When it comes to email marketing, it takes a lot to shock me. That’s not to say I’m left unimpressed when I review my set of about 7,000 retail emails every month. Email continues to be a medium in which marketers can work their magic, but that’s part of the problem. HTML is more flexible than it was 10 years ago, and responsive design allows for variable designs that render content in a more predictable fashion. But because of that, many marketers spend time ringing bells and blowing on whistles while the basics are overlooked.

It is essential to keep your email program up-to-date with emerging design trends and to connect with your subscribers on mobile devices, but you need to ensure that your emails contain the fundamental elements that increase usability and keep your messages compliant with CAN-SPAM.
Step away from all of the awesome strategies you are working on and let’s dumb things down for a moment to make sure you have the basics covered.

Hosted Version

I recently needed to take a few screenshots for a presentation and had some trouble capturing the entire email. I thought, “No problem, I’ll just view the hosted version and keep moving along.” The problem was that there was no link to a hosted version. To be honest, I don’t really look for hosted versions and many of your subscribers probably don’t either until there is an issue. These links are most frequently clicked because there is an issue with the email displaying properly or something else went wonky. This escape hatch away from the inbox to a full browser experience will often remedy a conflict in the inbox that will keep the subscriber moving along the path to purchase. But if the link is not there, the email will likely be deleted and the subscriber will not have a positive experience. In addition to providing an escape for the opener, you can also monitor clicks on the link to gain insight into which ISP, device, and browser combinations get the most clicks – likely indicating there is some issue with that population.

Pre-Header Copy

Regardless of how your message is being viewed, it’s highly likely that your subscriber will see a portion of your pre-header copy in the inbox. ISPs have been changing things up, like Gmail’s grid view, but this copy can still help to increase open rates by providing additional information about a promotion or other contents of the email. I was shocked to find how many top retailers either start emails with images, resulting in no supplemental copy being shown in the box, or use the valuable lines for bland copy like “Having trouble viewing this email? Click here to view a version in your browser.” As noted in the previous section of this article, having a hosted version is recommended but pre-header copy should be used more effectively to extend the subject line and give more details about the email.

Clickable Space

If you show a photo of a product, I should be able to click it. I should not have to click the supplemental copy. It kills me when I find elements of an email that should be clickable but aren’t. Maximize clickable space in your emails, folks.

Appropriating clickable space on your site is a different game. You need to have scrollable areas and non-clickable space can increase usability. Find the non-clickable space in your recent emails and ask yourself if you would have wanted to click on it. Test various percentages of clickable space. You will likely find that you will gain clicks if you increase clickable areas where it just makes sense.

Unsubscription Link

When is the last time you clicked on your unsubscribe link? It’s probably been a while, right? You should confirm that the link actually clicks through and that unsubscriptions are functioning correctly. While you are at it, evaluate the options you provide to potential unsubscribers. It may be time to offer a frequency opt-down or provide a preference center that allows subscribers to remove themselves from specific lists.

Fine Print

I want to slap my monitor when I see fine print that is longer than the body of the email, contains copyright dates from two years ago, is written in all caps, or contains information about offers that aren’t being promoted in the email itself. I find there are two fine print camps. You either have one or two simple lines or you have a short novel at the bottom of your emails. Your legal team may require you to include more than you want, but revisit what you currently have and find a way to make the information succinct and current. Subscribers may be intimidated by too many disclaimers and not feel comfortable shopping on your site. Additionally, the disclaimer copy could result in your message becoming filtered.