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:
Info from Multichannel Merchant, MarketingSherpa and Bronto, December 2005 -- Click here to see an online version of this e-mail
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:
Starting at just $98/month -- bundle phone, DSL and DIRECTV through Verizon -- Advertisement Verizon Verizon Freedom All. Get
thompson.com Thompson Publishing Group
Publications | Conferences | Alert Services
Dear HR Professional,
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
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:
Try it for yourself -- and let us know how it goes!
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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.
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