Who Really Controls E-Mail Delivery, Part 2

In part one, we discussed the why, who, what, where, and how of putting users in control of email delivery. Now, I’ll go deeper with specific techniques and language to increase user confidence and email success.

Brand and Content Consistency

Communication begins and ends with brand identification and expectation management. If recipients clearly know who you are and what you’re sending, there should be few problems with email delivery.

When planning long-term brand and content strategies, consider these tips to maintain user loyalty and limit negative response:

  • Sender field. Users may opt in through your brand’s main Web site or primary point of acquisition. You may have multiple brands that send messages to users. Changing the sender field to reflect a sub-brand or company division is common, but it’s something recipients must be aware of. If they aren’t, the entire brand can suffer. Sub-brand sender fields must be highly targeted, relevant, and clearly identifiable as associated with the brand that originally acquired the email address. When the sender field changes, it’s a slippery slope that often leads to user confusion and spam labeling. If you’re considering placing the offer in the sender field, think again. It’s a tactic spammers use.

  • Subject line. Every emailer knows open rates live or die by subject line wording. Clearly, use of certain words, symbols, and phrases will be filtered, negatively impacting delivery and the chances delivered messages will be opened and read. With newsletters, consistency is key. Readers expect to see similar brand wording in the opening or closing of every newsletter subject line.

    In commercial messaging, the best advice is be real. In addition to shunning filter trigger words, be specific and don’t mislead recipients. If there’s any confusion about the subject line’s connection to the body of the message, change it. Ask others before sending the message whether the subject line-body connection is clear. Although few marketers include the company name in the subject line, it doesn’t hurt brand value and may be worth testing.

  • Graphics position. With HTML email, clearly positioning your logo is critical. Position it in the same place in subsequent mailings. Moving the logo around can disorient users and doesn’t speak well of your brand. Reinforcing the logo with other logos or brand-associated images elsewhere in the message can further increase user confidence.

    There are many considerations with creative images. First is sizes and load time. If a user must wait too long, he could get frustrated, not identify your brand or content, and tag the message as spam. Don’t use one image that covers the entire body of the message. There can be significant problems if the image doesn’t load, and you limit tracking options available with multiple image click-throughs. Avoid pastel background colors, which tend to be off-putting to users.

  • Copy position. As with any on- or offline campaign, copy is king. Positioning copy in the header or preview pane can increase response and user confidence. Microsoft has begun to eliminate preview-pane image viewing in Outlook, and Hotmail doesn’t show graphics as a default. Hence, copy positioning near the top of the message is increasingly critical. Incorporate your name or brand in the initial copy to ensure if images don’t load, the sender is nevertheless identified.

Headers and Footers

In newsletters, it’s standard to identify the brand and use a tagline in the header. With email list rentals or third-party promotions, the header should be more clearly worded and explained. Case in point, from a third-party header:

The following message was sent to you as an opt-in subscriber to [X List”. We will continue to bring you valuable offers on the products and services that interest you most. If you wish to unsubscribe please click here: “Unsubscribe”

A good example. It reaffirms the permission relationship, mentions the primary acquisition source (not some unknown third-party affiliate), reconfirms the ongoing mailing relationship, and offers an opt-out. If the recipient thinks it irrelevant or unwanted, she’s more likely to hit unsubscribe at the top, rather than the bottom, of the message.

With retention email, when there’s a relationship between sender and recipient, header use is less important because of brand association. Marketers should consider elements such as standard images, tagline copy, or an introduction from a staff representative, perhaps the CEO.

Footer wording is equally critical, especially for third-party lists. In the footer, you can say much more than you’d want to cram into a header. Be more specific about the brand relationship and partnership with third parties. Here’s a good example of an offline acquisition detailed in a footer:

You’re receiving this email because you have inquired about [product/services” at [store” We received your email address through your request for more information either at one of our physical locations or through our Web site, [www.url-here.com”.

This works because it’s specific about the acquisition source and reaffirms the off- and online brand identify. It goes on to read:

You may continue to receive similar mailings unless you unsubscribe. To unsubscribe to this publication, reply to this message and type “unsubscribe” in the subject line. You can also unsubscribe by clicking on this link: [http://www.click-here.com”. If you can’t click on the unsubscribe link, copy the entire link and paste into the Location:/Address: field of your browser.

Giving users multiple opt-out options increases confidence and likelihood to respond, rather than hit the spam button. Confirming they’ll receive future messages prior to offering an unsubscribe helps manage expectations.

There are number of things you should never do in a footer. Never mention the email is “never unsolicited” or “is not spam.” Never note the message is in compliance with a particular piece of legislation. There are no federal email laws. State email law compliance does not require a statement of compliance. My personal peeve are messages that state, “You cannot reply to this email.” That’s a red flag that might incline users to hit the spam button rather than follow other instructions.

The future of email delivery rests squarely with recipients. Keep this in mind and there should rarely be a reason to contact an ISP about nondelivery.

Do you agree recipients should be in control? Have other tips to ensure delivery? Send me your thoughts!

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