A new study on the use of preview panes and image blocking reveals that the majority of readers of B2B eNewsletters utilise the preview pane function in their eMail client, and nearly half do not set the 'enable blocked images' function.
This means that something like 30-40% of your B2B prospects are not viewing your HTML eMails correctly. B2C eMails also suffer a similar problem. Read the in-depth survey results, discover the implications and learn how to re-design your eMails to overcome these issues
In a survey sent to B2B eNewsletter subscribers, 90% of eNewsletter subscribers have access to a preview pane, and 69% say they frequently or always use it. Nearly 53% of respondents' eMail clients or ISPs automatically block images in some or all eMail messages and 45% of eMail readers rarely or never download images within their preview pane.
Furthermore, 50% of subscribers rarely or never place an eMail address on their eMail client's safe sender list. The survey data indicates that 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.
Whether targeting respondents who use the horizontal format (75%) or the vertical format (25%), survey results suggest it is critical that marketeers design eMails that will maximise the preview pane's limited area - which is typically set by users at 2-5 inches.
If insufficient information is displayed in the preview pane - due to blocked images, advertisements or poor design - nearly 19% of respondents will simply delete the message.
THE USE OF PREVIEW PANES AND IMAGE BLOCKING WILL DRIVE B2B & B2C MARKETEERS TO RETHINK THEIR eMail STRATEGIES
69% of B2B Subscribers Frequently or Always Use a Preview Pane; and 45% Rarely or Never Download Images
The results of a new study on the Use of Preview Panes reveal that the majority of subscribers to B2B eMail newsletters use the preview pane function of their eMail client and nearly half do not enable blocked-images.
While this latest study focuses on B2B marketeers, we expect this issue to increasingly affect B2C marketeers, driven by developments such as the Yahoo! Mail preview pane currently in Beta".
B2C marketeers should also take on the key findings as well, if they want to increase clic- throughs. The results of this study are expected to drive many marketeers, B2B marketeers and B2C marketeers to rethink the design of their eMail newsletters to better accommodate the significant adoption of preview panes and image blocking function.
In the survey sent to B2B newsletter subscribers, 90% of eMail newsletter subscribers have access to a preview pane, and 69% say they frequently or always use it.
Nearly 53% of respondents' eMail clients or ISPs automatically block images in some or all eMail messages and 45% of eMail readers rarely or never download images within their preview pane.
Furthermore, 50% of subscribers rarely or never place an eMail address on their eMail client's safe sender list.
The survey data indicates that 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. Whether targeting respondents who use the horizontal format (75%) or the vertical format (25%), survey results suggest it is critical that marketeers design eMails that will maximise the preview pane's limited area - which is typically set by users at 2-5 inches.
If insufficient information is displayed in the preview pane - due to blocked images, advertisements or poor design -- nearly 19% of respondents will simply delete the message.
This survey confirms our suspicions that a large percentage of B2B eMail subscribers do not download images and prefer to scan or read their eMails within the preview pane and never fully open the eMail.
Moving forward, we advise marketeers to re-evaluate and, if necessary, redesign their eMails to better address how their subscribers are actually interacting with their eMail newsletters.
To help alleviate the impact preview panes and disabled images have on eMail performance, eMarket2 is recommending the following best practices:
Redesign the top of eMails to include a 2-3 inch preview pane header area that is HTML and text-only (no images). This "header" area should include only copy such as article teasers, key offers and "In This Issue" information that enables the subscriber to determine whether to read further and/or open the eMail. Marketeers may want to test using HTML/Text-based ads in this area and consider charging a premium to advertisers based on the increase in impressions.
Redesign eMail templates so that both content blocks and advertisements can be viewed entirely within a 2-3 inch window as readers scroll through an eMail.
Minimise the use of images unless necessary as in eCommerce-oriented eMails that display multiple product photos. Avoid using images that are more than 2-3 inches tall. Instead use HTML fonts, colours and backgrounds when possible to liven-up the eMail.
Marketeers should consider eliminating use of skyscraper ads and move to more HTML/text-based ads; ads with images should be limited to the horizontal banner format.
Examine preview pane area for extraneous or administrative information that can be relocated elsewhere, such as an administrative footer at the bottom of the eMail. Do, however, consider including text links for key actions such as "View Web Version" and "Update Profile" at the bottom of the preview pane area.
Additional key findings include:
The sender's name and/or eMail address remains the most important factor readers look for in the preview pane when deciding whether to read further or open the eMail (60%). Subject lines, headlines and teaser copy follow at 54.3%, 53% and 30.3%, respectively.
Only 31% of eMail users report they always or frequently add the B2B newsletters they asked to receive to their safe-senders list or address books in order to potentially avoid having them routed to their bulk or junk folders.
60% of survey respondents read messages in either Outlook 2003 or Lotus Notes, the two clients that block images by default. The number rises to 86% when considering those who use all versions of Outlook, Outlook Express and Lotus Notes.
eMail marketeers need to be aware of these factors that are greatly affecting their eMail performance. While this latest study focuses on B2B marketeers, we expect this issue to increasingly affect B2C marketeers, driven by developments such as the Yahoo! Mail preview pane currently in Beta".
The survey was designed to better understand how B2B eMail newsletter subscribers are using or interacting with preview panes and image blocking functions, and the resulting effect on marketeers and newsletter marketeers.
In the report, subscribers responded to the 13-question survey. Respondents were primarily marketing professionals from companies of all sizes and a broad range of industries.
key questions & results
Which of the following best describes your use of the preview pane function for reviewing/reading B2B eMail newsletters?
I always use the preview pane
I frequently use the preview pane
I rarely use the preview pane
I never use the preview pane
How much of an eMail message do you usually read in the preview pane?
All of it, even if I have to scroll down to read the entire message
Just the first few lines to determine whether it's an eMail message I want to read
As much as my preview pane allows, without having to expand the pane or scroll down to read the entire message
Do you use vertical or horizontal display option of the preview pane?
If images are blocked, how often do you allow images to load in the preview pane and in fully-opened eMails?
I always download images
I frequently download images
I rarely download images
I never download images
In preview pane
In opened eMails
If your eMail client contains a safe senders function, how often do you place requested B2B eMail newsletters on the safe senders list?
I always place requested B2B eMail newsletters on the safe senders list
I frequently place requested B2B eMail newsletters on the safe senders list
I rarely place requested B2B eMail newsletters on the safe senders list
I never place requested B2B eMail newsletters on the safe senders list
My eMail client does not have a safe senders function
Which eMail client (i.e. Outlook, Eudora, etc.) do you use most often at work?
Outlook Express/Outlook 2000, 2002, 2003
The full report is detailed in the rest of this ‘How To Guide’:
the full report
STRATEGIES FOR ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGES OF PREVIEW PANES AND DISABLED IMAGES
Two advances in eMail clients are combining to deliver a double whammy to eMail marketeers: the preview pane, which allows a reader to view just a narrow strip or square of an eMail message without actually opening it, and a blocked-images feature that prevents images from downloading unless the reader requests them.
Our new study of B2B readers shows a majority are using both the preview pane and the default blocked-images function to decide whether to open eMails and to block unwanted downloads.
Used individually, each one is probably throwing off your open rate and preventing users from seeing your most critical information.
In tandem, it means your eMail performance will be reduced significantly if you don’t redesign your eMails to deliver key information as quickly as possible.
In fact, you might have only 2 to 4 inches of space to tell your story and persuade viewers to open your eMail to its fullest depth.
Although this has implications for both B2B and B2C eMail marketeers and marketeers, the problem is especially acute for B2B eMailers because a significant portion of their readers likely are using the two eMail clients that combine preview panes and blocked images: Outlook and Lotus Notes.
Some eMail industry observers have even attributed a recent drop in open rates to more widespread use of blocked images, because open rates are generally counted when a small, clear image within an eMail message is called from a Web server.
Still, B2C marketeers and marketeers can draw parallels from the findings. Several consumer-focused desktop eMail clients, such as Eudora and Outlook Express, also use preview panes and image-blocking.
While most Web-based eMail clients don’t use preview panes, Yahoo! Mail is now beta-testing a Web client that behaves more like a desktop client, including the use of a preview pane.
Yahoo! Mail and other Web eMail clients also use image blocking as a default setting, requiring users to change a setting in order to view images.
These findings have serious implications for eMail marketeers. However, a combination of quick fixes and longer-term remedies can counteract the double whammy of preview panes and blocked images.
PREVIEW-PANE SURVEY FINDINGS
We asked whether their eMail client has preview-pane and/or image-blocking features. We also asked whether and how they use either or both of these functions.
Here is what we found: 1. More than 9 of 10 eMail users have access to a preview pane (Figure 1), and 7 of 10 say they frequently or always use it (Figure 2).
2. More than half of those who read eMail in a business-oriented client such as Outlook or Lotus Notes do not see images in eMail because their clients block them. (Figure 3)
3. However, 3 of 10 readers have manually changed their eMail settings to allow downloading of images and graphics. (Figure 3)
4. Sixty percent of survey respondents read messages in either Outlook 2003 or Lotus Notes, the two clients that block or mangle images by default. Add in the earlier versions of Outlook, which have the preview pane but lack image blocking, and the market share for B2B readers rises to 87%. (Figure 4)
5. 75% of eMail readers who use the preview pane use it in a horizontal format (Figure 5) and most often see either 4-5 inches deep of content (44%) or 2 to 3 inches (41%). (Figure 6)
6. Vertical-pane users see more content, but there are fewer of them (25% of all preview-pane users) (Figure 5). Pane widths used most often by this group are 4-5 inches (46.9%) and 6+ inches (26.5%). (Figure 6)
7. Nearly half of eMail readers look at just the first few lines they see in the preview pane to decide if they want to continue reading the message, but 32.9% will read the whole message, even if they have to scroll through it. (Figure 7)
8. The sender’s name and/or address remains the most important factor readers look for in the preview pane when deciding whether to read further or open the eMail (60%), followed by the subject line (54.3%), the headline (53%) and any teaser copy (30.3%). (Figure 8)
9. Preview-pane users are less likely to download blocked images and graphics when reading an eMail in the pane. Half of those who open eMail messages said they always download blocked images, but only 34% do in the preview pane. (Figure 9)
10. eMail users are most likely to download blocked images in order to make the eMail easier to read (80%) or to view images, charts and graphics than to view advertisements (10.1%). (Figure 10)
11. Only 31% of eMail users say they always or frequently add the B2B newsletters they asked to receive to their safe-senders list or address books in order to avoid losing them in bulk or junk folders. (Figure 11)
implications from the report
IMPLICATIONS FOR eMAIL MARKETEERS Any company that sends informational or commercial eMail is being affected by the use of preview panes and image blocking, whether its recipients use both functions together or just one.
Business Media/Newsletter Marketeers: Get Horizontal
Our survey shows the most valuable real estate in a newsletter has shrunk significantly, to just the top left 2 to 4 inches, the only area visible in both horizontal and vertical panes. (assuming the newsletter is published in a Western left-to-right format.)
Because most survey respondents say they use the horizontal pane, it makes more sense to redesign the newsletter template with a horizontal layout for both content and advertisements, with content organized in sections that are wider than they are deep.
Horizontal design isn’t enough, though. Marketeers need to review all the existing information they pile up at the top of the page. How much of it is essential to reading, and what could be relocated to an administrative centre at the bottom without affecting usability or functionality?
Also, marketeers need to rethink their ad strategy, especially use of images and ads that are more than 3 or 4 inches deep. It’s probably time to return to three earlier ad-format concepts:
1. Text ads instead of or in addition to ads delivered in images. 2. Horizontal banner ads instead of skyscraper (vertical) ad formats. 3. Selling lower-position text ads that run deeper in the copy instead of bunching image-based ads higher on the page.
Advertisers: Death to the Skyscraper
Our survey’s findings mean two things to advertisers: text ads and banners.
The “skyscraper” ad format -- typically one column wide and 4 to 6 inches deep -- had a big debut 4 years ago or so, because it came at a time when most eMail clients had finally got HTML right, and banner ads’ effectiveness was waning.
However, preview panes and image blocking combine to hurt skyscrapers as well as other alternative formats such as vertical rectangles or full-width ads that are 4 or more inches deep in B2B publications.
With a preview pane, the reader sees only a fraction of the ad, possibly not even the most crucial part like a feature, benefit or offer. With image blocking, a blank area appears in place of the ad. When the preview pane and image blocking are used together, readers see a whole lot of nothing.
Because only 10% of the survey respondents who download blocked images do it in order to see ads, advertisers will need to rely less on using live images (linked to their Websites) to convey product information or offers.
Instead, they should add some well-written text that can tell the story if the user doesn’t download the image or could intrigue the user enough to download it.
Also, advertisers can investigate opportunities in newsletters that sell second- or third-position ad space, which place ads deeper into the copy and usually cost less than top-position ads.
That appears to contradiict with the previous advice to place key information at the top of an eMail message.
However, the survey results show eMail users will scroll in the preview pane to read content they find interesting. So, the more motivated and engaged readers will see those lower-position ads.
Our own B2B advertising experience in eMail newsletters reinforces that. We find top banner ads draw more clicks, but a lower-position text ad draws more conversions, particularly when the offer includes a free download, and the content looks more like the surrounding editorial copy.
Corporate Communications/eNewsletters: Compel to Click
Corporate marketeers don’t face the same advertiser pressures as business news marketeers, but the imperative to offer more compelling content in a small space is the same. That means corporate marketeers should redesign the newsletter format into one that breaks copy down into chunks of information 2 to 4 inches deep.
Once again, the most valuable area in the corporate newsletter format will be the top left section, where the horizontal and vertical preview panes intersect.
Think of the preview pane as your teaser area, to place “In This Issue” information that will grab the reader’s attention and compel them either to scroll or click to stories or fully open the eMail.
Although it will still be important to convey your company’s name and brand identity, those concerns become secondary to getting readers to scroll down to your key content or open the message to its full width.
Examine your masthead for extraneous or administrative information that you can relocate elsewhere, such as an administrative centre at the end.
ACTION STEPS TO IMPLEMENT SURVEY FINDINGS 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.
Following are some recommended fixes you can take to make your eMail more preview pane/disabled image friendly:
Re-design 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 summarise or highlight the key value proposition, offer or products right up top.
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 newsletter.
Move less critical administrative information to an admin centre at the end of the eNewsletter, especially if it draws few clicks per issue. But consider keeping or including text links to key actions below your “In This Issue” or teaser text.
We see a fairly high number of subscribers clicking the “View Web Version” link so we recommend that and also to add “Update Profile” and a few other key actions. We also recommend that the “Add this address…” information should be included in the opt-in message on your Website, in the confirmation eMails and perhaps in the first eMail they receive. Thereafter, however, this copy is simply taking up prime preview pane area.
Your From and Subject lines become much more important in this new reality. 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.
In this new format, the from and subject lines become the top two points of a triangle, with the third point being the top of your newsletter. All three have to work together to snag a reader’s eye.
Remember that eMail clients vary in how they show from and subject lines in the inbox.
Use both text and HTML in advertisements, logos and branding messages rather than live images linked to your Website, such as JPEGs or GIFs. You’ll still be able to deliver key information even to readers whose eMail clients block images.
Yes, blocked images affect your open-rate and based on our survey results it could be significant. Most eMail marketing software tracks opens using a clear 1 X 1 pixel gif that counts the eMail as being opened when the image loads from the server. So it is conceivable that image blocking may have contributed to a drop in your B2B open rates of 5-10 percentage points during the last few years. And yes an eMail that is viewed in a preview pane DOES count as an open, if images are enabled.
Along the same line, 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.
Review your HTML coding to make sure it complies with W3C standards: Validate HTML Content and avoid using Scripts
Eliminate skyscraper or vertically rectangular ads that go deeper than the pixel equivalent of 3 or 4 inches.
Review how well your format complies with the quirks and non-standard rendering of Lotus Notes. Our statistics show that 8% of readers use Lotus Notes; depending on your B2B readership your Lotus Notes subscriber base might range from a low of 5% to as high as 25% if you reach a lot of Global 2000 and professional services firms.
How to Address Lotus Notes Compatibility - if you communicate to the B2B market, particularly large professional services firms and many Global 2000 companies, HTML eMail compatibility has long been a thorn in your side. The issues include:
Older versions of Lotus Notes (under R5) convert HTML eMails to a Lotus Notes Rich Text format. Lotus Notes versions under R5 also do not recognize multipart messages (HTML and text combined in a single eMail).
Some companies may be deploying later versions of the Lotus Notes client, ie, R6, but using an older version of Lotus Notes/Domino server such as 4.6. In this example, the recipient’s eMail client would also render an HTML message incorrectly.
So for a recipient to view a properly rendered HTML eMail, a company must deploy both the Lotus Notes client and server of R5 and above. Here are some quick tips you can take if you have a significant Lotus Notes subscriber base:
Include a link at the top of HTML eMails “View Web Version” – the link sends recipients to a Web-hosted HTML version of the eMail (either on the eMail technology provider’s server or the sender’s server)
Also include an “Update Preferences” link – and provide a Web site update form that then enables recipients to choose to receive Text rather than HTML.
Create complete Text versions for those who prefer not to receive HTML or cannot view HTML.
On opt-in forms, include an option to receive a Text version and potentially list tips (ie, “If you are using Lotus Notes versions below R5, select Text”).