Email Marketing Tips for Web Designers and Agencies
I just did a guest lecture at the Art Institute of Atlanta. It was for Aarron Walters' excellent Findability class. Always an honor to be invited to speak there.
These students aren't kids. They're mostly professionals who are already working at agencies, or run their own agencies. So the pressure's on to show them something they don't already know.
Most of my lecture was about how they can sell email marketing services to their clients. I thought I'd post some of the highlights here on the blog...
Things your clients should know before they get started:
- CAN-SPAM: You can get sued for spamming, even if you are not a spammer (see Yesmail and Kodak)
- The "junk button" is your enemy. Many of your clients will know about the little "report spam" or "this is junk" buttons in email programs. But they don't realize those buttons are linked to feedback loops, which can get them reported for spamming (or that roughly 10% of people click it, even though they opted-in for your list!). One really easy way to avoid getting FBL reports: include your client's company name in the subject line, so that recipients instantly recognize the sender (see: the inbox whack-a-mole game). Don't try to come up with jazzy or exciting subject lines. Tell what's inside, don't sell what's inside.
- Avoid Abuse Complaints: When you send your first email campaign to your customers, don't just assume they remember you, or want to hear from you. Don't just send a full-blown newsletter or promotion out of the blue. Send a polite reminder of who you are, and politely ask them if they'd like to receive email newsletters from you. Make it very easy to unsubscribe. This will go a long way towards reducing spam complaints.
- Campaign Reports are not perfect. Teach clients how open tracking works, and why they should take stats with a grain of salt. See our recent Small Business Open Rate by Industry Study
- You don't have to send that much. If you have nothing useful to say, don't send anything. Don't feel pressure to send emails every single week or month. You'll burn out fast.
- Start by putting together an email marketing calendar with your client. Makes you look way more organized, makes things more consistent, prevent last-minute campaigns (and mistakes), and give you more time to prepare post-campaign reports and analysis.
Things agencies and creatives should know before they get started:
- A good client is concerned about CAN-SPAM rules. But if they ask too many questions about the rules, and want to know about any "loopholes" or "special exceptions," something is fishy. Run away.
- Be especially wary of any client that uses the word "BLAST" a lot. As in, "fax blast" or "I would like to blast an email to a bazillion people." It may not mean they're evil, but it definitely means they're inexperienced. Teach them how email marketing is more of a relationship thing, not a "blast them to smithereens with emails" thing.
- Types of campaigns and clients we have the most trouble with in terms of spam complaints: 1) Real estate agents, because they tend to get lists from local networking organizations and chambers of commerce, and assume those people gave them permission to "blast" them email newsletters; 2) Tradeshow exhibitors who send email invitations to all attendees, but with no mention whatsoever of the tradeshow, their booth number, etc. In other words, "Who the f--- are you people?"
Royal F-ups To Avoid
I ended by sharing some real-life abuse desk horror stories I've gone through over the years. I think I'll post them in more detail here very soon.
Since this was the Art Institute, they had some film students videotaping the entire thing. They say there will be a podcast soon. Maybe they can send me an edited version, where lasers shoot out of my eyes (hint hint)?
Design Like The Pros
As a followup to our previous Valentine's Day post, I thought I'd put together an example of how MailChimp customers can use our handy built-in templates to design an email that looks just as good as those professionally designed email campaigns over at Newsletter Archive.
I know a lot of you are web designers. And for web designers, "built-in templates" sound cool---for you to poop on. But we're a little different. We don't supply you with 200 pre-built designs (all of them fugly). We give you basic layouts that you can modify inside a design tool (think Photoshop, but for HTML email).
So I picked a campaign, and in the sincerest form of flattery, I imitated it with our HTML email design tool...
I found an email campaign I kinda liked: Peet's Coffee. It's a nice design, but I picked it mainly because I really enjoyed a coffee I had there about 6 years ago on a very cold, icy day just outside Boston. Some things just stick in my brain. Don't know why.
Anyway, here's what their email looks like (click the thumbnail to zoom in):
So first, I hopped over to iStockPhoto to look for some graphics I could use for my version: "Peekaboo Coffee & Tea." iStockphoto has lots of cheap stock photography. You can also try LuckyOliver.com. Lots of great resources are sprouting up where you can buy royalty-free photos for $1. I mean, just think of any image you want, and you can probably get it for a buck now.
iStockPhoto actually has a Valentine's Day themed section, which was nice and convenient. Got myself a picture of a rose, and made a splashy promo graphic like the one in Peet's campaign.
Then I logged into MailChimp, and clicked on "My Templates" to start building my "Peekaboo" Valentine's email template.
If you're not a MailChimp customer, you might check out this quick Movie Demo to see how MailChimp works. That'll help you understand the stuff I'm about to get into below...
I selected the "Postcard Layout" from the library. Here's what that looks like by default (I've highlighted all the things you can customize):
On the surface, the postcard template looks pretty simple. You setup your basic background colors, fonts, and upload a logo. Then the template is finished, and you save it. Then, whenever you assemble your content, you upload a big splashy promo graphic (where the gray box is above), and enter a little descriptive text below it.
But if you know how to code a little HTML, you can actually tweak that template to do some really cool stuff.
Here's what I tweaked:
- First, my background colors. I changed the Body, Header, and footer to white (#FFFFFF in nerd speak)
- I went into the top bar area, where you'd normally see our "Email not displaying properly?" link, and removed it altogether. Then I uploaded my logo graphic instead. Sounds weird, because normally you'd upload that in the "Logo graphic" section in the template designer. But I did it here because the top bar slot lets me go into "Source" mode, and input my own HTML. That allowed me to code my image map for the top navigation in my email.
- In the slot where the logo would normally go, I just uploaded a transparent 1x1 shim.gif. It's a hack, but it works.
- After setting my font styles, the template's done. I save my work as "Peekaboo Promo Template", and exit the designer.
- When it's time to create a campaign, I click the "Create New Campaign" button on the MailChimp Dashboard.
- I select my Peekaboo Template, and walk through the steps in the Campaign Builder.
- I upload my splashy promo graphic, then click "Next" to enter content below it.
- In the next step, most people would just enter text into our WYSIWYG editor. But since I know some HTML, I switch to "Source" mode, so I can play with HTML. The "Source" view is where you can go nuts with our templates and do some creative stuff you might not have thought about while using the standard WYSIWYG buttons.
- In "Source" view, I code a simple table with 4 cells, and some light padding and spacing.
- Then I switch back to "Normal" view, and use the WYSIWYG editor toolbar to upload each product graphic.
That's it. The final campaign looks like this (click to zoom in):
If you'd like to see a side-by-side comparison, click this:
I'll be posting more examples soon.
Valentine's Email Marketing Ideas
Here's an idea for your upcoming Valentine's Day email campaigns. Go to Newsletter Archive and do a search for "valentine" to see what all the big guys are doing:
Scientific Proof: Comic Sans Sucks for Email
Just before we launched our HTML email designer back in November, Mark (our main engineer) walked over to my desk and asked me, "So, um---should we include the option for the Comic Sans font in our WYSIWYG editor?"
I confess, my initial reaction was "#&*@ No!"
But then I remembered how a fellow designer once accused me of being a "font-nazi" (I only allowed for arial, helvetica, times, and franklin gothic on my computer) and he recommended I read Stop Stealing Sheep. It opened up my mind (a little) and I came to accept diversity in my font folder.
So I told Mark to just include it. "Who knows, there might be some rare situation where someone needs that font" I said. Maybe that was a mistake.
But wait, I know of at least 2 MailChimp customers who run comic book stores! I checked their email templates to see if they use Comic Sans. Nope. Even comic book fans seem to know that Comic Sans is a crappy font.
Oh well. No love for Comic Sans.
Image Based Spam
We've seen a lot of graphic designers send HTML emails that are nothing but a big, gigantic JPG they exported from Photoshop. They look beautiful, but the problem is they also look like image-based spam (read more about image-based spam here, here and here)...
But modern spam filters (like Spam Assassin) are catching on to this tactic. They use algorithms that read emails for content, sender, header info, sloppy HTML coding, and more (here's a list of criteria it scans for). So when spammers send image-based spam, or when legitimate email marketers send a promotion that's nothing but one gigantic graphic, here's what happens:
So don't send HTML email that's nothing but a big fat graphic. Even if the graphic looks really, really awesome. Always include some text that spam filters can read. Just pretend your recipients can't see images (they'll be turned off by default anyways). What content could you include that might motivate them to click the "download images" link?
Writing fun (and effective) subject lines
When it comes to writing your subject line, we always recommend telling what's inside, not selling what's inside. Of course you need to sell (that's the whole point) but you can't expect a mere witty subject line to get people to open. That's because we all play "whack-a-mole" whenever we check our email. We click "Check email" then we place our mouse cursor on the "this is spam" button and wait for all the junk we're about to get. Admit it---you give new email about a half-second to prove it's not spam.
So in your subject lines, you need to tell people 1) who sent the email, and 2) what's inside the email (see: Subject Lines That Make People Open).
But that doesn't mean you can't have fun with your subject lines. I wuv the way W Hotels wrote their subject line in this Valentine's Day email campaign (note how they tell you who sent it, subliminally reminding me that I did indeed opt-in for this email, and that it's not spam, plus they injected a little personality):
Server Upgrade Complete
Our weekend server upgrade is complete. It was our biggest server upgrade ever, and it went over fairly smoothly, as far as server upgrades go. We added a good amount of power to the chimp, so you should notice things running a bit faster now. We added some extra servers to accomodate the new growth we've been experiencing since we launched our v2.5 upgrade (HTML Email template designer), and to lay the foundation for upcoming new features. We also added a bunch more backup/safety mechanisms (we're kinda paranoid that way). Thanks for all your patience over the weekend!
Guerrilla Marketing Book About Podcasting
Jay Conrad Levinson's apparently working on a new Guerrilla Marketing book about podcasting, and he's looking for people with some experience.
"If you are interested in podcasting, are using podcasting, or are planning to use podcasting as a Guerrilla Marketing strategy, I'd like to hear from you."
I know a bunch of our MailChimp customers must have done some podcasting before, so here's where you can sign up:
View This Email In Your Browser
I just got this email invitation from AiMA, and the link at the top of their email caught my eye (see below).
As a lot of you know by now, email programs automatically turn images in HTML email off by default. So some marketers like to place a copy of their HTML email on their server, and let people click this link to view the message in their browser. In fact, lots of your tech-savvy recipients will actually prefer to click that link, because they know that by turning on images, you'll track the open (and they're very protective of their privacy).
Anyways, for the longest time, I've always put, "Email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser" at the top of my emails. I think I like AiMA's wording better.
Except I'd probably refrain from saying "click here" in my emails. Last time I used "click here" in my emails, my deliverability scores plummeted. Maybe something more like, "This message contains graphics. If you don't see them, view our email in your browser"
And if you've ever wondered what kind of words or phrases spam filters look for, here are some articles we've posted in the past:
MarketingSherpa's 2007 Email Awards
Have you done any email campaigns (or newsletters) recently that got great results? Consider entering MarketingSherpa's annual Email Awards. Ten categories (including B-to-B) to choose from:
We've been mentioned in a couple MarketingSherpa articles, and the traffic they send is great. You'll be in front of over 237,000 Sherpa readers. What's nice is Sherpa is always about results. You don't need an email that's a work of art to win. Just tell them about the awesome results you got (opens, clicks, conversions, sales, whatever) and you could win!