Email marketing requires a lot of preparation if a campaign is to be well executed. At SIGMA, we are currently running a task-force to review email best practices. My colleague, Wendy K. Emerson, and I were tasked with exploring the issues with plain-text emails, spam triggers, subject lines and so-on. People, let me tell you, there is a ton of research out there, some of which is conflicting. We know what we've done for our clients that has worked, as well as areas for improvement, and this review of best practices has been a great exercise so far.
One thing that many email marketers don't pay much attention to is the plain-text version of an email campaign. Plain text versions are critical because many ISPs and company email filters strip away HTML components (including HTML text), potentially leaving the rendered email full of holes. If your audience does not have the patience to download the HTML, or the patience to download the image before the email gets deleted, you have lost your opportunity. Let's not forget the challenges with rendering HTML components on many mobile devices. Plain text is simple, does not raise security flags and renders correctly across more email platforms than HTML. Providing text versions of your emails along with the HTML versions can significantly increase the likelihood that your message will be delivered intact and will be easily read.
Common practice in developing text versions has often been to simply pull in the text from the email and fire away. That may be common practice, but that does not mean it's a best practice. In reality, there are several considerations that should be given to your plain-text version emails. Here a few best practices that can improve your email open rate.
Email Subject Line:
- Your subject line should describe what is inside your email that will invite users to open it without sending it immediately to their trash folder.
- Email subject lines should be 50 characters or less. Some email clients will truncate subject lines longer than 50 characters, which may reduce your open rate.
- Using the same subject line over and over in subsequent email campaigns may also reduce your open rate. Offer up something new in your email subject line with each campaign.
- Avoid spam trigger words in your subject line. They will more than likely prevent your message from ever reaching your recipient's inbox.
- Be clear that company name and brand displays prominently in both subject and from lines.
Plain Text Email Formatting:
- Include enough white space in your plain-text emails to separate content and make it clear and easy to read.
- If it's a newsletter or more lengthy email, you may consider including a table of contents at the beginning of the text-based email.
- Limit the number of links in a plain-text email, including only the most important ones:
- Link to campaign landing page
- Link to company home page
- Link to contact information
- Link to opt-out or email preferences
- Link to an HMTL version of the email if one is available
- URL shorteners are a good idea in place of your lengthy URLs. You might also want to place URLs on their own line of text to clearly distinguish them.
- Placement of links in your email should be given consideration. Things like opt-out, contact info and company website will be just fine at the bottom of the email, but the landing page link and HTML version link should be strategically placed "above-the-fold."
- When formatting your plain-text email, limit the line length to 50-60 characters to prevent formatting malfunctions on delivery.
- Use lots of white space to break out text sections.
- It's best not to over-use special characters like "*" and "!" in plain-text emails. Boxing content out in a border or asterisks is a definite no-no.
- Include a landing page with expanded content to keep your plain-text emails to a length that is not daunting to the recipient. You can then provide more rich, formatted content on the landing page.
- Note that bold and italicized text will not render in a plain-text email - so don't bother.
Marketers don't always pay attention to the importance of a plain-text version email. Often times, it's not formatted at all, and does not end up providing any real value. These text emails should be considered an important element of any email campaign. Testing is never a bad idea. Create plain-text templates that apply best practices and then test them out to determine which perform best for your campaign types.
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