Improving Open Rates And Readability

Dear Email Diva,

What's the current feeling on email page widths and lengths? I know there's been a lot of discussion lately about above and below the fold and sizing for preview pane, but I'm wondering about actual width. I recently started working for a small company that seems stuck in an email rut from about four years ago. I'm having difficulty convincing them that we can go wider than 550 pixels and still have customers be able to read the email. The feeling here is narrow and long is good, and I'm just not so sure that's the way to go, from my prior experience and the reading I do.

Graphic Designer/ Email Analyst

Dear GD/ED,

The typical range is 500 to 650 pixels. As the smart people at EmailLabs say, "HTML messages that are wider than this range will require the recipient to scroll horizontally to view the entire width of the email. While forcing a user to scroll horizontally might be OK on your Web site, it should be avoided with your emails. Users may only give your email a quick glance and with key content and images getting cut off, you risk losing a transaction or reader, and at minimum being an irritant."



Dear Email Diva,

I've noticed that I'm more likely to download images if it's impossible for me to read the email with the images turned off. Since open rates are only recorded when images are downloaded, would it be a good idea to intentionally design emails this way, assuming the goal is to increase open and click-through rates?

Thanks in advance,

Jim in Texas

Dear Jim,

The studies I've seen show improved response rates for emails that have been optimized for blocked images--- exactly the opposite of your theory. Marketing Sherpa has several good ones; some require a subscription.

But, as we never tire of saying in the direct marketing industry, test it! Send half of your list emails with no visible text and the other half with compelling content in the top-left corner in HTML. Also test moving your administrative notices (click to view web version, add us to your friends list, etc.) below your compelling content.

Be sure to do a random selection from your total list -- don't just divide it in half or you may create a sample bias. If either design is a radical departure from your current format, continue the test for several issues before drawing a conclusion. It may take a while for readers to adjust to a new format.

Remember that the goal is to increase interest and engagement, which is measured by open and click-through rates. As I wrote in a recent article, if you try to force a click, you subordinate the needs of your readers to those of the marketing department. Your goal should be to reduce the obstacles between your message and the audience.

Good Luck!

The Email Diva

Correction: In last week's article, I listed an incorrect title for one of the fine contributors to the discussion of spam trigger words in subject lines. Joshua Baer's title is now CTO, Datran Media; and Technology Chairperson, ESPC.

Send your questions or submit your email for critique to Melinda Krueger, the Email Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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