The majority of subscribers to business-to-business email newsletters use the preview pane function of their email software, and nearly half do not enable blocked images, according to a study by email marketing firm EmailLabs.
The results of this study are expected to drive many publishers and B2B marketers to rethink the design of their email newsletters to better accommodate the significant adoption of preview panes and image blocking functions.
In the survey sent to EmailLabs' Intevation Report newsletter subscribers, 90% of email newsletter subscribers reported having access to a preview pane, and 69% said they frequently or always use it. Nearly 53% of respondents' email clients or ISPs automatically block images in some or all email messages, and 45% of email readers rarely or never download images within their preview pane. Furthermore, 50% of subscribers rarely or never place the sender's email address in their email software's safe sender list (meaning that images aren't downloaded automatically, and the newsletter could potentially be quietly moved into a 'junk mail' folder or quarantine within the email software).
They survey also indicates that 49% of email readers only look at the first few lines in the preview pane to decide if they want to continue reading the message. Whether targeting respondents who use the horizontal format (75%) or the vertical format (25%), the results suggest that it is critical that marketers design emails that will maximise the preview pane's limited space (which is typically set by users at 2 - 5 inches).
The problem marketers face, according to EmailLabs, is that if insufficient information is displayed in the preview pane (whether due to blocked images, advertisements or just poor design) nearly 19% of respondents will simply delete the message without reading it.
According to Loren McDonald, EmailLabs vice president of marketing, "This survey confirms our suspicions that a large percentage of B2B email subscribers do not download images and prefer to scan or read their emails within the preview pane and never fully open the email. We advise marketers to re-evaluate and, if necessary, redesign their emails to better address how their subscribers are actually interacting with their email newsletters."
To help alleviate the impact preview panes and disabled images have on email performance, EmailLabs recommends the following best practices:
- Redesign the top of emails to include a 2-3 inch preview pane header area that is HTML and text only (with no images). This header area should include only copy such as article teasers, key offers and "In This Issue" information that enables the subscriber to determine whether to read further and/or open the email. Publishers may like to test using HTML/text-based ads in this area and consider charging a premium to advertisers based on the increase in impressions.
- Redesign email templates so that both content blocks and advertisements can be viewed entirely within a 2 - 3 inch window as readers scroll through an email.
- Minimise the use of images unless absolutely necessary (as in e-commerce oriented emails that display multiple product photos). Avoid using images that are more than 2-3 inches tall. Instead, use HTML fonts, colours and backgrounds when possible to liven up the message's appearance. It's time to get creative.
- Publishers should consider eliminating the use of "skyscraper ads" (narrow but tall panels) and move to more HTML/text-based ads. Ads with images should be limited to the horizontal banner format.
- Examine preview pane area for extraneous or administrative information that can be relocated elsewhere (such as an administrative footer at the bottom of the email). Do, however, consider including text links for key actions such as "View web version" and "Update profile" at the bottom of the preview pane area.
Other key findings of the survey included:
- The sender's name and/or email address remains the most important factor readers look for in the preview pane when deciding whether to read further or open the email (60%). Subject lines, headlines and teaser copy follow at 54.3%, 53% and 30.3% respectively.
- Only 31% of email users report they always or frequently add the B2B newsletters they asked to receive to their 'safe senders' list or address book in order to potentially avoid having them routed to their bulk mail or junk mail folders.
- Sixty percent of survey respondents read messages in either Outlook 2003 or Lotus Notes - both of which block images by default. The number rises to 86% when considering those who use all versions of Outlook, Outlook Express and Lotus Notes.
McDonald warns that e-mail marketers and publishers have to be aware of factors like these that greatly affect their e-mail campaign performance: "While this latest study focuses on business-to-business marketers, we expect this issue to increasingly affect business-to-consumer marketers, driven by developments such as the Yahoo! Mail preview pane that's currently in Beta testing."