What Do Your Email Subscribers Want From You?

Does your email design and navigation make it easy for subscribers to do not only what you want them to do, but also the actions they want?

If not, your email becomes less valuable and easier to ignore or unsubscribe from. All the time and money you spend on creative, segmentation and improving deliverability will be wasted.

Why Email is Different
The objective of most, though certainly not all, email marketing messages is to drive recipients to your Web site where they will take an action or read content and ads. So your email's design and navigation should not be completely inconsistent with your site. However, email has many design and inbox challenges that Web designers don't face.

Instead of duplicating your Web design or navigation, your emails should incorporate major elements of it but also use navigation that reflects both what you want readers to do and what your email users want to do with the email.

Review your template or recent messages. How easily can a subscriber or customer find administrative content or links other than your core message? Does your home page link or contact information stand out? If someone wanted to change her preferences or unsubscribe, is the link obvious? 

Then, look at your most recent email metrics reports to see which links readers click the most. What you think of as throw-away information (like links to your site's home page or specific shopping channel) could be among your most popular links.

Three Action Categories to Include
Usability incorporates both functions and design. These three categories cover the actions your subscribers likely want to take with your email as well as the actions you want them to take.

Many span more than one category and can appear in more than location in the email. Testing will show you where readers are most likely to use those elements.

1. The Email Experience
These elements help your reader make the email work better: to have it render correctly, be sure it lands in the inbox rather than the junk folder, and share it:

  • "View Web version/mobile version" link
  • Add-to-address-book instructions
  • Forward-to-a-Friend link
  • Link to opt-in page (for readers who got the email forwarded)
  • Link to preference pages/unsubscribe

2. Core Message Elements
These make it as easy as possible for your reader to take the actions you want:

  • Use text links as well as graphic images next to every product image
  • Present the sale price plus the discount percentage and actual savings plus any qualifications or exceptions
  • Describe the product and offer in alt text that appear when images are disabled
  • Link to back issues or other offers
  • List email address for comments or customer support
  • Navigation links to general pages on your sites, such as a general Women's Clothing channel

3. The Administration Center
Here you package together information that appears in every message, plus some functional elements listed in the other two categories:

  • Unsubscribe link
  • Email address the recipient used to subscribe
  • Add-to-address-book/safelist instruction
  • Contact information for staff (for example, editors and advertising sales if you are a publisher), including name, phone number and/or email address
  • Privacy statement and link to full privacy policy
  • Other contact information, including name, phone number and email address, for other departments, including account management information, billing, shipping updates or advertising
  • Link to email preference/update profile page

Incorporating Usability into Email Design
Email design covers three parts: the preview pane, the main content or body, and the administration center:

  • Preview Pane/Initial Mobile Screen.The small portion of the email that appears when email users view it in their desktop or Web clients to scan the message without opening it. Also, most mobile email readers will be able to view only portions on their screens. Your most important information goes up here for peak visibility:
    • Brand/email name (text, not image)
    • Main offer/call to action;  "In This Issue," etc.
    • Administrative links such as Update Profile, Mobile Version, Forward to Friend, etc.
  • Main Body. The heart of your email, where you are giving readers the information and functions to do what you want them to do. Your offer or main articles go here, with links to buy, sign up or get more information. All key information appears in text (in addition to images if used) for readers who view the messages without images.
  • Administrative Center. This typically is located the bottom, with a link that uses inline navigation placed higher in the message to direct eyes down to it.

In spite of poor practice by many companies, email still has value for both sender and receiver. Just obey some basic rules and you’ll do well:

  • Guarantee not to share their email address with other companies
  • Special offers for email subscribers
  • "First look" at new products and services
  • Ability to customize frequency of emails
  • Ability to customize information which meets their needs

Often, when faced with these extra steps the easiest thing for a subscriber to do is simply mark your message as spam. So that’s what they do, even if they know they opted in and the message is technically not an unsolicited message. Spam complaints are the most heavily weighted factor on deliverability. Making it easy for a subscriber to leave will help you reach more of those who want to stay.