Online Technology for Research & Insight

Research Blog 5 January 2015

Top Tips on building effective HTML email invites

We are often asked for advice on designing well-branded and effective HTML emails that work well on all email readers and devices. The key design principle is to remember that email readers simplify the HTML and can strip out a lot of it.

The other main danger is that designers think they can transfer all the complex HTML in a web page into an HTML email that will render the same in email software. It won't! The key is to keep the email (and the HTML) as streamlined and effective as possible.

This means that techniques such as cascading style sheets (CSS) should be curtailed and, in this case, abandoned in favour of inline styles. Use simple tables to structure your HTML email, and beware of overuse of images (many major email readers will have images turned off by default). Here are our main tips

  1. What's the purpose? Remember to ask yourself: what is the purpose for this email? Generally, it's to inspire people to take part in your survey. So keep it short and simple. You want them to stop reading the email and go take the survey. It needs a call to action, and not a lot else.
  2. Keep HTML simple: When creating an HTML email and viewing it in a browser, don't be fooled into thinking that email readers will show it ("render it") that way. What you see in the browser is likely not to render as well in email readers (such as Outlook, Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo). For instance, background images around tables are unlikely to be rendered at all, so avoid them.
  3. Use images sparingly: Yes, you can insert photos, but make them photos of incentives for surveys or simple branding such as logos or banner headers. NEVER put survey click instructions within images, as some email readers (especially Outlook) allow users to turn-off automatic images, so the survey link won't be viewable.
  4. Include small print: Have small print at the end of the email that includes important basics. Use a "noreply" email address and include a NOTIFICATION-ONLY statement; include an UNSUBSCRIBE link; state an email address they can use to contact you; include LINKS to privacy policies or other company policies; include company/organisation details.
  5. Remember SPAM: Remember about spam filters and quarantine managers: they can look for words in subject headers like "win" or question marks "!!!". Make subject headers matter of fact "Give us some quick feedback on how we're doing".
  6. Test thoroughly: Finally, rigorously test an email template by sending a test email to yourself and reading it in a variety of readers and devices (on computer screens, tablets and smartphones).

The Demographix panel management and email system, Panelwise, takes a lot of the above into account in the way it has been designed. You can easily send yourself a test email by ticking a box when you create a new email. We can provide you with a noreply email address, and an Unsubscribe link MUST be included in your email. We also provide HTML templates for our annual subscribers, free of charge, when requested.