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Answers to 10 modern email design questions

Q&A from our 8 Second Challenge webinar with Litmus

The good folks over at Litmus recently invited us to do a webinar all about getting people's attention in the inbox at a time when attention spans are shrinking. By shrinking, we mean adult attention spans are down to 8 seconds – sadly, that's less than a goldfish, which clocks in at 9 seconds. We discussed how you can connect your email design to established research on brain science and cognitive behavior to not only stand out in the inbox, but also get the marketing results you're looking for.

We answered a bunch of great questions during the webinar (hop on over to Litmus to download the slides and recording if you missed it), but with over 4,000 registrants (!), we just couldn't get to them all. Litmus was nice enough to pull together all the questions we missed, so we could answer them here on the Emma blog.

That's us! Yours truly (Events Manager Jamie Bradley) and VP of Sales Christopher Lester.
  


Where would you recommend putting the “view in browser” link in an email? Is this important to still have in the top of the email as part of the snippet text?

It’s still useful to include, but we recommend moving it to the footer of the email. Since you only have a few seconds to grab your audience’s attention, the top of your email becomes your most valuable real estate. You don’t want to ruin the curb appeal by leading with the “view online” link.

Instead, start your email with your most valuable content or a powerful image, something that encourages your audience to continue reading or click through to your landing page. It’s the best way to encourage your subscribers to step inside and stay awhile.


What is the ideal image to text ratio to avoid spam issues?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magical formula or algorithm to share, but a nice balance between images and text is best. If your email is 100% image-based, then you could run into some issues with spam filters or if your subscribers have images blocked.

But really, we recommend focusing your attention on your actual content rather than worrying about a particular ratio. Sending content that’s a nice blend of eye-catching images and relevant, useful copy not only helps make sure that your message is delivered, but also improves the chances that your audience continues to open and engage with it.


Do you consider symbols in subject lines as a helpful tactic to make your emails stand out? Or do you think they make emails looks spammy?

If it feels right to your brand and is relevant to your content, then adding a symbol or emoji can be a fun way to get your subscribers’ attention. I just wouldn’t go overboard with it. A string of emojis is fun when you’re texting, but loading up your subject line with them won’t do much for your brand’s credibility.

If you’re not sure how your audience will react, then test! A quick A/B test to see if the subject line or preheader text with the emoji works better than the one without will tell you if you should keep using them on occasion. Also, email clients render symbols differently, so be sure to test it on the clients your subscribers use most often to make sure it doesn’t appear as an error.


Should the preheader be considered another subject line, or merely a quick summary of the email?

Subscribers only spend 3-4 seconds deciding whether or not to open your email, so compelling preheader text is one of the best tools to tilt the odds in your favor. Sure, you can use the preheader text to elaborate on the subject line or tease the content of your email, but it’s also a great place to give an incentive to open, add a sense of urgency or include a strong call to action. You can also have a little fun with it by creating a personalized message or adding one of those emojis we just talked about.

Use preheader text to give subscribers another compelling reason to open your email.


Does using animated GIFs rather than static images create more engagement?

A number of brands have had success using animated GIFs to increase engagement with their emails. GIFs work well because they introduce movement into the email, which activates the “fight or flight” center of our brain. We’re hardwired to pay attention whenever we see something move.

GIFs are a great way to add a little humor or surprise your audience. You can also use them to show off a new product or quickly explain something without having to go the full video tutorial route. If you’re not sure about using them, GIFs are another good thing to A/B test to see how your audience responds (Note: They’ll probably love anything with kittens, but that probably won’t do much for your brand – unless, you know, you’re in the cat food business.)


What design recommendations do you have for people concerned with image blocking? How can people encourage engagement with their images if they are viewed when images are disabled?

The great news is that the default for most email clients is to automatically display images, so more often than not, your subscribers will see them. But in case images are disabled, there are a few things you can do:

1. Don’t put important written content in the image that isn’t included elsewhere in the copy. If images are blocked, your subscribers will never see it.
2. Always add simple and clear ALT text for each image. That way, you can get your message across even without the image.
3. And as Litmus suggests, consider stylizing that ALT text so it stands out. Adjusting the font, size and color can help engage readers who have images turned off.


How beneficial do you think it is to include social media logos in an email?

Adding social sharing buttons to the bottom of your email is a good idea for a few reasons:

1. It can expand the reach of your email. If just one person shares your email with 300 followers, and one of those followers shares it with their 300 followers, and one of those – you get where we’re going here.
2. It can grow your list. By nature of all that sharing, a lot of potential new subscribers will be seeing your content for the first time and may decide to jump on board your email train.
3. It can help identify your most avid fans. If the same people are consistently sharing your content with their social networks, you may want to reward them with something special as a heartfelt thank you. It can only create even more positive feelings for your brand.


If you are tied to certain brand colors (i.e. blue), does it make sense to still use yellow buttons? How do you work around branding issues?

Branding is certainly important, but I wouldn’t get too hung up on it when it comes to the color of your call-to-action buttons. After all, it’s likely that the rest of your email and the landing page that the button leads to rest comfortably within your brand’s identity.

We use yellow for our buttons because brain science tells us it adds that little sense of urgency that encourages people to click (or tap), which is the whole point of adding a button in the first place. But you don’t have to use yellow. Due to the Von Restorff effect, things that stand out or look out of place hold our attention, so try using a color that complements or contrasts with your brand’s colors (e.g. orange with blue). It’ll look great and beg to be clicked.

So test out different colors for your buttons to see what works for your brand. You might find your audience responds better to blue or green – or maybe even smaragdine or coquelicot, if they’re particular like that.

Picking a contrasting color for your CTA buttons makes them pop. Our brains can't help but pay attention.


Do you still recommend building an email for all devices even if your landing page isn’t mobile friendly?

Absolutely! 80% of people will simply delete an email that doesn’t look good on their phone. By not optimizing your emails for mobile devices, you’re closing the door on your landing page before your audience even has a chance to see it.

Responsive email templates are wonderful because they do a lot of the work for you. They have the mobile smarts built right in to make sure your email looks great on any device. And once the email is taken care of, get to work on making that landing page responsive as well to complete the whole experience. Your audience will thank you for it (and you should see it reflected in the results).


How do you convince your team to “embrace the scroll” and not worry so much about the fold?

Show them the data. The best way to convince people in the office that it works is to surface the click data from your mailings. If people are clicking on links toward the bottom of the email, then you know your audience doesn’t mind scrolling.

Plus, scrolling to view content is just really natural behavior on a mobile device. If people resist the idea, I like to ask them to think about how they use their own mobile phones. More often than not, I bet they’re totally comfortable scrolling when viewing content they care about.

That said, it’s still really important to have a striking image or compelling content above the fold. After all, people won’t scroll if you don’t grab their attention and give them a reason to keep going. We’re just saying that you shouldn’t try to cram every piece of content into the space at the top of your email. Designing in a single column, breaking up your content into sections and adding some clear headings is an effective recipe for a good scroll-able email.


Have more email design questions? Let's keep it rolling in the comments!