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It's been long known that preview pane and the blocked-images feature in email clients are problematic for business-to-business (B2B) marketers. A recent survey that our company conducted confirmed the significance of this problem, as the majority of B2B readers are using both the preview pane and the default blocked-images functions to decide whether to open emails and block unwanted downloads.

Companies that do not take steps to address these findings with their email design and format will be doing a disservice to their subscribers. A survey conducted in September 2005 of one of our subscriber lists showed that 90% of email newsletter subscribers have access to a preview pane, and 69% say they frequently or always use it.

Among other survey findings:

  • Nearly 53% of respondents' email clients or ISPs automatically block images in some or all email messages.

  • 45% of email readers rarely or never download images within their preview pane.

  • 50% of subscribers rarely or never place an email address on their email client's "safe sender" list.

  • 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.

  • Nearly 19% of respondents will simply delete the message due to insufficient information displayed in the preview pane—due to blocked images, advertisements or poor design.

  • 60% of readers said they consult those to decide whether they'll scan the message in the preview pane or just delete it without a glance.

  • 75% or respondents use the horizontal format and 25% vertical format.

    The majority also set their preview panes at between two and five inches (for both horizontal and vertical formats).

Implications for B2B Marketers

So what does this mean? Simply, you must redesign your emails to reflect that the most valuable real estate in an email has shrunk significantly, to just the top left 2-4 inches, the only area visible in both horizontal and vertical panes.

Think of the preview pane as a teaser area used to grab the readers' attention and compel them either to scroll or click to stories or fully open the email. Review all existing information that you pile up at the top of the email and relocate non-vital information to an administrative footer.

Because most survey respondents say they use the horizontal pane, it makes more sense to redesign your email templates with a horizontal layout for both content and advertisements, with content organized in sections that are wider than they are deep.

Skyscraper ads and images are not being seen by a large percentage of subscribers. Most readers won't enable the images if they are blocked, unless ads or images are required to make sense of the content or offer.

Lastly, blocked images affect the tracking of open rates. Place more emphasis and credence on click-through and conversion rates.

Eight Steps to Effective Email

For many email content providers, accommodating the new reality in the way email readers access information may require a total redesign of the email if it relies on large images, ads or long copy blocks in a vertical format.

The following are some recommended fixes to make your email more preview pane/disabled image friendly:

    1. Top of email/preview area: Redesign the top of your emails so that key content can be viewed in the preview pane even if images are disabled. Content-oriented newsletters should probably include headlines or "In This Issue" teasers. Newsletters with banner/images-based ads should consider switching to text ads and content teasers. Ecommerce and other promotional-type emails should summarize or highlight the key value proposition, offer or products right up top.

    2. Text link navigation: Consider keeping or including text links to key actions below your "In This Issue" or teaser text. We noticed a fair number of our subscribers clicking the "View Web Version" link, so we kept that and added "Update Profile" and a few other key actions. Avoid use of white or light text links with dark background. Some mail clients will override your link style color with the default blue underline link style, thus making it difficult to see the links.

    3. Tracking click-throughs: Study your click-tracking reports, or use other software that maps out where readers are clicking most often. Those are the links that need to be highest in your email.

    4. Administrative footer: Move less critical administrative information to an admin footer at the end of the email, especially if it draws few clicks per issue.

    5. From/Subject lines: The "From/Sender" name is the number-one thing that readers look at, so pick it carefully. Go with a short, trusted and simple name if at all possible, such as "Company Name" or "Company X News." Subject lines are the second-most important. Consider adding another brand component to the subject line, such as "ACME Report" or "ACME Specials." Also, avoid both generic ("ACME News for December 20, 2005") and spammy Subject lines, such as using all caps and exclamation points. Do make the subject line fun, creative, compelling and relevant to as many subscribers as possible. After all, its purpose is to make subscribers want to open the email.

    6. Text/HTML ads: Use both text and HTML in advertisements, logos and branding messages rather than live images linked to your Web site, such as JPEGs or GIFs. You'll still be able to deliver key information even to readers whose email clients block images.

    7. Alt tags: Use alt tags that describe an image's content or action. Though keep in mind that most ISPs and email clients that block images also don't render alt tags.

    8. Skyscraper ads: Eliminate skyscraper or vertically rectangular ads that go deeper than the pixel equivalent of 3 or 4 inches. Replace them with horizontal text and HTML banners.

Whether your email subscribers are B2B or B2C, use of the preview pane will only continue to increase as Yahoo and Hotmail ready new email services that will include preview panes. We highly recommend that you take action now to redesign your emails for a world of blocked images and small preview panes.

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                ABOUT THE AUTHOR

                Daniel Jung is creative director at EmailLabs (www.emaillabs.com), based in Menlo Park, Calif. He can be reached at djung@emaillabs.com.