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FutureNow Article
Friday, Apr. 11, 2008

Email Secrets of a Top Converting Website

By Bryan Eisenberg
April 11th, 2008

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 email demonstrates its commitment to go beyond the Web site, extending into other touch points, specifically its email marketing.

Look at this screen shot of a ProFlowers email as it appears in my Entourage email preview:

Contrast that with this email preview from SmartBargains.com:

The ProFlowers email shows evidence of planning and optimization, while the second shows, well, a bunch of Xs.

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

Inspired by the ProFlowers example, today I’ll share a few tips so you can optimize your own email messages.

Optimize Your Email Marketing

Use alt tags. Never place an image in an email (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 email 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 email actually arrives at the intended inbox. So much opt-in email 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 email as much. But when they’re used consistently throughout the message, the email 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 email. 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 email credibility. The more information about the subscription you put in your email, 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 email recipients to believe your email 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.

Email and the Big Picture

Email’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 email marketing and landing page experience?

. .

Also seen on ClickZ.

Looking to improve email and landing page conversion? FutureNow can help.

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Comments (21)

  1. Great article — too many businesses unintentionally sabotage their email marketing efforts thus resulting in tons of lost clients who opt-out with just one bad email. This is well laid out!

  2. There are a few of online retailers who are achieving excellent conversion rates. Gone are the days of 2-5% conversion goals. 13-25% is not out of reach.

  3. Excellent article! It comes at the perfect time – I’m just preparing my next email out to subscribers. I know the layout and copy is good, but the alt tags could use some work. Thanks for the fantastic tips!

  4. (Aside: “alt attribute” not “alt tag” — if you’re a marketer, use the right term with your crack web designer to get more street cred.) And yes, they are dreadfully important, including in email!

  5. @Bryan

    “Add a subscription date to your message, such as: “Thank you for signing up on 07/13/06.” This builds email credibility. The more information about the subscription you put in your email, the easier it is for ISPs to determine that the mailing was a legitimate, subscribed mailing.”

    Bryan, the statement above attributed to Yasifur/Kobemail implies that spam technology/filters understand semantics. Is that what you and Yasifur are saying? It implies that ISPs and Spam technology providers are reading user emails based on meaning…
    While providing such info clearly improves credibility with the recipient, how does the ISP/Spam Filter actually know that the recipient did subscribe?

  6. Thanks Bryan for sharing great post.

  7. Proflowers does a good job with conversion via email, but at what cost? They spam their own customers. By completing a transaction with them, you are automatically signed up for their email list, with no acknowledgment from you, the user, that you just signed up for promotional emails along with buying some flowers. When I started getting email I never signed up for, I called them on it and they didn’t have a good answer. It seems to be their standing policy to be canspam compliant, but not run an opt-in email program. Would love to here the thoughts of others on this…

  8. This is excellent – a nice breakdown of Dos and Don’ts. Most interesting to me is that is the 60:40 image:text ratio —- quite unlike what the person who delivers our emails believes in.

    Also interesting is that you suggest placing/justifying the primary image to the left. We’ve long been practicing a right-justified image so that, in the preview screen (whether the recipient previews horizontally or vertically), the recipient always sees the text rather than just the image.

    Brian, any thoughts on using creative in an EM campaign vs. clear and to the point? I’d like to be able to share your insights with our creative director, who does tend to favour clever over clear. Love to hear from you about this.

  9. Thank you for emphasizing the copy and the importance of alt tags. As your average, very human, time-pressed email recipient, I hate it when I can’t scan an email quickly to find out what it’s about.

    As a copywriter, I know how important it is to carefully use bold and underlining to make scanning even easier.

    Finally – other conversion factor: building a good relationship. The biggest factor in whether your recipient opens the email is whether they got some good info out of the last one you sent. Make sure it’s worth their while to even read the email, let alone click through.

  10. These are good tips, I did a similar little article on another email (but it was a bad example, not a good one) from TLC lasik center, see http://www.marketingmorgan.com/email-marketing/bad-example-of-email-marketing-tlc-lasik/

    It is interesting that you hit on a few of the same points though and even got into a little more of the technical aspects.

    Although in the end I think the biggest mistake in email marketing is where you get your list from. Building a targeted and credible list can work wonders!

  11. This is a great article and really helpful already. We use constant contact for our email marketing, which other is recommendable? Thank you!

  12. [...] Whitelist Information Email Secrets of a Top Converting Website Create Better Performing Assets var addthis_pub = ‘mithra62′; var addthis_language = ‘en’;var [...]

  13. It is interesting that email conversion always has a caveat because of the type of email marketing. If you are doing an outbound email marketing then you are lucky if you get more than 1-2% conversion rate. For subscriber and customer list there is always huge opportunity to optimize.

  14. [...] Follow the email marketing secrets of other top converting websites (lots of tips here). Your write as you read. Subscribe to as many of the top converting website [...]

  15. I’m absolutely agree with you. It is well known that a well written email is one of the key elements of an effective direct emailing campaign.

    However a targeted emailing list plays an important role too. Moreover the targeted emailing list is the first step to follow when starting a direct emailing campaign.

  16. Wonderful. I appreciate your efforts for putting things together. Great job and I must say that it is a very helpful article which is perfectly narrated.

  17. Good article! I’d put a lot of time in creating an excellent subject for the e-mail and some well put CTA buttons inside the newsletter. Some people don’t understand that the subject is pretty much one of THE most important factors in e-mail marketing.

    If people don’t like the subject or think it looks to spammy, they throw it away. And you can’t get those people back!

    Great tips, thanks. Have you got more of these articles?

  18. Colorful backgrounds raise a spam score greatly. A white background is the lowest scoring color within an email. 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.

  19. Il était plus facile de censurer Jean FERRAT que d’empêcher les internautes de s’exprimer.
    Ce n’est pas inutile malgré tout d’attirer l’attention sur les risques que l’on encourt, notamment l’attention des jeunes. En effet, ce monde de soi-disant communication (car en réalité il s’agit d’une communication virtuelle qui tue les relations humaines si on n’y prend pas garde) est également un piège qui peut à tout moment se retourner contre vous. Une simple photo suffit…

  20. subscribers. creative to make are doing an outbound email I know the layout messages are centered. Left-align your and copy lucky if you get it look legitimate. good, but the alt tags is most spam marketing then you are

  21. Bryan,

    Thank you for these tips. I’ve just bookmarked them for future reference.

    You are so right. Properly optimized email will only result in conversions.

    It is vitally important that we take the time to properly construct and format the email for Human and Search Engine access.

    For why would you want your email to have a bunch of “X’s” on it? That’s just laziness.

    Again, we must all continuously improve how we design our email and websites.

    “How can I make my email the way the reader wants to read it and click?” is the question we should all ask ourselves.

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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