Best Practices Exist for a Reason, Part 1: Email

I’m continually stunned when a client, art director, copywriter or any other strategist in the marketing industry insists on using a design or copy technique that directly contradicts proven best practices.

I’m continually stunned when a client, art director, copywriter or any other strategist in the marketing industry insists on using a design or copy technique that directly contradicts proven best practices.

Over the years, I’ve absorbed studies about the ventricles of the brain and how it performs distinctly different cognitive processes. I’ve read color studies, the anatomy of eye movement, how words and numbers trigger comprehension and reaction, fonts and their role in evoking an emotional reaction, persuasion psychology and unconscious motivation—the list goes on and on—all in an effort to apply these learnings in order to help our clients get the maximum response to their marketing efforts.

While I have a laundry list of “must-do’s” for every medium, I thought I’d share a few digital best practices as Part 1 in a series, and I’d love to hear why you’re NOT following these proven techniques:

  • Test Your Subject Lines: According to a 2014 poll by Howling Mad’s Parry Malm, marketers ranked subject lines among the top variable that affected email response rates however 25% ever conducted any testing. Parry (one of the leading experts on email subject lines) has learned that ‘Sale’ delivers 23.2% opens while ‘Save’ only gets 3.4%. He also found that if the subject line is personalized but the email content isn’t, you gain opens but don’t drive clicks. I put that insight in my ‘Duh!’ file.
  • Buttons Will Get More Clicks Than Text Links: Many have tested this theory (myself included) and the answer seems to always conclude that buttons will outperform text links. AWeber conducted a series of button/text links, and their findings are fascinating as they determined that, over time, text links outperformed the buttons—but they also concluded that what works today, may not work tomorrow. Again, test and keep testing.
  • Text Links Should Be in Color: While this might seem like a ‘Duh!’ I’m always surprised when I accidently hover my finger or mouse over a block of text and discover “there’s a hyperlink in them there hills!” If you want me to take an action (like clicking on something) then lead my horse to the water.
  • A Button Needs to Look Like a Button: Neil Patel, the co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, owns the button testing world hands down and he concludes that the digital button that gets the most clicks is shaped like a button (rounded corners, slight drop shadow) and is colored (or at least in contrast to the rest of the page of copy in order to stand out—duh). Try NOT to match the color of your button to other call-out boxes on the page as the distraction prevents the action.
  • Button Copy Should Be in First Person: Try this test yourself. If your action button is written in third person (“Start now” or “Try Product X Free”) try testing it against copy in the 1st person (“Help Me Work Faster” or “End My Headaches”). It’s highly likely you’ll see a lift of at least 25% in clicks, at least according to Ashtyn Douglas and Joanna Wiebe who conducted similar tests.
  • Fonts Matter: While many designers will argue this topic endlessly, the current consensus is that sans serif fonts are superior for body text and serif fonts are best for headlines. Of course if you have a newer display, it doesn’t make much difference. But not everyone has the newest technology and some work on displays that are 10+ years old, so if you target a senior audience (yes, that includes senior managers in small companies who cannot afford to regularly upgrade their hardware), you may want to design for maximum legibility. Make sure your font is a system font (most likely to be supported by the majority of email clients and web browsers) like Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Geneva or Trebuchet MS, and large enough for people to read without any effort—at least 10 if not 12 pt. Even though Google is now providing supposedly supported modern web fonts, it’s a little too early to tell whether every email client and web browser will be able to properly display them.

In summary, if all of these marketers have already done all the testing for you, why wouldn’t you at least consider these insights and apply them to your own email marketing efforts? Tell me. I’m all ears.

Opening Up a Dialogue About Spam

I learned about an interesting survey yesterday.

It basically was focused on the fact that many legitimate advertisers following the e-mail industry’s best practices still find themselves not connecting with consumers due to the spam button.

I learned about an interesting survey yesterday.

It basically was focused on the fact that many legitimate advertisers following the e-mail industry’s best practices still find themselves not connecting with consumers due to the spam button.

As a result, online marketing services provider Q Interactive and marketing research firm Marketing Sherpa conducted a survey to look into consumers’ definition of spam. What did they find? For starters, that there is a big disconnect between what consumers see as spam and what is considered to be spam by the interactive community.

According to the two firms’ “Spam Complainers Survey,” the definition of spam has changed from the permission-based regulatory definition of “unsolicited commercial e-mail” to a perception-based definition centered on consumer dissatisfaction.

In fact, according to the survey, more than half of the participants–56 percent–consider marketing messages from known senders to be spam if the message is “just not interesting to me”. In addition, 50 percent of respondents consider “too frequent e-mails from companies I know” to be spam and 31 percent cite “e-mails that were once useful but aren’t relevant anymore”. (Respondents could select more than one answer for multiple questions in the survey.)

When it comes to using the “report spam” button—the primary tool Internet Service Providers (ISPs) provide consumers to counter the problem—nearly half of respondents (48 percent) provided a reason other than “did not sign up for e-mail” for why they reported an e-mail as spam. In fact, underscoring consumers’ varying definitions of spam, respondents cited a variety of non-permission-based reasons for hitting the spam button, including “the e-mail was not of interest to me” (41 percent); “I receive too much e-mail from the sender” (25 percent); and “I receive too much e-mail from all senders” (20 percent).

The surey also found that there is a pervasive confusion among consumers regarding what they believe will happen as a result of clicking the “report spam” button. Over half of respondents, 56 percent, for example, reported it will “filter all e-mail from that sender” while 21 percent believe it will notify the sender that the recipient did not find that specific e-mail useful so the sender will “do a better job of mailing me” in the future. Even more indicative of the lack of understanding, 47 percent believe they will be unsubscribed from the list by clicking “report spam” while 53 percent do not believe the button it is a method to unsubscribe.

Not surprisingly, accompanying this confusion is the frequent misuse of the “report spam” button. The survey found a large number of consumers, 43 percent, forgo advertiser-supplied unsubscribe links in email and simply use the ISP’s “report spam” button to unsubscribe from an advertiser’s list—regardless of whether or not the email fits the consumer’s definition of spam. Moreover, a full one in five consumers (21 percent) use the “report spam” button to unsubscribe from e-mail they specifically do not consider spam.

To address this problem, Q Interactive has called for ISPs, marketers, advertisers and publishers to come together with industry associations such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau to agree on a solution that is beneficial to consumers and all interested parties. To begin the dialogue, Q Interactive suggests two points for discussion:

* Replace the broken “report spam” button with buttons that more clearly indicate consumers’ intentions such as an “unsubscribe” button and an “undesired” button.

* ISPs should categorize e-mail senders based on their practices to identify and reward senders who follow best practices in transparency and permission.

For the good of our industry, we should all pay heed.