Pros and cons of 3 email formats

 Email marketing, Marketing  Comments Off on Pros and cons of 3 email formats
May 222013

David Attenborough’s recent series, Africa, was a big hit pulling in over 6.5 million viewers for the first episode. Midweek, prime time, beautifully shot, simple title and the all important voice of David Attenborough narrating the trailers each week, guaranteed success.

Those simple elements gave potential viewers all they needed to make the decision of whether to tune in or not. With email marketing, the format you choose can have a big influence on whether or not your email gets read (or even seen).

Today we’re looking at 3 formats you might choose for your email campaigns

1. The X Factor format: all singing, all dancing branded, HTML editable template

2. The BBC Documentary format: branded header only

3. The Ceefax format: plain text (no header)

Let’s take each in turn.

1. The X Factor format: all singing, all dancing, branded, HTML editable template

Here’s a sample from Cottages4you UK:

Sample HTML email format

The X Factor or HTML email format

Sample HTML email format



This example has the same look and feel as the company website. It is an HTML template.

What do we mean by HTML?

HTML is a computer language. It stands for Hyper Text Markup Language. The precise definition is: a system for tagging text files to show colour, font and graphic effects etc when they are displayed on web pages. As you can see it gives you lots of design flexibility. 

Which is why designers love the X Factor format

What are the pros of using the X Factor format?

• Your email can be a visual feast for the reader.

• It maintains a consistent brand image, important for subscriber trust and strengthening your brand.

• Users can add images and content in pre-determined, editable blocks, without messing up the template (or needing to know how to code).

• In a crowded inbox, your beautiful email will certainly stand out.

• Beautiful well presented images can entice lunch time browsing and shopping.

And the downsides?

• You need design skills to make it look gorgeous and coding skills to get it working in email marketing programmes like MailChimp. Helpfully, Mail Chimp has written a guide for designers (coders).

• Many email clients, like Gmail, give the choice to block images from unknown users. This could render your beautiful X Factor format worse than useless, unless the key content works without the images. 

• Servers in large organisations like universities or public sector offices such as councils, may completely block HTML emails. If you’ve lots of .ac or .gov emails in your list, this email format could be a poor choice.

• If you have banner advertising in your header, this won’t show for subscribers whose email client blocks images.

• Slower to load.

• The X factor format is for your big showy sales email. Not so good for a simple follow up message to customers. 

So you have to balance visual appeal with deliverability. A fully editable HTML template can work well for:

• Visual products e.g household furnishings, food, or jewellery.

• Service providers who rely on images to sell e.g. Tourism operators.

What about the audience?

A good indicator that your audience will enjoy emails presented like this is if they:

• are active on Pinterest

• respond to product images on Facebook

So if you find this kind of email isn’t getting through to your subscribers, what other options are there?

2. The BBC Documentary format: branded header only

The BBC Documentary format uses just a branded header, like the example below. You’ll notice the same header with logo, is used on my website. This format speeds up recognition of the sender of the message, which is important in the scan and skim world of the email inbox.


Header only email format

The BBC documentary or header only email format

The BBC Documentary Template

Simpler, and easier to digest.

Confine your graphic delights to simple elements in the header

Using powerful tools like MailChimp’s Drag ’n drop editor, you can still customise the background colours of the body and footer but leave the body of the email plain to allow more flexibility.

Your message can be short or long. Contain images or just text.

The advantages are:

• Quicker to load

• Still has inbox appeal

• Retains your brand identity

• Narrow header means you get to the main message quickly

• More flexible, it can be used for different types of email campaigns e.g. Articles, offers, invitations etc.


• Some people worry that only having the header branded, looks unprofessional.

• Header images may still get blocked as with the X Factor template.

• All the same issues of deliverability as this is still an HTML format.

It should have a better chance of getting delivered, but you’ll only know for sure if you test the BBC documentary format against the X Factor format.

So that leaves the boring old plain text or Ceefax format? Remember Ceefax?

3. The Ceefax format: plain text (no header)

If you’ve attended my Email Marketing, Hootsuite & Twitter or Email Strategy workshop you’ve probably received a follow up email that looks something like this:

Plain text email format

Ceefax or Plain Text email format

The Ceefax Template (plain text, no header)

Before the internet, Ceefax is where you went  for the latest news or weather. Found on your TV, it had white text on a blue screen, it was a no frills information service.

Plain text emails are similar. Often black text on white background with some blue underlined clickable links but no graphics.

Who uses the Ceefax format?

You’d be surprised. Some of the world’s most successful copywriters, like John Forde, use the Ceefax format.


Remember direct mail?

Direct mail is a powerful type of marketing communication that has sold millions of products in the 20th and 21st century. It’s a personal letter, sent by post, urging people to make a purchase or sales enquiry.

They often use Courier font (looks like it was typed on a typewriter) and make liberal use of yellow high lighter. The Ceefax format uses a similar font.

The Ceefax format or plain text email is a direct descendant of the direct mail letter. It relies entirely on the power of the words you write. With no images, it is a clean and simple form, perfect for sales messages.

The advantages of the Ceefax format are:-

• Higher deliverability: your email will get past more servers and make sense even when images are blocked.

• Your message will appear at the top of the email, subscribers can view the content in the preview pane and don’t have to scroll down to see the offer or information.

• Your message gets delivered without distractions.

• It is the ideal format for short follow up messages for, say, promoting an event.

• Programmes like MailChimp offer clickable links in Plain Text campaigns making them more user friendly than old style copy & paste links.

• You can use the principles of plain text in an HTML template, adding your logo for instance into the right hand column rather than the header, and letting your message take priority at the top of the email.


• The email is plain and …. boring. 

• If you rely on visuals to sell your product, the Ceefax format will be challenging for you.

• If your audience prefers images to text, they may ignore your emails.

So which audience goes for the Ceefax format?


Those who sign up for specific information respond well to the Ceefax template. For example: marketing tips, financial information or weather reports. 

If your readers are blog writers and heavy Twitter users, it’s a good bet they’ll like plain text emails (as long as the content is good).

Isn’t there a way to have good design and good deliverability?

That’s what we all want. Fortunately, programmes like MailChimp and Market Mailer automatically create a plain text version of your HTML campaign. So if your X Factor format doesn’t get through, your Ceefax format gets automatically sent as back up. 

So don’t overlook the Ceefax format

Now that you understand more about the valuable job the Ceefax format has to do, you’ll see, it’s worth spending time making it user friendly.

Simple things like adding dashes to break up the sections help your reader digest the information more easily. Check that your Ceefax format makes sense without the graphics.

We’d all like the pulling power of a David Attenborough documentary, choosing the right template will at least set you off in the right direction.

How Referrers and Promoters can extend the reach of your email campaigns

 Email marketing, Marketing  Comments Off on How Referrers and Promoters can extend the reach of your email campaigns
May 162013

javelin thrower by Juliet FayIf you’ve ever thrown a javelin you’ll know it extends the reach of your throw. Pick up an ordinary twig and throw it with the same action and it’ll fall closer to you, way short of the javelin’s impressive arc.

A small twig just doesn’t have the range.

In your email marketing, Referrers and Promoters are like javelins. They can extend the reach of your email campaigns.

What are Referrers and Promoters?

These are two important groups you may have overlooked. People who have reasons to refer you and promote your business. But why is that important in email marketing?

Why does it matter?

When we build an email list we tend to focus on customers or potential customers. Building that list up one by one, can be a slow process. What if one contact could help you reach 20, 100 or 500 prospective customers?

That’s exactly what Referrers and Promoters can do for you.

The Referrers

These are the people or businesses that can recommend you to others and bring you direct referrals. Think about those you know who move in the circles you’re targeting.

Which local businesses serve the same customers as you? Who do you know who has networks where your potential customers meet and mingle (on or offline)?

Here’s a few examples:

• If you supply free-range poultry, a nearby free-range pork supplier could be happy to recommend you.

• If you run a hotel, local families, may refer and recommend your restaurant and accommodation to friends further afield.

• If you’re a photographer, web developers could refer clients to you.

Crucially the Referrer needs to know you and trust you so they are happy to recommend you. So you need to invest time in developing those relationships before you ask for referrals.

When you ask for referrals, offering a sweetener can encourage people to act. A simple way to do this, is to offer a voucher for introducing a friend. For business to business referrals, you could invite Referrers to guest blog or advertise in your e-newsletter. So what about the other group?

Who are the Promoters?

The Promoters are even more inclined to help you build your business because you spend money with them. These are the trade associations and membership organisations who rely on your business. Even newspapers and magazines where you spend your advertising budget.

Many of these organisations look to members or clients for updates, offers, news and features to fill their own blog pages, e-newsletters, event brochures or social media feeds. So grasp the opportunity with both hands.

Actively asking them to promote your business and making it easy by feeding them news of your promotions, awards and events will increase the reach of your marketing. So how can you organise keeping in touch with them?

How do you organise communication with Referrers and Promoters?

Create separate groups in your email marketing list for Referrers and Promoters.  Then plan a series of communications just for them. By doing that you can send targeted offers, news of awards you’ve won, blog updates or any other appropriate content that helps them, help you.

It’s a good idea to identify Referrers from your main list and target others to add to your list. Then send out a specific request asking them to recommend you to, say 3 others. It’s best to do this only 2 or 3 times a year. A good time is after a big event or in the run up to a big promotion.

Remember, don’t rely on people taking the hint to promote you. Be specific in your request.

• Can you forward this to your list?

• Can you feature this in your e-newsletter?

• Can you add this link to your Facebook page?

• Can you review this new product that would be useful for your members?

But it feels uncomfortable pestering people to promote my business

It may seem like pestering to you, but for Referrers and Promoters, it is helping out a business they’re already connected with. Generally people like helping others. If you’re polite and make it a request not a directive, you’ll find most people are happy to help. Promoters, especially, want to use their expertise and marketing channels to increase your business so you’re happy to pay next year’s subs. So go on, make the most of those resources.

Just as a javelin extends your reach on the athletics field, Referrers and Promoters can massively extend the reach of your marketing messages, so find them, actively build relationships with them and don’t forget to email specific requests for help.

I run regular Email Marketing workshops for beginners and intermediate users. Check out the Events page for the latest events.

May 142013

The Perfect Facebook Post: What The Experts Know | Social Media Today.

Some great advice here that is also relevant to bloggers. Regarding images, Social Media today suggests,

“When originally saving your image to the desktop, utilize keywords and location within the image. For example, if you are selling Arginine Supplements in Phoenix, Arizona, your image needs to be saved as exactly that – “arginine supplements_Phoenix, Arizona.” Drop of the “.jpg” or “.png” as well. In my experience, it also benefits your website to save the image as the actual URL of your website. For example, if Linwright Design were saving an image, I’d save it as “LinwrightDesign.com_Gilbert, Arizona.”

It’s easy to think of images as just icing on your posts or status updates. This good advice from Social Media Today, reminds us to make their backsides (as it were) appeal to those lovely search engine robots. It’s not just what’s in the image, but it’s vital statistics that matter.

Klout innovation will power search engine results

 Article writing, SEO  Comments Off on Klout innovation will power search engine results
May 092013

Klout innovation will power search engine results.

This is an interesting post from @markwschaefer, discussing a new development from Klout. Klout measures online influence and has been testing creating and rewarding Klout experts. Would be of interest to any web writers who post regular, original, topic specific content.

It’s not clear exactly how this is going to work, but worth following as it unfolds.

May 012013


Pull out some fresh verbs

Pull out some fresh verbs

The first meal my husband cooked for me was Dahl Baht Thakari. A Nepalese dish. It was a dish he’d eaten every day for 3 years during his volunteer stint in Nepal.

Every single day.

For most of us eating the same food every day would be awful. So how did he manage to eat it day in, day out? 

The ingredients varied. Sometimes, there’d be cauliflower, other times, cabbage, occasionally meat. Different spices were added. There wasn’t an unlimited variety. Only what was available locally but it was enough to freshen up the meal each time and add that much needed variety.

When it comes to writing, we need to freshen up our repertoire by seeking out fresh verbs to keep our writing lively and interesting.

What are fresh verbs?

Verbs are the “doing” or “action” words in your copy like seeing, walking, running, finding, looking, working out. All these words are general. See what happens when you substitute more specific verbs:

He went up the hill


He struggled up the hill

He strode up the hill

He bounded up the hill

He trudged up the hill

Each alternative gives more detail about how he went up that hill. Our mental image of the the man changes with each fresh verb. You see him bent double as he struggles up the hill, whereas we imagine an upright figure moving purposefully when we read strode. 

Using more specific verbs adds colour and drama to the message. We can all get stuck in a rut with our writing.

Are your verbs a little tired from overuse?

If you write often, chances are you rely on a few favourite verbs. Take a look and you’ll find the same culprits turning up every time.

Nothing necessarily wrong with your well chosen verbs but all of us need a spring clean now and then so we can de-clutter and usher in the new.

Like the seasonal, local vegetables, your new verbs need to be fresh but not too unfamiliar.

More examples

Analyze the pictures these phrases create in your mind.

We brought the sheep off high ground


We herded the sheep off high ground

We steered the sheep off high ground

We hurried the sheep off high ground

We coaxed the sheep off high ground

We led the sheep off high ground

Each change of verb, conjures up a different image of the people doing the sheep moving. When you herd sheep you’re behind them, when you lead sheep you’re ahead of them. 

One way to bring different verbs to mind, is to think of the picture you want to create first. Add in the detail. What’s the temperature? Hot or cold? Think of verbs that indicate those things such as, “puffed and shivered“.”

Does it really make much difference?

Make every word count

Your copy is competing with so much material online, make every word count. Fresh verbs convey so much more than the everyday general action words.

Fresh but not obscure

Be careful you don’t go mad and alienate your reader by choosing words they don’t understand. As the famous copywriter David Ogilvy found, this doesn’t help communication,

“I once used the word ‘obsolete’ in a headline, only to discover that 43% of housewives had no idea what it meant. In another headline I used the word ‘ineffable,’ only to discover that I didn’t know what it meant myself.” – David Ogilvy

Aren’t these verbs a bit dramatic for sales copy?

A bit of drama can liven up sales copy no end. Sales writers often use stories and examples to illustrate points. A few fresh verbs will add colour and ease the reader’s journey to the end of your copy.

Foodwise you can stay seasonal but spice up your cooking with new varieties. It’s the same with verbs. Reach for verbs that add extra juicy detail to your message.


Want to learn more about writing for the web? Join me at my West Wales marketing workshops.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have 12 months worth of articles for your e-newsletter all stacked up, ready to go? Find out more about my article writing services.