Ask an expert: email’s “from fields” and inbox display with Email on Acid’s John Thies
by Stu Elmes
Phrasee has dedicated countless hours and a whole lot of blog space to the topic of email subject lines. It’s kind of our thing. We have always been convinced that, when it comes to campaign performance, the email subject line is the single most important element of any email marketing campaign – a belief that the rafts of performance data we’ve collected and analyzed over the past few years has only reinforced.
But there’s more to a campaign’s inbox display – the information displayed in a recipient’s inbox prior to opening – than just its subject line.
How your emails appear in your subscribers’ inboxes matters, and there are a few things every brand should be taking into consideration when evaluating their inbox display strategy…
That’s why when we heard that our phriends over at Email on Acid had recently released a new campaign pre-check feature – which allows for previews of the inbox display for each campaign before it’s sent – we were understandably curious.
We decided to find out more and to get the inside scoop straight from the horse’s mouth by sitting down for a chat with Email on Acid CEO and Co-founder John Thies.
Who is John Thies?
We’re glad you asked.
John Thies is a coder at heart who was on a mission to show people how their email would look in every email client and tell them why it looks a certain way, which was the impetus for Email on Acid’s birth.
He is a firm believer that in any company, culture is king. Why? Because engaged teammates are the ones who make a product or service even more successful than it otherwise would have been.
What can this email marketing thought leader/entrepreneur teach us about generating higher customer engagement with a more effective inbox display strategy?
That’s just what we set out to find out…
Name: John Thies
Title: CEO / Co-founder
Business philosophy: Passion over talent; culture is king; and do the right thing.
Favorite quote: “Carpe Diem” – Horace
An interview with John Thies
Phrasee: For those who might not know, what is Email on Acid, and how does it make life easier for brands/marketers?
John: Email on Acid’s primary goal is to remove the anxiety of hitting the send button. Given the finality of sending email, we want to give marketers the reassurance their emails will display and function as intended no matter what medium the subscriber is using to engage with the campaign.
We provide the most robust pre-deployment email QA platform in the industry. Not only do we show you how your email is going to look in every email client, but we also provide a pre-deployment email workflow (Campaign Precheck). It’s a step-by-step process to ensure marketers protect their brand reputation and maximize ROI on every campaign. The workflow manages all the necessary updates to the email HTML and includes the following validation checks: accessibility, inbox display, link integrity, image optimization, spell check and spam (inbox placement).
Phrasee: What is an inbox display?
John: Your inbox display is what your email looks like before a subscriber opens it. It is comprised of three elements: sender name, subject line and preview text. Every element of your inbox display complements one another in giving the reader a clear picture of what they’re about to open into if they click your email. This is your first chance to make an impression and motivate an open.
Within the Campaign Precheck feature of Email on Acid, the very first step helps you optimize your inbox display by showing a preview on the right of exactly what your one will look like to subscribers across email clients and devices:
Phrasee: What are the “from” fields?
John: The “from” fields in an email are your sender name, subject line and preview text. These three elements are what make up your inbox display and provide marketers with three opportunities to encourage the recipient to open the email.
Phrasee: Which of the from fields has the biggest impact on actual email marketing performance?
John: Subscribers today are conditioned to be on the lookout for junk mail, or messages they never signed up to receive. As such, a brand’s sender name needs to be trustworthy and recognizable—your audience signed up to hear from you, so let them know it’s you in their inbox. If your audience doesn’t realize you’re the one emailing, they could mark you as spam, hurting deliverability and your brand’s reputation.
One of the most common questions I get asked is: should I use a person’s name or our company name? The answer to that is – it depends. Every subscriber list is different and what works for us at EOA might not work for your subscriber base. My suggestion is to split test to see which one produces the best results. At EOA, if we are sending out a broad campaign, we will use our company name. When we send highly personalized or transactional emails, we will use “Individual Name from Email on Acid”.
Phrasee: How can a brand protect or improve the value of its sender name in the eyes of its subscribers?
John: Quality and relevancy of the campaigns being sent. Nothing will hurt brand integrity more than sending an email that doesn’t render correctly or doesn’t function as intended (i.e. links don’t work or it goes to the spam folder). To say that inboxes are overcrowded is an understatement. That is why brands need to focus on sending relevant, meaningful content to their subscribers. Don’t send an email just to send an email. Put some meaning and thought around the purpose of the campaign.
Phrasee: What email marketing tactics/strategies have the biggest negative impact on a sender’s reputation?
John: Buying a subscriber list. This is the single most destructive thing that you can do to your email marketing program. If you don’t like your job, go buy a list and see what happens. Joking! I highly recommend not doing that.
The two biggest mailbox providers, Google and Microsoft, now measure subscriber engagement. Meaning, they track how long recipients are reading your emails. If they detect low engagement with your campaigns, they will most certainly put your emails in the spam folder. Not to mention, you will probably get kicked off your ESP platform.
Phrasee: How can a sender preview how their sender name, subject line and preheader text will display in an inbox?
John: Email on Acid’s Campaign Precheck feature comes with an Inbox Display check. We show you a real-time rendering of what your sender name, subject line and preview text looks like across the most popular email clients and devices, allowing you to optimize each element so it comes across as you intend to subscribers.
Phrasee: How does previewing my inbox display help brands?
John: Optimizing for all email clients and devices allows you to ensure your inbox display is motivating for an open regardless of if a subscriber reads it on their phone, laptop, or wherever. If it’s only optimized for mobile, you’re neglecting subscribers who read it on desktop or web clients. The more opens you get with a campaign, the higher the engagement rate, better inbox placement and therefore increased ROI.
Phrasee: Can you tell us a little bit about Cause for Awareness?
John: Wow. Thanks for asking about Cause for Awareness! It’s a project that my wife and I are very passionate about.
Non-profits are frowned upon if they spend too much money on overhead versus their cause. That’s why my wife and I decided to create Cause for Awareness. It’s a not-for-profit organization that helps solve the digital marketing resource problem for other non-profits. CFA is a community-based organization with experts from all areas of the digital marketing ecosystem. Our members have volunteered to donate their time and expertise in helping non-profits develop world-class marketing strategies to create more awareness to their cause.
We provide free resources, training, consulting and conferences to other non-profits. We sometimes work exclusively with organizations on revamping their entire digital marketing strategy. This includes, but is not limited to, analyzing their current marketing program, developing a digital strategy, applying necessary applications, training and post implementation consulting.
Our purpose is to aid and empower non-profit organizations in driving awareness, donations and thought leadership to their cause through digital marketing.
Being Unclear Can Cost You
Phrasee: Is there any other knowledge about inbox display and sender reputation you’d like to share?
John: When you see an email from a brand you know you didn’t subscribe to, what do you usually do? Mark it as spam, or spend time contemplating if it actually is a mystery brand? Probably the former. That’s the risk you run if your readers can’t instantly tell an email is coming from you.
Subscribers’ attention spans are second-to-second with email, which has made them very good at scanning for and spotting spam—very few will spend more than a second or two thinking about the sender name before dubbing it as spam.
When you get marked as spam, it hurts your brand reputation both with the subscribers that mark you and with the blacklists that have now been alerted that emails from you are malicious. Landing your domain on a blacklist can really hurt your deliverability rate, which ultimately impacts how many people actually see your email let alone open it. Subscribers can’t take action on or follow a CTA if they don’t know your email exists.
How to Get Creative
John: Like I said above, creativity is fine, but clarity is king. Not only in the sender name, but the subject line and preheader text as well. You want your readers to see your email and instantly know who it came from and the content they can expect to see inside, motivating them to open.
The key is to always keep your brand name somewhere in the sender “from:” field. As long as you have that, you can go any number of ways, depending on the email’s content or the CTA inside. These are just a few examples:
Concierge at [Company]
[Team Member] from [Company]
You get the gist. Giving a nod to even the department or team (such as customer service) that the email is coming from goes a long way in establishing continued trust with your subscribers. If the content in your email is good enough to have bothered creating the email in the first place, brag about it in your inbox display.