Even the Pros Get It Wrong

I got impatient recently when discussion at an e-mail workshop spiraled down into yet another hassle over the basics. This time, the focus was on permission. “Come on, people!” I muttered to myself. “Why are we still debating E-mail 101 issues?”

Apparently we have to, at least judging from an e-mail message I received not long ago from a marquee-name trade publisher covering news and best practices in digital publishing and marketing. This e-mail message managed to violate just about every responsible e-mail publishing best practice, up to and including stupid spelling mistakes.

Let me count the ways this publisher (which will go unnamed, but is not ClickZ) managed to get it all wrong in just under 500 words. And if you read my gripe list and think, “Get over yourself! What’s the problem?” I’ll explain why, yet again.

  • An incomplete address in the sender line. The sender line showed only “shows@,” not the complete sender name with user name and domain. The e-mail address shouldn’t show, anyway. It looks suspicious and spammy. The publication, company, or brand name goes there.

  • No link to a Web version. Another E-mail 101 issue. If your message relies on an image (see the next item), readers who don’t download images at the open will miss the whole point.
  • One big image at the top of the message body. This is a double-whammy error. Readers who both block images (by choice or platform necessity) and read e-mail in the preview panel will see nothing unless they scroll, which they probably won’t do if they don’t know who you are because the sender line contains an incomplete e-mail address.
  • A clear lack of segmentation, bordering on spamming. This is my biggest beef. I signed up for e-mail-related columns. I speak at e-mail-focused events. I’ve attended e-mail events hosted by this company, but not its other events. I filled out a detailed registration form that clearly indicates I’m not interested in print or broadcast events. So why did I receive a print-media invitation? Because someone didn’t bother to do even the simplest segmentation. When you blast your list with irrelevant messages, you’re practically begging for spam complaints and list fatigue.
  • A headline that blends into a dark background. This is hard to read, especially if I’m squinting at my handheld device. Why make it any more difficult for readers? Moreover, spam filters will likely penalize you for having colored backgrounds, as spammers often use them.
  • Reverse font (light on dark background). Same readability problem, particularly on a dark background. If you must have an image, don’t get too artistic. Use contrasting type on a white background and save the fancy stuff for the site or print catalog.
  • Heavy use of all capital letters. Classic spam behavior. It also looks old-fashioned and unprofessional. Amateur tactics like this tarnish your brand.
  • A call to action way below the halfway mark. Don’t assume readers will scroll (and scroll and scroll) to find out what you want them to do. I had to scroll down two screens to find the call to action, and even then I scrolled right past it. A call to action goes above the fold, meaning in the top half of the message at minimum, and as close to the top as possible for optimum exposure.
  • A spelling error in the unsubscribe link domain name. This breaks the link, rendering the unsubscribe link invalid. This also breaks the CAN-SPAM law in the United States, as well as any other global e-mail laws that mandate a working unsubscribe in any commercial e-mail. If the link doesn’t work, the reader’s next recourse is the spam-complaint button. This also signals a lack of quality control. What other links don’t work? If no one on your staff clicks all the links in the e-mail to make sure they work before hitting “send,” you won’t know what’s broken until the campaign falls flat.

In that e-mail conference, when somebody said for the third or fourth time, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission,” I rolled my eyes and walked away. We’ve come so far, but we still have so far to go when even the industry pros get the basics wrong.

Until next time, keep on deliverin’!

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