Increase Your Email’s Impact! Part 3: Content & CTA


The design of a captivating newsletter is not easy, and has rules of its own, which I’ve already discussed a while ago here: (header and preheader). Now it’s time to get to the point of each HTML message, e.g. the true email “meat” that includes: the main call-to-action (CTA), and the cornerstone content that generates high conversion.

Selling isn’t done in emails

Before you get down to creating the content that is going to introduce your offer to your subscribers, remember that an email and a website are each designed to do different things. An email message is NOT the destination for the subscriber. You can’t buy a purse or book a trip in an email client.

What then should be your main goal when you hit send on your email? The goal should be getting your audience to a landing page, which is the place the actual conversion occurs: your browser becomes a buyer, your reader becomes a subscriber, and so on.

That’s why each of these tools has a unique role: The email’s role is to get the click and the landing page’s role is to get the sale.

I don’t think you like scrolling through paragraph after paragraph of copy in an email — I know I don’t. That’s why your email content should be limited to a simple message, emphasizing unique selling points and corresponding with a highlighted CTA:

  • Click here to find out more,
  • Read about all the benefits of investing
  • Get all 7 healthy dinner reports FREE! Click here!

Where are you sending people?

These two elements together should work like a one-way traffic sign – it just has to point the subscriber to the destination, e.g. to the landing page.

Here’s an example of a simple newsletter that gets your imagination going and makes you curious enough to point your cursor at the CTA instantly. (the version without images also makes its impression).

The magical 600 pixels

There is a marketing nightmare that’s even worse than creating a newsletter that makes your user scan for 2 minutes:

It’s a newsletter where you have to scroll way to the right to be able to finish reading a sentence. Making the subscriber scroll to click a CTA is like putting an item on a shelf that’s so high you need to climb a ladder in order to reach it.

Fixing this problem is easy – don’t cross the 600 pixel limit. This width is the most common for preview windows in email clients. It’s also helpful to those who read your emails on a smartphone. 320 pixel width in iPhone, 480 in Droid, and 360 in Blackberry mean your newsletter will be readable to your mobile subscribers.

My own private tests have also shown that a newsletter wider than 650 pixels will get an unexpected surprise from from Gmail – being thrown in the spam folder.

Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut

Not so long ago, email marketing was seen by many as using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. There were no options to target or personalize the content so marketers addressed the same messages to all subscribers as a whole. They were blasting with a shotgun, when what they needed was a rifle.

Some still practice this today, which just sends their messages to the reader’s junk or spam folder. In other words, their audience never gets the message!

With the tools you have at your disposal today, like behavioral targeting or Dynamic Content, you are much more likely to hit the target with your messages. Dynamic Content allows advanced automatic personalization of content, counting down the time left to a given event, and even connects with the Central European Bank to convert currencies on the fly. Such messages win hands down with those whose personalization begins with “Hello, [[name]].

Match up your colors and branding

To reduce the bounce rate on your landing page to a minimum, you should make sure the messages in your newsletters and the content the subscribers later see on the landing page are consistent. What I mean is:

  • Consistent branding, your colors and marketing themes must match. Your message should be similar in both color and message.
  • The right destination (e.g.: if you run an online perfume store and the main CTA in your newsletter is related to the promotion of an X perfume that’s just about to end, make sure the subscriber gets a chance to buy the product right after they click the CTA button, and is not taken to the main page where they have to look for it.)
  • Consistency of design within a newsletter – the subject line/headline,  CTA in the preheader, etc. The header and content should be integral parts of the message and complement one another. Don’t confuse your subscriber as this will only lessen the effectiveness of the main CTA and the content.

Testing works. So do it

Did you know that Hotmail, Apple Mail, and MS Outlook 2007 don’t render alttext? Or maybe you missed the fact that Lotus Notes 6 and 7 don’t support 8 and 24-bit .png images, which may cause your newsletter to appear blank just where you intended an ROI-generating call-to-action? Or did you notice MS Outlook blocked that background image responsible for the creative consistency of your newsletter AFTER you sent it to your entire base?

Designing effective HTML newsletters is a difficult task, and requires step-by-step formatting instructions. Effective coding in this case is nothing like the creation of a website, so the message has to be tested several times with the most popular email clients to be 100% sure it is displayed just the way you want it to be.

I’ll be writing one more post to wrap up the whole series, this time on the footer – so stay tuned. And in the meantime, if you have any comments or questions related to HTML newsletters, you’re welcome to join the discussion!

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