Best practices for sizing up e-mail

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Anyone who says size doesn’t matter isn’t a marketer. Today, the total kilobyte footprint of an e-mail, as well as headline and subject line length, number of items— even the size of a font—can mean the difference between an e-mail that’s read and one that is deleted or never makes it past the spam folder. Stefan Pollard, director of consulting services at e-mail software and solutions provider EmailLabs, discusses some of the top size issues that marketers need to be aware of.
  1. There is a message sweet spot. Although there’s no true limit to how large your messages can be, there is a range that makes it more likely that your messages will get through, Pollard said. “Messages of somewhere between 20KB and 80KB are the norm,” he said. “Once you exceed 100KB, you start running into challenges.” What are those challenges? For one thing, there are some people—especially in the small-business market—who are still on dial-up accounts. In addition, both corporations and educational establishments restrict message size as well as in-box capacities. So if you’re sending lots of large e-mails, you may push your recipient over his or her limit.
  2. Too small isn’t good either. If your message is too small, it may not get through at all. Spam filters tend to flag anything in the sub-3KB range, Pollard said. “Most people aren’t going to send out such small messages, but if you’re only doing a quick, short blast, it may look like spam to your recipient’s server.”
  3. Design for all, target none. There are two types of e-mail recipients: scanners and readers. Because of this, you should create both short, tight headlines and a two-to-three-sentence description. But the most important aspect of your message is a summary displayed at the top that incorporates all the above as well as your call to action. “Clearly, that top 50 to 55 characters is the length that most matters. It’s the first one or two sentences that make the biggest impact for some people,” Pollard said. “It’s what gets displayed in the preview pane. It’s what shows up on a BlackBerry. It’s what helps people decide whether to keep something to read later or delete it right away.”
  4. Too many links can add to your length. Every HTML link you include increases your message size because it’s not just the URL that goes into the mix, it’s also the related tags and alternate text. For example, specifying different fonts can raise your kilobyte total. “You need to be thinking about comments which can be removed because they are not required by the reader and maybe think about how you specify fonts,” Pollard said. “If you put everything into one table cell, you can specify one font tag that applies to the entire paragraph rather than having to put a font tag in front of every sentence.”
  5. As always, test, test, test. While Pollard said it’s important to keep sizes in a consistent range, there’s always going to be an exception to the rule. “There’s always going to be a fringe case where longer is better. In most cases size limitations are related to attention span, but you never really know what’s going to work unless you do your testing ahead of time.”
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