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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