Answer: Think of your e-mail as a user interface. Users, over time, will become familiar with the way your interface functions. By staying consistent, users will be able to quickly navigate to the things that are of interest to them. That doesn’t mean that you can’t change up your color palette or evolve your graphics, but the main structure should stay the same.
As such, you can start to think of how to improve the navigability of you interface. Users can learn how to use most interfaces, but the question becomes, will they take the time to learn yours? Pay close attention to industry norms—if there is a standard that most of your competitors are following, then users are probably familiar with this structure. With that said, there is often value in differentiating yourself from the competition—just be sure that you are delivering a better user-experience and better content.
Closely reviewing the metrics subsequent to a campaign can also help you better understand how users are navigating your e-mail. While this falls short of being a comprehensive usability study, it will assist you in better understanding what gets click-through and what doesn’t. As your campaign matures, overlaying the data from each issue will help you in determining the correlation between the relevancy of the content and ease of navigation. The results can be surprising.
Following a template can also have other benefits—knowing what elements need to be produced for the e-mail can help the writers think ahead and vastly improve deployment time by the technical team. A sophisticated program should specify the length of the content and have a best practices document that is available to the team.
All of this will help you create a better user-experience and will result in increased readership and retention.
Justin Curtis is interactive creative director at advertising agency Maiden Lane, San Francisco, (www.maidenlane.com).