Email Anatomy from Head to Footer

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Diving headlong into the world of email creative is tough if you don’t have all the lingo down. Here’s a handy cheat sheet for those who are still polishing their grasp on the glossaries, and a brush up on definitions and best practices for those who already know their stuff:

(1) The Preheader
These small and subdued text blurbs at the top of your emails are getting more play these days. Particularly as more folks browse their inboxes from mobile devices, this first glimpse of the main message becomes your crucial chance to grab their interest. A preheader informs a recipient of what the email is about, how to view it with images and/or from a mobile device, and how to ensure future delivery via content teaser snippet(s), the “view with images” prompt and/or the “add to address book” prompt. Think about what text snippet you want customers to see first. Probably something a little more engaging than “If you are having trouble viewing this email with images…”

(2) Header and Navigation
This often takes the form of a colored banner and encompasses anything that lies between your preheader and main message. It’s the space for your company logo, and—depending on the message content—it may also include menu items that link to other pages of your site, just in case the main message doesn’t quite strike the fancy of the viewer.

(3) Primary Message
Your email’s big push deserves a lot of attention from you since you’re looking to earn the attention of your subscribers. A harmonious balance of headline, body copy and supporting images delivers maximum impact. This should include a prominent primary call-to-action (ideally in the form of a big, beautiful, “bulletproof” button!) and a link to a landing page with a cohesive look and message that will maintain enough interest to turn that clickthrough into a conversion.

(4) Table of Contents
These come in handy for longer, newsletter-form emails that contain tons of content, allowing customers to skip right to what interests them rather than having to scroll all the way down. The TOC works most effectively as a bulleted list at the top of your email that is anchor tagged to hotlink directly to content. Fitting this into your preview pane, along with your primary message and call-to-actions, will also help it gain enough attention to earn its keep.

(5) Submessage(s)
Adding secondary and tertiary messages to your email gives you the opportunity to present another story or two. Just make sure you don’t lose your viewers in a maze of information. Keep it clean with visual prompts like color, strong headlines, imagery and graphics. Submessages are usually organized in a siderail or layer-caked below the primary message.

(6) Recovery Module
This is your final outpost, your last chance to capture the clickthrough of anyone who may have sailed through your main message or submessages. The recovery module is often a bar at the bottom of the email that includes a list of links to your site, or potentially an incentive to grab your subscribers’ interest before they slip back to their inboxes.

(7) Footer
Using the same sort of subdued, “legalese” text that comprises the header, this is another place to include the essential nuts-and-bolts info. The unsubscribe link is tucked away here along with company contact details, “forward to friend” and customer service links. And of course, make sure it’s CAN-SPAM compliant!

Lisa Harmon of Smith-Harmon (Blog @ Email Experience)

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