Tips from the trenches to lift your open and click-through rates

Part 2 — Spam Filters & Preheaders

I learn a lot from my email work with clients. In Part 2 of my series on mistakes to avoid, I want to alert you to Mistake 3 and Mistake 4, which — when it comes to lifting open rates — you should never, ever ignore!

MISTAKE 3:
Using this CTA phrase (a spam filter favorite)

sbutton

One of my clients was using the above phrase often in email text. Harmless, right? Wrong. To their horror, they discovered that many spam filters don’t like that innocuous phrase, making their emails prime candidates for the junk folder.

Here’s another phrase that we found to trigger spam filters:

money-back guarantee
One solution is to use images. But it’s not our first choice for these two reasons:

1. Images don’t work everywhere on the email and
2. Images lose impact when an email is opened and the images are not displaying.

We try to code as much as possible in the email, including the buttons, to make sure an email is most effective. Play it safe, forget these spam filter favorites altogether. We like to use LEARN MORE or GO HERE for the call-to-action button. For the money phrase, that’s a little trickier since nothing beats those 3 classic words. We normally don’t include the money phrase in the email but make it prominent on the landing page. If you feel you must include the phrase in the email, then make it a graphic image — but make sure your developer leaves the alt tag blank.

MISTAKE 4:
Ignoring the preheader and its impact on opens

You and I know that, together with the sender (or “From”) name, the subject line has the biggest impact on whether your email gets opened. But, today, when you often have barely 3 seconds to get someone’s attention, my clients make sure to pair the subject line with another tool: the preheader, which can increase open rates sometimes up to 45% (Litmus statistic). In my example below, the preheader is the gray text that is circled.

Sample Preheader
Most inboxes automatically take copy for the preheader from the first few words of your email, if you don’t specify otherwise. What we do for our clients: We write specifically targeted preheader copy, to hook readers. This is placed at the very top of an email, above the “view in browser” — giving it top billing. If we don’t do this, then “view in browser” will be the first sentence of the email, causing it to appear in the red-circled area above.

SPECIAL NOTE: Some email deployment systems automatically add their own “view in browser,” which knocks your composed preheader out of the top billing spot. To stop this from happening, the “view in browser” function needs to be disabled in the deployment service software, and your developer will need to code this part by hand.

Questions? Comments? Let me know, leave a reply below.

Tips from the trenches to lift your open and click-through rates

Part 1 — Alt Tags; Retina Images in Email

We all know that emails are the “workhorse channel.” But are you working everything available to you to optimize your open and click-through rates? In creating hundreds of emails for companies, I’ve learned to do just that. I see firsthand where the trouble spots are. To help you get the best results more often, here is Part 1 of a special 2-part series of newsletters I’ve created that address frequent mistakes and ways to avoid them.

MISTAKE 1:
Not proofing alt tags

Look at this edited email I received from a Wine Club. It came in my inbox with the images off.

       
  Remote images are not displayed Load images  
       
 
Through Sunday — get FREE shipping.
View the online version.
 
       
    The Wine Store Logo
       
       
    12 Day of Holiday Deals
       
       
    Final Deal — enjoy FREE shipping on any 12 or more bottles
       
       
    Use offer code JINGLEFREE at checkout — and hurry!
       
 

Notice the blue text in the white boxes — the alt tags. They still allow me to see what the offer is. That’s good, since it’s enough of an incentive to click-see images. But do you see the typo in the second line of the blue text? Not so good!

I added that typo to illustrate that alt tags can have errors! Few people proofread the alt tags for sense and accuracy, leaving them open to errors that could reduce the number of clicks you get. Solution: Do as my agency does for each email: Proof. Use Firefox as your browser and add a Web Developer extension [here’s the link] so you have the tools you need to proof the alt tags.

MISTAKE 2:
Not recognizing the importance of using
retina display images

Think the images in your email look great on your standard office monitor? Well, readers on retina displays might be seeing something else — like blurry product shots or a blocky-looking logo! See my example below: same image, different pixel density.

 
sharp image
 
  2x image  

blurry image
   
1x image  

Only the 2x image on the left looks sharp on a retina display. The 1x image was created only for a standard office monitor and does not have enough pixels in it to render properly on higher pixel density retina displays. That’s why it’s blurry. All the emails created at my agency have the higher resolution, so no worries!

But how can you make sure your other vendors are supplying retina display images if you are using a standard office monitor? Simple. Just use the Web Developer extension (here’s the link again) and select image>view image information. If the images appear twice the size of what is used in the email, you have retina display images.

Hope this helps! Let me know if I can be of further assistance. And keep your eye out for Part 2 of my special series of blog posts for more tips from the trenches.

How to Stand Out with More Visual Promotions

 

Top 3 Reasons for Charts

Did this chart catch your eye?
Today, you may have just a few seconds — maybe less — to grab someone’s attention. Charts (pie, line, bar, and others) are proven attention-winners. Of course, they’re perfect for presentation of data. But, with a little creative flair, you can also employ them to make your most important sales messages pop, online and off.

What makes charts work?
No need to rack your brain — just look at the chart above. In addition to ATTENTION, they provide AUTHORITY and QUICK UNDERSTANDING. A chart speaks volumes, with just a few words. So today’s multi-taskers can quickly say, “Aha, I SEE your point!” Moreover, a chart lends an air of authority to what you’re presenting because it supports your point or actually proves it, when you include relevant data. Add a short caption to your chart and you can be certain it will be read.

Take a cue from infographics: Get MORE visual!
You’ve heard of Information overload? Maybe that’s why infographics are now so popular in content marketing. They break things down with visuals, including charts, and a pinch of razzle-dazzle. But you don’t have to go that far in your promotions — a simple, unstuffy chart will be just as effective, whenever you want to:

Make a strong price or savings statement
Provide competitive product comparisons
Visualize a problem/solution
Show a relationship
Highlight a trend

Try it! Charts might be just the thing to make your promotions stand out. Let me know if I can be of assistance.

Email and Direct Mail: How to team them up to raise response

pow_wp
When email and direct mail join forces, their combined strengths can really put some POW in your response rates and give your business or nonprofit greater ROI. Here’s how:

Email first, followed by direct mail

Time Inc. sent prospects an email announcing a special subscription discount offer that was coming in the mail soon. The email showed a picture of the direct mail package so that recipients would take more notice of it when it arrived. The package was sent about a week later. Result: Greater response than if only email or only direct mail had been used.

Direct Mail first, followed by email

Email marketing is so popular these days, cluttered inboxes are becoming a problem. Plus, research shows that emails are opened at much lower rates than direct mail. How do you fight those obstacles? Some marketers are sending direct mail — such as a postcard — to alert prospects to a special offer, followed soon after by an email with all the details. Result: Improved email OPEN and CLICK-THROUGH rates, and improved response.

Powerful takeaway for you:

Today, to get people’s attention, it pays to give your message double exposure by synchronizing email and direct mail so they work in tandem. You gain more mindshare, too, when you brand your campaign with a consistent look and feel across channels!

Timely Message

motionmailapp.com

Get ready! It will be here before you know it! For what, you ask? Above is how much time we have left until it’s 2017.

Did this clock get your attention? Countdown clocks get results in emails and on landing pages. They engage the recipient/viewer and help create a sense of urgency for whatever event or product offer you’re promoting.

What’s unique about this clock is that, whenever you open an email or view a landing page you get the exact time before the event — providing real-time incentive to act.

NFL Big Win: One example of where the countdown clock was very effective was for the NFL, according to Marketing Sherpa. The NFL placed a countdown clock in their email newsletter, and it increased open rates by 121% and clickthroughs by 26%. Not only that, but people kept going back to it to see when the next game was. A marketer’s dream!! (I can forward the report to you, if you’d like.)

That said, what better holiday to test a countdown clock than Christmas — especially when it’s 4, 3, or 2 weeks before the big event! And don’t forget to put some timely visuals in your print campaigns, too: Use a picture of a clock, with appropriate copy. Or show a calendar with the holiday date circled. These are classic tactics that continue to perform well.

Let me know if I can be of assistance. Now, how much time until the weekend?

A Great Thank You Delivers

Mail. Envelope and empty letter.  3d
Direct marketers know that FREE, FINAL CHANCE, and ACT NOW are some of the most effective words to get someone to respond to your solicitation. Today, I’d like you to consider the power of a simple THANK YOU.

People like to feel appreciated. And when you show your appreciation with a personal note, they feel a closer connection to your business or non-profit organization, which can prompt another purchase or donation.

The above statement is especially true in fundraising. Tests done by a major fundraiser reveal that quality thank-you letters outperform the typical when it comes to rate of renewal and average gift value**. Another fundraiser made almost $450,000 more in gifts with the inclusion of a thank-you note!***

Now, you’re probably thinking, what makes up a quality thank-you? Here are some DO’s and one big DON’T that will make things very clear – and quite possibly improve your donor retention rates.*

DO:

1. Send a REAL letter: No preprinted card or boilerplate copy. It must be personal.

2. Get to it right away: That means within days (not weeks or months) of the giving.

3. Use the name of the person who gave the donation. You’re starting a relationship, so no “Dear Donor” or “Dear Friend.”

4.Inform: Thank the donor for the gift and give details on how the funds will be used to make a difference.

5. Deepen the connection: Let the donor know when to expect an update—and keep your promise.

6. Be warm & positive: Invite the donor to contact you directly for more information. Or include the name and phone number of a staff person to contact at any time.

7. Make it short: A one-sided letter that speaks sincerely and succinctly will do the job.

8. Honor your donor: Get someone high in the organization to sign the letter.

DON’T:
Do not sell, do not send a survey, do not ask for another gift. Save that for another time.

So, start writing those great thank-you’s now. And if you’d like to have my team evaluate them, send them to me. We’ll be glad to take a look.

 ***Tom Ahern article: “No thanks? No, thanks!”; **Tom Belford article; “OK, “Thank You!”;
*Penelope Burk article, “Thank You Letters: Powerful and Profitable”.

Make Your Emails Work Everywhere

Research proves that the best way to get your audience to respond to your email is with a responsive email.

For those who are not sure what I mean by responsive email — it’s an email that is designed and coded to enable the device it is being read on (desktop, tablet or smartphone) to automatically adapt the layout to better fit the reader’s current screen size.

Below is an example of how my latest newsletter looked in responsive email format. Depending on the device it was read on, the layout of the email changed.

email for mobile
Email on a desktop

Notice the same email looks dramatically different! Elements of the mobile version image have been “stripped away” to two key points. The rest of the content is either hidden with the “Read More” option or is absent. Stripping down is a needed component of mobile emails. Why? Mobile users are often on-the-go or engaged with other activities. If you want your email read, a simple, direct, clear message and image work best. Therefore the most important points need to be determined and all else “stripped away.”

Another thing to consider is if an email is not formatted properly for the user’s device — meaning not responsive, the user becomes less engaged. This translates into a lower click-through rate.

Responsive email is more complex to design and code than standard email, and therefore costs more. That said, it will result in a better user experience and has been shown to produce a higher click-through conversion rate, which can improve your ROI.

 

A One-Minute Critique

Take a look at this magazine subscription card I came across (I removed all references to the title and publication).

Fall email

While keeping its simplicity, the above card can be improved dramatically to elicit a stronger response. I took the liberty to rework it below. Here’s what I did.

1. Knowing there are only seconds to grab someone’s attention, I didn’t want to hide the best component of the offer. It needs to be emphasized. A proven way to do that is with a burst.

2. “Free” is hidden under the “Yes” copy. I moved it to a more prominent position and made it much bigger. As all direct marketers know, “Free” is a very attention-getting word.

3. I emphasized the “Free” component even more by adding an image of an iPad. This gives prospects a better idea of what they will receive.

4. The title, “Special Subscription Offer,” is fine. If you can give a sense of timeliness to it, even better. Is there a holiday coming up that you can tie it to? Here I changed the title to “Special Holiday Offer.”

5. There are two offers on this simple card: one on the top and one on the bottom. Also, the strong selling point “SAVE 69%” is smaller than the rest of the copy. If someone is considering the offer, I want to make it as easy as possible for the person to select the best option. Therefore, I put both offers together and enlarged and bolded the “Save” copy.

6. Finally, I added an arrow next to “Best Deal.” Arrows have a way of attracting attention–let’s use them!

Fall email2

Now look at both cards. Can you see that the bottom card’s message is much stronger and easier to figure out quickly? These changes are just a starting point. Even more can be done.

Direct response creative (whether it’s email, direct mail, a landing page or banner ad) can be a very effective tool in bringing in new revenue, subscribers and members to your organization–when done properly. If you have an existing piece that you would like feedback on, I’d be happy to critique.

Don’t Litter Between 11AM-12:30PM?

Parking sign

Look at the above sign. All other times it’s okay to litter?

We all know that can’t be and for those of us who live in New York City this is a very familiar sign — it’s the alternate side of the street parking sign. But in this email the sign appears to be about littering not parking. You may even wonder what the “P” stands for.

This is a perfect example why these 3C’s — Context, Conciseness and Clarity are so important in all creative. Let me explain how it applies to the above image:

CONTEXT — This sign is taken totally out of context. It’s not hanging on a pole on a New York City street and you’re not trying to find the best parking spot. When you are parking your car and quickly looking at this sign your eye only goes straight to the hours, because that’s the only thing you are concerned about.

CONCISENESS — This sign has two messages. “DON’T LITTER” is really not necessary.

CLARITY — The lesser message “DON’T LITTER” is really overpowering the real message. This is due to the strong design element of a broom popping out and directing your eye to the words “DON’T LITTER”. This confuses the real message of the sign.

These parking signs are bolted to steel poles, therefore they are only going to be seen where they are. But not all messages are like that. Always keep the 3C’s  in mind with your direct response creative. Ask these questions:

1. How or when is a customer receiving your collateral? If it’s moved to another context will it have the same meaning? Also consider who and when your audience will see your mail piece. If people are reviewing their email quickly on their smartphone, is your message right to the point in the least number of characters?

2. Can you get your message down to its core? If your mail piece needs to have a second message, make sure it does not fight for attention.

3. Is it clear? I recommend getting a fresh set of eyes to review your message — ideally a person not at all connected to the project.

I’d love to help you improve response. Let me be the fresh set of eyes to review your current creative message and I’ll do it for FREE*!

*Free 60 minute consult

Unopened Email Can Bring In Sales

Email Subject LinesTry this out. Look at the above subject lines.

Just by reading the subject lines and NOT opening the email we do know —

1. If we stop by a Verizon store the new BlackBerry Z10 will be there
2. If we need a new Apple product we can save on shipping at Staples
3. It’s a good time to go to The Gap, we can save over 40%
4. If we want to hear Broadway Stars singing this weekend we can go to the Irvington Town Hall.

Therefore, we can easily say this: Unopened email can bring in orders. People will just show up at the Gap knowing they can save over 40%, or show up at the Irvington Town Hall and see Broadway Stars singing.

Does this tell us that the subject line is not only important for getting people to click-through, but also effective in doing a quick shout out? My answer is yes and no.

Look at which sectors it works well for, namely retail and entertainment. You can use the subject line as a marquee that basically states the offer. But If we look at the Adobe subject line: “Avoid the five pitfalls of personalization,” It’s a little different here, in that I can’t really do anything with that unless I open it and read what the pitfalls are.

Therefore we can conclude that, a subject line can stand in for an unopened email in certain sectors and with certain offers. But not if we have more of a story to tell.

 

Here’s a simple way to lift email response

Try testing a new call-to-action. According to Hubspot by changing the design of your call-to-action, you can improve your click-through rates by 1300% (or more!)

Four ideas to try are:

1. Use different copy. For example, instead of “Learn More” try “See How XX Works”:

2_button

2. Add a drop shadow:
Button

3. Use a different color or texture:
button

4. Add an arrow and even change the shape:
arrow

**KEEP IN MIND ** When you are testing, a button needs to look like button.

Also do not create any long buttons along the bottom. People will think it’s a footer not a button.

 

Ugly and Unorganized Worked!

directional arrows.fw

The artist and organizer in me is always looking for ways to make things attractive and neat. But if there is one thing that I learned over my years as a Creative Director specializing in direct mail, pretty and organized is not always what gets the highest response.

Years ago when I worked at Time‘s Consumer Marketing Department — when sweepstakes were a driving force in obtaining subscriptions —  I was reviewing the control. It was the most disorganized mailing I’d ever seen! Place this sticker somewhere to get the extra 10,000 dollar bonus… place another sticker on some other form to get the free gift… here’s a list of your prizes, but if you want this specific prize then check a box, etc…. BUT IT WORKED! Why? Because the customer was thinking: “If I could figure this out, I really might be a winner.”

This disorganization was true for this particular sweepstakes package, but it’s not necessarily the true for the direct response pieces we mail today. Each kind of piece draws its own emotional response from the customer. To find out what elicits that response in your customer, you must follow the direct mail mantra:  Test, test, test.