E-mail Secrets of a Top Converting Web Site

Proflowers is a conversion-rate heavyweight. Its top-line conversion rate has been in the double-digits for the past few years, and it consistently appears in the top 10 converting Web sites according to the folks at Nielsen Online.

This is not an accident.

Proflowers.com is committed to a culture of ongoing optimization. A recent promotional e-mail demonstrates its commitment to go beyond the Web site, extending into other touch points, specifically its e-mail marketing.

Look at this screen shot of a Proflowers e-mail as it appears in my Entourage e-mail preview:

04.11.08 Eisenberg Proflowers screen shot

Contrast that with this e-mail preview from Smartbargains.com:

04.11.08 Eisenberg Smartbargains screen shot

The Proflowers e-mail shows evidence of planning and optimization, while the second shows, well, a bunch of Xs.

Notice the top of Proflowers’s e-mail makes the offer part of the “Can’t view this e-mail” line. Most only say something like, “Having problems reading this e-mail? Please click here.”

Inspired by the Proflowers example, today I’ll share a few tips so you can optimize your own e-mail messages.

Optimize Your E-mail Marketing

  • Use alt tags. Never place an image in an e-mail (or anywhere else online) without an alt tag. It’s just smart, and there’s no downside. Proflowers uses the alt tag in the large image on the left to reinforce the overall message, and most of the major images are tagged appropriately. I can easily preview the message and act on it, without even downloading the images.

  • Test your subject line. The Proflowers’s subject line gives me enough information to determine if I’m interested in the offer. While this direct approach won’t work for every situation, your subject line should show respect for the recipient’s time and inbox. At the very least, the subject line and content should be consistent. Don’t hook recipients in with a catchy subject only to let them down in the e-mail body by hiding the offer or by making them scroll down to see it.
  • Copy matters.It matters a lot. Make sure your offer is clear and concise.
  • Test your offers. What are you offering? Sometimes a seemingly lesser offer performs better. Notice how the Proflowers offer gives me a clear choice between two decent offers.

Get Into the Inbox

These optimization tips are all well and good — provided your e-mail actually arrives at the intended inbox. So much opt-in e-mail ends up in the junk folder because it’s mistaken for spam. I asked my friend, Yasifur Rahman, VP of Kobemail, to share a few other tips that will help marketers optimize deliverability:

  • Images and text. It’s a good idea to work toward a 60:40 image-to-text ratio. Image-only creative is a big no-no. Always have both images and text in creative. Most spam creative is just center-aligned images, so this layout is a spam indicator for various filters. If you have a top header (usually a logo), keep it under 100 pixels and simple, if possible. And always linked to the sender’s landing page.

  • Overuse of spam-flagged words. Symbols and words, such as “$,” “FREE,” “$100” (or any other amount), “cash,” “!,” “Prize,” “!!!,” “click,” and “complimentary” increase your spam score exponentially when used excessively. A few of them used here and there won’t affect the e-mail as much. But when they’re used consistently throughout the message, the e-mail is open season for spam blockers.
  • Backgrounds and alignment. Colorful backgrounds raise a spam score greatly. A white background is the lowest scoring color within an e-mail. Also, most spam messages are centered. Left-align your creative to make it look legitimate. The combination of these changes will have a positive effect on your deliverability.
  • Subscription date. Add a subscription date to your message, such as: “Thank you for signing up on 07/13/06.” This builds e-mail credibility. The more information about the subscription you put in your e-mail, the easier it is for ISPs to determine that the mailing was a legitimate, subscribed mailing.
  • Broken image and text. A smooth transition between image and text makes your creative look professional. Plus, when images are disabled, the HTML won’t break. Combined with the earlier recommendations, it will be easier for e-mail recipients to believe your e-mail isn’t spam. And if reported, it’s easier for the sender to convince the ISPs that the newsletter was legit and not intended as spam.

You can get more of Rahman’s tips on his blog.

E-mail and the Big Picture

E-mail’s only one piece of the conversion rate puzzle.

Double-digit conversion rates don’t happen overnight. They take work and relentless testing, collecting insight after insight into why customers behave the way they do, making the changes, then doing it all over again.

What are you optimizing in your e-mail marketing and landing page experience?

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

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