Creating Eye-pleasing Emails That Will Drive Sales
Everyone appreciates good presentation. If you’re selling your home or car then you put in a big effort to make it as presentable as possible because you know that people do judge a book by its cover and that first impressions are hard to change.
So what about the emails you send out? What do they say about you and your business? Maybe it’s time to do a review of your emails to make sure they’re creating the right impression.
You don’t need to be a design expert to create good looking emails for your email marketing campaign. You just need to follow some basic principles and keep things consistent.
HTML, Plain Text or Both?
Choose which format you intend to send your emails in. Plain text is the most compatible and will retain its original design, whereas some email readers have trouble with HTML but it is better at attracting attention. You can offer your subscribers the option to choose or alternatively send a multipart message (where the email reader will show the HTML version if it can otherwise the plain text version is displayed).
Designing an HTML email allows you to get a lot more creative but don’t go overboard. Otherwise your emails will look too busy and distracting and the actual message will be lost.
Code emails by hand if you can – while not a design principle, it’s important to remember that some HTML editors will add extra code that can really mess with the style of your emails.
Create a standard email template that includes the header (usually a banner that incorporates your logo), the body and a footer.
Decided on a set of styles and stick to it, which in most cases will consist of a standard font (e.g. Verdana, Tahoma or similar common onscreen font) and some styles (e.g. Heading 1, Heading 2, Body and Footnote). Unlike a web page you’ll need to have your styles specified inline (between the body tags in the email) as some programs won’t accept an external CSS file.
Use tables to layout your content but avoid nested tables as some email clients will not display these correctly.
Design in plain text?
Plain text doesn’t mean you don’t have to think about presentation. Because you have less to work with you need to make it count.
- Keep the width of your email to about 65 characters to make sure the text doesn’t run off the screen (most email campaign tools e.g. Aweber provide a visual reference to help with this).
- Consider how the text is laid out and employ ‘chunking’ to break the email into the different points.
- Make sure the call to action is clear and state it more than once in the body of the email.
- Choose a few relevant images that really pop off the page and compliment the text. Make sure the images are hosted and you include a full URL path to the image (as well alt-text). Be wary of using background images as they will generally not display. And while 1x1 spacer gifs are popular to force widths in table cells, they’re also used by spammers so avoid if possible.
- Keep your key content towards the top of the email e.g. the call to action
- Use horizontal layout rather than vertical - This allows readers who scroll down in the preview pane to see more content in the pane. Eliminate story layouts and “skyscraper” ad formats that are more than the pixel equivalent of 4 inches deep.
- By maintaining a clean, consistent look and feel for your emails you not only build brand awareness but you also buy more viewing time from the reader, unable to look away from your aesthetically pleasing emails.
- A wide range of free email templates are available from www.lyris.com.
Six Common Design Mistakes
- Not designing for preview panes – keep in mind you’re not designing for a web page so keep the width down to a maximum of 600 pixels and make sure the important ‘call to action’ information can easily be visible without scrolling right or down.
- Assuming images will work – the default setting for most email programs is to disable images by default. Always make sure you use alt-text and keep the important stuff as text. You can also look into paying for email certification to make sure your images will always display.
- Too many images, not enough text – while your in-house designer may have created a beautiful single image email this can easily be detected as spam and you could be blacklisted. Keep your image vs text ratio under control (generally one paragraph per image at the most) and remember mistake #2
- Not testing in different email programs – just like developers will test in a variety of different browsers, you need to remember that not everyone runs Outlook. So make sure you’ve checked how your email will look on webmail clients such as Gmail or desktop programs like Thunderbird.