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Email Design Best Practices

Posted by Shannon Gomez on April 15th, 2014


I’m sure your inbox is like mine, full of sales and discounts, newsletters, and customer communications of all shapes and sizes. So what makes you read one, and trash another? Sometimes the reason is that you like the sender. But many times, you engage with an email because it’s been designed to catch your attention, and make you want to read more.

There are some best practices you can follow to help you catch your recipient’s attention, and entice them to read more. These are the general guidelines I follow when designing email.

Keep it simple with both message and design:

  • Subject line less than 50 characters (28-39 words best)
  • Most valuable space is top 300 pixels. Use it well.
  • Deliver fresh and relevant content
  • Whitespace is a holiday for the eye
  • Use only websafe fonts

Pay attention to details:

  • “From” should say who you are
  • Include contact details & make sure all your links work!
  • Don’t forget alt text for images

Aim for consistency across devices & keep mobile top of mind.

I do my best to keep my subject line short and sweet. Just like print design, I make sure to lead off with the most important information, and make the top of the message eye-catching, just in case that’s the only part that gets seen. I try to make sure that the email I’m sending is an email that I would want to receive. For me that means making sure the content is a good fit for the audience.

Whitespace is important in print design because it gives the eye a rest when reading large amounts of text. It’s the same when designing on-screen, and even more important, it makes clicking links and buttons easier.

Websafe fonts are those that are found on most computers across platforms. Using websafe fonts is the best way to control the look of fonts in your email. Visit to learn more.

Even though it seems obvious, it’s easy to get busy or rushed and forget to proofread your email and check that the links work. I always send a test message to someone else for proofreading before I deploy my campaign.

Don’t forget your Alt text. This provides alternative information for an image if a recipient can’t view it. Sometimes images don’t show up due to a slow connection, an error in the code, or if the recipient uses a screen reader. If your images don’t appear it’s much better for them to be replaced with text that reads, “account holder writing check” than img45678.jpg.

Aim for consistency across devices. I say aim, because sometimes you just can’t make things perfect. Most of us don’t have a team of designers and coders who can make sure every email is responsive for every different device. To me this means, know your audience, and pay attention to where they view their email.

Which brings us to keeping mobile top of mind. Recent studies show that Americans, now own an average of four digital devices. They spend 60 hours a week consuming content on those devices.  87% of all US adults own a mobile phone, and 45% of those are smartphones. Another report, says 79% of smartphone owners use their device for email, and they’re more likely to use their device for email than for making phone calls.

When I say, keep mobile top of mind, what I really mean, is expect that some or all of your recipients will view the email on a mobile device. So here are some general guidelines for mobile email design.

  • Think vertical vs. horizontal
  • Increase font sizes: Minimum 14px body/22px titles
  • Adult fingers=37-53 pix wide. Buttons at least 44px
  • Extra white space around links & buttons
  • Increase line spacing divisions between sections
  • JPG or GIF for images

Think vertical means portrait vs. landscape. Design for a limited width and vertical scrolling. Generally, you should keep your email width to 600 pixels or less, and if you’re designing specifically for mobile, your design should be closer to 450 pixels wide.

Increase your font sizes so that when your email is viewed on a mobile device, it is comfortable to read. It doesn’t have to be drastic, just increase your body text to at least 14 pixels, or larger if your design will allow. Set your headlines to at least 22 pixels, or more. Then no turning or pinching is required.

It turns out the average adult finger is about 44 pixels wide. Make your buttons big enough to be clicked with an index finger, and allow some extra spacing around those links and buttons for larger fingers. You can get away with a smaller sized button if you allow some extra space around it. Buttons on the iPhone are designed in 44 pixel blocks, meaning even if the button itself isn’t 44 x 44, the tap area around it, is at least 44 pixels wide and high.

Be aware that some email clients discriminate against certain image formats. For example, lotus notes will not display png images. To avoid any trouble, stick to jpg or gif.

I hope these guidelines help you to create emails that your recipients will engage with every time.


Creating a Multifaceted Financial Web Presence

Posted by Dave McCue on April 11th, 2014


As more financial institutions utilize digital channels to generate leads and drive account holder interaction, an increasing level of importance is being placed on providing the best website experience possible. Whether making a first impression, or reinforcing a relationship, banks and credit unions recognize the positive and negative impact their website can have when it comes to the perception of their brand. It might not happen overnight, but by assuming a customer-centric vantage point and asking the right questions, financial institutions can create an effective, multifaceted web presence that resonates with account holders in the digital age.

Asking the Right Questions

There are aspects of the financial industry requiring specific website elements behind that user experience would translate well to a banking website. The questions to be asked and answered, then, should ultimately determine what makes a great website for today’s account holder. It is not as complicated as one would believe.

Is the Site Usable?

The web and its users are constantly evolving, which greatly accelerates the aging process for many websites and results in a number of websites that simply don’t provide a good user experience anymore. The rising use of mobile devices is one prime example of this evolution and the impact it can have on a site’s effectiveness. For instance, plenty of Apple® iPad® users can recount the frustration of visiting a website designed to work with Adobe® Flash®, which is not supported on the iPad and ended up making the site unfriendly at best, or entirely unusable at worst. With smartphones making up the majority of mobile phones in the US (52% of all devices according to a 2013 study by Pew Internet Research), the concept of responsive design is becoming more and more important to accommodate the increasing number of mobile web users. Whereas in years past the trend was toward “.mobi” sites — stripped-down versions that played nicely with smartphones — the rise of responsive design has allowed websites to retain much of the unique experience offered to desktop visitors even when viewed on smaller screens. A website made with responsive design will adapt to the size of the screen through which it is being viewed, with styles changing and content shifting accordingly to provide the best experience for the visitor.

The above excerpt is taken from “Creating a Multifaceted Financial Web Presence,” the latest white paper from Harland Clarke Digital. Download your free copy here


Data-Driven Strategies to Power Targeted Messaging

Posted by Deanna Cruzan on April 10th, 2014


Email campaigns are a great way to reach your client base in order to promote products, provide information, and/or offer news. But in order to take your email program beyond the basics, it is necessary to incorporate a data-driven strategy to understand what motivates customer action and deliver the appropriate follow-up/nurture messaging.

Since not every database is created the same, and useful information therefore might not be readily available, some marketers struggle with creating relevant and valuable messages. An email marketing system such as SubscriberMail can be a useful complement to already existing databases, allowing you to collect information related to email recipient behaviors — such as message clicks/opens or information supplied on web forms or online surveys — and store that data within the platform. This way, even if there isn’t a place in your own database for all of that information, it will be retained in a marketing system where it can be used to drive targeted messaging.

For instance, if a link is provided within your message and your customer clicks it, you can use that demonstrated interest to determine the content of the next message sent to that individual (“you might also be interested in…”). This ongoing and relevant line of communication is an effective way to cultivate customer relationships.

You can also consider pre-created messages that are triggered when certain actions are taken, such as sending refer-a-friend messages to customers who indicate a high level of satisfaction on a survey. These messages are a great way to provide timely feedback and prompt further action. By tracking activity within your email messages and beyond, you now have the data you need to provide your clients with products, services, news, and/or helpful information.

By using data to ensure the quality of messages, the common concerns about frequency become less of an issue. Provide value in every message sent, and you’ll be rewarded with increased engagement, and the resulting data that adds to a strong email marketing foundation.


Advocacy: The Third Step of the Customer Engagement Triad

Posted by Margaret Henry, Ph.D. on April 3rd, 2014


The “Customer Engagement Triad”, introduced in an earlier article, addressed the three steps involved in the development of a truly engaged customer.  The first step, satisfaction, is relatively straightforward. An organization needs to provide products and services that meet the needs of consumers. The second step, loyalty, addresses the importance of developing a relationship with consumers. This step involves meeting the psychological and emotional needs of consumers by providing an experience that exceeds their expectations. Over time, these interactions will serve to foster an emotional attachment between consumers and your brand. It is important to note that a consumer must first be satisfied prior to developing such a loyal attachment. Once loyalty is attained, the consumer is ready to make the transition to the third step – advocacy, which is by far the most beneficial to the organization.

By definition, advocacy is “the act of pleading for, supporting or recommending.”  If an organization can foster the development of advocacy among even a small portion of consumers, the return on investment could well be exponential.  Although developing loyalty among consumers certainly provides a return on investment by ensuring a long lifecycle and greater share-of-wallet, promoting advocacy will lead to an increase in an organization’s consumer base. Those who are advocates of your organization will continue to support and recommend you to others, thus increasing the number of new consumers and allowing for the opportunity to advance many more through the steps of the customer engagement triad. As the retro Faberge Organics Shampoo commercial proposed in the 1970’s, “They will tell two friends, and they will tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on.”

There are a number of reasons why advocacy works so well among consumers.  For starters, most consumers trust the recommendation of friends and family significantly more than company advertising. If they are in need of a product or service, they are far more likely to reach out to those they know to ask for advice, because it is advice they feel they can trust.  If your consumer is an advocate of your brand then that consumer will not hesitate to provide a recommendation for you. Furthermore, advocates will often provide the recommendation without specifically being asked.  If there is any doubt about this particular behavior, just take a quick glimpse into social media. It allows for an advocate to reach a large population in a manner that standard and historical advertising may not.  Basically, this word-of-mouth promotion by consumers is the most wide-spread and cost-effective way by which an organization can grow.  This type of advocacy can not only increase the numbers of a consumer base, but also speed up new product adoption and stimulate new product development.

So, now that a few of the benefits of developing advocacy among consumers have been considered, the next step is to learn what is driving advocacy among your particular consumers.  The most effective and efficient way would be to ask.  However, it may be likely that your consumers are not certain themselves or are not able to verbalize exactly what is driving their advocacy.  A more reliable approach would be to develop a survey including elements associated with advocacy, administer the survey among your consumer base, collect all data and let the power of statistics provide you with the reliable and valid reasons – the Key Drivers of Advocacy.  This information will be invaluable in helping your organization to understand the development of advocacy among your consumers and provide the blueprint for the development of an intentional and data-driven strategy to increase the number of advocates among your consumers.

Once the advocates for your organization are identified, they can readily be leveraged to continue to drive profit using cost-free advertising to help your organization’s growth.  Although the message from the Faberge commercial still rings true 40 years later, the means by which to achieve such a profitable goal remains a mystery to many.  The next article will investigate ways to begin to develop a successful business strategy to leverage advocates.  Stay tuned!


Wolves among the sheep – How To Spot Fraudulent Email Lurking In Your Inbox

Posted by Rob Ropars on April 1st, 2014

emailfraudAs the volume of email increases year after year, so does the risk of receiving, and falling victim to, fraudulent email. As villains become increasingly more sophisticated, the average person is finding it harder and harder to discern the difference between legitimate and fake email. In particular, many fake email messages contain images and wording that appear to be from major brands and financial institutions.

So what’s a consumer to do? There are a variety of warning signs to watch for before you open and click on an email. One suspicious element does not necessarily mean you’re looking at a threatening email, but the more red flags you encounter, the more cautious you should be.

Here’s a brief checklist of things to watch for…

  • The email has a generic greeting, is not personalized accurately, or contains odd capitalization, poor grammar, typos and/or strange spellings (i.e., “u$ername” or “acc0unt number”).
  • The from name and reply email address might not match or make sense. Legitimate businesses and banks use their name/brand in some manner as the “from name” and a reply address shouldn’t be at some unrelated domain or personal ISP-based email. In other words an email from “Example Bank” that has a reply email address of wouldn’t make sense.
  • The urgency of the message may include some sort of limited time frame and what feels like a threat if you don’t take action. Examples might be claiming your account has been suspended and you need to click to verify your information.
  • The links, when you hover over them, don’t appear to point where they claim. Watch out in particular for URLs that are redirecting to an IP based one (i.e., you see in the email, but when you hover it’s going to Note that many businesses use services to send email which include tracking information (such as…) and that is not an issue.
  • Contains a link to click and immediately logs you into an account/website. That’s extremely risky and could be hijacking you into a malicious website. They could also have an embedded form to complete and submit which, again, could be an attempt to capture your information.
  • The email may have attachments, which are a frequent source of viruses and spy/malware. Legitimate business emails will direct you to a place to download documents or apps so you can confirm the source before downloading anything.
  • Request for charitable donations from organizations you’ve never heard of and can’t verify easily online.
  • Any of a number of scams about inheritance or lottery winnings, in particular involving foreign residents, lawyers/barristers and banks. These are typically offering to give/share a large portion of a vast amount of money in exchange for your help with transferring the money. As long as you can provide your personal details, bank account number, your bank’s routing number, etc.
  • The message contains any of the elements above AND the text is all embedded within an image. This is a common spammer tactic to avoid keyword filters. The image is often hyperlinked and even the simple act of loading the image triggers a hit to the sender that they’ve reached a valid address (out of the thousands or millions they’ve just bulk targeted).
  • The age-old rule should always apply: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What are they trying to capture?

The details vary, but there are core sets of items that make up your identity that are invaluable to online predators.

  • Your name
  • Your Social Security number (SSN)
  • Username/password/PIN information
  • Banking information including account number, ATM/debit/credit card numbers
  • Your credit card’s CVC (card verification value)

What do they want this information for?

Criminals want to steal your identity and steal/launder money online. With the above information, they can:

  • Apply and get credit under your name
  • Empty your bank account
  • Use your credit cards to their maximum
  • Transfer money from various accounts into the account tied to a debit card and then withdraw cash from worldwide ATMs
  • Launder money for global organized crime syndicates through your account in small batches over time

What should you do to protect yourself?

  • Don’t reply to email messages asking for personal information.
  • Know how companies and banks you do business with contact their customers (what format, what they’ll never ask, etc.).
  • Don’t click links in any email you think may be suspicious. You can always go to their site in a browser and safely search for the same product, sale or information. When in doubt, check out the website.
  • Use strong passwords and change them often. This has been and remains the biggest Achilles’ heel for consumers. The vast number of passwords we need to remember and use on a daily basis make it very easy to fall into a habit of easy and reused passwords across various logins. There are a number of online tools to generate strong passwords such as this one
  • Never send personally identifiable information via email (logins, Social Security number, account numbers, etc.). If it’s intercepted between point A and B, you’ve compromised yourself.
  • Make sure you’re doing businesses with companies and banks you know and trust.
  • When ordering online, always be sure the website uses a secure connection (address bar should have https:// at the start of the link after you log in and you should see a small “lock” symbol at the top or bottom of your browser).
  • Your company and home computers, tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices should all have a reliable firewall to protect against viruses and malware (such as ZoneAlarm for example).
  • Make a habit to watch your bank accounts via their online banking portal or app. Watch for unusual deposits/withdrawals should be noted and confirmed with your bank. Having a dedicated credit card for online purchases will also help you track transactions easier and helps manage your liability.

You can review a current overview of phishing schemes at the Anti-Phishing Working Group website. You can also contact them to report possible phishing incidents via email at

How else can you report online fraud and identity theft?
Contact the FBI or FTC. You can even forward suspicious email to the FTC (which is the regulatory agency that pursues anti-spam investigations) at


1. University of Oxford, IT Services – How To Recognize Fake Emails

2. Identify fraudulent e-mail and phishing schemes

3. Amazon – Identifying Spoof E-mails