I recently posted that I believe online newsrooms, search engine optimized press releases and email newsletters are more important to organizational communicators than Twitter and Facebook. Not that I believe Twitter and Facebook are unimportant. The Advance Guard just released a white paper on how organizations can leverage Facebook’s new fan page upgrades, and Twitter is emerging as a powerful discovery channel.
But if you look at the adoption rates — and you have the ability to create content that is genuinely compelling to your key publics — email still dwarfs other channels, particularly for business-to-business communications. With 99% of internet users citing daily use according to recent research [PDF], email is by far the most popular online delivery channel available.
In this post, I’ll drill down on best practices for email newsletter campaigns, which can be used to notify recipients about updates to an organization’s online newsroom, and to solidify relationships that may have been created in the physical world in the online space.
I’ve been researching marketing campaigns that rely on the online newsletter as a delivery vehicle. Most of the quantitative research I found was on MarketingSherpa.com, and excellent online resource, and to which I owe a huge debt of gratitude for this post.
There’s a good deal of free research available, but I have a paid account, which gives me access to premium research. After reviewing a series of research reports and case studies on what works and what doesn’t, here are my topline summary of my findings:
Good Content is Goal Number One – While many of the underlying design tenants can add incremental increases to the effectiveness of your email newsletter efforts, if the quality of the content isn’t truly useful to your key publics, best design practices alone won’t help you. “Article quality is far and away the biggest factor – good relevant stuff gets 100x the click through of marginal stuff, and weak stuff will be ignored,” says email marketing guru John Wall, host of Marketing Over Coffee.
Promos Don’t Always Work – Special offers aren’t always the answer. In fact, research shows that no offer campaigns often outperform sweepstakes and give-aways. Could it be that hard sales tactics are ineffective in world where people filter and consume only the information they want, anytime, any place, any where?
Be Careful with HTML – Content featured entirely in HTML gets blocked, especially by at work recipients. So use text-only promotional content including a spelled out, clickable URL instead of just HTML.
Viewing Occurs in the Preview Pane – Design for email client preview panes because 80% of at-work users decide what to open and what to delete through their Outlook preview panes. The same is true with 70% of consumers.
Design for the Upper Left-Hand Corner – When designing for the preview pane, keep in mind that the left hand column as always included, while the right hand column may be out of view. The challenge is that while left hand columns will be visible in the preview pane, heat map studies show that people tend to click on the upper right hand portion of the screen, so design your newsletter email template to make use of both.
Optimal Email Subject Line Length – There are three schools of thought on email subject line length. The first prefers subject lines under 45 words, since Hotmail and Gmail truncate anything longer. The second group says open rates increase with 50-80 character subject lines, as long it doesn’t fall in the 60-70 character range. The third, and in my opinion most reasonable school of thought is that the subject line length should be tailored to the campaign. If it’s promoting a specific call to action, keep it short. If it’s a newsletter, make it longer and tease the contents.
Design for Multiple Systems and Clients – Design your email newsletter templates to look good in a range of email systems. Set up test accounts in AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, Roadrunner and Yahoo. And pull it down to a range of clients like Entourage, Outlook Express and Outlook 2003-2007. Tweak your email newsletter template as needed to make it look good in as many systems and clients as possible.
Design for the Mobile User – To help the mobile community derive value from email newsletters, feature a series of content related links above the banner so that Blackberry and other mobile users have something to click on with excessive scrolling.
Designing for Outlook 2007 – Here’s a list of email marketing design limitations that would very useful to any email newsletter template designer looking to build something that looks good in Outlook 2007. Bit a good rule of thumb is to keep your email template simple, and treat it as stepping stone to a landing page where you do they fancier coding.
Admin Links Below the Fold – The objective is not to make it difficult for recipients to opt out, white list or forward the email newsletter, but rather to invest the critical top left corner of the screen that is visible in the preview pane into teasing the content specific being sent.
Opt-in Form Design is Critical – If your newsletter is designed to generate leads, the formatting of your opt-in form is much more important than the creative, and single column forms work best. Also, keep in mind that phone number fields in opt-in forms always *crush* reply rates.
Of course, if you want all the details, you need to get yourself a MarketingSherpa.com premium access account, which is well worth every penny.
If you’re a public relations practitioner seeking an easy-to-use platform for managing your own, custom online newsroom with search engine optimization wizards and integrated email newsletter capabilities built in, tweet @chrisbechtel, email us at email@example.com or call +1-310-499-0544 ext 504 to schedule a live demo of the iPressroom online newsroom PR software package.
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