One of the most common questions I hear about email marketing is “How should I format my email to get the best response?” An organization’s email list can become one of its most valuable online assets–often second only to the domain name & Website itself. But using the right email format/template can make or break or your broadcast.
During my day gig, I work full-time at a media company where my primary duty is lead-gen. This puts me in charge of the entire lead capture process, including:
- Writing marketing copy
- Identifying the appropriate target market & segmenting the list
- Optimizing the email open rate
- Optimizing the email click-through rate
- Optimizing the conversion rate (after click)
Over the years I’ve seen it all, and I’ve done it all, across various markets ranging from IT professionals to higher education to dog lovers. I’ve tried experiments that failed miserably and I’ve tried ones that had wild success. I’ve run tests on broadcasts in the hundreds of thousands, approaching millions of recipients. And what I’ve found is that you can really boil down your email template into two main categories: With images, and without images.
Think of the marketing emails you get. You probably see ones formatted both ways. And depending on what email client you’re using, you’ll see it differently. I use gmail for all my personal emails, but for my day gig I use Outlook. Let’s take a look at how some marketing emails look in my Outlook client.
First, take a look at this beauty:
Work of art, isn’t it? This looks more like it belongs on failblog. Let’s see what happens when I download the images:
OK, that looks better.
In reality, getting a good response from an email broadcast parallels best practices for conversion funnels. In a nutshell, you want your prospective lead to take the shortest path possible to converting; the path of least resistance. If I have to click “download images” just to see what this email is trying to tell me, that’s one step that’s going to cut out a sizeable chunk of potential leads. In today’s email age, there are just too many other emails to get through; I’m not going to download images for each one and cross my fingers that there’s something good inside.
Now, let’s take a look at a template that contains no images:
Well hey, that’s not bad. Not pretty, but not bad, right? You can see what the email is about, the benefits are clear, and you don’t have to download any images to see what’s going on.
Here’s the cold truth: Pretty and high-conversion rate do not go together (when we’re talking email broadcasts). So, what makes a broadcast successful?
Give your prospective lead the easiest possible path to converting and you increase the likelihood that they will. Cleanly and succinctly describe the benefits that they’ll get from taking the action you want them to take (ie, registering for a Webinar or downloading a white paper). Don’t try to melt their heart with cute graphics.
Now, let’s take a look at some real data from my testing. Just how much more effective is a simple, plain-text email compared to one laden with pretty graphics?
To test this, I compared two templates, each sent to over 30,000 recipients. These both had the same subject line and copy; the only difference was the presence of images in one.
Here’s split A (No images):
And here’s split B (with images):
I had to go digging through my archives for this email creative, so the top banner image is displaying incorrectly for whatever reason, and the image of the white paper asset (in the right sidebar) has since been removed from the server. I have no idea where those images are now, so you’ll just have to imagine what it looked like.
Here are the results of the test:
Split A (Text Only)
Open Rate: 13.67%
Click Rate: 14.16%
Unique Clicks: 495
Total Leads: 280
Split B (Text and Images)
Open Rate: 11.55%
Click Rate: 11.63%
Unique Clicks: 350
Total Leads: 216
As you can see, Split A (no images) generated 29.6% more leads than Split B.
- Go for Simplicity.
- Pretty and high-conversion don’t go well together (in email marketing).
- Always use three bullet points, even if you don’t have something valid to say in the third one.