Home  › Email › Email Marketing

Optimizing for Snippets

  |  October 23, 2006   |  Comments

Do you optimize for snippets? Do you even know what snippets are?

I'm embarrassed to say I didn't think much about snippets, or even know their official name, until a client brought them to my attention. With regard to snippets, the Unofficial Gmail FAQ says: "Gmail snippets will show the first part of the message right in the title bar, similar to how Google shows snippets of web pages in their result pages."

Snippets are akin to Outlook's "AutoPreview." Both show in your inbox the text from the body of the e-mail. Gmail shows the subject line bolded and runs the snippet into the same line. AutoPreview also shows the subject line bolded, then provides up to three lines below it. Here are actual examples of how one e-mail appeared in both instances:

Gmail:

Info from Multichannel Merchant, MarketingSherpa and Bronto, December 2005 -- Click here to see an online version of this e-mail

AutoPreview:

Info from Multichannel Merchant, MarketingSherpa and Bronto, Decembe...
Click here to see an online version of this e-mail
Send to a Friend December 06, 2005
DoubleClick Q2 2005 E-mail Trend Report

The snippet consists of the first words (not images) that appear in the e-mail. This idea is similar to Google's Web search results, which show you a bit of text from the site with each result. In that case, the text usually includes the terms you searched, which is useful. With Gmail, it's just the first few words in the e-mail, which is less useful.

Some people refer to snippets and AutoPreview as the preview pane, but that can be confusing. In my experience, "preview pane" refers to the top of the e-mail -- the two inches (give or take, since the recipient controls it) of an e-mail that can be viewed in Outlook (called the Reading Pane) or Lotus Notes. Usually it's just below the list of e-mail messages in your inbox or to the side of it. It includes graphics, while snippet and AutoPreview are solely text.

I've been working with clients to optimize their preview panes for years, but optimizing for snippets and AutoPreview is new. In the example, you can see the first problem with optimizing for snippets: it goes against conventional standards and best practices.

For years it's been a best practice to include what I call housekeeping messages at the top of HTML e-mail. These messages either ask readers to put the sender's address on a whitelist or provide a link to view the e-mail online if the HTML has lost its integrity in transmission or can't be viewed at all.

But when those messages are used as snippets or in the AutoPreview lines, they aren't useful. The subject line should engage readers and pull them into the e-mail. Housekeeping snippets don't advance readers toward that goal.

Even if you're not leading with a housekeeping message, snippets and AutoPreview text can still damage your cause. A few more examples from my inbox:

Gmail:
Starting at just $98/month -- bundle phone, DSL and DIRECTV through Verizon -- Advertisement Verizon Verizon Freedom All. Get

AutoPreview:
ADA Compliance
thompson.com Thompson Publishing Group
Publications | Conferences | Alert Services
Dear HR Professional,

Gmail:
Write better proposals that win more money! -- Write better proposals that get attention -- and win more funding -- with Winnin

I was involved, either intimately or tangentially, with all these examples. This was when I was young and foolish, before I became aware of (now obsessed with) snippets and AutoPreview. In the first example, the snippet itself is redundant ("Verizon Verizon" sounds like it's stolen Little Caesar's "Pizza! Pizza!" tagline), and this is after the brand appears at the end of subject line for a hat trick. We've also got the CAN-SPAM compliant "Advertisement" here, definitely not helping pull the reader in.

The second example's a little better. It includes the brand (which should also be in the sender line), the company URL, and a salutation. But it is really engaging the reader? Including the recipient's name in the salutation might help.

The third instance is another example of redundancy. There's not any new information in the snippet.

So how can we optimize for snippets and AutoPreview?

For the answer, I went to the source: Google itself. I thought if I examined how it crafted some of the e-mail it sent to my Gmail account, I'd better understand how snippets (and AutoPreview) were intended to be used. Here are two examples:

JJbli Jennings has accepted your invitation to Gmail -- Jjbli Jennings has accepted your invitation to Gmail and has chosen the brand

Gmail is different. Here's what you need to know -- First off, welcome. And thanks for agreeing to help us test Gmail. By now you pro

Aha! The first snippet is almost completely redundant to the subject line. There's no added value there. I'm feeling a little less stupid.

The second, well... It's nice to get the welcome and the thanks. But I can't say the snippet makes me more likely to read the e-mail. The subject line itself was pretty effective at doing that.

So where does this leave us? Here are my thoughts on snippets and AutoPreview copy:

  • Pay attention to snippets and AutoPreview. To date, snippets appear to be primarily a Gmail phenomenon, where they're set as the default. Studies have been conducted on how many people using Outlook use the preview pane, but not on how many use AutoPreview. If you have a lot of Gmail addresses on your list, it's probably time to start paying attention to snippets and AutoPreview text. If you don't, it may not be that important.

  • If you optimize for snippets and AutoPreview, housekeeping messages at the very top of messages must go. Find another place for them. I don't recommend the footer, as they may be missed. If your e-mail has a narrow column on the left or right, that may be a natural place to put them.

  • Think carefully about what the snippet or AutoPreview text will say. One suggestion from a client was to include the table of contents (she's publishing an e-mail newsletter). But only a small portion of that will actually been seen in the snippet or AutoPreview area. I prefer to draft unique copy that supports and enhances the subject line, with the goal of engaging the reader and getting the open.

  • Think outside the box. Yes, you can simply place your fabulously engaging snippet/AutoPreview phrase at the very top of the e-mail where all will see it. Or you can use alt tags and place it beneath an image at the top of your e-mail (say, your logo). The alt tag text will come through in the snippet or AutoPreview area, but it won't be seen once the reader opens the e-mail. This is sneakier -- and to my eye, more visually appealing -- than having a phrase at the very top of your message.

  • Test. Test to see if putting meaningful copy in the snippet/AutoPreview area makes any difference in your open or click-through rates. If it does, continue to work with it. If not, it's something you don't have to spend too much time on.

Try it for yourself -- and let us know how it goes!

Meet Jeanne at E-Mail Marketing, the first in the new ClickZ Specifics conference series, October 24-25 in New York City.

Nominate your favorite product or campaign for the 2006 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards, October 16 through close of business (EST) on October 24. Final voting begins on October 30.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

ClickZ Live San Francisco This Year's Premier Digital Marketing Event is #CZLSF
ClickZ Live San Francisco (Aug 11-14) brings together the industry's leading practitioners and marketing strategists to deliver 4 days of educational sessions and training workshops. From Data-Driven Marketing to Social, Mobile, Display, Search and Email, this year's comprehensive agenda will help you maximize your marketing efforts and ROI. Register today!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get ClickZ Email newsletters delivered right to your inbox. Subscribe today!

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

Featured White Papers

BigDoor: The Marketers Guide to Customer Loyalty

The Marketer's Guide to Customer Loyalty
Customer loyalty is imperative to success, but fostering and maintaining loyalty takes a lot of work. This guide is here to help marketers build, execute, and maintain a successful loyalty initiative.

Marin Software: The Multiplier Effect of Integrating Search & Social Advertising

The Multiplier Effect of Integrating Search & Social Advertising
Latest research reveals 68% higher revenue per conversion for marketers who integrate their search & social advertising. In addition to the research results, this whitepaper also outlines 5 strategies and 15 tactics you can use to better integrate your search and social campaigns.

WEBINARS

Jobs

    • Interactive Product Manager
      Interactive Product Manager (Western Governors University) - Salt Lake CityWestern Governors University, one of the 20 largest universities...
    • SEO Senior Analyst
      SEO Senior Analyst (University of Phoenix (Apollo Education Group)) - San FranciscoSEO Senior Analyst   Position Summary...
    • SEM & Biddable Media Manager
      SEM & Biddable Media Manager (Kepler Group LLC) - New YorkAs an Optimization & Innovation Manager at Kepler Group, you will be on the bleeding...