In my opinion, yes it does. Though not always in the same way that you might expect. Also, the “best” format may be different in various different contexts.
I use several different email systems, each for a different purpose. Yes it’s cumbersome but I’ve found that it’s important to maximizing results. The five main email systems I use are:
- Autoresponder – for acknowledging mailing list enrollments and sending out scheduled items such as newsletters
- “Pretty” system – for sending nicely formatted outbound messages, both group and individual
- Email reader – mostly for reading incoming emails, though I may occasionally send unformatted outbound emails from here as well
- Personal email – my business email systems forward copies of all incoming messages to my personal email system, which is where I often first see them
- Domain-hosted email – I almost never use this system but it’s part of my website’s hosting account and can’t be deleted. There have been times when I had to resort to this system for various reasons.
An email autoresponder is highly specialized. Regular email accounts and systems simply can’t do the same thing. Few businesses can get away without having an autoresponder account. Yes, they’re that important.
All of the autoresponder services I recommend (Aweber, Constant Contact, and Mail Chimp) allow you to format your emails to be nice looking. They also offer plain text options. In fact, assuming you format your email messages both ways, your subscribers can choose which format they prefer. The system will take care of sending them the correct version.
Formatted vs Unformatted Outgoing Mail
When sending one-off messages (and even for your autoresponder messages for that matter), there are two schools of thought. One is that you should format them in plain text because the content is key and you don’t want bad formatting or missing graphics to get in the way of the message you are conveying. In fact, if you are going to send a plain text email you should manually insert line breaks at around 60 characters. Do not rely on automatic text wrapping. It will break the lines in a different place for everyone and may make your messages awkward to read. Better that you control it.
The other school of thought is that sending an attractively formatted email will make a better impression on readers. I subscribe to several newsletters whose authors prefer unformatted content and I do see a certain value in the minimalist style but I use formatted emails myself and can say from experience that it gets results. Provided your recipients actually see the formatting and graphics. Some email systems block graphics by default and only allow them if you are in the recipient’s contact list or if they specifically set their email to allow it. In that case, your carefully formatted email may come out looking rather ugly.
Of course when the graphics and formatting are not blocked or tampered with by your recipients’ email systems (something over which you have no control, by the way), a really well formatted email can be gorgeous. I get lots of comments on mine and they do seem to generate better results for me than typical plain emails.
The example at right is one of my emails. Format stays generally the same though the large photo at the top can be changed from one message to the next. I can also insert an additional small photo of my choosing in the body of the message just above the text.
Tips to avoid getting spam filtered
If your recipients have white-listed you or added you to their contact list, you will almost certainly not be relegated to the dreaded spam folder. All the more reason to ask them to do so.
Even without that, there are some things you can do to reduce your chances of having your emails marked as spam. One is to not set a different return address. It’s possible to send email from one address but designate that replies be automatically redirected to a different address. This carries a high probability of getting your messages flagged.
Another big thing has to do with recipients. Avoid sending out email to lists of recipients. The rule should generally be “one person, one message”. That is, each person gets their own personal message and is not part of a larger group. Even if they really are part of a larger group and even if they know it, more sophisticated email systems have ways of personalizing the messages so you are not throwing it in their face with each email you send. Doing this also makes it so that you are not sharing everyone’s email address with everyone else. (A key point for privacy and spam compliance.)
Finally is the subject line. Subject lines are a huge topic about which entire books have been written. In general, spam emails are often identified (either systemically or manually by recipients) by a few tell-tale signs:
- the word “free” anywhere in the subject line
- a completely empty subject line
- use of non-standard characters (anything not found on the keyboard)
- anything that looks canned or impersonal
- use of words like “sale”, “special”, “offer”, “expire”, “last chance”, “today only”, etc.
The bottom line
It’s crazy for one business to use so many different email systems just to communicate with clients and prospects. However I have yet to find a single system that does it all. (When and if I do, I will certainly give it a try.) Ultimately, if it means getting better results, I will live with the discomfort of paying for and juggling several different systems.