One of GovDelivery’s Client Success Consultants, Bandar El-Eita recently came up with a helpful metaphor on email (or as GovDelivery calls them, bulletins) sending best practices. His thinking is that the process of encouraging a new citizen to sign up and read your bulletins is akin to the process of dating. That is, when a communications professional sends bulletins, he can think of the process as having five stages: the Introduction, a First Impression, a “Let’s Make Plans” Call, the Big Date, and then, of course, the Relationship.
Stay with me. I’ll walk you through it.
Let’s say you are interested in dating. Well, first you have to meet someone. As you know, you probably meet a potential candidate in one of two ways. First way: you are so well known, so appealing, so spectacular, that a potential suitor seeks you out in a bar, at a community gathering, or, well, you get the point. Second way? A friend introduces you (often, the more likely of the two).
In gaining subscribers, it’s the same. Your audiences is likely to find you in one of two ways. Either, you are so well known, so appealing, so spectacular, that a potential subscriber seeks you out in their browser., or a GovDelivery Network Partner introduces you (quite likely).
Regardless of how you meet, you meet. What happens now? You have a chance at a first impression. In the digital communication “dating” world, you might only have a few seconds to make this first impression. This first impression is where you present your subscription topics. At this point you should ask yourself: am I making my offerings clear? Would descriptions help my subscribers? Are my subscription pages customized to best increase the likelihood I can continue to the next phase?
Let’s say you do these things right, and your potential suitor (subscriber) gives you the cue that you should give them a call. They subscribe to your bulletins. What happens now? You might ask them some questions so you can get to know them better. Here you have successfully moved to the “Let’s Make Plans” Call.
So, you’re on the phone. Chatting away. Learning more about them. Next up? You need to ask for the Big Date. How do you successfully ask for the Big Date, and once you do, how do you present yourself on that date? Keep in mind, on this date your potential suitor (subscriber) will ask: who is this? Is this “dater” attractive, well-groomed, and interesting (i.e. bulletin looks good and is interesting)? Is the date what I expected, and if not, will I want to go on another date (i.e. meets needs)? Will I tell my friends (i.e. share the bulletin)? Do I want to go back to their place (i.e. click on a link in the body of your bulletin)? Do I want to ever hear from the person again (i.e. unsubscribe)?
This Big Date step, actually sending a bulletin, is crucial.
From the subject line to the bulletin design to the content, there is a lot to think about. So, here’s where I’ll jump into some commonly asked questions including tips on best fonts, colors, subject line best practices, image best practices, and best times to send. Follow these best practices, and you’ll have more than one successful “date!”
Bulletin Design Best Practices:
Subject Line: As the gateway to your bulletin, the subject line is crucial. If your subscriber is not drawn in here, the best bulletin in the world will not be read. Here are five quick tips for writing high open-rate subject lines:
- Provide a clear call to action
- Keep it brief: try to write less than 50 characters
- Make it definitive
- Make it intriguing
- If appropriate, localize the content (include a city or specific location)
- Words to avoid: like the word “free,” words like “helpful” and “reminder” aren’t specific or intriguing enough to garner an open
Content: Once you successfully draw in a reader, keep the engagement going with solid content. Here are five easy tips:
- Personalize the bulletin when possible
- Use social English (write at an appropriate reading level for your readers)
- Write in the present tense
- Have a sense of humor when appropriate
- Never use all-caps
- Don’t overdo exclamation points
Fonts: When picking fonts, the best rule of thumb is to keep it simple. Pick a few that best resemble your brand, and pick a font that is web safe (here is a list of web-safe fonts and their explanations). My top favorite fonts include: Arial, Georgia, and Tahoma, Lucida Sans Unicode, Trebuchet MS. Finally, avoid having too many fonts, or switching font types from line to line.
Colors: Along the same vein as fonts, the best colors to choose are simply colors easy on the eyes that keep in line with your brand and help your readers easily digest your content.
Images: There are lots of schools of thought on image best practices, but here are 6 extremely important ones:
- Make sure your bulletin makes sense without any pictures. Not everyone will download your images, so you are best assuming no one will see them and go from there.
- Make sure you include alt text (some tutorial tips can be found here).
- Include high-quality, appropriate images.
- Host the image yourself – otherwise you have no control over it
- Don’t include one giant image. Why? It will significantly increase the time for the bulletin to load, and may get blocked from the start. What to do instead? Try editing images so they’re smaller and flow with the text of the email. You may also consider asking an HTML designer to help design a solution if your images are integral to the bulletin.
- Re-size the image before you embed.
Let’s get back to the dating metaphor, shall we? Let’s say you send a few successful bulletins, and your subscriber reads them, and even tells a friend about them. Maybe you even get a chance to show your subscriber your place (they click on your link and return to your website). So, you have a few successful dates. Now what? You start to move into the Relationship phase. And like any successful relationship, meeting your subscribers’ needs is critical. How do you move along in the Relationship phase? Communicate openly. Evaluate their interactions with you (examine your metrics). Ask them to introduce you to their friends. Consider thanking them on their anniversaries. You fill in the rest.