Leveraging Snippets and AutoPreview to Lift Response

It’s hard to believe that I wrote my first ClickZ column about snippets and AutoPreview more than three years ago. Some companies now use this simple concept to improve the performance of their e-mail marketing messages, but many still aren’t. If you’re in the latter group, there’s no time like now to join the party.

If you aren’t familiar with snippets or AutoPreview, you aren’t alone. In Microsoft Outlook, click on “View” and then on “AutoPreview” to see what I’m talking about.

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AutoPreview changes your inbox view so that you see up to four lines of information per message, rather than just one. The first few lines of text from the e-mail fill the extra lines.

AutoPreview can be used with or without the reading or preview pane turned on (in the image above, both AutoPreview and a bottom reading pane are enabled). If you don’t use Outlook, your e-mail client probably provides something similar.

I’ve never seen figures on how many people use the AutoPreview inbox view (or something similar in other e-mail clients), but attention to the snippet copy that appears in the AutoPreview view can boost response. One client saw a 41 percent increase in open rates and a 220 percent increase in response thanks largely to optimizing snippet copy.

In the image above, ClickZ does a good job of optimizing snippet copy. The second line in the inbox view features a complete list of the column titles in this particular issue of the e-mail newsletter. Snippet copy gives you additional space to provide information to engage the reader and pull them in to read the e-mail. In this example, ClickZ simply includes the copy they want to appear in the snippet at the top of the e-mail (which you can see in the reading pane).

The quality of snippet copy in the other e-mails in the inbox view varies widely; I left out the worst ones, instead choosing to use examples of ones that are OK, but could be better.

The Victoria’s Secret e-mail message includes the brand in the snippet copy, which isn’t the best use of this prime real estate, because the brand is already featured in the sender address. The rest of their snippet copy is a “view online” message and link. Having this information at the top of your e-mail message was considered a best practice years ago, but it’s not the best way to leverage the AutoPreview opportunity. Moving this “housekeeping” copy down and including more engaging copy in the snippet wouldn’t cost much and should increase their open rates.

The Body Shop e-mail features long form URLs in the first two lines of snippet copy below the sender address and subject line. While the benefit “Buy 1 Get 1 Free…” is strong, it appears in the third line of the snippet copy and gets lost behind the URLs. A simple rework of their e-mail layout could push the benefit to the second line of the AutoPreview view (just below the sender address and subject line) and give them the opportunity to use the third and fourth lines to include additional copy to engage readers.

The DMNews e-mail message isn’t bad, but it’s not great. The first two lines of the snippet aren’t URLs, but they are redundant (the “White Paper” message and the date first appear in the “Subject” and “Received” columns). The last line is pretty good however. It features a benefit specific to this e-mail message and it isn’t the same as the subject line benefit.

People magazine is trying to make the most of their snippet copy (“TODAY ON PEOPLE.COM…”). The biggest issue here is that the message is exactly the same from send to send. It would be more effective to mention some of the unique content of the e-mail newsletter, like they do in the subject line. That would be more engaging to readers. An “A-list” of the celebrities included in this e-mail would be a great way to pull in readers and would better leverage the AutoPreview view.

Amazon.com does a good job of leveraging the AutoPreview opportunity. Their e-mail layout is simple and the copy that appears in the snippet is the first text that is seen in the e-mail itself. The message here is unique to this particular e-mail and clearly explains why the reader should take a moment to review this e-mail.

If you don’t know what snippet text appears with your e-mail, now’s a great time to look. Small changes like this can have a large impact on the success of your e-mail marketing efforts.

Until next time,


Join Jeanne Jennings at the ClickZ E-mail Marketing Workshop, in conjunction with the 2010 Email Evolution Conference, February 1, 2010, in Miami, Florida.

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