Game-Changers In Email Marketing Best Practices

Last week, fellow Email Insider Mike May published a fantastic article about the increasing soulnessness of email. As more and more brands value efficiency over personalization– even turning to machine-generated messaging – our email communications lose their voices. Reading about this shift caused us to reflect on the rise of mobile email readership, another machine-driven game changer in the world of email creative best practices.

We have a stock of presentations that we’ve given to new colleagues over the years to introduce them to the crazy world of email, including the basics of email layout “anatomy” and a crash course on subscribers’ “email mindset.” Each presentation serves as a sort of snapshot of where the email marketing world was during a given year. I recently looked back over them to see what’s changed and what hasn’t.



The Anatomy Of An Email

What’s stayed the same:

No matter how our layouts have changed, it’s still important that our subscribers can answer three key questions with just a glance: (1) What is the email about? (2) Why should they care? (3) What should they do about it? And button CTAs are still as popular and effective as ever – perhaps in part because of mobile readership. Buttons are easier to click than text links on a mobile device.

What’s changed:

  • Landing pages need to be optimized for mobile as well. Not only do landing pages still need to provide a seamless creative experience from the email, but if we want our mobile readers to be able to take action on their mobile devices, we need to make sure we’re giving them an optimized experience.
  • Subject lines and preheaders interact in new ways. The way that subject lines interact with preheaders (or the first text appearing in the email) has changed because of the way inboxes look on mobile devices. It’s now more important that the subject line and preheader (1) don’t repeat each other; and (2) tell a cohesive enough story that a subscriber will be compelled to open the email – or flag it to return to later.
  • Subject lines are shrinking. We’re seeing a big shift toward shorter subject lines, due in part to the way lines fit within a vertical mobile device screen (longer subject lines get cut off in the mobile inbox). 
  • Placing key messaging points above “the fold” is less crucial. With subscribers reading emails from desktops, phones or tablets, we can’t declare a certain marker as the “fold,” or the place at which a subscriber will have to scroll down to see the rest of your email. We’re also seeing innovative design moves that play with the fold, pulling the reader’s eye down in creative ways that entice scrolling. While it’s still important that subscribers can grasp the point of an email with just a glance, we’re backing away from old best practices designating a certain line on the email as the fold.
  • Right rails are on their way out. More and more brands are opting for longer, skinnier, “layercake” layouts, without right rails. This makes sense when subscribers are viewing on mobile devices, though an even better solution is responsive design, in which right rails can live on for those who open an email on a larger screen.


The Way Subscribers Read Email

What’s stayed the same:

Regardless of what device our subscribers are using, email viewing is different from browsing online or reading a magazine. Subscribers aren’t necessarily looking for anything in particular, and the imperative to engage them is as great as ever.           

What’s changed:

  • Touch screens + thumbs = a different kind of click. Even when mobile-viewing subscribers try to click on links, they end up clicking all over the place. This means more forgiving design with large clickable elements.
  • The “jump” between the email and landing page is a bigger leap. Unpredictable load times on mobile networks make it more likely that we’ll lose subscribers after they click, before our landing page loads.  This means that we must convey such compelling messages that subscribers will flag our emails and return to them later. 
  • Subscribers are double-screening and more willing to be entertained. With mobile phones always within reach of most of our subscribers, they’re reading our messages in line at the grocery store, while watching television, waiting for the doctor, etc. As always, they aren’t necessarily “looking for something” with our messages, but this behavior does create a unique opportunity to capture clicks from people who might not normally spend time looking at our email.

So, out with the old, in with the new?

Not exactly. When it comes to email creative best practices, the underlying principles remain timeless: drive engagement through relevant, user-friendly communication. As technology develops, subscribers’ reading habits evolve as well, and we respond by changing what we mean by “user-friendly.”

What else do you see changing in creative? Comment below.

3 comments about "Game-Changers In Email Marketing Best Practices".
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  1. Mike May from Huge, November 20, 2012 at 4:27 p.m.

    Great article Warren and thanks for the props.

    Your point on the need to place critical items above the fold is something I definitely agree with. I'm seeing plenty of messages generate the most clicks on links as deep as 5 paragraphs in. Part of it is attributable to larger screens and higher resolution that makes entire messages easier to scan. But part also is a reflection of solid engagement - hooked readers will make it all the way through a message. I think necessity has mothered invention and marketers have done a better job pre-qualifying subscribers and focusing on maintaining engagement.

  2. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, November 21, 2012 at 11:16 a.m.

    Good point about how preheaders (the first text in the email) is increasingly acting as an extension of the subject line.

  3. Delia Spurlin from PP, December 13, 2012 at 5:18 a.m.

    I like the idea of email marketing evolving along with all the different new marketing strategies that we have today. Not much, but enough to remain relevant, which it still is in my opinion. Great article! Here are some pitfalls of email marketing and how to do it right.

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