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The Inbox Abyss - Optimizing Your E-mail Communications

Last week I wrote some Quick Guide articles on “Updating Availability” in the OrderEase platform and in those articles I touched on using OrderEase's in-house e-mail communication tool to send

Water, water everywhere and no one wants to drink

Ugh… We get flooded with e-mail. According to a survey done in 2015 by Radicati Group, it is projected that this year (2017), we will send/receive over 225 billion e-mails daily. I’m not a fan of using millennial short forming, but OMG! In the B2B world, we will hit the 120 billion mark. With those odds, you have a better chance of winning a lottery, getting attacked by a shark and being hit by lightning, all in the same day, than your e-mail getting opened and someone clicking on a link to engage with you. Well it’s not quite that bleak, but you get the idea. So how do we get prospects engaged?

Curb Appeal

Proper structure in your e-mail is more than just making it look “nice”, it’s about readability. Think about any magazine or newsletter that you have ever seen. There is a reason why designers use things like sub-headings and images to break up large bodies of text (take this blog for example). Users tend to scan e-mails, rather than read them so you need to have quick call-outs or strong sub-headings that will “suck your reader in”. There is nothing worse than getting one of those text only e-mails that contain a massive wall of words with no rhyme or reason to how the messaging is laid out. It is completely unappealing and does not entice any engagement whatsoever.

Subject to the following…

Your subject line is probably the single most important element of your e-mail, however it is usually the very last thing people think about when writing an engaging e-mail. Think about it from the perspective of strolling down the magazine aisle at your local grocery store. The only thing you see is the covers of magazines. An engaging cover is the deciding factor on whether or not you pick up a magazine and open it up. Well that’s what a subject line is. It’s your “cover”. And it needs to be enticing enough for someone to open up your e-mail. The subject line should be concise and meaningful. This is your only opportunity to draw your reader in, so make it engaging and relevant. Not only is it important for your subject line to be relevant to the content of your e-mail for your reader, it is the law (see spam section later in this blog).

So what makes for a good subject line? Well, this blog for example gets sent out as part of OrderEase’s “Quick Guides” mailing so the subject line is “OrderEase's QuickGuides for Suppliers – Mar.2  issue”. It is very relevant to the content of the e-mail and concise, since it is part of a regular weekly mailing. But that is just one way to spin this e-mail. Another way to make it more enticing may be to use the actual title of the content. In this case, this blog title, “The Inbox Abyss - Optimizing Your E-mail Communications”. That may peak someone’s interest to want to know more. And hey! Why not put a call-to-action right in your subject line? “Don’t miss the latest issue of QuickGuides for Suppliers”. This is an actionable subject line that prompts to reader to do something. It’s not saying that you have to, but entices you to want to.

The Meat and Potatoes

I could write an article on just “writing good body copy” alone. The body of your e-mail is where all the magic happens and can be done a thousand different ways, but for the sake of keeping this article from becoming “War and Peace”, we will just stick to some key elements for writing good body copy. Speaking of novels, less is more. When writing an e-mail about your products & services, you need to capture your reader’s attention right away.

Let’s take a look at some of those key elements:

  1. Use a template – “Your joking, right?”… No, I’m not. Why re-invent the wheel? If you are using an e-mail client that has templates, take advantage of them. When choosing a template, you will always want to select a responsive template, if you can. Responsive templates re-adjust the flow of the e-mail structure to suit different e-mail clients and mobile devices. E-mail clients like MailChimp allow for drag-and-drop content blocks so you can easily put together robust and engaging e-mails with ease.
  2. Create proper paragraphs – For large bodies of text, make sure you are following those rudimentary lessons you learned in high school. Group thoughts together in logical paragraphs and keep them to no more than 6-7 sentences in length. This keeps the reader engaged and flows nicely in an e-mail format.
  3. Use sub-headings – If you have a lot of information to put in your e-mail, it really helps to break it up with sub-headings. Not only does it make the e-mail easier to follow, but for most of us who scan e-mails, you can suck your reader in with solid and engaging sub-headers.
  4. Adjusting fonts and emphasizing text – I always like to change the font to something a little more interesting so that it stands out from all the “default” e-mails that people get. It is always a good idea to emphasize major “action” words or important points, but be conservative. If you are going to bold text, keep it to one word or a couple of words at the max. Emphasizing a single word in a sentence is a lot more powerful than simply bolding the entire sentence. Use italics for referencing titles, articles, etc… And never use underlining. That is reserved for hyperlinks and can confuse your reader if you underline text that doesn’t click off to anything.
  5. Use bullet/numbered lists – See, it works! Bulleted or numbered lists (like this one) are a great way to organize your content, especially for larger e-mails where you want to bring attention to major points. Just as you see in this list, I like to use a keyword or two and bold the intro text into the bullet point. Again, this is for those readers who like to scan e-mails.
  6. Images – Modern e-mail clients are becoming more receptive to displaying images (G-Mail recently started displaying images by default) and it is a great way to make your e-mail stand out. If you don’t have an in-house graphics person, then you will have to prep the graphics yourself. If you don’t do anything else, just make sure you resize your graphics first, before bringing them into your e-mail. Using “forced constraint” to re-size your images within the e-mail may be quicker, but if you send to an e-mail client that doesn’t recognize the HTML height and width restraints on your image, your 3248x2650 will blow apart your e-mail.

“Get to the Chopper!”

I’m amazed out how many times I have received an e-mail from a company that has some good content about their products and services and then ends with nothing. No call-to-action (CTA) to be seen. They may have their website at the bottom of the e-mail, but that’s it. At a bare minimum, make sure your e-mail ends with some kind of CTA. Graphical buttons are great for bringing immediate attention to an action that you want from your reader. “Learn More”, “Order Now” and “Subscribe” are always strong CTAs which can lead to conversions.

Keep in mind that you can have multiple CTAs in your e-mails. You may want to bring attention to other links for specific products or a “like” for a blog (wink, wink…). Just remember that the moment a user clicks on a link to something, they are leaving that e-mail, so make sure you have gotten your point across before they do. CTAs are not limited to links. “Call me” with your contact info is always a solid CTA to get your reader to engage with you directly. That there is a conversion, my friend.

SPAM, SPAM and more SPAM (cue the Monty Python theme)

Concerned about spamming people? It’s a valid concern, especially in Canada where they have the most stringent legislation around what qualifies as spam. The main two governing bodies that you need to be concerned with is CANSPAM (US) and CASL (Canada). If you really want to delve into the convoluted legislation, then be my guest, but you don’t need to wade waist deep into either one of these, as long as you follow these cardinal rules:

  1. The subject line must be relevant to the body of your e-mail. Not only is this good e-mail etiquette, it is the law. Refrain from using ALL CAPS or excessive punctuation (IMPORTANT!!!!)
  2. You need to include your full mailing address in your e-mail. You should have a solid footer in all your e-mails anyway, with contact info, so this is a minor addition.
  3. An unsubscribe mechanism that allows recipients to easily opt-out of receiving any further e-mails. It doesn’t have to be overly conspicuous, so just some small text with a link at the bottom of the e-mail is sufficient. Just make sure it works or you will get hate mail “‘til the cows come home”.
  4. If someone requests to be unsubscribed by simply responding to the e-mail or if you have to manually unsubscribe someone, it needs to be done in a timely manner (typically within the next few days of receipt of the request).
  5. And specifically to Canadian e-mail, the biggest hit to e-mail marketing was CASL’s consent requirement. You must have consent, prior to sending a commercial electronic message (CEM) to someone…

Wait a minute...

“But Jonny, that doesn’t make any sense. How am I going to have consent to send someone an e-mail when I can’t send them an e-mail to ask if them if I can send them an e-mail?”

Yep. Those crazy canucks and our “no, I’m sorry…” approach to marketing. Well luckily, there is a loophole. It’s called “Implied Consent” and it is such a grey area in the legislation that even the lawyers are scratching their heads. Implied consent means that you can assume that someone wants to receive a communication, as long as the CEM meets the following criteria:

“You may rely on implied consent for sending CEMs if it is done under certain conditions, as set out in section 10(9) of CASL. This may include having an existing business relationship (EBR) based on a previous commercial transaction with the recipient; or having an existing non-business relationship based on, for example, membership in your club, or if the recipient participated as a volunteer for your charitable organization; or where a person makes their email address publicly available by publishing it on a website. In the latter case, this conspicuous publication of their email address must not be accompanied by a statement indicating they do not want to receive CEMs at that address. If the statement is not present, in order to send a CEM, the message must relate to the recipient's business role, functions or duties in an official or business capacity.”
Source: http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/com500/guide.htm

So… As long as someone publicly displays their e-mail address (typically on a website), does not have an accompanying statement that says “don’t send me e-mail!” and the content of the e-mail is relevant to their business (which I would hope it is, since you are reaching out to them), you are good to go!

Next week’s blog, “5 tips on how to apologize to the USA for Justin Bieber…” I'm so... so... sorry.

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