Thursday, August 29, 2013

your email sucks: importance of using images in your email

this week, i surveyed the users of our esp. we have one of the top esp's on the market right now, and it is only getting better. but we also have 225 registered users of our system, and 224 of them treat it as the wild west - "text only" messages that are sent out as html email and in violation of every best practice on the face of the earth (i'm working hard to correct this).

the survey was designed to find out how people are using the system, and what they are doing with it. the survey results really have opened my eyes and given me insight, showing me that we have a wide array of users - all with different skill-sets - i'm actually looking forward to training these users how to properly use the system.

the most interesting thing that has come of the survey so far - and these are only preliminary results - is that 70+% of our users define the success of their campaigns on the open rate of our emails and that 40+% of our users don't include any kind of branding in their communications.

so, what's the big deal? for the survey i defined branding as anything from using a logo all the way to using a proper color scheme and making it look professional and presentable. so with that said, a lot of our email communications from other departments look like horrible when they go out, i have found emails that are built in outlook and that "code" is cut and pasted into templates... but all of those issues aside, the success definition and the lack of branding got me thinking...branding is not only important for presentation and the emotional connection it brings to your communications but it also serves a "sneakier" purpose - it can drive better open numbers. i'll explain this more in a few minutes.

through some research and using returnpath, i have found that anywhere between 40 - 65% of our subscribers open their emails on mobile devices - we'll just say that majority of our readers are using mobile devices to view the communication. knowing that, using at the least a single image - a logo - is more important than ever.

the vast majority mobile email clients present the email with images off by default. while our communications aren't the best format wise, they do render a message that is readable and actionable without images on - think of it is as someone took the time to convert the text to html, but that's it. but with so many users defining the success of their campaign as a high open rate, without an image we're not as successful as we could be at least and at worst, we are continuing to bombard readers with "important messages" in search of that high open rate - which could impact sender reputation, causing deliverability problems.

why would i say this? obviously we see a good result metric, but that metric could be better. when the message hits the inbox, the email client asks the reader if they want to display images. guess what folks, if the message is readable and actionable without an image - or the user doesn't see an image placeholder to indicate that there is a missing picture, they aren't going to tap the download pictures action. opens are measured by a graphic - your open pixel. not clicking the download pictures, will not let the open pixel "fire" and therefore your open rates are potentially lower, and if you measure click thru rate as click to opens instead of clicks to sends, your click thru rate is artificially inflated.

i have worked with one unit, and they are using a template now that has a logo in it. the unit director reported to me that they have used the same message as in previous sends, but in this new template and seen a 30% lift in not only opens, but in conversions from the same time period last year. she attributes the lift directly to using a branded template, with an image. if the reader is opening your email, they want to see everything, they don't want to miss anything and the psychological impact of seeing the image place holder is enough to compel them to download the images and the thus, get the open pixel to fire.

so when it comes time to just send out a basic message, one that really doesn't need to have an image, you should develop a template that looks like letterhead, and use it - especially if you have a high user make of up mobile readers and you base success on open rates. this little thing is going to not only increase opens, but it is also going to make your message look better and be more consistent with your brand and establish that emotional connection to your message and your company.

Friday, August 2, 2013

your email sucks: alt tags - yeah we hate them but they can do a cool thing

alt tags...lets face it, they are the bane of every email marketer's existence. we don't like to include them because it's an extra step in the coding process or if you are like a lot of marketers who streamline there build process using templates using them is often difficult or takes time. alt tags often become another one of those small little errors that could bite you in the butt. but as email marketing processionals, we should be using them, and here's why: accessibility, mobile devices and the "google snippet"/preview text.

pre-header text is a great way to drive reader engagement;
it doesn't have to always be "important information" or
scroll down to read more.
for those of you who who don't know what the google snippet/preview text is, it's the extra bit of information that shows in gmail and most popular mobile email clients that is in grey below the subject line. it's a great way to drive engagement, especially if you find you're not that strong at constructing compelling subject lines. if you've been living under a desktop for the past 5 years, on the left is an example of what i'm blogging about. the from address friendly name is in bold, followed by the subject line - highlighted in yellow - followed by the google snippet/preview text or more precisely the pre-header text which is highlighted in pink.

that leads me to this morning... while i was looking at my phone - which is becoming not only my primary communications device (duh, it's a phone) but also my primary computer. i own an ipad mini, a nexus 7, a macbook, a macbook air, and an htc one - i know, i know, i'm a cross platform tech geek. but that said, with all that technology, i am more reliant on my htc one then i am any other device these days (that will change when school starts back - more on that in a later blog post). i use it [my phone] for not only (avoiding) phone calls but for email, sms, blinkfeed, facebook, twitter, notifications, and most importantly to me - email.

i use the gmail app* for my mail, and i am becoming one of those readers that we all have issues with - i glance at the email and base my delete decision on subject line and the google snippet/preview text/pre-header, however you want to refer to it. but because "busy" subscribers are doing this more and more often - triaging their inbox - we as marketers need to use all of the weapons in our arsenals to attract readers and engage with them. (remember that triaging is making a quick decission -- delete or not -- inbox triagers dont bother to hit the unsubscribe anymore, or even worse because you have to open the email hit the this is spam button.)

now back to today's inbox triage... while going through my box this morning, i saw a screen that looked very much like this picture. it's something we all see on our mobile devices and have become familiar with but why would it bother me so much? because some of the messages use the google snippet/preview text/pre-header text to their advantage -- it is just as important as your subject line when it comes to user engagement on a mobile device -- while others emailers don't  seem to give a crap about them. using the google snippet/preview text/pre-header text to me is paramount to responsive design - if you can't get them to look at the emails in the first place, why go to the time spend to craft "great looking" presentations?

as you can see this is a screen shot of my inbox. a few of these things are not like the others though. all of today's messages have a from address, subject line and then "some of these things are not like the others"... you'll see in the second and third email [image][image]...

are you asking yourself why does this happen? well the long and short of it is, you're not applying an alt tag to the image call (<img src="x" alt="description">), which is a great way to populate the preview text if you don't know how to code pre-header text. kuddos to esp's like exacttarget for realizing the importance of this tool, and now including a field for not only subject line but also pre-header text...a word of caution, mobile devices only present a set number of characters for preview text, so you want to keep them short and sweet...verbose pre-headers could push your call-to-action further down the screen. since images can't be rendered in the preview "pane" of mobile email clients, they will substitute the alt tag content. use this to your advantage.

when we implemented this at a previous place of employment, i saw an uptick in opens and 30-percent click through increase - we had been sending newsletters that had a sponsorship from a particular product we had in house, and when i added that product to the pre-header with the same link, we saw a big increase in the number of people who were clicking and getting information about the product. so it served two purposes, it further engaged our audience through opens and increased ctr.

if you're not using alt image tags, this should be enough to start experimenting with them. my general rule of thumb when using alt tags for images (unless the image serves as a call to action) is to not use them for images below the fold (think anything below 600px from the top), the extra coding and extra time to come up with appropriate text just isn't worth it from my perspective. the real return in this is that reader engagement is going to go up - you've added beneficial information to the preview pane, giving the reader more information and more reason to open the email. and opened emails are the first step to building a better reputation with the isp's, making your daily struggle against the inbox/spam folder and gmail tabs easier.

so here's the big take-a-ways:
1. use pre-header text to further engage your reader - it can be customized to your message.
2. don't simply repeat the subject line, use text that drives engagement or completes the thought your trying to communicate with the subject line.
2. if you don't know how to code pre-header text, use the alt image tag the first image in the header to populate the google snippet/preview pane. instead of using 'alt="logo"', be creative 'alt="here's a special offer just for you"'.
3. if you can place your open tracker/open pixel anywhere in the email, dont place it where its going to show up as the google snippet - you see this a lot when a string of html is populated here.
4. and as always: test, test, test...test methods, test phrases, test strategies!