3 Email Marketing Must-Haves to Tackle the Evolving Inbox

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Posted: December 22, 2015 | Email Marketing

Gmail and other internet service providers are making it tougher to get your emails delivered. Due to smarter spam filtering algorithms and features like Gmail’s category tabs, your emails may not even make it to the recipient’s primary inbox, let alone get seen.

While you could always ask your subscribers to add you to their address book or move your emails into their primary inbox, these requests demand action from them and may not happen. Instead, the best way to get your emails into their primary inbox is to keep your subscribers engaged and maintain a high open and click-through rate. This means that email marketers need to shift their attention towards driving better engagement.

To effectively engage your audience, you need to be equipped with relevant, innovative email marketing strategies. Integrate these three things into your email campaigns to drive engagement and get your emails delivered and clicked on:

1. Use HTML Buttons

An HTML button is essentially a coded call-to-action (CTA) that looks and feels like an image button, but is really just HTML and CSS code. You can create nearly all of the same effects with code as you can with an image-based button, depending on your email recipient’s browser, email client, and device.

Coding your emails with an HTML button instead of an image button gives your email recipients a better user experience. When an email is opened, the recipient or their email client needs to download the email images. If you’re using an image-based button, that CTA button will be hidden until all of the images are downloaded. However, with an HTML button, the CTA will render before the other images are downloaded. This means that your main CTA will appear upon opening the email, which changes the entire email experience for the recipient.

Here’s a screenshot of an email with an image button before images are downloaded:

image button

And here’s a screenshot of an email with an HTML button before images are downloaded:

html button

See the difference? An email sent with an HTML button catches your attention right off the bat, before you have to do anything further.

Don’t just take my word for it though, this is a tried-and-true approach at Marketo. When we tested image-based buttons against HTML buttons, we saw statistically significant improvements in the success of our emails with HTML buttons, with a 5% lift in the open rate, 15% lift in the click-to-open rate, and 20% lift in the click-through rate.

To get started, check out these resources for generating HTML buttons:

  • bestcssbuttongenerator.com
  • dabuttonfactory.com
  • css3buttongenerator.com

2. Design Mobile Responsive Emails

People today are always on the go, so it’s important that your emails can reach them wherever they are. In fact, 65% of consumers start their purchasing path on a mobile device compared to only 25% on a computer and 11% on a tablet, according to Google. Furthermore, over 50% of all emails delivered are opened on a mobile phone. These numbers don’t lie—it’s clear that companies need to start developing mobile responsive emails.

We took a look at our email templates at Marketo and tested them for rendering across all devices, browsers, and email clients. We found that that when our emails scaled down from desktop to mobile sizes, the templates broke apart as it scaled down to smaller sizes. The issue was that we did not have the right media queries, which is the CSS code in the <head> tag, to support tablet-sized devices. While we knew very few people would view them at the breakpoints, we knew we could do better.

Here’s a few screenshots showing our previous templates across different devices:

Desktop:

mobile

Tablet:

tablet

Mobile: mobile

We realized that for a mobile template to be successful, it needs to have these three components:

  1. The right breakpoints using media queries in the <head> tag
  • Tablet = @media only screen and (max-width: 640px)
  • Mobile = @media only screen and (max-width: 479px)
  1. Larger text on mobile devices. Nobody wants to have to squint to read your email, so increase the font size up to 20pt font for readability.
  2. Keep the CTA above the fold. Scrolling is fun, but if you can keep your CTA above the fold on mobile devices, you’ll get more click-throughs.

With these three components in mind, we crafted brand-new email templates that had more mobile responsiveness, increased font size for readability, and overall cleaner code. When we rolled these new templates out across all our campaigns, doing nothing but changing the underlying code to reflect this, we drove a substantial increase in our response rates. The results were astonishing and statistically significant–we saw a 28% increase in the click-through rate and 31% higher click-to-open rate.

Here are our new and improved templates across different devices:

Desktop:

desktop 2

Tablet:

tablet 2

Mobile:

mobile 2

No matter how clever your copy or creative your artwork is, your email needs a strong, mobile responsive template to perform well. Think of a template as the vehicle that delivers your email to the inbox. If that vehicle is extremely dependable, your results will be great!

3. Scrub for Deliverability Measures

What’s worse than your emails never being opened? Your emails never even being seen. According to Return Path, only 79% of commercial emails land in the inbox. That means that 1 in 5 sent emails end up in junk or spam, hard bounce, or are undelivered. And if you’re counting on 100% of your emails to hit your subscribers’ inboxes and 1 in 5 emails go somewhere else, it’s going to be hard for you to meet your revenue goals.

Make sure your emails hit the primary inbox by following these tips to increase your deliverability:

  • Retire all hard bounced emails after one hard bounce. Be sure to remove hard bounced emails from all future campaigns. An email hard bounces because it is invalid, so there’s no point in sending emails to an invalid email. And if that email becomes a spam trap, which is an email set up by internet service providers to intentionally catch spammers, you’ll hurt your sender reputation.
  • Set a lower soft bounce threshold in your email service provider or marketing automation solution. An email soft bounces when there is a temporary problem with the email server or the inbox is full. Oftentimes, soft bounce thresholds are set to a conservative number, like 10 soft bounces = one hard bounce. But emails that repeatedly soft bounce could turn into a hard bounce or a spam trap, so it’s better to lower your business risk and set a lower threshold. At Marketo, we manage soft bounces by implementing a campaign in our own instance that retires an email from our future email campaigns if that email soft bounces 6 times or more times in 30 days.
  • Practice good email hygiene. Good email hygiene is just like brushing your teeth. Do it often to avoid problems later down the road. In the world of email marketing, email addresses can go bad, meaning they have been inactive for a very long time. When this happens, an internet service provider will reclaim that inactive email address and make it a spam trap. If a person hasn’t engaged with your email in over 2 years, they may never engage again. You could try emailing them on a different cadence, but if those efforts fail it may be best to move on. To determine which email addresses have gone bad, you can use a third party data vendor to validate your email lists. They can tell you which emails are safe to send, which ones are bad, and which ones are unknown.
  • Only send emails to people who want to hear from you. This seems obvious but not everyone does it. Every business is different, but be cautious when you send to old email addresses that haven’t shown activity in a very long time. And if you want to reactivate your disengaged email subscribers, try reactivation campaigns to entice them with better deals, offers, products, or content.

To get your emails delivered, opened, and clicked on more often, follow these three must-haves. Build, test, and implement HTML buttons to increase your email response rates. Then, take a close look at your email templates and look for ways to optimize for mobile, either through media queries, larger font sizes, or keeping the CTA above the fold. Last but certainly not least, retire hard bounces, lower your soft bounce threshold, and only send emails to people that want to hear from you. If you can implement these three tips, you’ll be well on your way to conquering the inbox. Do you have any tried and true tips that have made an impact on your email marketing campaigns? Share them in the comments below.

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Mike Madden is a Demand Generation Program Manager at Marketo. He works on email strategy, execution, and analysis. Outside of work, he is a big fan of M&Ms, early morning rounds of golf, and hiking.

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Don't let spam filters get you down, victory is yours! Tackle the inbox with these 3 #emailmarketing essentials

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