Are your email campaigns designed for the optimal experience? If not, you're missing out on both short-term and long-term conversions.

Smart marketers like yourself understand that email marketing is one of digital marketing's highest-performing channels. And smart marketers like yourself have been heeding the expert advice to go mobile-first in their email designs, use personalization, segment their emails to create more relevant messages, etc.

But this advice is all table stakes by now, so even if your emails are mobile-first, segmented, and personalized, you can still get more conversions from your email campaigns.

The secret lies in matching your email design to the complete experience you are trying to create with each campaign. If you aren't familiar with the term experience design, or user experience (UX) design, it's commonly referred to as the process behind designing anything that a customer (or user) would interact with in a way that makes the experience as satisfactory and enjoyable as possible.

Given the intimacy that the inbox offers between a subscriber and the companies that market to them, it's totally logical that experience design be at the forefront of a successful email marketing program.

Exclusive bonus: Download a step-by-step checklist to evaluate the experience design of all your own email marketing messages.

Basic Experience Design Factors

To design an experience that meets expectations from one end to the other, there are eight factors that influence how you build your emails, landing pages, checkout processes, and websites.

Fortunately, you can track and test the answers to these questions, and see if you have any areas that break down or need to be improved before creating a particular experience for your next marketing campaign.

Below are three areas where user experience can be tested and developed, along with real life examples from our campaigns and those from some of our friends.

And remember, you can download a step-by-step checklist to see how well each type of email in your email marketing arsenal rates in terms of experience design and conversion potential.

1. Call to Action (CTA) Button Placement

Every email campaign should have a primary goal, and with it, a call to action button (or link) that your subscribers will use to help you achieve that goal. Goals can be anything, but typically fall into one of these categories:

Note that in all cases, the user experience continues beyond the email.

Now think about the experience you're delivering on a mobile device if someone were to click on any of those calls to action. If the experience is mobile-friendly from end to end, then you can optimize your emails for mobile.

EXAMPLE 1 - Add to Calendar link: I hosted a panel discussion via Google Hangout as part of Unbounce's first Conversion Optimization Day in April, 2015. As the host for this discussion, it was my responsibility to design the landing page for the event registration, and all the follow-up emails, which were a series of typical webinar reminders. There was a critical element missing from the registration process, though: the ability to add our panel discussion to your calendar after you signed up. So, I created the "add to calendar" link using a simple online tool, and set up the registration welcome email to provide this link to the registrant, so they could easily add a reminder about our discussion to their calendar of choice.

Since the entire experience was mobile-friendly, I made sure the call to action button in the welcome email, the reminder email, and the replay email were all placed as high up in the email as possible, to appear "above the fold" for all the mobile devices I tested.


EXAMPLE 2 - Read my latest blog post: Here's another example where changing CTA placement generated a lift in click-throughs. It has nothing to do with the mobile experience, though, and everything to do with how long subscribers are willing to read your emails.

In this example, I simply moved the link to my latest blog article from the bottom of the email (which made total sense if you read the whole email, because I set up the blog post beautifully) to the end of the first paragraph (followed by more context about the blog post beneath the link). The result? A 7% lift in click-throughs between the two emails.

Changing link placement can lift click-throughs
Image from slide presentation I did for MarketingProfs about ways to increase click-throughs in your emails. Get it here.

2. Know your audience, and what you want out of them

EXAMPLE 3 - Sponsored email campaign: Here's an example of when cutting edge, mobile-first email design will work against you: One of our clients was marketing an upcoming webinar to an industry association's list as a sponsored campaign. The design we mocked up checked all the experience boxes: perfect rendering on mobile, clear call to action above the fold, and compelling copy for those who needed to read a little more about the company sponsoring this particular campaign.


The result? The client decided to have us redesign it to be a traditional-looking email that was built more for desktop reading than mobile.


Wait, what?!

That's right. It was a smart idea, and here's why: the landing page wasn't designed for mobile. Neither was the webinar registration page. And according to their own list's email client market share stats, this type of audience leans heavily toward Outlook.

Outlook Market Share

And the clincher for taking the desktop-optimized route was that this was a sponsored email; sending something too cutting edge had a greater chance of confusing an audience that wasn't familiar with their brand than sending something more familiar to the audience.

The key takeaway here, with respect to experience design, is to know (or make an educated guess using data) how familiar your audience is with the type of experience you are creating in your campaign, before trying anything too different.

EXAMPLE 4 - Generate buzz on social media: Speaking of cutting-edge, here's another example of how knowing your audience and designing an email experience that will blow their mind. Litmus, an email testing and analytics company, used a live twitter feed in the actual email to create real engagement within their subscribers' inboxes, and build buzz around their upcoming email design conference.

Their breakdown of how the campaign was designed is detailed on their blog (linked above), along with results, but suffice it to say they totally know how to design an email aimed at an audience of email marketing people. Just check out this tweet:

EXAMPLE 5 - Membership sites and course logins: Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers has a copywriting course called The Copy Link. The course consists of self-directed study through a membership portal, but also includes weekly emails from Joanna aimed at deepening her students' understanding of that week's topic (which then include a link to the topic on the membership site).

Joanna recognized (after some feedback from students) that the link to read/watch the module in her email required the subscriber be logged into their account on her site, and that those links weren't very easy to find. Joanna added a reminder in the email to be signed in, along with a link to login page. I know she'd prefer to have a single call to action in her emails, but adding this extra link definitely improves the user experience.

3. Time of day

Unless you're a global brand or have a global audience, optimizing the time of day at which you send your email campaigns can be a very effective way to create a high-performing experience.

EXAMPLE 6 - Best time to send email: I did a reader survey where I asked my subscribers when they tend to read/watch/listen to most of the content that helps them with their business. 36% of respondents said it varies throughout the day, while 46% indicated that some time during the morning was when they consumed content that helped them with their business. Only 17% of respondents seem to be interested in afternoon, evening, or weekend reading. Now I know that the best time to reach my audience is in the morning.

By contrast, remember Joanna Wiebe's The Copy Link course? She knows her students are typically completing the self-paced modules during off-peak hours. So, she sends those emails out late in the day, and consistently, so students can expect it (and possibly even carve out their Wednesday evenings for working on conversion-oriented copy).

This begs the question, What if you have a global audience? Justine Jordan, Marketing Director for Litmus, says that Litmus's subscriber base is global, so optimizing by time of day is impractical. However, they've done some creative things to create a unique experience in the inbox.

But there is still a way to incorporate time of day experience design when you have a global audience. Let's move to my final example.

EXAMPLE 7 - Last chance emails: This last example about time of day optimization is my favorite (and so is Joanna Wiebe since I've referenced her three times in this article). Joanna also takes time to optimize sales emails by time zone, especially on the last day of a sale. Here's an example of one she sent. The sale was closing at 5pm PST which translates to 12pm in Sydney, Australia...THE NEXT DAY! So, Joanna sent a special email only to Australian subscribers to make sure they would have plenty of time to see it and complete a purchase before the window of opportunity closed. Very smart use of segmentation and time of day to achieve optimal results, even with a global audience.

Gut check: are your email campaigns designed for optimal user experience?

We covered a lot in this post, but gave you a solid groundwork from which to evaluate the experience your email campaigns are creating. You should be able to look at an email campaign and ask those questions we laid out in the beginning, to see if there are any bottlenecks that could hurt the overall experience.

Fix them first. If you have different types of campaigns, choose one that is either the easiest/fastest to fix, or the one that will deliver the highest return in the next 30-60 days. And if you need a more comprehensive plan for email marketing strategy, you can get that in this article.

Once you feel confident in the end-to-end user experience your emails are creating for your subscribers, you can start to experiment with techniques to lift the conversions of specific emails. Fortunately, we've created an exclusive checklist for you to download. It will help you assess each type of email you send, and evaluate how its current subscriber experience matches up with your expectations. From there, you'll know what to work on first.

Download the checklist here

Stephan Hovnanian

Stephan Hovnanian runs the show here at Shovi, bringing over 15 years of email and web marketing experience to companies that need more from their digital marketing efforts.

Connect with Stephan here, on Twitter (@stephanhov), LinkedIn, or Google+.

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