Do you want to sell tickets to your heritage site? Do you want to update your audience on news from your organisation? Are you fundraising through your membership scheme?
It’s important that your goal is clear from the outset before you start creating your email content. This can be influenced by who you’re sending this too – is this for regular visitors who have a season ticket or visit several times a year, or is this for someone who only engages with your organisation once every year or so? Here are some examples of objectives:
- Information and Awareness – readers should finish your email knowing something new about your site or benefitting from the information you’ve given
- Engagement– express your personality and start building a relationship. Use images, graphics, videos and buttons to make your email stand out, and tell stories that keep your organisation top-of-mind
- Conversion – buying a ticket or merchandise, giving a donation or anything that encourages people to take a specific action
Call to action
This main goal in marketing terminology is your ‘call to action’. This is the primary message of your email. What do you want the reader to do or action? This goal needs to be clear to the reader. If your main aim is to get them to book onto a flagship event this needs to be the lead item in your email. This puts your reader at ease and makes them more receptive to your message. They know what you expect from them, and also what they expect to receive from you.
Make the ‘call to action’ clear through the subject line, through your email title and in your opening paragraph.
If they have opted in to receive information about events, you can send this to them. If you don’t have this option, it is worth considering having a option for your audiences to sign up to an events marketing email list where you can send events-specific marketing emails to them.
Make the reason you’re emailing clear
It’s important you make the reason for your email clear to your audience, for instance this example below which references an application call in the email title heading. It is also important to reference this through your email subject line and in the opening paragraph of your copy.
So, make the reason you’re emailing clear:
- in the subject line
- in the main heading
- in the first paragraph of the email
Less is more – people scan emails so your email copy needs to be simple and concise to allow readers to pick up the gist of what you’re saying speedily.
5 tips to improve your writing is full of useful tips to improve your writing on websites but it works equally well for writing emails.
Remember, the average reading age in the UK is only 9 years old, so to be as accessible as possible, it’s important to avoid overcomplicated language and lots of specialist terminology.
So in the example above about becoming a Regional Associate for the Arts Marketing Association (AMA) the opening paragraph includes:
- two positives of joining the scheme to grab attention – raise your profile and support your local community
- a line to emphasise the goal of the email – apply to become a Regional Associate
Here, the first two sentences determine the interest and then this is followed by clear bullet points that set out what is expected and the benefits of being a Regional Associate:
- they host two regional meetings a year
- act as a point of contact for AMA members in the region
- share AMA opportunities with their colleagues
Here a button is used with text that clearly states what the reader will action when they click on it: Apply to become a Regional Associate.
Think about what’s important to your visitor and not just about facts. It’s easy to concentrate on talking about features instead of thinking about the benefits to your reader.
Features are facts about your organisation, offer or services. Benefits are what your customer gets out of it - why they should be involved.
Put yourself in the shoes of a visitor and ask yourself: ‘What’s in it for me?’ and ‘So what?’ Think about a tea bag. A feature might be: Camomile teabag. Asking ‘So what?’ helps you identify the benefit: Give yourself a moment of calm.
This approach needs to link through everything:
- what benefit does your reader gain from opening your email?
- what benefits are included once you have their attention?
- what’s the journey you want them to go on?
Make sure to use your organisation’s brand assets consistently throughout your email – whether that’s logos, approved images or branding colours.
Here you can see an email from the meditation group Headspace. Their brand colours are used throughout the email, their logo is included in their email header and they’ve only used the illustration style that features throughout the rest of their promotional platforms.
Use email headers
Email headers are easy to forget about as they’re part of the email template you regularly use. If you’ve been sending emails for a while changing your email header can help your emails stand out. They’re also a great way to brand your emails.
The most common email header design practice is to add your logo. This helps subscribers recognise your organisation immediately: the first thing they see is your logo. It also creates familiarity and coherence in your email designs and helps build a relationship with the reader.
In this AMA example you can see that we’ve used both the logo on the left and an image showing delegates at one of our events on the right. Our members are the most important thing about the AMA so we use them in our marketing, and our focus is on images taken from our in-person events.
In this example from Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridge they’ve combined their logo and a GIF which cuts between four different images and features information about their exhibition launch including date and time. The example from BFI London Film Festival uses the BFI logo, their brand colours and also prominently adds a sponsor credit.
The layout of your email is key to to how effective it will be. All the most popular email services provide free templates that you can use and adapt. Here’s some useful things to think about:
- Stick to one or two clear messages. If you have lots of messages to send break them up in a series of emails you send out over time.
- Remember KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. Simple, short emails are often the most effective. Taking the time to edit, shorten and simplify will pay dividends.
- Create a hierarchy. Put the most important information at the top of your email. If your reader is in a hurry that’s all they might read.
- Use headings and bulleted lists. This makes your email easier to read and works best for readers who just quickly scan through your email.
- Add links. If you’ve got a lot more information to share, make sure you add a link to your website. You might want to include links to your social platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, your shop or bookings page. Remember the links you add need to reflect your call to action. So if you just want them to book onto an event, it’s worth thinking about focusing their attention on one button link to get them to click through to your website.
- Check that it works on mobile. The majority of emails are checked on phones. An email that looks great on a desktop screen might not work at all on a phone. Its now essential to check this.
As you’re working for a heritage organisation, you’re in a fantastic position to draw on lots of amazing visuals. It’s important you use these to their fullest.
If you’re at an organisation where you don’t have access to lots of in-house imagery, some great free stock image sites include Unsplash, Pexels and PixelBay. While another option is to invest time and take your own stock photos – all you need is to plan the types of shots you’d like to create and it’s free to use your phone to take them.
- Be mindful #1: the same stock images can pop up continuously, so it’s worth investing time in searching for different options to ensure variety. It’s worth keeping an eye on similar organisations to ensure you don’t appear to be unintentionally copying other local organisations.
- Be mindful #2: ask yourself – do they represent your community, is everyone included? Are you only featuring people of one ethnicity, gender identity or age in your visuals? Could this be placing unintentional barriers in the way of more people feeling included and engaged with what you do?
Check out free tools like Canva. The free version has free photos and graphics and 1000s of templates. All the premium features of Canva Pro are free to charities and non-profits with charitable aims. Apply here.
The AMA MicroDigital Guide to digital tools and apps also has recommendations for free photo and video editors, gif creators and other design and writing tools that can help.
Who are you audience? Write with them in mind and also the target audiences you are looking to engage. This is where segmentation is key. Segmentation is the process where you split your ‘market’ or audience up into groups that have similar qualities. These qualities can be based on their past behaviour or engagement with your organisation e.g. how often they visit or if they come as a group with friends or family for instance.
You need to segment your list because your audience is not a uniform group. Instead it’s made up of different types of visitors whose motivations vary based on their profile. So, to get the most out of your emails you need to tailor your emails – a one-size-fits-all approach will still work, it just won’t be as effective. .
Segmentation enables you to target different groups with email content that is relevant to them and their needs. This comes with a host of benefits for your email marketing strategy. Choose a small part of your email list where the people share similar interests, behaviours or needs rather than a large group (or your whole list) who will differ widely. Giving less choice but making the offer more relevant will get you a higher response rate.
There’s some debate about the need and effectiveness of keeping your tone of voice (writing style) consistent throughout. Some argue that if for instance you decide to adopt a quirky, pun-filled style, you need to carry this through all your communications not just your emails. Others advise to match the tone of voice that is most likely to connect with the people you’re talking to. To write in a way that appeals and resonates with a section of your visitors you need a good understanding of each segment. Find out more about segmentation in How to use segmentation to understand audiences
Merge tags allow you to personalise parts of your email by pulling through information from your subscriber list. So for instance *FNAME* stands for first name and will pull this through to personalise your email greeting. You might want to pull through different information through merge tags. For example a membership number if you have a membership or loyalty scheme or a postal address if they receive your season brochure or festival programme.
All of the main email marketing platforms like Constant Contact, Dotdigital, MailChimp and Klaviyo will provide you with guides and video tutorials to help you personalise your emails and maximise your engagement. Make sure not to overdo personalisation though. Used sparingly it works. Overuse can be jarring and make people reach for the unsubscribe button.
Dynamic content blocks
Allow certain blocks of copy or certain images to appear to certain audience segments based on certain criteria. For instance members of your loyalty scheme could get bonus content that only shows up for them. This has the added bonus of allowing you to tailor your message and get the main benefits across in a way that’s more relevant and appealing.
The subject line is crucial to gaining the attention of your audience in their inbox. It’s your way of greeting each person on your mailing list. It’s important to bear in mind the ‘Three second rule’. You only have three seconds to grab someone’s attention so use it wisely. If it doesn’t grab your attention, keep experimenting with your subject line.
The subject line introduces the email and is followed by something called a ‘preheader’. Email marketing platform Klaviyo describes the preheader as ‘the peanut butter to your subject line’s jelly – use it in unison with your subject line to entice your reader to open the email.’
Quick tips for subject lines
- Make it specific – focus on the content of the email and your goal.
- Make it brief – 50 characters can be seen in inboxes so it’s worth putting key information at the front of your subject line. 54% of emails are opened on mobile according to Litmus and here the number of characters are even more limited.
- Always use the pre-header – it looks more professional and allows you to add a further benefit to opening the email.
- Use their first name – this can significantly increase your open rate. Be careful though this technique might become stale if you use it too often.
- Be creative – ask a question, cut your sentence short, add an incentive or giveaway or even throw in a pun or an emoji. When in doubt, test to see what works.
- What makes you unsubscribe? Avoid this.
Quick tips for preheader text
- Think of it as the added cherry. It gives you the opportunity to add a bit more information to your subject line.
- Use it to give a taste of what’s inside. Use your preheader to tease what’s coming in the email.
- Keep it short – it might not all be seen depending on the format it’s being viewed on.
The best time to send an email varies a lot depending on your organisation and your audience. According to a recent study the best possible time to send an email is at 1 pm, with another spike in activity around 10 am. These findings are substantiated by further research from CoSchedule, which consolidated information from many different studies available online. They found the best time to send an email is likely between 10 am and 11 am, with 2 pm as a viable alternative time. They also found a small spike in email success when sent around 8pm which probably indicates a last check of emails before the end of the day.
CoSchedule’s consolidated research found that Tuesday is commonly found to be the best day to send an email, with Thursday coming in at a close second. Wednesday was another common choice, with Mondays and Fridays being the least popular weekdays, and weekends being even less popular than those.
Many email service providers give you the option to let them send out your emails at the time they determine will be most successful. They will choose a time based on what works for the rest of their users in the same sector.
How often should you send an email? It’s important to send regular emails to keep you in your subscriber’s mind and build a growing relationship. But bombarding people with emails is often a reason why your carefully crafted emails head straight for the trash or even make people unsubscribe altogether. So email frequency is critical because you need to find the right amount of emails to send to your subscribers to keep them happy and engaged.
Sadly there’s no easy answer. Different organisations, audiences and audience segments will react differently. So keep trying our different frequencies and keep evaluating each campaign.
A few things to think about:
Let your visitors choose the frequency. This gives your visitor the power to decide the frequency they like.
Send emails that add value. Make sure that the email has relevant information that the subscriber will be interested in.
Monitor your analytics. There’s a few metrics that you’ll want to check and that will help you determine your frequency rate – your open rate, your click rate and your unsubscribe rate.
It’s crucial to measure your email success so you can see what isn’t working and improve on this.
Email A/B testing, or split testing, is the process of creating two versions of the same email with one variable changed and then sending to two subsets of an audience to see which version performs best.
Simply it just tests one version of an email against another one to find out which approach is most effective. So you could test the subject line on your emails. Say you have 1,000 people on your mailing list. Send 100 with version 1 of the subject line and another 100 with version 2. Monitor the response and send the remaining 800 people the version that had the highest open rate.
Some variables you can test include:
- From name – make sure it’s always clear it’s from your organisation but you can test a few variations. For example, Mailchimp uses a few ‘From’ names including “Mailchimp,” “Jenn at Mailchimp,” and “Mailchimp Research.”
- Subject line – this is the most common place to start.
- Preheader text – most people focus on the subject but a small change of emphasis in the preheader text can make a big difference.
- Length – do subscribers want more content and context or do they respond better to something short and to the point?
- Personalisation – this can include the subscriber’s name, purchase history or emails they’ve interacted with.
- Copy – the tone and how you describe the main benefits can be tested. You can also test how you word calls to action, headlines and button copy.
- Timing – test sending out the email at different times.
A/B testing is an easy and inexpensive way to compare and contrast, keep the things that are really working and improve on those that aren’t.
Remember: only test one variable at a time otherwise you won’t be able to identify which change has worked.
A/B Testing can be time consuming, so make sure you link any testing to your goal for the campaign (what is your KPI – key performance indicator – e.g. traffic to your website, number of people taking up an offer for an event, making a donation, buying a season pass to your site.
The best time to think about email accessibility is from the very beginning. Incorporate it into every aspect of your process. Accessibility is not optional, it’s essential. It’s crucial that everyone is able to enjoy your content.
Let’s look at some actionable steps that you can take straight away to improve the accessibility of your emails.
Ensure that all your emails have a ‘View your email in your browser’ option – most email service provider templates add this for you automatically but it’s always worth checking that this is set up as it gives readers an additional access option.
Preview your email in different formats – When you’re happy with your email, you can preview this in different formats from desktop to mobile, and make adjustments to ensure it suits each platform. The majority of people access their emails from their phone, so it’s crucial this works.
Consider different email inboxes – for instance, Microsoft Outlook looks different when viewed in desktop app, mobile app and within an internet browser such as Google Chrome. A handy tool for this is Litmus PutsMail which offers free, quick tests of your email before you send it. It’s worth noting that you do have to upgrade to Litmus’ full testing suite to get the full range of options.
Font size should be at least 12pt – this should be the minimum with 14pt being advisable.
Make sure you only use Sans-serif fonts – these are the ones without extending features on each letter. Serif fonts are much harder for people with dyslexia and for screen readers to understand. If you’re new to screen readers, they are software programs that allow visually impaired people to read the content on a computer screen with a voice synthesizer or braille display.
Watch: How a screen reader reads an email
For even more details about screen readers, check out this resource from WebAIM.
Avoid italics and also underlined copy – some audiences will struggle to read these, with the only exception being links as screen-readers identify links by them being underlined.
Always use left-aligned copy – it’s better for usability and many neurodiverse people have difficulty with reading blocks of text that are ‘justified’ as this is aligned to both the left and right margins and creates uneven spacing between words.
Avoid using images containing text – Visually impaired people won’t be able to see this and pick up on the connection. Screen readers will not be able to read these. Logos can have alt text descriptions if needed (we’ll come to that).
Link text should clearly describe where the link goes – anyone using a screen reader needs to have a clear description of the link’s destination so they know what and where they are clicking. So rather than ‘Find out more’, it’s important to signpost what they will find out more about. So a good example would be a body of copy about a podcast launch, followed by a link that clearly states ‘Find out more about the podcast’.
Don’t use the colour of text to show meaning – visually impaired people won’t be able to see this and pick up on the connection.
Check your colour contrast – so for instance this can be the difference in colour between your font and background. It’s important that the colour contrast is accessible and that everyone is able to read your copy against the email background colour. You can check your colour combinations using free tools such as this Colour Contrast Checker.
Alt Text stands for ‘alternative text’. It’s a short written description of an image, which makes sense of that image when it can’t be viewed for some reason. Alt Text can be added to each image in your email service provider and you can see how this is done below. A key reason to use Alt text is if the image you’re describing adds context and value to the copy it compliments.
For example – a garden centre blog on succulents is given context by the succulent in a pot. The alt text reads ‘Small Succulent in a Potted Planter’, a clear and concise description which focuses on the main point of the image.
A second example shows a man on an escalator so the alt text reads ‘man wearing backpack walking down escalator’. It focuses on the key part of the image which has the man in focus, and doesn’t need to go into depth about the people in the distance or the blurry person who has a wheelie suitcase and could be heading to Prague!
Quick tips for Alt Text
Don’t start with ‘Image of’ – this can get very repetitive for screen reader users. It’s important to be concise, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative and make the alt text interesting to digest.
Aim to stick to a 125 character limit for alt text – some screen readers can only read a maximum of 125 characters for Alt Text, so make sure you stay with this limit to ensure everyone can read your description.
Make sure to include text that is part of an image – add this to the alt description as this will get missed out by a screen reader as they’re unable to read copy that is part of an image.
Always keep the rule ‘Illustrative not Decorative’ in mind – if an image enhances the copy and provides context, you need to add alt text. If the image is just to look pretty, there’s no need to add alt text.
You can find some more tips on alt text in this guide – How to… write great alt text.
Emojis can be a fun way to be playful in your emails, but they do come with some warnings. They aren’t the most accessible for your visually impaired audiences. Visually impaired audiences use emojis but it’s how you use them that will enable them to be fully understood.
Avoid using emojis in emails but if you do, use them sparingly – emojis are ‘read’ through a type of alt text – the Unicode string – which represents each emoji. Screen readers interpret this code and read out the description or name of the emoji and frequently won’t make sense within the context of your copy. More cognitive effort is also required on the behalf of the screen reader user when hearing an emoji as opposed to seeing one.
Never use emojis to replace words or letters of words – you cannot be sure people or screen readers will interpret the emoji as intended, and these users will find it harder to be able to scan your email.
Place emojis at the end of sentences – this will help prevent them disrupting the meaning of your copy for screen reader users.
Do not use emojis as the only way to express an emotion you intend to communicate – we often reinforce an emotive phrase with an emoji. Avoid doing this and instead make sure the context is clear through the text. This is especially important if the emoji doesn’t display on their device and causes context to be lost.
Quick tips on Emoji use
Consider how similar emojis could look – emojis with similar expressions could be difficult to distinguish for someone who is partially sighted. For instance it’s difficult to distinguish between the emojis shown below.
Use popular emojis that are widely recognised – emoji meaning can be understood differently across cultures, so this could change the meaning of your copy and cause confusion. This is particularly important to consider for organisations with an international reach, especially relevant in a post-pandemic world where digital content is opening up your organisation to audiences outside of the UK.
Double check how your emoji looks across different platforms – various platforms usually show the same emoji in different ways. How one emoji looks on Twitter will be very different to how it looks in Safari on an iPhone. A great free tool to check this is Unicode which shows how each emoji looks across multiple devices and operating systems.
Consider whether your audience will be receptive to emojis – a recent Buzzfeed article reported that Gen-Z are using a lot less emojis as they believe them to be uncool and very ‘millennial’ so food for thought if you’re trying to engage with younger audiences such as teenagers or those in their early 20’s.
Other resources that can help
If you’re looking for more tips on accessibility across your emails and other marketing channels, it’s worth taking a look at:
Please attribute as: "Top tips on using emails to increase visitor engagement and loyalty (2022) by Matt Ecclestone supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0