Email Template Paralysis
Got this question from Justin, who's just getting started with his email marketing:
Here's my question: I'm paralyzed. I know the time is ticking and don't want to come off of not knowing what I'm doing. Will simple text article type emails be sufficient, or is setting up a template in MailChimp worth the time to appear "professional"? I have lots of ideas for content but want to make sure people get value from them.
This one comes up a lot---and it's something I've struggled with myself.
Most experienced copywriters and savvy direct marketers---guys like Bob Bly and Ben Settle---use "plain text" style emails that look like they dashed them off to you personally.
But then you see those link-style newsletters that use a basic template with headers and maybe an ad or two...
And there are no shortage of gorgeous email templates up on MailChimp that look like works of art.
Which email format is "the best"?
Here's what I told Justin...
First of all, the appearance is secondary to the content. If people love your emails, they'll read them even if you use lime green text on a bright red background. (Note: Not recommended.)
Now, what's best in terms of templates really depends on what you want to do with the email list.
For newsletter-style emails that that are basically a roundup of interesting articles with links to read more, a single-column HTML template with headers and some color is a good idea. This style makes it easy for the reader to scan through the headers in your email to see if anything jumps out. This is the style I'm using for my weekly Sublime Text newsletter.
If you send longer emails that could basically double as blog posts, complete with screenshots, images, and maybe code examples, I'd also favor using a template that supplies some nice formatting.
Finally, if you're going to use email the way I do, to connect with your audience through stories and informal banter, then go with a "plain text" style HTML template. You want your email to look like a message from a friend.
Why a stripped down HTML template instead of a real plain text email?
If you don't use HTML, you can't track clicks and opens accurately.
Finally, don't let any of this stop you from getting your first few emails out.
Here's an insider secret: If you change your template or even the entire format of your newsletter later... NOBODY CARES.
I've done it multiple times and nary a peep.