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Effective Email Content: Attract Attention

Once you’ve avoided spam filters and successfully landed in a user’s in-box, it is important to understand how users read emails. Realizing a user’s email behavior is key to getting – and keeping – his or her attention.

When you send an email, your audience has many opportunities to hit the delete button. They will judge you at least three times while in their in-box, before they even open your email, all within a matter of seconds.

First, readers check the sender of the email. If they do not recognize who the message is coming from, it may mean an automatic trip to the trash bin. It is best to use a name that the audience is most familiar with. While your company name is sufficient, having the recognizable name of a company representative is a much better option. Your audience will feel that the message was sent by an actual person, which will increase open rates. (Not familiar with some of this lingo? See our previous blog article about email marketing terms.)

Second, they browse the subject line. Again, keep it engaging, but brief – the subject line should be short-and-sweet: 35 characters max. Don’t forget the spam words to avoid. The subject line should also reflect the message within the email. If you get too witty with a subject that is completely different than the enclosed content it could be considered misleading, deceptive, and ultimately illegal according to the CAN-SPAM act. If you’re sending out emails regularly (like newsletters or event updates), it is best to vary subject lines.

Third, readers peek at the preview panel. It is a smart practice to put your most important messaging at the top left corner of your email – the area of an email that is previewed in most email programs. Branding here is also crucial. Getting your logo into the preview panel area confirms your identity to your audience and gives them more reason to open the full email.

Now that your audience has opened your email, here are some tips on how to make sure your email is readable and recommendations on how to encourage your readers to click.

Email Images: A Disappearing Act
Many popular email clients, including Gmail, AOL, and Outlook are set to turn off email images by default. In fact, 59 percent of your audience may not even see images in your emails (MarketingSherpa.com, 2007). As a result, that beautiful email design of yours may be reduced to a mess of unloaded graphics. Plan ahead and design your email to degrade gracefully so that it still works without images. Put all essential messaging, especially your calls-to-action, within the HTML text.

In general, it’s best to send more text than images. Spam filters look favorably on emails that have much higher text content than graphics.

When email images are turned off, use image ALT tags to entice your readers to enable images. Use something like the following: “Don’t block this image – you could be missing out!” Those readers who are familiar with turning their email images on/off may give in to curiosity.

Also, try to use a grassroots whitelisting call-to-action: “Add our email to your address book to ensure you get our newsletter.” This helps to increase the percentage of your audience that sees images AND reduces the percentage of your emails being flagged as spam.

Keep in mind that most mobile users will not be able to view your images within an email.

Getting Personal
Though it has been used for a while now, personalizing the message of your email (not the subject) still gets the best results. Adding the recipient’s name to the message area increased open rates approximately 2 percent AND increased click-through rates 2 percent as well. Better yet, begin segmenting your mail groups based on behaviors or interests, so you can deliver information that is most relevant to that particular audience. But beware: personalizing subject lines is fast becoming synonymous with unsolicited emails and actually negatively impacts open and click-through rates.

Understanding the nature of your audience’s behavior and a few technical considerations with email images give you the tools to best engage readers with your written content.

Related articles:
Email Marketing: Maximize Your Return On Investment (ROI)
Effective Email Content: Avoid Spam Filters

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