Email coding

What’s the point of design and hand coding?

Designing by numbers

So, we’ve been working with a client who came to us a few years ago wanting to get away from image heavy, WYSIWYG coded emails for their EU region. Meanwhile their US region continued to do things in their traditional manner, not the traditional manner. Things were going okay until they had a crisis of resource and over the last 6 weeks have had to revert to type, and their EU emails have gone back to being the very samey, very US style. The new management team asked us to justify the benefits of going back to proper design and properly hand coded emails with live text and background images, and generally all the cleanliness in the code that comes from not getting a machine to do it.

We gave them the justifications:

  • Better delivery
  • More clicks
  • More consistant rendering
  • Better user experience
  • Fewer unsubscribes
  • More on-brand
  • Higher revenues
“Designing” by numbers

Ultimately, well designed and hand coded emails would give them small long term gains, they would getter better delivery, better engagement, less churn – not a silver bullet on its own but a really, really good long term strategy. Unfortunately, we felt this advice was falling on deaf ears. We knew the argument that to increase profits you either need more sales or less cost and felt the less cost argument was winning over the opportunity cost argument we were making. Fortunately, we have numbers available to us. Could we prove, using the last year’s numbers that the argument we were making was in fact correct?

So we delved into their data

We had our data team go back and look at a comparison between all factors available to us within their Email Service Provider. We then ran some analysis over those numbers. Since MPP, open rates have been a soft metric and there has been a greater take up of MPP in the US. However their EU data performed at 104% of the US number. But interestingly, in the 6 weeks since changing from proper design and coding to the US style, open rates also fell off by around 104%. Within this period there was also a large data cull in the US of people who hadn’t engaged for a long period and this meant there were 2 months of increased open %’s there. Essentially skewing the figures a little because if you look at the numbers before the cull there it a 116% increase for EU over the US.

More interestingly for me are the clicks, unsubs and bounce rates. As a long term strategy the longer you can keep people engaged on your list and clicking, the higher the revenues. So we took a look at those. The EU emails designed by a designer and coded by hand received approx 3 times the number of clicks per email as the US emails, 3 times! That’s a number so significant as to be impossible to ignore.


Monthly Click Comparison

When we looked into the unsubscribes and bounces we get a similar story, unsubs for both are well under 0.1% which is below industry average with EU being slightly higher but only very marginally and this can be accredited to the fact there was no cull in the EU data and also the US data is less engaged and as such is less likely or able to unsubscribe. If we look at unsubs as a % of opens then EU is significantly lower than the US.

However, what was really interesting were bounce rates, the ISPs were voting with their servers! Bounces for US emails before the cull were at 2.636% and for the EU were 1.223%. The ISPs don’t like image led, code heavy WYSIWYG emails. Interestingly in May where the EU were no longer hand designing and hand coding the email bounces went up from an average of 1.223% to 1.794%. The big drop in US bounces coincided with the cull of the long term unengaged data but over time will gradually start to increase.


Monthly Bounce Comparison


So in conclusion

In a game of inches the opportunity cost of taking short cuts has a dramatic bottom line effect. The stats don’t lie, design great engaging emails, code them by hand, send them regularly and clean your data. A recipe for long term email marketing success over a short term cost saving.

Email Marketing

Copycatwriting: 5 marketing cliches to put in the bin

Words are powerful. They help to define your brand’s personality. In email marketing, the right phrasing can make the difference between open and ignore.

But sometimes copywriting is more copy and less writing. How many times have you seen the following phrases recently?

Just for you

A spectacular summer sale – just for me, and me alone? Well, don’t I feel special! Call me a skeptic, but I suspect it’s actually for me and your 799,999 other subscribers.

Just/only for you crops up pretty regularly in email marketing. Nine times out of ten, it’s used in a context where it is both meaningless and absurd. Dishonest too, but that particularly unfortunate quality is usually drowned out by the silliness. Most times when I see this phrase, I’m not even sure what exactly the brand is pretending to be true.

‘You’ may be the magic word of advertising, but a misplaced ‘just for you’ is more hooey than Houdini.

[Verb] your [adjective]

Find your incredible! Discover your awesome!

Cease your unimaginative, more like. It’s ok to creatively bend the rules of English. Copywriting wouldn’t be much fun if we always had to stick steadfast to a strict set of rules. But when the linguistic rule‑bending is an act of copycatting rather than innovation, then it starts to look less like cool copywriting and more like grammatical incompetence. Write your something new.

Don’t miss out

Yes, I know: FOMO. Truth be told, I have never been comfortable with this concept. It’s ethically questionable, and I suspect that the modern shopper is more aware than ever of the sales tricks up a brand’s sleeve. This is particularly true when a sender hits their audience with the same panicky phrases time and time again. Overuse diminishes effectiveness.

That’s my personal position on the matter but the stats tell a different story, for now. The numbers tell us that FOMO works. CXL‘s research reveals that a countdown timer, for example, can push up conversions by more than 300%. Urgency sure brings in the money.

But ‘don’t miss out’ is bottom‑of‑the‑barrel FOMO. It’s generic and ignorable. Motivators such as offer end dates and limited stock give people a real reason to act. ‘Don’t miss out’ is copywriting fluff.

Click here (to)

The computer mouse was invented in the 60s, came into popular use in the 80s and became a household essential in the 90s. People have been clicking things for a while.

In well‑designed email (or even an adequately designed one), the clickable elements are self‑evident. Plastering CLICK HERE on a button tells the user precisely nothing. It’s a lever labelled pull me. Thanks, I know how to use it, but I’d love to know what it does before committing to the act.

Click here also pops up regularly in passages of text. Click here to see the full terms and conditions, click here to download the PDF. In this context, the phrase is merely redundant but in such a way that it gives a mailing an unfortunate ‘My First Marketing Email’ quality.

Image of QWERTY keyboard with 'Press me to type' added above every letter key.

Maximise / power up / supercharge…

Wow, this company doesn’t just promise to increase our sales. They’re going to ultrarocketblast them. Let’s give them our money, right now!

Over-the-top choices – or inventions – of verbs are an extreme side effect of the sell the benefits principle. But there are a couple of problems with this phrasing: it’s been done to death, and it was never that great in the first place. Human beings simply do not talk like that.

Keep the actions grounded in authenticity, incorporate some demonstrable stats, and let the numbers speak for themselves.

What’s good copywriting?

This article probably reads as a list of my least favourite pieces of copywriting. And that’s because it is. Copywriting is a creative endeavour and that always brings subjectivity into play.

For me, the best email copywriting is a blend of directness and true inventiveness. I see few brands pulling it off. But those that do, send the emails I look forward to opening. Maybe yours is one of them.


Communication: take a long, hard look at this soft skill

Time is money, right? And it’s so much quicker to write “the email” than it is “2024‑06‑13 – US – Loyalty members – jackets mailer”.

But is everyone who reads the message guaranteed to know, specifically, which email is being referred to? Probably not.

Specificity is an investment

It’s easy to be lazy when typing. Decades of text‑messaging and social media have encouraged brevity. Often we’ll skip words entirely and opt instead for digital hieroglyphics like πŸ’― or πŸ™Œ.

In the workplace, however, lazy communication is a problem. Misinterpretations and misunderstandings lead to errors. Errors cost time and money.

Initial detail is the pre‑emptive remedy. It may take a little longer to write crystal‑clear instructions, but the time saved in the long run is an invaluable payoff.

As a bonus, your correspondence history becomes more searchable. That’s handy when the need arises to trawl through old messages.

Get to the point

An excessively polite, near‑submissive tone plagues a lot of communication in the modern workplace. Euphemisms and other softeners tend to obfuscate the true meaning. Vague communication is bad communication.

Don’t ask: “I just want to check the ETA on the display ad design?”. Say: “we need the display ad by 3pm, please”. Succinctness is a world away from rudeness. If anything, padding and softening inadvertently demonstrates less respect, not more. Sensibilities are rarely so delicate.

Stick to the subject

Conversation about Thing A should remain in the thread about Thing A. If someone starts talking about Thing B in there, the convo is muddied.

This ties in with the concept of specificity. If you send an email message on the topic of “tomorrow’s promotion”, that will very quickly become today’s promotion, and then yesterday’s promotion. Good luck finding that message again in the future.

New is the new old

Good communication doesn’t only pertain to messages sent between colleagues. Naming conventions and folder structures can also benefit greatly from clarity and consistency. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up an existing project, only to find an incomprehensible dumping ground of files.

Messy boxes and documents

Relative terms, most notably new, are to be avoided. New is only new until the next version comes along, at which point the label becomes a misnomer. Better to go with version numbers than new, really new, and really really new.

Tools of the trade

Email isn’t the only kid on the block. Communication and organisational tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Alfred and are popular. Their functionality varies, but they all have one thing in common: they can make your life easier.

Some communication‑enhancing features include:

  • Projects: Keep discussions automatically on‑topic and save yourself the bother of referring to project names over and over again.
  • Pinned messages: Need to make everyone aware of some important changes? Stick a note to the appropriate channel.
  • Reminders: Want to ask Dave something when he comes back from holiday? Set yourself, or him, a reminder.
  • Message templates: If you repeatedly send similar messages, a customisable message template is just the thing.

Good brief!

Project briefs (and lists of changes) deserve attention to detail. The more information provided up‑front, the fewer questions asked later. Oh, and watch out for instruction intertwined with content. That’s a messy crossover that happens surprisingly often.

Write it down

I’m a huge fan of documentation. We’ve all seen people leave companies and take important knowledge with them. None of the remaining employees are familiar with a particular project, and nothing was ever put down in black and white. Cue a mad scramble to piece together clues and figure it out.

Communication processes can and should also be documented. By giving your teams a communication framework to operate from, everything is consistent, and the machine runs smoothly.

Corporate jargon vs plain English

We’re all familiar with the comically stilted and metaphor‑laden nature of ‘business speak’. Many of us consider it a pet peeve, and yet it continues to flourish in the workplace. Many perfectly good plain English phrases have been permanently replaced by strangely artificial and sometimes grammatically‑incorrect alternatives.

While it’s true that specialist fields develop unique lexicons, corporate speak isn’t really that. And it comes with problems. Often the wording is fancier but less specific than the plain English equivalent. I’ve seen it cause non‑native speakers to question the rules of English that they had so carefully learned.

The history and psychology of corporate jargon is a topic worth reading about. It’s not likely to go away any time soon and there’s a fair amount of pressure to talk the talk. But those who have the courage to break free may be rewarded with a smoother, more authentic, more understandable communciation experience.

A little too creative?

Creative is an adjective. Or at least it used to be. In a modern business context, it has been repurposed as a noun.

What does it mean? Well, that depends. Not only is the nounified creative used to refer to a piece of design work, but also to the designer who produced it. Assuming that the word also retains its original adjective functionality, you might just see a creative creative creating a creative creative.

It’s unfair to point the finger exclusively at the corporate world for this practice. Nouning is not a recent phenomenon, and neither is its cousin, verbing. Language changes naturally over time.

Change, however, does not necessarily mean improvement. The dictionary‑approved usage of literally to mean figuratively, for example, is quite blatantly a barrier to understanding. When the definition of a word is so blurry that its meaning can only be discerned through context and tone, that is surely a problem. Let’s not foster confusion.

Linguistic elasticity is wonderful for creative writing and liberating in informal everyday speech. But in a task-driven business environment, does it leave too much to interpretation?

It’s good to share bad news

Mistakes happen. We all make them. But we don’t always admit to them.

When things go pear‑shaped, and you just so happen to be to blame, it’s decision time: own up or attempt to bury it. The trouble with the latter is that most times, everyone else can quickly figure out what happened. That leads to tension and distrust. A mistake is an accident, but dishonesty is a choice. On the rare occasion when the truth is not so apparent, time is wasted investigating what went wrong.

An employee’s willingness to own up isn’t solely determined by their personality, but by the workplace environment. The focus should be on resolution and development, not punishment. A culture of openness and honesty takes the pressure off staff and reduces the chance of stress-based mishaps in the first place.

End transmission

Communication is considered a soft skill, but that term downplays its importance. Poor communication isn’t simply a nuisance. It’s a significant drain on a company’s resources, and a major source of stress for employees.

Every business, big and small, can benefit from a communication review. Unclog your company’s information arteries, and the rewards could be substantial.

Email Marketing

10 typographical effects to prettify your emails

10 typographical effects to prettify your emails

Text needn’t be plain. Modern CSS can apply all manner of visual effects to text. That makes it possible to create some eye‑catching typography without resorting to using images.

Well, all of that is true in web design. Email on the other hand has inconsistent support for CSS from one application to another. But don’t worry – that’s nothing a bit of graceful degradation can’t handle.

1. Letter spacing

CSS property: letter-spacing

Kerning is typographical lingo for the gap between letters. Increasing the kerning is a neat way to bump up the visual impact of a text banner or heading.



And the good news? It works everywhere.

2. Drop shadow

CSS property: text-shadow

A drop shadow can add a subtle illusion of depth. Unlike letter spacing, this CSS property isn’t so widely supported in email. But it works in Apple Mail on iPhones and Macs, and that alone makes it worthwhile. With no particular fallback considerations, text shadow is a perfectly viable design option.

3. Outline

CSS property: text-stroke / -webkit-text-stroke

An outline can accentuate a heading or call‑to‑action. Just like drop shadows, support is not universal. So consider it a progressive enhancement and don’t rely on it for contrast!

4. Pseudo 3D

CSS property: text-shadow (again, but fancier)

Masterful coders can wield CSS like a paintbrush. Code‑based reproduction of the Mona Lisa, anyone? To create something like this, you only need bucketloads of artistic talent, abstract thinking, coding prowess and mathematical aptitude!.

These works, incredible as they are, are the endeavors of hobbyists. But the point is that CSS can do a lot more than basic styling. You can combine effects with limitless potential for creativity.

For example: you can apply as many text shadows as you like. How about layering a few to create a 3D text effect?

5. Gradient fill

CSS properties: linear-gradient / background-clip / -webkit-background-clip

Colour gradients, a once‑beloved staple of web design, can be easily applied to a background in CSS. But with just one extra property, they can also be applied directly to text. Nice.

Beware if using this technique – some email clients will recognise the gradient, but not the clipping mask – thus leaving you with a coloured block and no text. These are essentially experimental techniques in email, so some degree of fallback content may be necessary.

6. Texture fill

CSS properties: background-image / background-clip / -webkit-background-clip

Gradients aren’t the only thing that can be applied as a text background. You can use an image. I guess you could call it a texture.

7. Web fonts

HTML element and CSS properties: <link> / font-family / @font-face

So far we’ve only looked at effects to be applied to existing text. But we’re missing a trick. A major part of typography is of course the choice of fonts.

Once upon a time, web designers were limited to a small pool of web‑safe fonts. Arial, Times New Roman and the like. The advent of web fonts meant that developers could remotely load any font under the sun onto the user’s computer… thus opening up a new world of typographical creativity.

Do web fonts work in email? The answer – as is so often the case with this medium – is sort of. Compatibility is all over the place. This article isn’t a how‑to on web fonts, so let’s note only the most important points regarding support. They work fully in Apple Mail, in an extremely limited form in Gmail, and not at all in Outlook.

Here’s a comparison of web fonts and their more prosaic fallbacks. When they work, they undoubtedly enhance an email. They also make it possible to produce designs that are more on‑brand. But the downside is that the fancier the web font, the bigger the fall! Perhaps one day all major email services will cater for them.

8. Rotation

CSS property: transform: rotate(#deg);

Text doesn’t always have to lie horizontally. A little bit of rotation can make a big visual impact.

9. Text scaling

CSS property: font-size: #vw

Huge text‑based headings can sometimes present a challenge on mobile. Multiple breakpoint‑triggered classes to resize the font can work, but it’s pretty clunky and requires some trial and error. If only there was a way to scale the text smoothly, as if in an image.

Well, there is. One of CSS’s many units of size is viewport width, or vw for short. That lets text scale relative to the screen size. It’s surprisingly well‑supported among mobile email clients.

Here’s an example, placed on a background image because, well, why not?

10. Animation

CSS properties: animation / @keyframes

CSS comes equipped with a couple of options for movement: transitions and keyframe animations. In the right hands, the latter can produce some richly complex animation. The results are far smoother than an animated GIF, and they’re not limited to that format’s paltry 256‑colour palette.

Here’s a very simple example with some skewed text. To see what can really be achieved, I recommend checking out the myriad examples on CodePen.

Note: this is a GIF-based recording of a CSS animation!

Is this really worth doing in email?

Maybe, maybe not. I’ve written in the past about the value of simple design for this somewhat fragile medium. But I’ve also written about all manner of experimental interactive content. Clearly those concepts are at odds.

But I believe there’s a time and place for both ends of the spectrum. There are accessibility and compatibility considerations for sure. Often an image with an alt tag will be the better choice than CSS text effects. But if you’re feeling adventurous and fancy producing an email that looks spectacular on the strongest email clients… then I reckon it’s an adventure worth having.

Email Marketing

Email: the big picture

Email is a wonderful marketing medium. Its ROI is legendary. One might go so far as to say that it’s the best marketing channel. They might even be right – but there’s a better way to look at it.

A component of a larger machine

What’s the best meal in a restaurant you’ve ever had? Compliments to the chef! Of course, the (head) chef isn’t alone in the kitchen. There’s a sous chef. And a saucier. In fact, there’s a whole team’s worth of culinary talent.

We can keep zooming out. The waiter who delivered exceptional service, the interior designer who cultivated the perfect ambience, the couriers who delivered fresh ingredients, and the farmers who produced them. Remove any part of the equation and it all falls apart.

Email marketing is also a part of a bigger picture. The most effective marketing campaigns are those in which multiple channels actively work together. But even when this hasn’t been consciously planned, it’s still happening to some degree. An email engager wasn’t always a subscriber. They arrived via your website or social media or by some other non-email means. That raises a question.

Who gets credit?

Attribution in marketing can be seen through tunnel-vision. It’s a little too easy to give exclusive credit to the most recent link in the chain. The truth of attribution is that it’s often more fuzzy than focused.

Even when a clear click-to-conversion can be tracked from a particular email, who’s to say that a series of emails hasn’t influenced that decision? Maybe there wasn’t even anything particularly tempting about that latest email, but it happened to serve as a convenient conduit to your website.

We haven’t even left the scope of email and this is already becoming blurry. There are broader factors to consider, such as your social media activity, or web content, or external influences like third party reviews or good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. A complex series of events leads up to every conversion. The marketing report may assign success to Wednesday’s email, but it’s worth taking a step back and considering the full story.

Clicks aren’t everything

It goes without saying that clicks are one of the key indicators of an email’s performance. After all, the goal of a marketing email is usually to drive traffic to a landing page. A click therefore seems like the email’s final goal, before Team Website takes the baton.

By that theory, all clicks could be considered equal in value. Except they aren’t. An enthusiastic clicker might be disappointed by the content they’re met with online. Is that a weak landing page’s fault, or a misleading email? Most likely some hard-to-measure ratio of the two.

Are conversions therefore the best way to measure an email’s success? Maybe, but not the only one. A non-clicking opener has potential latent value, as does a non-purchasing clicker. As humans we often think in absolutes, but reality is rarely so black and white. Sales may be the most direct way to gauge an email’s performance, but its real contribution to your brand runs deeper.

The depth of design

Design is another aspect of email that is easy to oversimplify. An email’s design isn’t just its layout and colours. It’s the whole shebang. Copy, imagery, links – they’re all intertwined.

Even the subject line isn’t as isolated or single-purpose as it may appear. Its influence extends beyond the initial open, and perhaps beyond the scope of that one email. Words are a big part of your brand’s personality.

Design considerations like responsive layouts and dark mode and accessibility should not be treated as standalone concepts. It’s far better to make an accessible design… than to make a design accessible.

Back to reality

It’s easy to preach. In the real world and the hubbub of business, there isn’t always the luxury of stopping to think about the big picture. It might even come across as an excuse. Hey, this email had a terrible click rate… but at least it raised awareness!

Nonetheless, it’s worth pausing from time to time to consider how everything fits together. There’s a causal chain. Nothing is random. No two things are truly distinct. These concepts aren’t only relevant to email or marketing or business, but to every aspect of our existence.

Email Marketing

8 ways coding skills make you a better marketer

Marketing is a profession of contrasts where the creative blends with the analytical. Scope for imagination sits alongside the need for logic.

In today’s digital world, there are few careers that cannot benefit from some coding know-how. Marketing is no exception. A little bit of programming knowledge could be the secret code to becoming a better marketer.

1. Transform your mind

Learning to code isn’t just about what you can do. It’s about the way you think. There are direct benefits from learning a particular programming language, but it’s perhaps the indirect benefits that are most valuable.

Speaking from personal experience, my approach to problem-solving fundamentally changed after learning JavaScript. When a complex challenge arises, my reaction is no longer oh [expletive], how are we going to solve this. The logic-based thinking that comes with coding can be applied to all manner of situations. A calmer thought process means less stress and more refined solutions.

2. Embrace efficiency

Who couldn’t use a little more time in the day? Repetitive (but still essential) tasks can add up and chip away at the clock, stealing away time from bigger projects.

Taking a programming approach to such jobs can make all the difference. The solution doesn’t necessarily need to involve a single line of code – just a bit of logic. Instead of manually compiling reports, is there an Excel formula that can achieve the same thing in a fraction of the time? Maybe you could record an action in Photoshop to apply a branding effect in a single click. An ounce of automation is worth a pound of manual procedure.

3. Become the toolmaker

Tailoring or modifying an existing piece of software won’t always be enough to solve your problem. For unique challenges, you sometimes need a unique tool. With programming knowledge, you can be the one to create it.

A client of ours required tracking to be hardcoded on links in a very specific manner. The syntax varies depending on the URL. What descriptors have already been used? Is there an anchor tag? Are other parameters already applied?

Manually performing such a task multiple times per day and dozens per week is both time-consuming and vulnerable to human error. The smart solution is to build a custom tool to do the job. Efficient and reliable results, along with the satisfaction and mental exercise that coding brings.

4. Master your software

It’s true what they say – once you learn one programming language, it becomes much easier to learn another. Modern CRM platforms and ESPs often come equipped with proprietary scripting languages. Salesforce Marketing Cloud has AMPscript, Oracle Responsys has RPL, and so on. These kind of scripting languages invariably open up a deeper level of dynamic content than a drag & drop interface can offer.

The syntax of these languages differs from platform to platform, but the underlying logic is very similar. Everything boils down to if this, do that. By thinking in terms of procedures and variables, you unlock your software’s full functionality – and value.

5. Talk tech

As a marketer, you may or may not ever be personally required to carry out any coding work. But even if your role is less hands-on, I’m willing to bet that you need to communicate with developers regularly. Knowing what is technically possible and how it can be achieved is a major advantage. A new project is off to a great start when everyone is working from the same technical foundation.

6. Unify the channels

There are lots of specialities in marketing, including our favourite: email. Specialised however is not synonymous with isolated. A strong marketing strategy combines multiple channels.

Theory is one thing, but technical understanding completes the picture. An email developer can benefit greatly from knowing a programming language that lets them build web content or process data. A custom API can connect software systems and make sophisticated multi-channel strategies possible. Your programming knowledge can be the bridge between channels and applications.

7. Become a journey planner

Multi-channel marketing is a concept that goes hand-in-hand with customer journeys. Any decent CRM or ESP software will include a workflow-based editor that lets you funnel and personalise the path that each customer follows. These can become enormously complex, often combining drag & drop rules with internal and external scripting.

Learning programming act as a logical conditioning for the mind. Use that power to plan, analyse and fine-tune complex customer journeys.

8. Stay at the cutting edge

Digital marketing is a fast-moving field. It can be challenging to stay on top of the latest developments. But with a coding foundation, it becomes easier to keep up… and maybe even be a pioneer.

I’ve seen a number of technical landmarks in email marketing over the years. Responsive design, product recommendations, live images, interactivity, Gmail annotations, AMP for Email, AI-generated content – the list goes on. Adoption rates can often be slow. Teach yourself some technical skills on the side and you can be the one to keep your brand at the digital forefront.

Crack the code

One of the beautiful things about coding is that you absolutely do not need to know a language inside-out before you can start putting it to good use in the real world. In fact, real projects are an essential part of the learning process. With just a moderate understanding of a single programming language, you can improve yourself as a marketer and make a real difference in a relatively short space of time.

Your choice of language doesn’t even matter. Python, PHP, JavaScript, whatever you fancy. They all have practical applications and cognitive benefits. So jump in, learn some code, and power up your marketing.

Email Marketing

Beyond the subject line: your inbox marketing toolkit

Your email subject line has a tough job. With just a few words, it needs to:

  • Grab the reader’s attention
  • Tell them something useful

That’s a big ask, given that perhaps only around 40 characters will be visible on mobile. There’s only so much screen space before you hit the triple dots of truncation.

Example of a subject line truncated on mobile

But that’s okay, because your subject line isn’t alone out there.

Preview text

Message previews – or preheaders as they’re widely and perhaps erroneously called in the marketing world – pull some opening text content from your email into the inbox. That lets the user see some information up-front before deciding if an email is worth opening. The number of characters pulled into the preview varies depending on device and email client.

Brands commonly use the preview text as a secondary subject line of sorts. This is often combined with a trick to blank out any trailing content such as nav bar links, thus making it look neat and tidy in the inbox. It’s worth mentioning that Apple Mail recently disabled this trick as it essentially suppresses the message preview’s originally intended functionality.

In any case, the message preview is valuable pre-open content for you to work with. Use it in conjunction with your subject line to inform the reader rather than bait them.

Sender name

Well, that’s done already is it not? Sender is your brand name, and that’s that. Not necessarily!

There’s some flexibility in your sender name. Adding an individual’s name, where relevant and true, can add a personal touch. Person at YourBrand might just give your emails a more human touch than YourBrand alone.

The sender name can also be tailored to the nature of the email. A separate sender name for editorial emails like newsletters can help to distinguish them from purely marketing content. The Biz @ The Email Factory for instance!


I killed some time on a flight recently by playing a logo quiz on my phone. Our ability to recognise and recall logos, or even portions thereof, is proof of their power. A brand’s logo is its face, and our brains are masterful at processing faces.

That brings us to BIMI: Brand Indicators for Message Identification. Appropriately for an acronym that sounds a bit like “be me”, this is a means of showing your brand logo in the inbox. The instant power of brand recognition could be the deciding factor between open and ignore.

Mock-up of a logo shown via BIMI


Gmail has built-in functionality that allows marketers to show additional content in the promotions tab. These are known as email annotations. They come in two main flavours.

Deals let you show an offer – perhaps a discount – completely separate from your subject line. An optional offer code, start and end date round it off. After all, your customer cares about what your email has to offer them. Everything else is just wrapping.

Product carousels are perfect for retailers. A horizontally scrollable array of products, browsable and clickable without ever having to open the email.

It’s worth mentioning that senders must first contact Google for approval before these features become available. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!


Love them or hate them, emojis are a part of internet life. Although they’re not a piece of inbox anatomy like the items above, emojis are so distinct from traditional alphanumeric copywriting that they deserve special mention.

There is some evidence to suggest that emojis in subject lines can increase email open rates. That statement would carry a lot more weight were it not for the presence of “some” and “can”. Ultimately, like most aspects of marketing, it depends. It depends on your brand, your choice of emoji, how often you use them, your creativity.

Used correctly – whatever that may mean for your brand – emojis can pair with creative copywriting in an engaging way. Just be sure not to use too many, or interrupt sentences. Accessibility matters.

A collective effort

It’s reassuring to see that the competition for inbox attention isn’t solely determined by the subject line. In fact, it may not even be the most important factor in determining opens. The life of a subject line isn’t such a lonely one after all.

Email Marketing

A quick guide to email pop-up culture

Excuse me! I’m an email subscription pop-up. I hope you don’t mind the interruption. You can tell me to go away, if you like… or you can pop in your address and look forward to some juicy content in your inbox. Does a 15% discount sweeten the deal?

Modern websites are full of things popping up. Cookie permission(ugh), app downloads, browser notifications. And of course email subscription pop-ups. Let’s take a closer look at the latter.

But aren’t pop-ups annoying?

Yes, they are. People hate pop-ups. I’m not using the H-word for dramatic effect. G2’s survey on the topic found that over 80% of respondents felt that strongly. By contrast, fewer than 5% expressed positive feelings towards pop-ups.

So why use them? Because they work! The average email pop-up converts nearly 4% of website visitors. And that can’t be chalked up to people who were going to subscribe regardless. Pop-ups offer a 100% increase in subcriptions when compared to a static sign-up box. The stats don’t lie – pop-ups are worthwhile.

Take a pop-up at it

We’ve established that email pop-ups are simultaneously annoying but effective. Ultimately any annoyance is likely to be short-lived, whereas the benefits for those who subscribe are ongoing. I know I don’t hold a grudge against for the time it asked me if I’d like to receive a newsletter.

The aforementioned survey backs this thinking up. The primary reason for pop-up hatred is that “they’re everywhere”. That’s a factor of ubiquity that is neither focused on nor controlled by any one brand. A single pop-up on a single website is no big deal.

Still, this doesn’t mean that your pop-up should be slapped onto your website without a plan. Apply a bit of strategy and you can mitigate the annoyance factor while squeezing out a few more conversions. Here’s what to consider.

Content with context

It’s useful to remind oneself that a pop-up is part of the website, and not some detached entity. Its content can change, both contextually and periodically. As with all content, if you can personalise it to the user in some way, great.

That personalisation could be a simple as page-specific wording. Is the user browsing a particular department on your website? Focus on that. Are you able to track where the user came from, or what they’ve been doing on your site? That’s some pop-up-tailoring data at your disposal.

Lovely bit of copywriting from theme park Holiday World’s pop-up

Something for your trouble

Time on the internet passes in a sped-up form, like some kind of digital dog years. Every second is valuable. Signing up may only take a few moments, but dismissing a pop-up is even quicker. It’s seconds versus milliseconds.

An incentive helps to swing the odds a little. For retailers, that often takes the form an introductory discount. Entry into a prize draw is an alternative. If yours isn’t an ecommerce business, you could offer a white paper in exchange for subscribing.

Fruit and veg grocer Abel & Cole offers new subscribers a 50% discount on their first offer. And, hey, their 4th as well. Nice.

An opportunity to learn

What you ask the user to input into a pop-up box is up to you. Email of course is essential. Customer name is optional.

But how about interest checkboxes? Your data on an imminent subscriber could be meagre to non-existent, and we all know how valuable personalisation is in email marketing. Giving people the means to tailor their emails up-front is a great way to get to know your subscribers better.

Fashion retailer Peacocks lets the customer choose what kind of content to receive.

Feeling triggered

There are several ways to make a pop-up pop up. Instant, time-based, scroll-based, exit intent, click-based. Each of those has a range of options to consider. How many seconds should elapse before the message appears? How far down the page is sufficient? Are multiple triggers appropriate? It’s probably worth mentioning that Wisepop’s stats on pop-up conversion rates hugely favour click-based triggers.

You don’t necessarily need to think within the scope of a single page. A global pop-up plan could be just what you need. Perhaps you want to set off on the right foot and leave the pop-up until the user has clicked onto a second page.

Design considerations

Pop-up designs come in various forms. The most popular is an in-your-face middle-of-the-screen prompt. Some variations even go for broke and fill the entire viewport. A more subtle option is to slide a box or tab in from an edge of the screen, quietly requesting attention rather than demanding it.

There’s also a clever hybrid design that blends aspects of a static sign-up box and a pop-up. Place a sign-up box somewhere on the page, and highlight it as the user scrolls past. A glow effect, a wobble animation – there are plenty of creative options.

Fenwick’s email pop-up is particularly uninstrusive. A little tab peaks in, with succinctly transparent copy. Interact or ignore as you wish.

Don’t give up to soon…

A lot of websites have a single email pop-up. Dismiss it, and that’s that – at least until the cookie that suppresses it expires.

But it’s very easy for a user to instinctively dismiss a pop-up the moment it appears. Just because the user zapped it this time, doesn’t mean that they won’t ever be interested. Creating a series of infrequent pop-ups – distributed across a series of days or weeks – gives you additional chances to gain a subscriber.

…but know when to stop

A series of two or three pop-ups is fine. But stop before asking becomes pleading. You’ll also want to consider what the user is currently doing. A disruptive message springing up while watching a video or filling out a form is likely to cross the line from annoying to infuriating.

Always include an easy-to-find static sign-up box somewhere on your website in addition to any pop-ups. Minds can be changed!

Don’t guess. Test

If ever there was a piece of website content that can benefit from comparitive A/B testing, it’s a subscription pop-up. Put a plan in place to test a theory, give it time to gather statistically significant results, and discover what your visitors respond best to.

Continuing the theme of testing – don’t forget to test that the pop-up displays properly across a range of browsers and devices! While trawling the internet for example pop-ups, I found a surprising number that failed visually or functionally in some way. Some had truncated text or unintended partial scrolling, others clashed with cookie pop-ups and were accidentally dismissed alongside them.

Don’t forget to say hello

Your pop-up is just one of many landmarks in your customer journey. Don’t leave new subs hanging – greet them with a welcome email and let them know their subscription matters.

And now it’s time to say goodbye. Thanks for popping in.

Email Marketing

Can I share a secret?


How do you go about building and sustaining your customer base in the crowded world of email marketing?


Why not let your customers do some of the work for you?

This is where multichannel marketing comes in to play. You can reach your untapped potential through other channels than email, such as your own website or social media to encourage new signups to your brand.

But is there a missed avenue to gain even more signups? Your best advocates may turn out to be your own users – if you’ve created engaging, exciting content then why wouldn’t they want to shout about it? Make it easy for them.

Here’s how we do it…

Share on social media

Through us you have the option to share the whole email on social media, or to specify a URL instead for shareworthy articles. Built in to our platform are direct links to open new posts for Facebook, Google+, Twitter (X), LinkedIn or you can select β€œGeneric” and build a link to any social media platform of your choosing.

From a coding perspective it is a doddle, it’s just adding a link tag into your template. If you want to share the whole email:

<a href="#" social-network="facebook">Share this email on Facebook</a>

<a href="#" social-network="linkedin">Share this email on LinkedIn</a>

Then a click on this links will simply set up the post ready to send:

Share to Facebook Post

Share to  LinkedIn Post

Or to set the post copy as a URL instead of the email image:

<a href="#" social-network="facebook" social-url="”>Share this email on Facebook</a>

For Twitter…excuse me X…you know the one I mean, you have the option to pre-write the tweet:

<a href="#" social-network="twitter" social-tweet="Check out this article:”>Tweet this link</a>

Share on Twitter Post

Share by email

You might also encourage your users to share directly to their friends and family, people they would likely only target if they knew they already had an interest:

<a href="#" social-network="sendtofriend">Click here</a> to share this email with a friend.

This is slightly more involved as your user will have to fill out a few details, but if you’ve got them excited enough to share, that shouldn’t stop them!

Shsre with a Friend Form

Once they’ve filled out the form, their lucky chosen recipient will receive an email with the message from their friend saying why they are receiving this email with just a sneak preview of what the email is and a link to the full thing:

Email Header

Then reassurance that they have not been added against their will to any mailing list and that their data privacy remains well and truly intact:

Email footer

By making it as easy as possible for your users to spread the word and share your content amongst themselves, it’s up to you to give them a reason. This should inspire you to create innovative, eye-catching emails with a great message that might just motivate your users to share, especially if all they have to do is click a link.

Here’s some ideas on adding interactivity to your emails which could be a good place to start! Not only will well designed and captivating emails help sustain your current base and stave off lethargy and loss of engagement, it might also help it grow if word starts getting around.

Email Marketing

Are your emails ethical?

Alcohol makes you attractive! Vaping is cool! Some marketing is obviously unethical.

But most unethical marketing isn’t so cartoonishly blatant. Not only can it be unknown to the customer, but even the marketer may not necessarily be aware that they’re doing anything wrong. So, how do we make sure our emails are morally sound?

Defining unethical

Firstly, let’s agree on what is meant by unethical. Merriam‑Webster defines the word as:

not conforming to a high moral standard

And in turn, moral is defined as:

conforming to a standard of right behavior

So we’re dealing with right and wrong, good and bad. A subjective topic to an extent, and one with blurry boundaries.

With regards specifically to the ethics of marketing, let’s refer to some third party sources. Forbes, Kendrick PR and Brafton are among the top results when searching for the topic. They all agree that misleading information is unethical. Some other factors include the incitement of controversy, marketing without consent, and exploitation of emotions.

Tell the truth

Honesty is a recurring theme in the ethics of marketing. No legitimate marketer would misrepresent a product. Or would they?

You don’t have to make outright false claims about a product to be dishonest about it. It’s not uncommon to employ Photoshop or other trickery to simulate – and likely exaggerate – a product’s properties. That de-ageing cream works wonders… in the digital realm!

Or what about the offer itself? A get‑it‑while‑it‑lasts 24‑hour sale certainly creates a sense of urgency, especially under the ominous presence of a countdown clock ticking down to zero. But if the offer’s surprise extension is pre‑planned, then it is dishonest. A lie is a lie.

Your customer is not a fish

So don’t bait them. A misleading or vague subject line might lure some openers. But ultimately that does customers a disservice. If the big surprise turns out to be a little disappointing, then people rightfully may not be so tempted next time.

It’s respectful to the customer to be transparent in subject lines and message previews. State the offer up-front and let the reader – a human being – make their own decision.

Accept disinterest

Subscribers come and go. But they don’t always close the door when they’re leaving. It’s good practice for various reasons to ultimately remove inactive subscribers from your mailing lists.

Strive to make emails for everyone

Somehow we’re in the mid-2020s and accessibility is still often skimped on or outright ignored in email. Image-heavy emails with insufficient alt tags, a confusing tab order and lack of semantic code are not uncommon.

Worryingly, there is sometimes an attitude based on pre‑conceived notions of the audience’s level of ability. Our readers are young and hip – we don’t need to worry about accessibility! Don’t be that marketer.

Even in a hypothetical and statistically-impossible scenario where 100% of a company’s mailing list is completely able, there’s an important point to remember: an accessible email is a better email for everybody.

Take the bad with the good

Don’t take our word for it… take the word of these glowing customer reviews that we have cherry‑picked! For a more balanced and believable view, a link to Trustpilot along with a live score combines the powers of brand advocacy and honesty. Bad reviews will naturally happen from time to time. Take it as an opportunity to show the world how you put a problem right.

Some fundamental contradictions

I mentioned earlier that the customer is not a fish. And yet this is an industry in which hook is an accepted piece of terminology.

Kendrick PR cites fearmongering as an unethical marketing practice. But marketers swear by FOMO – the fear of missing out.

Similarly, Brafton criticises the triggering of negative emotions as a means of manipulating consumer decisions. What is fear if not negative?

Does it matter?

Honesty may be the best policy, but is it good for business? If relatively minor sins help to bring in the numbers, and customers aren’t even aware of being played, then it could even be perceived that there’s no harm done. Doing the right thing might not always be a sufficient motivator when there’s pressure to hit targets.

But what if a company can earn a reputation for transparency? What if customers become aware of one brand’s honesty in the face of their competitors’ tricks? Maybe that’s hoping for some unrealistic karmic justice, or maybe it’s something worth striving for.