Many factors determine the success of an email campaign. The focus of any campaign, however, should be on getting ‘the right message, to the right person, at the right time’. Our Essential Guide covers the top 10 hints and tips to help you get the most from your email marketing.



  • Personalisation and relevance
  • Targeting
  • Email format
  • Rich text emails
  • How do I know what Email Format my Customers can receive?
  • The Design/Structure/Layout of the Email
  • Above the Fold
  • The Size of the Email
  • Subject line
  • Frequency of Communication



1: Personalisation and Relevance

The use of personalisation with an email provides an opportunity to communicate with individuals at a more intimate level. Most email deployment technologies allow personalisation to be included anywhere within the body of the email as well as within the subject line.

To maximise the benefits of personalisation it is important to clearly review the type of information the Data User would like from individuals at their point of registration. As a minimum, Data Users should aim to capture their first and last name. Other data, such as date of birth and postcode, may be of equal importance depending on the nature of the Data User’s business and the use to which the data will be put, bearing in mind that any data must be relevant, adequate and not excessive to the Data User’s needs.

In addition to personalising the email with data captured with positive consent, the opportunity exists to draw upon other relevant data that may be held, including previous purchase history, enquiries or preferences. By referring to these within the email the Data User is again able to increase the level of relevance to the recipient. At all times data is captured the individual must be told of such data capture and given the opportunity to object. If capture is via the use of a cookie the technology must be explained to the individual and he or she must be given the opportunity to object before any such technology is downloaded onto their computer.

More advanced email deployment technologies can also provide for the delivery of dynamic email content whereby the content and images of an email are personalised to each individuals specific profile.

2: Targeting

Targeting is an essential requirement of any marketing activity. Reaching the correct audience with the correct offer is the primary objective.

You can either create segments in your data to which different emails are created and sent. Or you can use dynamic content whereby the individual’s preferences or previous purchase history can be used to determine the most appropriate content for the email. The majority of email providers will have the ability to deliver dynamic content based on a content library and a series of predictive or deterministic rules.

3: Email Format

There are currently three formats of email. The type of email that can be received will depend on the email software package on the recipient’s computer.

Early email software provided only for a plain text email. This type of email provides for black text only and any links to a web site appear as a complete URL such as To reach the web site the URL has to be copied in its entirety and entered into an internet browser. The individual cannot click directly from the URL to reach the designated web site although Outlook does translate plain text links automatically. Plain text is typically found within early versions of Lotus Notes and can be set by individuals as a preference in most email clients.

4: Rich text emails

Rich text emails are an evolution of plain text. These software packages allow for both coloured and variable fonts. In addition, rich text also supports hyperlinks. By clicking on a URL the internet browser on the computer is launched which takes the individual directly to the web site. Almost all versions of email reader accept Rich text – it is down to whether the email is sent as such, and the user has the option to receive such email turned on.

The most advanced type of email software provides for an HTML email. An HTML email has the same look and feel as a web page. It can support images (including animation) whilst the functionality is the same as rich text. By clicking on a URL the internet browser on the computer is launched which takes the individual directly to the designated web site.

HTML emails have emerged as the popular choice for email marketing given that their more dynamic appearance can often pull a higher response rate than plain or rich text emails.

5: How do I know what Email Format my Customers can receive?

There are two standard methods of determining the type of email an individual can receive.

Firstly, at the point of registration the individual could indicate whether they wish to receive a text or HTML email. For those individuals who understand their email software well enough they can pre-determine the format of the email. Similarly some individuals (typically those who read their emails offline) ay prefer a text email as opposed to an HTML email.

Secondly, most email providers overcome the guesswork of whether the individual can receive a text or HTML email by sending both emails simultaneously in a format referred to as “Multi-Part”. The individual’s computer will then recognize and display the optimal email format.

HTML emails can also include rich media (e.g. flash animations and/or streaming video). Such content is either sent as an embedded file or linked to a hosted file. In either case, such content can be blocked by corporate firewalls and is not viewable in all email readers and hence it is very difficult to guarantee that all recipients will be able to see the animation or video.

6: The Design/Structure/Layout of the Email

The layout of an email is as important as any other communication. Usually, an email appears in portrait requiring the recipient to browse down the page. Research has suggested that a customer browses their emails before being drawn in to a particular area of interest.

Techniques to assist with this tendency to browse depend on the purpose of the email –

  • Creative and design should take into account restrictions imposed by HTML coding. A design that cannot be coded is counterproductive.
  • Wherever possible use a template to gain production efficiencies and aid customer navigation as they become familiar with the layout over time.
  • Newsletters often benefit from a Table of Contents at the top of an email outlining the copy contained within the communication. The recipient can then review the Table of Contents before clicking on the Table to reach the elements within the email or web site in which they are particularly interested Promotional emails typically use more imagery and highlight the most relevant offer available to the individual at the head of the email.

7: Above the Fold

This is traditionally a direct mail term indicating the copy that falls above the fold of a letter – for direct mail this is nearly always the most compelling part of the offer. For email it can mean one of several things:

  • A) When the email reader is set to ‘auto preview’, the first paragraph of the plain text version of the body copy is visible for each email in the inbox.
  • B) When the email reader is set to display a ‘reading pane’ at the bottom of the screen, the first 100-200 pixels (depending on screen resolution and the user’s preference for the size of the reading pane) from the top of the email are displayed when that email is selected.
  • C) When the email reader is set to display a ‘reading pane’ at the right of the screen, then the first 200-300 pixels (again depending on screen resolution and the user’s preference for the size of the reading pane) from the left of the email are displayed when that email is selected.
  • D) In any case, when the email is opened full screen in either an email reader or a web browser (in the case of web mail), then whatever portion of the email is visible without scrolling (typically the top 500
    pixels on a 1024×768 screen).

It is generally accepted that the 3 second rule applies to email, so the most compelling copy or image should appear here to encourage the individual to open the email and read on.

As image blocking becomes increasingly prevalent alt tags should be included in the creative and design thinking. This is also required for accessibility.

A hosted version of each email should be included as a link in both HTML and text versions of all emails. This will ensure as many people as possible have access to the HTML version. Links to the hosted version of emails can generated as much as 5% of the total clicks for that campaign.

8: The Size of the Email

Given the differences in access to the internet, it is sensible to keep emails small to keep download times to a minimum. Despite the increasing prevalence of Broadband it is still a good idea to keep the weight of your HTML emails down as large messages are more likely to get caught in Spam filters. As a guideline messages should not exceed the 60k in total file size.

To reduce the size of the email, various techniques can be employed including not embedding images but serving them from an image server. Large images whether served or embedded can also cause emails to be caught by Spam filters if the message in the HTML has a low word count. Single offer mailings are more likely to suffer this problem than newsletters.

9: Subject line

The subject line should convey a strong call to action – a compelling subject line will draw the recipient into the email in much the same way as headlines on a newspaper entice the reader to look further. It should provide enough information for the recipient to want to know more and encourage the opening of the email.

If you send unsolicited commercial communications, for example, an email advertising your goods or services that is sent to a recipient who has not requested it, you must ensure that recipients are able to identify the email as such as soon as they receive it, either through looking at the subject line header or through wording in the body copy text.

If the email forms part of a regular communication, consider a consistent subject line such as “Marketscan Update”. This will allow the individual to make a rapid association with the content of the email message.

The speed and cost effectiveness of email allows for economic testing of a selection of subject lines. If there are two alternative Subject Lines, take a subset of the data, test the two Subject Lines, check the results (24 hours is normally sufficient), and then roll out the campaign with the most popular subject line. This is called split stream testing.

When preparing subject lines, awareness should be given to filtering software that may determine that your email is spam based upon a set of rules applied to the content of your subject line. Be aware that not all words that trigger Spam filters are as obvious as “hot” or “free”, seemingly innocuous words such as ‘tips’, ‘enter’, ‘sample’, ‘private’, ‘reserved’, ‘products’ and ‘introductory’ could be viewed by filters as “spammy”.

Lastly, keep the subject line to a manageable length with a maximum of 70 characters.

10: Frequency of Communication

Consider frequency of communication as a vital issue for recipients, as this has a direct correlation with the perception of marketing communications as unsolicited email/spam.

The optimum frequency will depend on the relationship between the Data User and the individual and possibly the length of the re-purchasing life-cycle of your product range. A newspaper publisher may deliver a weekly or monthly promotion.

Best practice would be to a) clearly inform people how frequently they will receive emails from you at the point of opt-in and b) give them the option to choose the frequency rate.

Related Topics: Email Marketing