Many of the email best practices posts I’ve read have a kaleidoscope of tips and tricks to improve results – anything from upgrading open rates, to avoiding spam filters.
While there are a bunch of good ideas, they seem to be in search of an overarching strategy and architecture to make it easy for the reader to use them.
In this post, we’ll view many of these email best practices through the lens of the customer experience and define the intent of when/how you should incorporate them.
Big picture, there’s really four key moments from an email marketing standpoint, each with its own objective.
Here’s a fancy graphic showing how all this fits together:
Now, I know what you’re about to say. Only the first two are about email. That’s true – although the fourth one includes email as well – but it’s all part of the same engagement pipeline.
Let’s take a harder look at each of the steps and what to do in them.
1. INBOX —> GET THE OPEN
The first step in email customer experience is when the recipient sees the email in their inbox. At this point, we only need to accomplish one thing – get them to open the damn thing!
Whether they’re viewing in a mobile or desktop environment, the marketer has precious few tools to accomplish our goal at this moment. Our biggest point of leverage is the subject line, which needs to be engaging and short (30-39 characters).
If you can’t make the subject line this short, front-load the content so that the benefits/intrigue is at the beginning. Having the “From” field contain a name, or at minimum a company that the recipient knows helps as well.
On mobile devices – and most email is opened on mobile these days – leveraging an effective pre-header can bump your open rates too. According to Worldata, a pre-header with just HTML has a 38% lower open rate than one with actual content in it.
2. OPEN —> GET THE CLICK
Once the recipient opens the email you sent, many of your typical copy and layout best practices for any online and offline marketing hold true – be benefit focused, keep copy short and scan-able, personalize as much as possible, etc.
With that said, everything needs to be pointing to your primary objective at this moment – to get the recipient to click through to your landing page.
As such, your call to action (CTA) needs to be clear. Ensure the recipient knows the one thing you want them to do – don’t have conflicting CTAs.
Additionally, your CTA should be easy to find. We repeat ours at least 3 times with buttons and clickable copy links.
Because so much email is being viewed on mobile devices, there are other things to keep in mind, as well
- Space links for touch screen click-ability. You want to avoid “fat fingering”.
- Single column layout is best for UX. You could make your emails responsive, but we find single column accomplishes the same goal for less $ in most instances.
Some things to keep in mind from a technical standpoint in this “after the open” moment.
- Never communicate critical content via images. Users may not load them, and many email clients block images by default.
- Skip attachments and form fields, as these can hamper deliverability. That’s what the landing page is for!
- Keep HTML and graphics under 30K in weight. Nobody wants slow load times – least of all your recipient.
3. TRANSACT —> TAKE DESIRED ACTION
The recipient clicked on one of your email links and has gone where you want them to go – likely a landing page, or deep-link on your site. Don’t lose them! The post-click experience is critical to whether the user transacts or not.
Industry research shows that 19 out of 20 clickers don’t transact. (Source)
Everything at this stage hinges around getting the individual to take the desired action. This could be getting them to provide some contact information, asking to make an actual purchase, or anything in between – whitepaper downloads, free trials, etc.
The reader needs to know what to do in seconds when they get to this step, so all visuals and content should clearly direct the user to the spot where they need to do something.
Often, less is more in this case. We find a simple, elegant design, a benefit-oriented headline/subhead and a nicely designed short form to complete as a centerpiece works.
Focus on creating urgency and immediacy in your CTA, and look for every opportunity to reduce friction – progressive forms, cutting back on the number of required fields, etc.
4. POST TRANSACTION —> CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION
Your recipient has run the gauntlet! They’ve done what you asked! Perhaps your instinct at this point is to leave them alone for a while and dance a little jig in your office, but you should resist that temptation.
This is a great opportunity to continue the discussion with that individual. Whereas the previous three steps were very specific and directed in their desired action, here it’s often helpful to offer more than one option to the user. Some approaches to consider:
- Validate purchase
- Share that they’ve taken the action
- Set-up the next transaction
- Get more data about the customer
The reality is, new technology is enabling behaviors in nearly any media to trigger subsequent communications in that channel or any other.
So, after the transaction, you don’t need to confine yourself to continuing the dialog on the thank you page – you could send an email, initiate a remarketing campaign, send a direct mail package or drive a social share. Really anything you can think of is possible these days.
Well, not anything, but much more than you might expect.