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Six Steps to Sending Success The Definitive Guide to Email Design


When online marketers around the globe are faced with the challenge of generating more revenue from their existing customers more and more marketers are turning to email as it’s cost-effective and highly measurable. The ‘batch and blast’ mentality of times gone by has been pushed aside and attention is turning towards targeted, personalised, segmented, relevant, well tested and proven email marketing. In short, it’s more important than ever that your email is well designed so that it is welcomed by the recipient, leading them become loyal to your company. When was the last time you looked at the design of your newsletter? It’s now time for you to bring your newsletter up to date, both visually and content wise whilst adhering to the latest best practice examples.  Whilst we all know the main do’s and don’ts of email design, it’s easy to get bogged down with the look and feel of the email and forget about the basics. In this day and age it’s increasingly difficult to get noticed in a crowded inbox, especially thanks to the advent of web 2.0 and all the associated issues

Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

which come with it. You need to be more targeted and more relevant than ever. Think of your email as a shop window. Does it draw you in? A boring display = no customers. It’s exactly the same for email design. To make your email as accessible as possible across all email clients, simplicity is key. Design is not just about how pretty the email looks but also about the usability of the email. The design should direct the recipient through the email, leading them neatly to a call to action. The style should suit the audience you’re appealing to. You have 3-4 seconds to grab the attention of your target recipient before they move on.


Research has shown that email is the main tactic that has helped them engage the most with customers with 59% intending to increase their spending on the tool in 2009. Source: Econsultancy & Cscape Study November 2008

In our latest whitepaper “Six Steps to Sending Success” we cover each and every area you need to consider when re-designing your emails. From initial designs and HTML tips to testing and measuring, if you follow our simple words of advice you will be well on your way to successful email marketing. Enjoy reading and good luck!

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Email Design Best Practice Adhering to best practice won’t automatically guarantee higher open rates but it will mean you’re more likely to see better results if the email is opened. Here we aim to highlight the most effective tactics to help you optimise your newsletter with regards to the latest best practice guidelines. Use your company name as addressee: Rely on your good name and use your brand as the addressee. That way you are legally on the safe side and of course you catch the recipient’s eye with your email. Subject line as teaser: Use concise subject lines, emphasising the recipient’s benefit and prompt him/ her to take action. More information on subject lines can be found further on in this guide.

Editorial for your readers: Write an interesting and relevant editorial and capture your readers’ attention immediately after they have opened the email. According to a recent survey, subscribers are engaged more by newsletters with an editorial, than a newsletter without a proper introduction. Another positive effect of the editorial is that you can highlight particular elements of your newsletter to your audience, and if the email is viewed in a preview pane, the recipient can immediately see what articles are available. More information on how your email can be viewed will be found later.


A recent survey found that 50.98% of companies list the email sender as the company name rather than sender name. Know your audience: would they rather see an email from your company or an individual? Ask them! Source:The Elements of Email Survey Results Report (eROI)

Directory for a better orientation: If your newsletter consists of several articles, then a link directory is essential. This way your recipients can reach the article they are most interested in reading with one simple click. But make sure you don’t over burden them with too many articles.

Company name as sender

Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

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Relevant images for a higher performance: Pictures can enhance the performance of your newsletters – but only if they are relevant to the newsletter content. Therefore choose the pictures carefully and make sure that the newsletter content will also make sense without images so you don’t need to worry about automatic image suppression. Add to address book: Benefit from the positive effects an attractive image can bring you by ensuring that all images and illustrations are directly shown to your subscribers by simply asking your readers to add your email address to their address books. You should do this when they sign up and you can include it in your pre header as well. Plenty of ways to get in touch: You should give readers the chance to get in touch with you via the channel of their choice, so always refer to your postal address, email address and telephone number in an obvious place in your newsletter.

Link to the web version: Integrate a link to the web version in as prominent a place as possible. Some recipients prefer to view the newsletter in a browser rather than in the preview window. Link to mobile version will become more important in the future as well.


‘Forward to a Friend’ strategies are great ways to organically grow your database but marketers are responsible for complying with the data protection rules and the Information Commissioner’s advice is that the customer passing on a friend’s email address has permission to do so.

Forwarding feature: A recommendation from your readers is what every marketer wants. That is why you should provide your recipients with the possibility to forward the newsletter directly from the newsletter template, allowing you to track the number of forwards. Opportunity to subscribe: If a person receives a forwarded newsletter he/she should immediately have the opportunity to subscribe to it directly from the forwarded email. So make sure you offer the possibility to subscribe as visibly as your unsubscribe option. Show the recipient’s email address: State the recipient’s email address to

Include an ‘add to address book’ instruction Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

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raise the credibility of your email and facilitate readers who receive your newsletter several times to subscribe with the right email address. Link to profile data: Your recipients should have the chance to update their profile. That way you are you able to send them relevant information and avoid unnecessary unsubscriptions. Clear and easy unsubscribe: Make this easy to find otherwise you run the risk of people simply clicking the ‘report as spam’ link which is dangerous. Make the process as easy as possible with just one or two clicks.

Hints and Tips for Email

Programming and Layout

Your email lands in an inbox, so whatever is displayed in the preview pane or written in the subject line is what is going to prompt the recipient to open your email and start dialogue with your organisation. It must be eyecatching, relevant and desirable. Don’t over clutter your email or cut corners because it’s cheaper and ensure you’re proud of everything you’re sending.

Whilst the Data Protection Act states you have 28 days to remove someone from the list, try and do it within 24hours as it could damage you further should the recipient receive additional emails after they’ve unsubscribed.

HTML emails: HTML design for emails is very different to websites and designers must take email limitations into account. One of the main reasons for designing emails using HTML is the ability to increase brand awareness by having consistent corporate design across your newsletters and your website. Here are a few basic hints and tips for HTML design for email: ■■ ■■


■■ ■■ ■■

Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information


Do not use Javascript or Flash as most email clients don’t accept it Using forms in HTML emails should be avoided – include a link to a website form instead Keep your email creative width to 600 pixels – anything wider will mean force the user to scroll horizontally which never feels comfortable in an email unless you have a newsletter which is designed for horizontal scrolling only Use background colours which will render automatically Avoid all unnecessary embedded tables, rows or columns Use inline styling not CSS - simple layouts work the best

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Design around spam filters by following a few simple guidelines:  Avoid using bright red font, capital letters or numerous exclamation marks  Keep an eye on your image vs. text ratio  Avoid ‘spammy’ words such as ‘mortgage’ or ‘viagra ’  Use real content when testing – spam filters can get suspicious of ‘lorem ipsum’ stuff  Send plain text email with the HTML one

Preview pane at the bottom

 Test test test!

Preview pane on the right

Email rendering: Users tend to have their preview pane on the right hand side or the bottom as shown here in Outlook 2007.


Here are a few hints when thinking about how emails will be viewed in a preview pane:


Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

■■ ■■


Ensure your logo is prominent Keep important content ‘above the fold‘ Never include important information in an image only Use Alt tags for images to explain content if image is blocked The average measurement for this area is 300 pixels from the

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top of the email: this is especially important for web-based email clients such as hotmail or Gmail. Graphics vs Text: Images are important for branding purposes, not to mention studies that prove that we read more text when images are present. But increasingly email clients don’t display the images within an email automatically, asking users to click on a button or a link to display the images so it’s a mistake to rely on images to convey your message. This has meant we’ve had to dramatically re-think the way HTML emails are designed and emails now need to make sense without images. Here are a few simple ways of combating images on vs. off:

are not images ■■ Give your images specific sizes and ensure they have ‘Alt’ text ■■ Always host the images rather embed them, then link to the images within the HTML code


With eCircle’s new deliverability solution there is no more need to set up a variety of test accounts; you can simply view what your email will look like in any email client at the touch of a button.

Text Only Emails: Not everyone can view HTML emails (or they might be viewing an email on a mobile device, see below) so ensure your emails are always supported with a text-only version. eCircle’s eCmessenger email broadcast software makes it easy for you by allowing you to send multi-part emails from one platform. Here are a few things to remember when writing text-versions of your emails:

Try and avoid using an image at the top of your email as otherwise your email may make no sense in certain email clients ■■ Ensure your brand name is easily identifiable even if the images are automatically blocked ■■ Make sure your headers or titles

Limit the line length to 70-72 characters and a hard return which will minimise your message being broken up and make your message unreadable ■■ If you’re linking to a website ensure the URL’s are on their own, separate lines ■■ Add a link to an online hosted HTML

Email with images turned OFF

Email with images turned ON

■■ ■■

Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

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version of the email so people can view the email this way too ■■ You can smarten up your text only emails using a few simple elements including space, lines, special characters and capital letters: the more important the message, the higher up in the text email it should be ■■ Write your text emails in a plain text editor such as NotePad (PC) or TextWrangler (Mac) as you need an application which has no formatting. Personalisation: From the greeting and subject lines to whole content blocks, with the aid of a professional broadcast solution you can implement even the most complex personalisation. Test the extent of how the performance of your newsletter can be increased with an individual customer approach. Think about the different ways you could personalise your email: The obvious starting place is the greeting line ■■ You can also personalise your email in the subject line by including the recipient name or their postcode as an alternative personal item. ■■ Think about being clever with images within your email and incorporate their name or company name in an image (not forgetting any rendering issues as above!) ■■ Personalisation doesn’t just mean calling someone by their name. Send them a message on their birthday wishing them a good day with a money off birthday discount for example

Email Viewed in Mobile Devices: More and more people are accessing their emails via ‘Smart phones’ such as BlackBerry’s or iPhone therefore it’s becoming more and more important that businesses adapt emails accordingly, and although there are no strict rules about how emails are rendered on mobile devices there are a few things you can take into consideration to convey your message in a positive way:


‘Smart’ phones often inaccurately display HTML messages so to view a proper version of the message on mobile devices you must specifically optimise your message.

Ensure you send a multi-part message so a text and HTML version can be viewed. ■■ Make your ‘from’ name and subject lines short and easily recognisable as mobile inboxes don’t have much display space ■■ The average screen size of a ‘smart phone’ is 320 pixels so messages should be no longer than 50 characters per line ■■ Always include a link to a hosted version of the email ■■


Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

Heatmap and email layout: To a great extent a well designed email should be able to trump image blocking. The heatmaps shown on the following page show the difference in readership between an email with images on and off. The version with images received more attention and time spent on the page but not by much as the good use of tables, text, alt text allowed for strong attention to the blocked version, whereas in the email with the image blocked, recipients are spending longer reading the entire headline rather than scanning and skipping down. (Source: 2009

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Images and Heatmaps (Source: 2009 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide, Marketing Sherpa)

Email Marketing Benchmark Guide, MarketingSherpa.)

EmAIl COPy Your email will be scanned rather than read, however don’t make the mistake of thinking email copy isn’t important – it is! Ensure all the important information is written ‘above the fold’; take the following into consideration and you should stay safe: First things first: Think about what actions you want the recipient of your email to take and ensure that the option to make these choices is the first thing they see in the email. I.e. request a brochure; place

Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

an order; subscribe to your newsletter; forward the message to a friend etc. These should all be placed in a menu bar at the top of the email. As this is the email equivalent of a letterhead the important information should be the most prominent. Call to action: Don’t wait until the end of the email to put a call to action as this isn’t traditional direct mail. Don’t assume that your recipients will click simply where there’s a link. Prompt them to click! Include call to actions throughout email in various formats (buttons, click throughs on images etc). Ensure that there is a clear call to action in a preview pane, and make sure you indicate different

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channels for the client to get in touch, not just email. Right tone for the audience: Make sure you are writing your emails to suit the recipient using language they will be comfortable with. An email to students will need to be written very differently than an email to pensioners. Manage the length of email copy with links: You don’t want your recipient to be scrolling down through reams of text. Give them a snapshot of the most important information and include a link to a hosted version of the complete article. This will maintain their interest and direct them on to your website where they may venture further into other areas of your site. Keep the text to one or two lines per section to maintain their attention and keep the message as short and actionable as possible. Think about the copy style: Remember your email is simply a means to a sale and it’s unlikely that someone will re-visit your email so the copy will need to trigger an immediate response.

Email Subject Lines Writing successful subject lines is extremely important and should not be an after thought. This is the first impression a recipient will get so it’s imperative to get it right! Your subject line is competing with a lot of other emails in an inbox so if it’s dull, meaningless or out of context you run the risk of it being deleted immediately. We have therefore summarised some helpful hints which should give you some new suggestions for your next campaign. Be inspired and - test, test, test!


The copy of your email needs to be persuasive and engaging so refer to the principles of sales copy, AIDA: A ttention I nterest D esire A ction

Subject line length: With 50-60 characters to play with you have around 6-10 words to get your message across so you need to get to the point straightaway. Studies have shown a link between shorter subject lines and higher open rates. Focus on your name: Having your company or brand name in the title can significantly increase your open rates, but if you’re worried about the amount of space you have to work with then one way around this is by adjusting the sender’s email address to include the company name. Alternatively, you could use the name of your newsletter in the subject line to catch the recipient’s eye. Example: “25% off eCircle conference tickets” Emphasise the call to action: Make the recipient curious with news snippets and other important announcements. Set deadlines or

Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

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countdowns and the sense of urgency will increase the likelihood of accepting your offer. Use questions in the subject heading if it suits the topic as they will involve the reader much more than just pure statements. Example: “All shirts discounted - only 24 hours to go before the sale ends…” Accentuate the added value to the recipient: Keep it short and sweet and get straight to the point.  Put yourself in your recipient’s place and temporarily put aside your own targets.  The chance of getting your email read will be reduced if you don’t manage to emphasise the advantages of your offer in the subject heading. Example: “Order now and receive two shirts for the price of one”

otherwise you risk using up this tactic with your readers. Also, don’t forget about the recipients who may not have provided you with their name when registering and formulate it so that it works even without personalisation.  In addition to personalising the subject heading, it is also useful to personalise the sender name.  People are more likely to buy from other people.


Only 25%* of marketers test their subject lines on a regular basis. Within eCmessenger you can take a small sample of your database, test two subject lines alongside each other and the main sendout is carried out automatically with the most successful subject line. *Source:The Elements of Email Survey Results Report (eROI)

Example: “A special offer for Lucy Hudson” Words not to use in subject lines: Don’t use too many exclamation marks or punctuation. Avoid using words associated with spam such as ‘lose weight’, ‘low mortgage rates’ or anything to do with pharmaceutical items, medication or sex. Avoid swear words and don’t use symbols such as £ or $. Try not to use capitals otherwise it looks like you’re SHOUTING!

The whole truth and nothing but the truth: It’s vital to focus on appropriate subject headings. Only raise expectations you are able to fulfill! Nothing causes more harm to your business than a dissatisfied, disappointed customer.  By being reliable and truthful you build up long-term trust with your customers and accomplish a loyal readership. Example: “Making your headings more successful”


Personalising the subject heading and sender’s name: A personalised subject heading is definitely an eye-catcher. Don’t personalise each newsletter send out

Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

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TESTING THE EmAIl Testing testing testing is the motto of successful email marketing. Even the smallest changes can have a huge effect on the results and without doing so, you could be throwing money away. So before you send out your brand new beautifully designed email, we have compiled a list of tips, showing you which variables you need to test and how the email campaign will perform across different email clients. Day and time of send out and contact frequency: Monday morning or Wednesday afternoon? The best time to send your emails out varies according to the sender as well as the products you’re advertising. Generally speaking, Tuesdays to Thursdays are the favourite weekdays amongst marketers. Regarding send out frequency, it is tricky to find the optimal balance between contacting the customers too often or too little. More than 50% of major email senders contact

Test Version A: CTR 6.1%

Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

their clients more than once a week. list source: With the enhanced reporting features of eC-messenger, you can analyse the performance of your emails according to the address source. Thus you gain an insight on the quality of your email addresses, giving you the opportunity to optimise your lead generation accordingly. Segmentation: The more you analyse your database and segment it, the more effective your email campaigns will be and therefore you’ll generate more sales. A/B split test: This is a quick and easy way of testing your email or campaign, allowing you to learn more about your subscribers and how they react to different messages or designs. Customer behaviour: Analyse who buys when and which

Test Version B: CTR 4.5%

Main Broadcast: CTR 5.8%

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influences the level of usage (heavy openers, heavy clickers etc) has on purchases. Additionally try to make use of any cross-selling or up-selling potential.  Take a look at any last purchases and send offers concerning related products.  Type of offers: Tune in to the preferences of your customers.  Which kind of offers come across as more attractive:  price reductions as a percentage or in monetary terms?  Do your customers like to cash coupons or do they enjoy taking part in prize draws? Email design: Vary the design options of your newsletter.  Test light vs. heavy illustrations and discreet vs. flashy designs. Refer back to our Email Design section above for more detailed information. Content: Find out whether your customers prefer mono- or multi-thematic campaigns or informative content or pure sales content.  Will your clients cope better with many or few links? Demographics and geography: Find out if you can describe your best customers by demographic or geographic attributes and contact them in a second step with offers tailored to their profiles. If you test each element and make any necessary changes once your email has been tested and weak areas have been identified and dealt with, you will have the makings of an extremely successful email campaign.

Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

Measuring Performance  K so you’ve completely re-designed O your emails according to best practice advice, rendering capabilities and it’s been fully tested so now it’s crunch time. There are many ways to analyse the results of an email campaign, but which ones actually show how successful it has been? In many cases opening rates or click-through rates are looked at for advice. It’s imperative that you use the best reporting tools possible to analyse the results of your email campaign in the most effective way. We’ll shortly explain these popular performance figures and show you some interesting facts.


Accurately measuring the performance of your email campaign goes beyond just looking at open rates and click rates. You need to look at the bigger picture including the quality of your database, how email compliments other media and marketing efforts, and of course the impact on sales.

Opening Rate (OR): Open rates work by embedding a tiny invisible graphic into an email which displays once the email is opened. The ‘OR’ is the ratio between opened and sent emails so you can monitor these as the campaign goes live, monitoring their development each minute, hour or day. If these are compared on a weekly/monthly basis, this is a good indicator for the progress of interest in your emails, and in 2008 the average open rate was 23% (Source: National Email Benchmarking Report 2008, DMA.) Bear in mind though that these days, with a number of email clients blocking the rendering of images, your reporting may not be 100% accurate. However the vast majority of emails sent will eventually be rendered so it’s not all doom and gloom. Click Through Rate (CTR): This is calculated from the number of clicked links in an email in proportion

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to the number of sent emails. The average CTR rose from 14% in Q3 2007 to 18.2% in the same quarter in 2008. (Source: National Email Benchmarking Report 2008, DMA.) If you want to increase this you have to keep two things in mind: segment your database in appropriate target groups and send them correspondence with relevant content. Bounce Rate: This is obtained by dividing the number of emails not correctly delivered by the total number of sent messages. In the B2B sector approximately one fifth of all messages are blocked. Professional sender software like eC-messenger enables you to handle bounces automatically, for example the system directly deactivates email addresses which are invalid. This helps you to reduce your bounce rate and keep your lists clean. In 2008 the top reason for emails bouncing was that the email address did not exist (Source: National

Email Benchmarking Report 2008, DMA) so it’s imperative to keep your lists clean.

Conversion Rate: This is the number of addressees who reacted in a certain way, e.g. purchase; download; registration, etc in proportion to the number of sent emails. Last year the average conversion rate for most campaigns was lower than 2%.


With over 10 years email marketing experience, eCircle can help you make the best of your email campaigns so if you need any further assistance then don’t hesitate to call our specialists on 020 7618 4200 or email

Click Through Rate to Opening Rate Ratio: If you divide the click through rate by the opening rate, you’ll gain insight into the success of your campaign from the addressees who opened the email. This indicates whether readers considered the content as interesting or whether you need to optimise it further. Other interesting performance figures include the average turnover per email or leads generated in proportion to emails sent.

So now you’ve had a chance to dissect your email bit by bit and get it re-designed following our best practice advice, you should be well on your way to sending a hugely successful email campaign. Otherwise we wish you all the best!

Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

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UK: eCircle Ltd. 5-9 Hatton Wall London EC1N 8HX

+44 (0) 20 7618 4200

Germany: eCircle AG Nymphenburger Str. 86 80636 München

France: eCircle SARL 10, rue du Fg Poissonnière 75010 Paris

Italy: eCircle S.r.l. Viale Lunigiana, 46 20125 Milano

About eCircle: eCircle is one of Europe’s largest digital direct marketing companies, owning the most comprehensive permission marketing database for email campaigns and lead generation as well as a state-of-the-art technology solution for digital direct marketing. Since 1999 eCircle has stood for innovative and efficient online marketing for customer acquisition and retention. Leading organisations including Argos., HBOS and Samsung trust our consistent customer care, our long-term experience and not least our highly motivated and committed employees. The company has more than 200 employees, with headquarters in Munich and additional offices in London, Paris and Milan.

© eCircle Ltd., September 2009

Email Design Whitepaper, September 2009 or For further information

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