By the Numbers: How Content Directly Affects Your Email Performance


Okay, so if you’ve ever checked your spam folder you’re well aware of what bad emails look like. Some examples currently sitting in my spam folder include subject lines like, “Boy, have we got a timeshare for you!” or, “How to land your dream job today!”, and “Alyssa, don’t miss out!”. Other emails are just flat-out badly designed; emails with confusing text color choices or no call-to-action to lead the user to the correct conversion point work against your click-through-rate more than they work for it.

The funny thing is, while clicking on those would almost certainly give my computer the digital version of cancer, so many of us marketers fall into the same traps. We spend time workshopping click-baitey subject lines and poor email designs and still ask “what happened” when our click-through-rates fall to the floor.

Keep Your Emails Content-Centric

According to Mailchimp, the focus should be on your content first and foremost:

“Type is the one thing that's consistently rendered across different email clients. Most email clients block images from first-time senders by default, so your subscribers will almost always see the text of your email before they see anything else. Your message should still be conveyed clearly and effectively without images.”

So the first rule of thumb: design your emails text-first: design your emails text-first, and keep the visuals as the afterthought.

But what do the numbers say? According to a recent Hubspot study, adding visuals such as .gifs decreased open rates by 37 percent, and using an HTML template decreased opens by 25 percent.

At Masonry, we wanted to confirm this a little and see how it looked from our end, so we took a look at our clients’ email database. In one email that had almost zero photos, in which we sent at 2p.m. on a Tuesday to a list of 3,000, we saw an open rate of 23.4 percent, which, for a B2B industry, is pretty great. Looking at an email that was comparable in list quality, time sent, and list size, but using pictures and iconography, we saw and open rate of 15.7 percent.

That’s kind of a huge difference. But the key here is text-only vs. images and text. There are a couple possible factors at play here. First time email recipients might have filters in place that block emails containing images unless your domain has been approved.

Or, alternatively, the message could be getting caught in Gmails “Promotions” tab feature that sorts emails via image usage, which would also decrease viewership greatly.

When Design Actually Kills it (In a Good Way)

Let’s say for arguments sake that your CMO is standing behind your desk right now as you're building your next email blast, and is forcing you to include some sort of graphic template or imagery.

That’s totally fine -- we’re not saying this isn’t a good idea when used appropriately. When done well, this approach can be far more successful than its text-only peer, and here’s why:

  • A well-designed email with some graphical with some graphical or template elements forces you to really hone in on your messaging -- providing a clear cut offer that will still bring in those opens regardless of deliverability. Plus, people love seeing pretty emails.

How do we know for sure? According to a recent Hubspot survey, “88 percent [of respondents] prefer to receive HTML emails vs. 12 percent who prefer plain text from companies.”

  • This number wouldn’t be so significant if it weren’t for the insane growth companies have seen in mobile-open-rates in recent years. For example, emails are now being opened on a mobile device 41 percent of the time, according to Campaign Monitor.

The point here is, if you’re designing an email campaign, it absolutely, positively, 100% must be responsive.

At the end of the day, comparing text vs. HTML emails and their success/open rates is a little like comparing apples and oranges. They’re things of a different nature, one having a higher success rate with a new email list and a gmail-centric audience, the other generally being favored by your customer and warmed-prospect base. I hate to be ‘that guy’, but it’s best just to try A/B testing for yourself and see which works better for your audience.

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