goes directly into a browser. When a link is clicked in an email it goes to a server –not a browser–where the click is recorded and redirected to the destination URL.

Why Email Tracking Links do not show on Google Analytic Statistics

An email is not a webpage:
Google analytics tracks incoming traffic to a webpage from another webpage or from a pasted  link directly into a browser. Email tracking links—when clicked in an email– never load into a browser.

Our mail servers process  redirect links directly through the server. No web page is actually ever loaded. This causes 3rd party tracking software—such as Google Analytics– to malfunction.  Since there is no previous webpage to record it does not get counted into analytics statistics.
From Google Analytics Tracking code Overview:
The data that Google Analytics uses to provide all the information in reports comes from these sources:

  • The HTTP request of the visitor
  • Browser/system information
  • First-party cookies

The HTTP request for any web page contains the hostname, the browser type, referrer, and language. In addition, the DOM of most browsers provides access to more detailed browser and system information, such as Java and Flash support and screen resolution. Analytics also sets and reads first-party cookies on your visitors’ browsers in order to obtain visitor session and any ad campaign information from the page request. When all this information is collected, it is sent to the Analytics servers in the form of a long list of parameters attached to a single-pixel GIF image request.

The data contained in the GIF request is the data sent to the Google Analytics servers, which then gets processed and ends up in reports.

Google Analytics is NOT real time tracking

Google analytics shows statistics on a regular cycle of updates which occur approximately every 6 hrs or so. But most statistics are not viewable for up to 48-72 hours later.

* This is unless you are using a beta version of the paid analytics tool. From a Google Analytics Help Forum: “Report data is generally updated every 24 hours. Although you may start seeing partial data sooner, you may have to wait for about 24 hours to see the complete data for the previous day.”
No, Google Analytics is not a real-time tracker. There are other products like “Omniture Site Catalyst” that aim to provide near real-time tracking, but unless you’re a e. g. very news heavy site that needs up to the minute reports on which stories “work” and drive traffic, most sites can leave with the up to 24 hour time lag.

3. Google Analytics Report and Email Report tracking different links

Tracking links are dynamic, meaning that a new link address will be auto generated with email sent. Thousands of tracking links are used–not just one.

4. Here are some helpful links directly from Google Analytics that might be useful to you: Is there any way to track redirects?

Analytics must be configured in a specific way to even attempt tracking redirects. Even then it will not work if JavaScript is not processed on the redirecting page.

Discussions > Tracking Your Site > How to track 301 redirect website

This article (on the Google discussion boards) dictates the following which is 100% accurate when applied to our system.

“A redirect forces the browser to go to a different URL without rendering a page. No page, then no JavaScript. No JavaScript, then no tracking.” This is almost identical to the situation that occurs with our campaigns.

How are redirects handled by Analytics?

“some browsers may actually redirect before the JavaScript call from the code can be made.” No JavaScript means no tracking.  Ail Tracking cannot be counted across platforms. Every type of email tracking software utilizes systems that integrate within their own platform and their own servers. When an email is opened, or a link is clicked, the exchange of information happens solely within that platform’s universe.
Whether a “shortcut”, “tag” or other identifiable information is added to the ultimate destination URL—the initial click or open will still point only to the provider’s platform server where the information is recorded.  At no time does an email message sent by an email service provider ever transmit tracking information to a platform or tracking software other than their own.

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Improve Email Deliverability with Proper Coding

A business building email campaign is a terrible thing to waste.  While there are many factors that simply cannot be controlled related to email deliverability and appearance, there are certainly some design and coding basics that can really make all the difference in terms of arrival into to a recipient’s inbox and appearance of your message as intended.

Having your email message display incorrectly, not function properly, or not display at all is truly a waste of your important marketing budget. You can have the most  well thought out , meticulously crafted design but if it is not created/coded in way that makes it “work” all of your efforts might be in vain.

As web and ISP technology evolve, the intricacies associated with design and deliverability are keeping up in tandem. What may have worked years ago for email deliverability will simply not fly today. That’s why it is vital for marketers to make sure their team is up to date and well-versed in “best practices.”

Important Facts to Keep in Mind

Today, marketers need to be cognoscente of the fact that their email message is being accessed through a wide variety of ISPs that each have their own nuances and abilities to co-exist and communicate with email clients.  It is imperative that during your test broadcast process you send to Outlook-based addresses, Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, (Mobile), etc. to be sure that your message is being delivered and displayed correctly across providers.

Another important fact to keep in mind is that in an on-the-go society you have few precious seconds to get a recipient to read your email. Most people now look at just the first few lines they see in the preview pane to decide if they want to continue reading the message. If all they see is a blank screen because your message is either not functioning or designed incorrectly, you have no way to convince them to devote any more of their time to your communication.

Additionally, more and more email messaging is being accessed on mobile phones and mobile devices. As a matter of fact, it’s been reported that in 2011 in the United States up to 25% of people  have become mobile only, meaning that they do not use, or very rarely use, a desktop or laptop to access the web. What might appear centered and well designed on a computer screen can be skewed and completely off-screen on a mobile device or phone. Be sure  that your email is no wider than 550-650 pixels and coded properly in HTML not CSS,

Additionally, in designing your email realize that having your text flush far right or left under a banner or around picture could result in no text showing on a mobile screen without the user having to go and look for it!

Be sure to also see Common Email Design Mistakes to Avoid

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What you Can (and cannot) Control in Email Marketing

When you send out a marketing email message there are many factors that are out of your control and in the control of your recipient. Keeping these factors in mind will allow you to design a message that will get you as much impact as possible.

What you Cannot Control

Personal Settings: Any time you create an email message you need to keep in mind that people and companies have the ability to alter the presentation of your design and impact the efficiency of your deliverability. Setting and filters are critical factors oftentimes overlooked. But not keeping these things in mind can truly result in disastrous repercussions.  So here are a few things to keep in mind:

The One Large Image Problem: When the entire content of your email is one large image you could be delivering a big blank white box if your recipient has their preferences set to “do not show images.” Additionally, should a problem crop up with an image server, you again could be delivering a big blank message. 

The Personal Filter Problem:
 It is important to remember that virtually all web browsers offer the ability to filter and/or block incoming messaging according to user-defined parameters regarding wording in subject lines or content. While most people today will run their subject lines and creative through spam filters, a bit of common sense is also helpful. Thinking out of the box a bit can save you from being eliminated before you ever get a chance to be delivered.  (If you want to use commonly blocked phrases use them as a graphic image.)

What you Can Control

An email is not a webpage:
Just because a designer is good (or even excellent) at website design does not mean they understand email HTML. Many of the best practices for website design coding are completely opposite of what is important in coding for email HTML. An email cannot have drop down boxes or perform dynamic content functions. If you need to have web-based functions have your email click to a landing page that can be programmed to perform every task that you require. You can track incoming clicks and you’ll give the user the experience you desire.  It is important to understand how to structure your email from a technological standpoint.

Coding Issues
– In web design you use divs for layout and in email you use tables (which now a days is a No-no for website construction.)

– Limit the size of an email to 40k, including images, to prevent long download times.

– When using CSS formatting – use “inline CSS” and not an external style sheet or CSS in the Head of the HTML document.

– Another error seen often in code is the use of the style= tag for inline CSS within the HTML

– <font> tag. This often causes the formatting to not work unless its font related – same thing for using it within a <div> tag. It’s usually best to try using column tags  <td> for inline CSS formatting.
– Don’t use java, JavaScript, iframes, Flash, ActiveX, ASP, PHP, cache busters, or Dynamic HTML as most email clients do not support them.
– Use <p></p> tags instead of <div></div> tags for alignment purposes and <br><br> tags to separate paragraphs.
– Remove Meta tags from the code as they are not used by email clients.
– Use background colors in both the body and the table in order to ensure the color shows up in the multiple email clients. A lot of email clients do not support background images in table cells but they do support background colors.

– Format fonts without CSS, but if necessary use inline CSS, for the highest email client compatibility.
– Set the height and width of your images to help your message maintain its proper layout even if images are turned off.

The Dreaded Spam Filter
Getting caught up in spam filters can damage your corporate reputation and potentially curtail your ability to deliver future messaging. As any marketer will tell you dodging spam filters is an ongoing game of cat and mouse with the ISPs and Spam Police. While remaining vigilant on the almost daily changes related to spam is critical, there are essential guidelines you can follow that will at least give you a fighting chance.

Font Size – Use larger font size (Anything over 19pixels) sparingly, or consider using an image to represent the desired text with the appropriate size desired

Do not use all caps for subject line

Do not use periods to break apart text—Example: Say Y.E.S. to our savings!
Do not use the word guarantee within the text of the HTML—check text only portion as well as HTML text and possibly alt tags.  Use this word in an image only.

Large images are a red flag to every ISP. If your message has a low ratio of text to image area you will be caught in the spam filters.

Avoid sending hyperlinks or external urls without first adding some plain text to the body as context.

Avoid sending more than 10 external links.

Don’t incorporate a tracking ID number

Don’t over code your message. Complicated coding is a big trigger.


The Bottom Line

The decision to embark upon an email campaign is one that is often planned out for months. All of us who have been involved in email marketing from the agency side have seen good ideas go up in flames because of a
technical or design blunder that could have been easily prevented.

There’s no doubt that
keeping up with the details associated with deliverability is a full time job in and of itself. But, if your ROI suffers due to lack of knowledge or expertise it may be time to expend the energy to get up to date. Because as marketing budgets continue to shrink there is little room for costly errors.

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Effective Customer Marketing

To get new customers you have to get to know your current customers better.

No one ever said that growing a business was easy. But there are many things that you can do right now that will make the quest for new customers a much less exhausting process.

To bring more money into your business you need to do two things:
– Get your existing customers to buy more from you.
– Get new customers.

Sounds simple enough, but how do you do this? Research. If you have not done so already you need to take a good look at your current customers.

So, whether you’re using sophisticated software system or a basic excel spreadsheet you need to determine a few key factors.

– Who is buying from you most?

– Is this group responsible for the largest number of transactions or the largest dollars into your business?

– What are they buying?

When you take the time to really examine your sales (and your customers) you might be surprised by what you find.

Many a business has made the error of assumption. Don’t fall into that trap. Don’t assume.

Take the time to know for darn certain who is keeping your business rolling along.

Be sure you understand who your most active customers are and who your biggest spenders are—they could be very different.

Your most active customers are very important. You may not make the most off of their many transactions but they

could be your biggest fans and your. biggest cheerleaders if you empower them to become so with referral programs.

However, when you set out to get new customers you may want to model your prospecting after your biggest spenders!

After all, when it comes to customer prospecting it’s really all about bringing in new dollars!

Be sure to see our next blog post: Using your current customers to get new prospects.

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