Friday, December 13, 2013

HTML email campaigns: Basics

HTML emails/campaigns aren’t anything new, but there are simple, “obvious” facts about it that are ignored by many, leading to their failure and even to complete abandonment of receiving email communications from the sender.

First and foremost is to keep the frequency of our emails to a tolerable limit. I find it surprising that senders, esp. marketers lose track of this, making us want to hate any email (are these people living in a matrix? don’t they face email overload in their own inboxes?!).

I find a frequency of once a month to be most appropriate. The more often we see an email the more we seem to be put off by it. Sometimes even the ones that give an option of reducing the frequency still seem to be too frequent! 

Take a look at a Polar poll below on email frequency and related unsubscribe effect. Vote on your choice to see results.

When I started our WVU Research HTML e-newsletter, I was a bit weary.

Given the number of emails we receive, I was afraid this might just be one of those lost causes. But much to my pleasant surprise, when followed up several times with Google Analytics RealTime Live and user flow analysis, following a blast, it was found to increase the website visits to WVU Research portal website by 227 - 180 % on several days following the email blast and showed that users explored the website beyond just the links in the email. 

It was also refreshing to see subscribe requests by faculty/staff/researchers who were not in the mailing list by default and it also brought about increased interest and participation by faculty and staff at WVU (when I was actually afraid of a slew of unsubscribes).

Although many of the factors above can be automatically tracked by HTML email campaign monitors’ tools, it is just as easy to send out and track stats with your basic e-mail blasts (via any email client with which you can send out an HTML email) coupled with Google Analytics.

Sending: With Safari and Mac mail, sending out an HTML email just involves "mail contents of this page" and sending it out to your constituents/list-servs. Many other email clients on Windows also have easy ways of sending out an HTML email.

Tracking: If you create trackable URLs in your email with Google URL builder you can follow up on the visits to links within the email with the free Google analytics tools. Including campaign info right in your URLs will help you monitor multiple campaigns over time.

Based on my experience, I think the overall success of any HTML newsletter/campaign has to do with:
  • Keeping your content focused and minimal
  • Lower frequency (don't bombard with a slew of links/offers/info/reminders every other day!).
  • Sending out information that is of value to your users/customers.

    In our case, along with news highlights, I also included funding opportunities, time-sensitive information sent well in advance, featured new equipments in Labs, changes in processes etc. 

    For commercial vendors, including free articles, videos etc. related to the items sold would be good (eg. Photography tips/articles with a camera and accessories vendor). 

A step up:

Read about my experience with redesigning this basic HTML newsletter to a mobile-friendly, responsive format.

Here is the screenshot of the plain old HTML email before responsive redesign:

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