Getting your permission-based email marketing emails into the inbox and ensuring that your email design is just right are closely related. Here is some useful information on the nexus between the two as well as on doing both well.

Delivering Results

If you are just getting back into email marketing after a break, are new to it, or are sending to an old list, make sure to first ramp up. That means you should send to certain segments of your list first, perhaps based on demographic criteria—or first send to the people who signed up most recently and are therefore more likely to remember you.

Keeping a clean list is very important. Too many hard bounces (email addresses that do not exist any more) can hurt your reputation with the ISPs.

Pay close attention to keeping a list clean and purge as many bad addresses from the list as you can before you use a new email service provider (ESP)—because you want to get off on the right foot with good delivery. The good news is that most ESPs will automatically mark any hard bounce as inactive.

Keep in mind that the worst thing you can do to build your email list is to harvest emails from Web sites; moreover, doing so is a flagrant violation of the CAN-SPAM act.

In addition, do not buy a list from anyone on the Internet who promises you the subscribers are all opted-in. They may have opted in to hear from someone... but not from you. For you, they are likely to hit the spam complaint button, as they will in the case of the many others to whom the list was sold. Sending to this sort of list will hurt your ability to reach your best customers and prospects.

Whichever ESP you choose will assign you an IP address—-either shared or private. This IP address, not your email address, is the "Caller ID" of every email that goes out, whether a personal message or email marketing. Make sure that you set up a Sender Policy Framework (SPF) record that matches the IP address that your ESP assigned to you with the sending domain ( Your ESP should have a knowledge base with easy-to-follow instructions on how to set up an SPF record in your Domain Name Service (DNS) settings.

If you set up an SPF record, you will have an advantage, as many email marketers neglect this important step. If you need help, ask your ESP to assist you. If you are a techie or know one, setting up an SPF record in your DNS records does not take long. With many ESPs, you can determine the IP (shared or private) by looking in the "Account Settings" of the account; with some ESPs, you may have to ask.

Email Marketing Design: the Coin of the Realm

Good email design not only appeals to recipients, who are therefore more apt to click through, but also results in spam filters' looking more kindly upon your emails—which matters greatly to getting into the inbox.

Aesthetically pleasing email will greatly improve your chances of achieving your email marketing goals—including click-through-rates (CTR) and conversions.

One of the top guidelines for email marketing design is that the email not be too heavy with graphics or, much worse, consist of one giant graphic. The guiding principle is 60 percent text, 40 percent graphic. It is always a very bad idea to send out an email that is one large graphic, not only because fewer recipients are likely to read it but also because spam filters punish emails that consist of one large image.

Many email recipients view emails in a preview pane, so the top-left corner is an ideal location for brand placement and the inclusion of a good enticing lead. Also, keep in mind that many email clients have graphics turned off by default, so you have to entice people to click the button that turns graphics back on. The best way to do that is to leverage strong content, a well-designed email, and balance between text and graphics.

It is crucial to remember to include ALT text—words that describe the graphic or your offer—for any images in your emails. The reason is that anything you are trying to communicate through images will be lost until users turn on the graphics, which usually can be accomplished with a quick click. Entice them with descriptive ALT text. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then give your recipients a reason to view your images.

As counterintuitive as it may seem to those who have been involved in a Web design project, tables are back. They are an important element of email marketing design. Yes, you can still use CSS, but it has to be inline CSS to work. Consider tables in your email design and pay close attention to making good use of table attributes.

Be aware of the inherent limitations of emails/clients vs. Web pages/browsers. Consider that the optimal email width is 600 pixels—to accommodate various browsers and mobile devices. Try to get as close to that width as possible.

Again, keep in mind that Web browsers are developed to handle java script, flash, etc., but many emails programs simply cannot handle the fancy stuff.

In addition, make sure to have a link in your email that enables your recipients to view the email as a Web page. Most ESPs provide a very easy way to accomplish this task. Some people will just prefer to view your email as a Web page.

* * *

If you can combine good email design for spam filters as well as aesthetically pleasing email for your audience, you have a recipe for success.

Email marketing can be hard work, but when done well, it yields the highest ROI of any marketing tactic.

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Neil Anuskiewicz is director of business development for the StreamSend Email Marketing service, which also offers a private-label email marketing reseller program.