Friday, March 29, 2013

your email sucks - your font's message is more powerful than your own

with this installment of "your email sucks" i thought i would do more than just point what's wrong with the email, but that i would also actually attempt to fix it. here goes nothing.

today, while looking through my twitterfeed, i stumbled on this email announcement from attractionsmagazine.com. there is no doubt in my mind that their site is cluttered, and clutter makes it hard to read. it's one of those sites that is full of great information, but it's so visually cluttered that you get tired not from reading all the great stories, but from refocusing your attention to the content you're trying to read.

newsletters for sites like this can be a great way to allow your readers to become laser focused on your content -- without having to have lasik to correct the damage caused by eyestrain. but when your cluttered mentality - forcing the most content with the most number of ads onto a page - invades your newsletter, along with a poor font choice and you've just set yourself up for a high number of unsubscribes and low impressions.

just so that we know what we're dealing with, i've attached a screenshot of their website to the left, like i said, it has that more ads = more impressions layout.

next we'll look at the newsletter, go through some constructive criticism, and then like i said, i'll attempt to fix it.

here is how their current email appears today:
attractions magazine - before

it's pretty basic, and i was pleasantly surprised that they actually use mailchimp for their emails.

before we get to what's wrong with this email, lets look at some of the things that they got right:
1. the email is is 600 pixels wide. this is good that they aren't stretching the email across the full screen.
2. the email uses a two column layout, keeping story content separated from the paid/advertising content.
3. they attempt to make use of white space with horizontal story dividers, breaking up the stories.
4. they have a can-spam compliant footer! something i have seen missing from a few of the emails i get these days.

okay that was difficult, but i eked out a few things that are good about this email.

what can be improved with this email, to increase readability, open rates, and make advertisers feel like they are in a professional publication and not a term paper:
1. start by increasing the width of the email to 640 pixels. the email will scale better to iOs devices, this by the way is the tactic that most people take when they don't have a developer or coder on staff to "optimize" their emails for mobile readers.
2. create white space through increased line-heights and padding to increase the readability.
3. pick a consistent font, and use color and bolding for emphasis to increase the readability.
4. employ methods of organization to keep the advertising from running into the content.
5. better use pre-header text to entice reader to open; using pre-header text will also help to make your email more mobile friendly - this text is displayed for the google snippet and the preview text for mobile email clients.
6. include links to view the email in a web browser and forward to a friend on the same line as the pre-header text.

and most importantly, to make the email look professional - they are going to the expense of using mailchimp and selling advertising in their newsletters after all - is to choose a more up to date, easier to read font. the original uses times new roman (or something similar) - and it's not the font used on the website so branding as an excuse is out - unfortunately with the everything else going on with the email, it really dates the design and makes the communication that much harder to read.

attractions magazine - after
so with those ideas and things in mind, i set out to make improvements in the email, keeping the same basic design, but increasing the white space and better organizing the content, i.e. using a different color side bar to separate the advertising. i think for the most part it came out looking better. for the record, i did all seven (7) of my suggestions, and did it rather quickly, if i had more time (or was being asked to do this not just do it for the purpose of my blog) i would have put more time and effort into it to really wow the readers.

you'll notice that there is a blue line down the left hand side of the email, this is the same blue background used on the original email, and i included it in this illustration to show the left hand side of the page. i added padding to all of the pictures and the horizontal line story dividers, which gives a polished appearance since the content and the pictures don't run to the edge of the page.

my biggest pet-peeve with this email was the use of the font. so using a different font, i used the font family of arial, helvetica, sans-serif, and increased the line-height which helps with white space and with making the email more readable. not to mention the professionalizes and updates the overall general look of the email. it no longer looks like someone just threw this together when they were working on their high school term paper (which is where times new roman should be kept) and makes it look like a competent web outfit put it together and would make me more willing to pay the price of advertising to be included in this far-reaching email.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

your email sucks - again with the "odd" from address

if you've been following my blog, you saw a few weeks back that i posted an email from disney that had a really odd from address. it would seem as though they are still having issues over there.

just a few days ago, i got another email from them, that has an even odder from address:
sending your email from unfamiliar email address can affect the
success of your campaigns.
dimg.dl-dol.exacttarget1@disney.com

i'm currently use exacttarget and i've had issues with it, but i've never seen anything like this before from my sends. it only makes me wonder even more what is going on with disney's account and their sends. (good news is though, i have gotten follow up emails in the series from them, and they are coming through fine.)

but all of that aside, what kinds of negative impacts can these odd from addresses have on their campaigns? i would have to suspect that open rates for these emails are lower than the rest of the emails and that there was probably a slight impact to their sender reputation.

just this week, ken magill (who has interviewed me) over at the magill report, quoted an experian study that showed that personalized email sees a 29% uplift in open rates. his report didn't talk about personalized from addresses though, but i have to think that the use of a cute or personalized email address not only promotes a "face of the company" but a two-way marketing stream and has to provide better open rates. i know i fall prey to this strategy sometimes, especially during this past election season when michelle obama was sending me emails...part of me thought maybe she is sending me an email, maybe this is the one - d*mnit, it's just another request to donate. but using her name got me to open the email.

when i measure the success of an email campaign, i look at it from a few different perspectives - open rate, click thru, and did they do what i wanted them to do? we all know that open rates are dictated by (1) being able to get into the inbox and (2) subject line. but part of getting into the inbox is setting up your dkim, sender profiles, and from addresses properly. because if you can't get into the inbox first and foremost, no one is going to open your email. so think about your from addresses when it comes time to hit send and how those could be impacting the success of your campaigns. nothing says "welcome to our emails" like "do-not-reply@company.com".

Thursday, March 21, 2013

your email sucks - when to send the recovery email?

recently a colleague forwarded me this email, overall stylistically it's not bad, but let's break down
when good emails go bad - and when do you
send the "oops my bad email"?
the unfortunate mistakes that happened with this one.

it's obviously a mistake and if it came to one person on the list, then more than likely it went to the whole list the marketer intended it to be delivered to for the promotion.

but let's skip the blaring mistakes and look at the marketer's work flow and how to minimize the negative impact that this communication may have on subscribers.

if this marketer is like me, they build their emails in dreamweaver or another html authoring tool. that's not a bad thing because it gives email marketers the flexibility to build great non-templated emails. but it's not without it's risks.

the potential downfall of this is that you can insert the images in the code, without putting them on the server, and those images will show up on your machine when you view the email. any testing that you do might actually render those images on your computer and you think everything is fine - especially if you're the only one who tests your emails. the lesson is to always load the images on the server and insert those urls in your html file instead of using the html authoring tool to "include" those images when you're coding.

another thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn't rely on "wysiwyg" - every email marketer should know how to code to some degree. i'm not saying that i don't use "table  >> merge cells" on occasion, but i know how to structure my emails by hand and "scratch", that way i'm not relying on dreamweaver - which can add extra code and increase the size of your emails -  to build my emails. knowing how to read code makes it easier to avoid mistakes like your images not being delivered by the server and coming from your desktop instead. and know this too, coding an email is different from coding a webpage, if you have designers doing work for you, make sure they understand this!

so what else is wrong with this email? the vendor didn't follow this up with an "oops" email.

in a case like this, where the images didn't render and the subject line said "test" it's clear that the marketer didn't mean for this to go out. the easy recovery for this email, because it was an event announcement, could be as simple as sending it again, with a notice above the actual email that said something like "we were so excited to announce this that we sent it unfinished".

the downfall of the oops email is that you can't send it every time there is a mistake. sometimes you have to weigh the good and bad and just move on. the power of the oops email is that sometimes the open rate, click-thru and engagement is even hire on the oops one.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

your email sucks - from address personalization gone wrong

in the world of email, there is a lot of talk about personalization and how it helps with open rates, click-thru rates, and conversion. personalization has been proven to help with all of those situations - let's face it who doesn't want to like to be called by their name and to have some bit of their world reflected in what they are reading -- it could be something as simple as their name or as complicated as what they left in their shopping cart.

there is even debate about how we can influence a person to open the email by personalizing the from address. using a person's name instead of an organization's name can get a person to open the email because it looks as though someone took the time to reach out to them personally instead of a "robocall" from a corporation, company, or local retailer.

and that brings me to this webisode of your email sucks. not so much because it's a bad from identity, but because it's a totally different domain. it does make me wonder (1) why it was sent like this, (2) how it got into my inbox and not my spam folder, and (3) now that i know what sending tool they use, what sending tool do you use?

personalizing your from line is a good idea but it's
best to use an address associated with your
organization or you run the risk of hitting the
spam folder.
it's not very clear in the image, but this email is from disney family deals - a disney version of groupon - and they usually come to my inbox from disneydeals. but this one, was special...it came to me from clinton winkler at exact target.

why did clinton send me that issue of disney family deals? i'm guessing, because i have experience with exact target that, something was wrong with the sending platform that day or the creative and there was issue with sending. a helpdesk ticket was opened and more than likely clinton was testing stuff for them and hit send on the "actual interaction", instead of a test that he was doing internally. whoops - having not actually clicked on the message, i don't know if the links worked or anything like that - i should have to see if this email send cost them potential conversions. but i found it somewhat funny, and proudly can say this has never happened to me (yet - knock on wood).

but then i started to wonder how it actually made it into my inbox, and not my spamfolder. i've never gotten email from clinton before so he's not whitelisted. the from address is a totally different domain than the dkim associated with the sending ip - which is usually a big huge offender for gmail, and a big spammet tactic. of course this is a one time situation, so the sender reputation probably took a small hit, but wasn't something that couldn't be recovered from quickly. i'm also pretty sure that not that many people who actually sign up for the disney family deals are tagging it as spam or complaining.

that said, i've used homegrown systems, small esps, and big commercial ones like marketo, magnet mail and exact target. all of which have their own pros and cons. which one do you use, or used in the past. and do you ever wonder when you get html based email from your competitors or even from companies you like which esp they are using?

Friday, March 8, 2013

the power of social media - part deux - the blogger meets megan mullally

today i'm sitting in the man-cave/office and david yells to me, "megan mullally is at the proper topper today promoting...." well that's all i heard.

i immediately looked for my shoes, my coat, and my young frankenstein cast recording and made a beeline for the proper topper here in dc. (i didn't have a sharpie, we had to borrow one from the store!)

while waiting in line, i found out that she was performing tonight, i texted david and said please, the response was "no"... that said, since i was about the last person in line, i thought to myself, i'll ask ms. mullally to call david and convince him. i asked her, she said sure, i dialed and passed the phone to her - she walked away from me. now honestly if this was anyone other than her, i would have thought i just got "apple picked" but she talked to david for a few minutes and then came back. she said the door is open, and i said i'm walking through and buying tickets.

she continued to talk to me for a few more minutes -we talked about a show i had seen her in at the kennedy center library a few years back, unlike everyone else who "loves karen walker, and will and grace is the best show ever". i asked her if the invitation for drinks after the show with her was sincere and if she really wanted us back there (she had only gotten in last night at midnight and still hadn't eaten anything this morning - yet she was here doing a meet and greet, gotta give it to her). she said of course it is, write your names down and i'll give them to the doorman.

that said, we're heading to see megan mullally (nancy & beth show), and then we'll be heading backstage to have a drink with her! can't wait! should be an amazing evening! and a fortunate opportunity to be looking at twitter at the right time...so there - that's the power of social media. without it i wouldn't have met megan mullally or been invited to drinks after the show. the funny thing is, that anytime i meet a "star" like this, i always end up getting invited to do something after the show - i'll tell you my eartha kitt story one day, if you stick around long enough.

more to come (you know with these personal posts like this, i feel like doogie howser)

Monday, March 4, 2013

your email sucks - below the fold

this one doesn't suck so much but it is an example of something that we all need to keep in mind, and that's that fold...

it's that mythical area that we have carried over the days of print. when we printed advertisements in newspapers, we wanted everything to be above the fold because readers would fold those massive acre sized sheets of newsprint into a more manageable field of vision. you basically knew how people would fold the page, in half like when they got it, or in quarters, folding the half over on to it's self, perpendicular to the original fold. those dimensions are concrete.

but the fold in email, well one only needs to look at one of the email rendering services or to google "below the fold for html email" and the measurements range from 250 pixels to 650 pixels. where is the consistency in that?

so that brings us to the example i just got. it's the latest communication from disneydvd and it's promoting the upcoming release of "oz the great and powerful".

by why is it such a violator? well, the message is lost on the viewer, because it's well below the fold  and not even in the preview pane. what's even worse is that they did a cool treatment to the oz promo - an animated gif. say what you will about them, are they annoying, do they increase click thru, do the engage the reader, are they a resource hog or just a way to increase the size of the email and put deliverability at risk; they are cool.

the animated gif in the email only ran through the
animation once, i downloaded it and altered it to
illustrate and make sure you saw it.
i have to say that i am a bit astonished that disney - the company that thinks of everything - didn't play with the layout and graphic sizes so that all of the design dollars and time for producing this animated gif could be viewed right at the top of the email and within the preview pane. that would have made this email even more engaging, especially since they are promoting 'oz the great and powerful' so heavily. *full disclosure, i'm a huge disney fan and i can't wait to see this movie (in 3-d) this weekend!

your email sucks - find and replace faux paux

it could be that i am just looking for these or maybe my fellow marketers are just providing me with fodder to update my blog, but here is one that we don't see too often, and we surely don't see it from someone as well respected as hubspot. glad to know that even the expert make mistakes.

find and replace:
on a good day it's a friend
the next minute, well...

this example just illustrates how much we have come to rely on technology. i am sure that person who built this used the global find and replace, and whatever they had originally typed went to "sire" instead of "sure" (or they just typed it wrong to begin with, and didn't have anyone else look at this one).

ironically enough, the topic is is how amplify your social reach. when i checked in on this article on the hubspot blog, it already had 250 tweets, so perhaps, they could go back and add a 20th, to include a tongue-in-cheek reference to the use of typo's to drive virility, i mean virality.

anyway, as marketers we are the content expert and we have looked at stuff so often - the draft, the design, the coding, the testing - that getting another set of eyes on your creative is a good idea, and if another set is available, put it aside and come back to it later. there is no need to sacrifice ad-impressions or leads for a typo.

one thing can be said though, at least they were consistent. in all honesty, i expected an article about 19 flaming cows before i started to read the the "sure-fire" ways to amplify my social reach. but look back through your own email sends, look at the subject lines that were wrong, or had a typo in them, and i'll bet you dimes to dollars that your open rates are a bit higher than normal. (i'm not advocating it, but it does happen.)

hobspot, i jest, but maybe next time, can i get a side of fries with that typo - now i really want a burger!

your email sucks - templates they can help but they also can hurt

in today's installment of your email sucks, i'm going to talk about templates and how using can make us as email marketers sloppy.

check your template
and rendering before
you hit send by
testing with multiple
devices.
over the past couple of weeks, i've noticed that the emails i get from kgbdeals.com are a little "messed up". you'll notice by looking at the example here, that there is a ton of "white space" at the bottom of the email.

in the past their emails have been longer, now they are going with a full width feature deal at the top, and then three ancillary deals below that. great, you're reducing the number of deals, and it makes me go to your site to dig around for more when i see something that catches my fancy, but if you really want to drive me crazy (and probably the rest of your readership), don't adjust your length of your template.

so you may be asking yourself, what's the issue with that? well if your readership reads their email on their smartphone or other device, and using a gmail account, more than likely we're not getting the full email delivered to us in the first place. the top deal renders on screen without an issue, but then my iphone tells me this "'this message is only partially downloaded.' download the remaining x kb". so i do...

when i down the rest of the message i get the three bottom deals, and the footer, which to most people is the visual prompt that there is no more content - we're all conditioned to that after many years of seeing html email, but if you're like me you continue to scroll, and scroll and scroll... what am i left to think about this email?
  1. that this email is broken, so the reader will give you a couple of rounds of this cat and mouse game.
  2. that this email is always broke after a few times, so i stop opening them, but i'm not motivated enough to unsubscribe.
  3. i unsubscribe on the premiss that your email is always broken.
  4. i think that this email is broke, and i click on spam and your sender scores get affected
  5. or worse, that your reputation as a quality company isn't what i thought it was, and i unsubscribe, never visit the site again, and i tell my friends about you and to not deal with you either.
in actuality 1-4 aren't really that bad, you know the damage of someone not looking at your emails - open rates go down, sender scores can be recovered and you know when you lost me as a customer because you complied with my request to be unsubscribed, but what about number 5?

well, just like going into a brick and mortar store and having a bad experience - or if your store is sloppy and not clean and unappealing, i'm not going back. but i'm also going to tell my friends about it when i see them, that yeah i really liked the store and the merchandise but it was hard to find and nothing in the store is visually appealing to make me want to look through tables of unfolded clothes and for lack of a better word - crap. you've lost me as a customer, and you're district manager is eventually going to tell you to clean up your store. but with email, you may not have that feedback.

you're not going to know how many people i tell that the email is always broke or that it doesn't function right. by the time you figure it out, you've lost subscribers and if the old saying holds up, you've also lost 10 potential subscribers, because that's how many people i've told in passing about you when your competitors come up in conversation - and they always do.

so how to remedy this, test your email on different platforms, and look at the way they render. if you're using a template and you change the amount of content, think about the way this is going to affect the look and feel of your template, and change the template. it's a simple thing to go in and change the height of the container, and it will have a dramatic effect on the way your email, and your storefront is perceived, because after all, perception is reality.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

your email sucks - subject lines and hitting send

in today's blog entry, i'm showing two examples that we've all gotten and done (probably)...

make sure your subject
has something to do with
the content of your email
example 1: subject line doesn't apply to your content

the subject line is "dna self-discovery kit", and is from livingsocial deals, and while the graphic only shows the two top deals (it's a screen shot from my iphone) trust me on this one, there was nothing about dna self-discovery kits included in this communication. the moral here is to check the content and to make sure the subject line has something to do with that content.

i'll be honest, we've all done this. i was accused of this myself a long time ago, when i worked for a company where one of our weekly newsletters was just a bunch of links in a column, and no lie was more than two pages long, and one of the stories was really important but was buried in the link list about half-way down - or at the very least "below the fold". we actually had some people write back in to say that the subject line was misleading and a ploy to get people to open the communication, and that the article wasn't there. when in actuality it was, and these readers actually didn't scroll down the list of articles. i even had to point out to my boss and her boss that the article was there, and these were the people who were supposed to test the email and stuff!

duplicate sends can hurt
your sender score and
reputations with the isps
example 2: duplicate send

with this example i got this email twice. there are three possible reasons this happens:

1. duplicate subscribers in your database
2. the send tool either sent it twice or the person sent it twice
3. the isp hiccuped and routed it to my box twice

all of these possible answers can have consequences to server reputation and your scores. the first cause, which i know i am not signed up for this list twice or in multiple locations, can impact deliverability because the isp sees that you are not keeping up with your database - you aren't cleaning and deduping it, and they can start to think that if you aren't doing that, you aren't processing unsubs in accordance with can-spam requirements. if you have enough of these you'll eventually start to fall into the spam folder and your message or deal won't be seen by your subscribers. using a service to measure your deliverability will help with picking this up quickly so that you can act to fix it.

with the second one, either the email person sent it twice or the tool did. i know with the tool that i use this is a real possibility especially if you have multiple emails that you are setting up to send that day. with my tool i have to build the interaction, then hit send... if i build multiple interactions and then go back in to send them, the tool will rearrange the line-up, so it's very easy to send the same interaction twice. to remedy this, i build the interactions and then i move all of those interactions into a program, and then hit send on the program. it's an extra step but it helps to reduce the possibility of a duplicate send. if the tool does it, there are multiple reasons why this could happen, especially with web based sending tools - the quality of your internet connection is one that comes to mind. if you hit send, and the internet times out, it could look as if the send never happened, so the email person hits send again. this is where having patience and yourself included in all lists can help. if you seed yourself into the list, then if you get it after you hit send, you'll know not to hit send again. multiple sends of the same content to the same lists can impact your sender score and reputation because the ip sees this as a spamming practice or that your infrastructure is corrupted. a single instance of this isn't going to have that big of an impact but multiple occurrences will have an effect on your scores.

and finally, if the isp routes the message twice, there isn't anything you can do about this. it doesn't happen often but it does happen. and even though it's their fault, it will impact your scores for the same reasons - they think you have multiple sends of the same content, multiple subscribers to your lists and so forth. using a service like returnpath and understanding deliverability will help you argue with the isps to get back into the inbox.

but the moral of this is that you should really understand deliverability and how your sends impact your sender scores. in addition to this requirement, you should really be employing best practices for your database - remove duplicates, process your unsubscribes and make sure your infrastructure is performing like a well oiled machine.