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!

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