Top 10 Email Don’ts

Recently, I wrote an article on how to create mobile-optimized emails. That blog post provided tips on how to improve the experience of reading email on a mobile device, which led me to think about what you shouldn’t do when creating emails.

So, here are some things to keep in mind when putting together your next email:

  1. Email CommunicationDon’t copy and paste from a word processing program.
    Most word processing programs (such as Microsoft Word) will actually insert a lot of unnecessary, and unseen, code into an HTML email if you cut and paste it into your email software. Oftentimes, this will cause your email to look strange, and you won’t know why. A better solution for cutting and pasting is to paste your text into a basic text editor such as Notepad or the code portion of Dreamweaver. Then copy from the text editor and paste into your email solution. Taking this extra step will strip out unwanted code and make your emails display better in the various clients’ email.
  2. Don’t forget to include “alt image” text.
    I know how it goes. We’re all busy. It’s easy to drop an image into an email and move on to the next task without pausing to fill in extra details like the “alt text” on your images. This is a bad habit, so make the effort to break it now. When you skip this important step, your emails will not encourage people to accept images from your organization as well as making it difficult for people with vision problems to decipher your email. Take the extra 5 seconds it takes to enter in alt text. It’s worth it in the long run.
  3. Don’t make your emails too wide.
    As I mentioned in my previous post, we are rapidly headed toward the time where the majority of emails will be viewed on a mobile device. To ignore this trend could be the difference between highly engaged readers and a digital ghost town. The old standard for email widths was 600px – 750px. Given the rise in popularity of mobile devices, I would suggest shooting for a standard width in the 350px – 500px range. They will display on mobile devices a lot better and will still look good on a larger desktop screen.
  4. Don’t assume your email will render the same for everyone.
    Did you know that, with the number of email clients, browsers and operating systems available, there are literally thousands of ways one individual email can look? Thousands! What can be done about this? First, try to find designs, layouts, fonts, and color schemes that will render well on some of the most common email/OS/browser combinations. For example, how does your email look in Outlook 2007 while running on Windows 7, or in Gmail running on Chrome? If it looks good for the most common possibilities, you can assume it will look OK on the rest. To find out how it will look across multiple combinations, use an email testing service such as Litmus or Email on Acid. These services are inexpensive ways to see how your message will look without spending a lot of time trying to cobble together lots of different systems to test on your own. Also, some email sending systems provide this type of testing as part of the platform.
  5. Don’t use long URLs in the text version of your email.
    When you’re creating HTML emails it’s fine to use a long URL, because the link gets hidden in the attribute tag. But, when you check out the text version of your email (you are sending a text version with every HTML version, right??), you may discover that a nice looking “click here” becomes “http://www.youragencyname.gov/files/05012013/web/stories/new/this-is-your-story-that-you-want-to-share99477546.html.”For readers who see the text version of your email, this is not visually appealing or informative. I suggest you go in and edit the text version of your message and use a link shortener, such as Bit.ly or Goo.gl to create something that looks like this: “To learn more about this story, click here: http://goo.gl/n3ZTe.” It will be a much cleaner read for your readers.
  6. Don’t embed video.
    Videos are a great way to engage your audience, and I highly recommend that you find creative ways to present your content in a video format. But, please don’t embed a video inside of an email. This will likely get your email to be marked as spam. A better approach is to use an image of one part of your video, such as the title page, and link the image to the video.
  7. Don’t use ALL CAPS.
    This one continues to baffle me. Writing in ALL CAPS is internet code for yelling or spam. I thought everyone knew that by now, but I still get at least one email a week where some portion of the email is written in ALL CAPS. If you need to highlight something exciting, choose a larger font, a different color, bold the font. Please don’t capitalize all the letters.
  8. Don’t use monster pictures.
    This is related to tip 7. While a nice, high-resolution image will look great when you display it on your 36 inch monitor, it probably doesn’t need to be in your email. Remember to shrink the image to something that’s web-ready. Leaving large images in your email could make them undeliverable if the email bumps up against file size limits. If it does make it into the inbox, the email will still take a long time to load. This can be annoying for people viewing your message on a mobile device. If you do want to offer the large, high-res version of your image, that’s great. Just create a thumbnail for your email and link to a spot where people can download the large version. That way those who want the big picture can still get it.
  9. Don’t use unprofessional fonts.
    There really is no place for Comic Sans or Papyrus fonts in professional emails. They just look silly and, depending on if people have that font installed, they may not display correctly. Personally, I prefer a nice sans serif font for emails. Something like Calibri, Arial or Verdana. But you can determine what you think looks professional and matches your brand. This also applies to using more than two different font types in one email, or using multiple colors and sizes. You want people to read your email, so make it easy on their eyes.
  10. Don’t forget etiquette.
    It doesn’t matter if it’s an email to your boss or a message you are sending to 75,000 people; following basic email etiquette will go a long way. Here is a great article that lists 25 tips for ensuring you aren’t creating an email faux pas with your messages.

I know some of you are thinking these items are pretty obvious, but you would be amazed at how many emails I get every day that violate one or more of these ‘don’ts’. If this list is basic stuff for you, then you’re probably well on your way to designing compelling emails. If you realized you violated one or more of these principles, then take some of these tips to start improving how you’re communicating with your audience. It’s never too late to start getting better. Remember, as Thomas Edison once said, “There’s a way to do it better – find it.”

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