Making the most of e-mail preview panes, text descriptions

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By now, most marketers realize that many of their customers’ and prospects’ e-mail clients disable images or use preview panes, but only a few know how to design their e-mail communications to take advantage of this feature. It’s certainly worth marketers’ consideration: A 2005 study from e-mail service provider EmailLabs found that 69% of b-to-b companies use the preview pane, and 49% disable images. Stefan Pollard, director of consulting services for EmailLabs, provides the following tips to help marketers work with these features.

  • Use your “auto preview” feature. This feature displays the first three sentences of your creative, so make sure the most important value proposition is included in this section, such as an offer, a call to action or the company name, Pollard said. And watch your actual text placement, he said. “This should be in the top left of your creative.”
  • Work your “alt image” words. Because you have such limited real estate, don’t limit yourself to generic text. Instead, include strong, descriptive language, Pollard said. “If your customer is unable to see the image, you want the exact offer in the text,” he said. “Include, ‘Customer name, if unable to view this image, click here to receive free shipping or enter the promo code X by December 31.’ This lays it all out for them.”
  • Watch your masthead image size. Your customer has roughly four inches total in his or her preview pane. If you have a three- or four-inch image—and it’s broken—that’s all they are going to see. Instead, make the masthead image relatively thin. “If the image is thin, people are more likely to scroll down and read,” Pollard said.
  • Optimize sponsorships. Sponsored newsletters have a responsibility to their advertisers, yet many marketers overlook one important fact: If images are disabled, the advertisers’ image-based ads are disabled, too. “If your revenue is coming from advertising, you need to give readers the text to give them a chance to click through,” Pollard said. “If their product shot is disabled, you still need descriptive language to give them the opportunity.”
  • Include a link to the message. Some readers, Pollard said, don’t like viewing messages in their Outlook program. It’s for these people, he said, that you need to include a link to an online version of your message. “So many companies don’t always include a ‘View Online’ link. To me, that’s amazing,” he said. “Also, always provide a feedback link and a phone number. And provide a page and link that can help them add your company to their address book and figure out how to view images. Most b-to-b recipients know how to do this, but it’s still a good practice for all marketers.”
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