Tuesday, July 27, 2010

E-mail guidelines

The Cold Hard Fact of E-mail Marketing

Every campaign that goes out to over 1000 recipients will be filtered to some extent. No one is able to guarantee 100% delivery and if they are, you need to challenge them as to how and why.

Deliverability- Filters and Settings

There are several reasons why an E-mail may end up in a recipients junk mailbox. The 3 main filtering protocols that can stop your e-mail are (1) E-mail client filters, (2) ISP filtering, (3) blacklisting.

End users may set filters to automatically sort incoming messages to different folders. Wording can be filtered so that certain "from" and "subject" lines go directly to bulk mail folders. Users may set filters to block E-mail addresses or domains from which they don't want to receive. They may create lists to allow only trusted E-mail addresses. Some ISP's give you an option to block images on all incoming messages, which gives the end user the option of viewing images based on their preference.

Deliverability- Trigger Words

Unfortunately, spam filters can be set to block some of direct marketing's most powerful words like "free", "satisfaction guaranteed" and "click here". Use these words sparingly or find alternatives. Always test your messages with an up-to-date spam trigger database before sending. Frequently, more sophisticated anti-spam methods used by ISP's use a "point system" that identifies trigger phrases commonly used in spam. If an E-mail goes over the "points", it is filtered out and is never delivered.

Some of the more commonly used phrases that ISP's and mail clients filter out include:

Free!                 Eliminate Debt                       Removes                               Hidden        
50% Off            Double your Income              Collect                                  Information you requested         
Click Here         You're a winner!                   Amazing                                 "Stop" or "Stops"
Call Now!         Multi Level Marketing           Cash Bonus                            Lose Weight
Subscribe          Million Dollars                       Promise You                          Loans
Earn $               Opportunity                           Credit                                    Satisfaction Guarantee
Discount            Compare                               Reverse Aging                       Hot

There are other problematic phrases that can trigger some spam filters or start adding "spam points" to E-mails sent out. These should be avoided, including:

Act Now                                                  Easy Terms                                           Unsecured debt or credit
All New                                                   Get Paid                                                Online Marketing
Avoid Bankruptcy                                    Give it away, Giving it away                   Order Now
As Seen On...                                           Join Millions                                          Don't Delete
Buy Direct                                                Meet Singles                                         Save up to 
Casino                                                      No Cost, No Fees                                Time Limited
Consolidate Your Debt                             Offer                                                     Vacation
Special Promotion                                     One Time                                              Viagra

The following guidelines are for companies who develop E-mail HTML design/creative and copy.

In today's E-mail environment it is imperative that mailers consider the limitations presented by E-mail readers (E-mail readers are used to render E-mails) and evaluate creative in each relevant reader. For example, an E-mail may look fine in Yahoo!, but in Outlook '07 images are not displayed due to the rendering limitations and the default is set to images "off".

One solution is to review E-mail creative in all possible different E-mail readers- but this can be time consuming and cumbersome.

Another thing that needs to be considered is that Internet Service Providers (ISP's) have a variety of Mail Options, Spam and Filter Settings ranging Low, Medium, High. An end user's settings can effect whether an E-mail campaign is delivered to the inbox or the bulk mail folder. End users can set filters to:

* Automatically sort incoming messages to different folders

* Block E-mail addresses or domains from which they don't want to receive mail

* Create lists that allow only trusted E-mail addresses

* Block images on all incoming messages

Overall, we would recommend designing your creative to retain integrity across the lowest common denominator of reader. This will ensure that your communication is received and viewed successfully by all intended recipients, regardless of the E-mail reader being used.

The following guidelines are meant to assist you in your design efforts to address deliverability and E-mail reader rendering issues.

Quick check list- Top Ten Do's and Don'ts.

* Do not use forms, flash animated GIF's, nested background colors, background images in DIV tags or TABLE cells.

* Do not use embedded images.

* Do create the HTML in an HTML editor in plain HTML. Do not use MS Word, layers CSS, PageMaker, DreamWeaver, or JavaScript.

* Do use ALT tags as component of <img src> tag when using images. This will ensure copy shows up in place of the images for those recipients who have their image reader turned off or the reader is set "off" as a default.

* Do save graphics with large blocks of flat color or plain text as GIF's.

* Do not make the layout one large graphic, instead slice it into several pieces and optimize each piece.

* Do ensure that the entire HTML including any graphics is under 30k in weight.

* Do use bullets as a good way to call attention to important details. But do not use images as bullets in unordered lists (UL).

* Do ensure that the physical mailing address and phone number of the sender are included at the bottom of the creative as required by DMA E-mail Best Practices and the Can Spam Act.

* Do include a link from the footer to the client's web page describing their privacy policies as recommended by DMA E-mail Best Practices. Major ISP's favor this practice because it shows the sender is a reputable company and not a spammer.


Keep it short:

* Catch the consumer's eye with short, easy-to-read, and relevant copy

* Using bullets is a good way to call attention to important details. Don't use images as bullets in lists.

* Avoid Spam trap words.

Subject Lines

* The first point of contact with potential clients is the subject line of your E-mails.

* The goal of the subject line is to reach an audience that is literally bombarded with E-mail advertising, and convince them to open your E-mail. Remember, it creates an initial impression about your business.

* The Subject line should be a maximum of 8 to 10 words to catch their immediate attention.

* The average E-mail viewer can display 60 characters in the subject line before it is cut off.


* Headlines should contain the offer or saving message

* Include your brand name and/or logo in the headline.

Body Copy

* Restate the offer from your headline at the top of the body copy

* Include 1-2 short paragraphs with details of the offer and a brief description of your company, if necessary.

* Convey benefits succinctly


* Include a strong call-to-action that tells the recipient what you want them to do (i.e. sign up, join, buy, etc).


* DMA E-mail Best Practices and the Can Spam Act require the physical mailing address and phone number of the sender of the message to be included at the bottom of the creative.

Privacy Policy

* DMA E-mail Best Practices highly recommend including a link from the footer to the client's web page describing their privacy policies.

HTML/Design & Creative

Design for quick viewing

* Keep layout above the fold- 250 to 300 pixels

* Design as half-page rather than a full-page ad. Do not force the recipient to scroll.

* Create the HTML in an HTML editor in plain HTML. Do not use MS Word, Layers, CSS, PageMaker or DreamWeaver.

Use of Graphics

* Use bold graphics and design. Lifestyle graphics work best.

* When using images, use ALT tags as component of <img src> tag. This will ensure copy shows up in place of the image for those recipients who have their image reader turned off or the reader is set "off" as a default.

* We do not recommend the use of forms, flash animated GIF's nested background colors, background images in DIV tags or TABLE cells.

* We do not recommend embedded images

* Avoid the temptation to build your messages using only images. Try to keep a 60 (text) to 40 (image) ratio.

Optimize Creative

* The entire HTML and graphics must be under 30k in weight.

* Save graphics with large blocks of flat color or plain text as GIF's.

* If the layout is one large graphic, slice it into smaller pieces and optimize different areas.

Design Format

* Do not use Cascading Style Sheets (CCS) or JavaScript.

* Use a banner or logo at the top of your creative to attract attention and quickly promote your product. Ensure the banner/logo links to a landing page with your offer, not your company home page.

* Add a text-based link to a web version of your design at the top of your creative. (Add a link to a landing page where you are hosting the marketing message so an individual can view the marketing message in its entirety).

* Test your design in a preview pane, full screen and with images turned on and off before you send it.

* Ask your subscriber to add your "from address" to their address book at the bottom of the creative.


Many marketers feel overwhelmed trying to write great copy for E-mail. And, in fact, there are a lot of elements that go into a responsive E-mail message. If you have to focus your efforts in just one place, there's no question: it has to be the call-to-action. In fact, this is by far the biggest missed opportunity we see when evaluating E-mail creative. If the call-to-actions isn't clear, compelling and prominent, you probably aren't going to be happy with the results of your campaign. E-mail readers don't have time to figure out what you want them to do. You need to tell them using strong action verbs.

The first step, of course, is knowing what you want to accomplish. Do you want to generate leads? Then the call-to-action is something like "sign up", "register", or "download". Are you looking to generate traffic to your site? In that case, you want "learn more", or "read more", "find out", and "check out". If sales are the aim, then you can't do better than "buy now". Notice, by the way, the absence of the word "click". Yes, it does still work, and no, it doesn't always trip a spam filter. It is certainly worth testing, but 90% of the time you can find a better, more specific verb that will really drive your recipients to, well, click!

The next step is to make that call-to-action prominent. It should come right after your headline and both should appear above the fold in a preview window. The copy that supports the benefits of the offer should come after that, and then the call-to-action should re-appear in key places throughout the message. Use both links and buttons or graphics for your call-to-action.

Another thing to consider is the "weight" of your images. E-mails with a lot of images take a longer time to download than simpler E-mails. Using GIF as opposed to JPEG's can help streamline the E-mail's size. Using HTML text wherever possible also reduces the size and allows for some of the E-mail to get through if the images are blocked.

Guidelines for HTML include:

1. Create the HTML in an HTML editor in plain HTML, not using MS Word, Layers, CCS, PageMaker, or DreamWeaver.

2. File size should not exceed 20k.

3. Pixel size for the E-mail should be kept to approximately 600 pixels wide by about 450 pixels high.

4. Keep the call-to-action in the top 400 pixels of the E-mail so it sits above the fold.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ideas from a Graduate Admissions Marketing Conference

I recently attended the Stamats Graduate Admissions Marketing Conference as one of their Corporate Sponsors. This was an enlightening conference that was filled with tips, techniques and ideas for targeting, reaching and communicating with graduate program prospects. Some of the most important ideas that I heard revolved around Web Analytics and the need for better, consistant tracking of your website, e-mails and social media.

HiPPO's- What they are and how do you deal with them?

One of the first items that struck me was the term HiPPO. NO, not an African animal, but a HiPPO is defined as the Highest Paid Person's Opinion. What this means is that when putting marketing plans together, the HiPPO will wield their power, not from knowledge but from their position of power. Whether it be the President, a Board member, a Dean, all of these people will influence your marketing decisions based on their perceptions, not based on fact. The most effective way to deflect a HiPPO is to develop quality analytics. Facts ALWAYS will take the power away from any detractor or power pusher since your facts trump anyone's opinion.

Hits- No, not the Soprano's or Elton John

This was an interesting topic. We always hear about how many "hits" your website has. Yet, most of us don't realize just what a "hit" is. Basically, if you have a home page with 14 graphics and text in it, when a visitor arrives, each picture will download. Suddenly you have 14 hits, yet, only one visitor. If 5 people visit you will then have 70 "hits". Not exactly what you wanted to know. You think you're doing great, but only had in reality 5 visitors.

When tracking website performance look at VISITORS, not hits. How many visitors did you have, how long did they stay on your website? What pages did they navigate to or did they abandon the site immediately. These are the telling statistics that you need to understand in order to build a case against your resident HiPPO.

Lifetime Value of a Student.

This was an interesting topic. I have used Lifetime Value of a Customer for many years with my retail and non-profit clients. Whenever I attempted to apply this idea to higher education I arrived at the conclusion that the lifetime value was while students are in school. Once they graduate, there is no value of a student. Boy, was I wrong! In reality while your student is attending your school, they have a great deal of value. But on graduation, that value changes from active student to Alumni. They join as an alumni, contribute to annual campaigns (I do this myself to the University of Minnesota), they create bequests and corporate giving programs. All events that can be quantified, evaluated and used to determine the true lifetime value of a student. 

Google Analytics

There is nothing more powerful than being able to see results as they happen on the web. You send out an e-mail campaign, you will se a jump in web results. Send our Direct Mail, see a spike in visitors. You will see where people are coming from, or where they are going. You can determine if people are spending time on your website, only to abandon it when something isn't there or doesn't work. We have a local Community College with many broken links. My wife has been looking into this school, yet, whenever she tries to find more information she tends to find a broken link. Analytics can help you identify these problems but they require you to actively look at what is going on with your site.

Remember, knowledge is power. The more facts you can bring to the table, the more effective you will be in deflecting your HiPPO's and that Dean who feels his course with 5 students should be on the home page. Google analytics has become easier to use, and much more effective in what it tracks. Take a few minutes to learn how to make it work. I know I will be doing that for MY firm.

I have other thoughts and they will follow shortly. These are some of the key ideas that I observed over the 2 day conference. If you have any questions or need any information about how Market Mapping Plus can help you effectively reach YOUR target audience, just let me know.