In the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to look at hundreds of WordPress themes for my clients. Generally the client has a smaller budget and a WordPress pre-designed theme is an affordable alternative to a more expensive custom design.
Wordpress themes come in two categories: free and premium. The free WordPress themes are decent, and this is a great option for startups and newbies who just want a web site up fast. The downside is that the selection is fairly limited.
Premium WordPress themes, however, are generally of much higher quality and have better customization features. And there are lots more of them. So if you want a custom web site design, but can’t afford the pricetag of a custom site design, a premium WordPress theme can at least make your web site look like it’s got a custom design. Most premium WordPress themes cost about $35, and there are a bunch of good web sites that offer them. You can see a list of web sites that offer premium WordPress themes on the E-Marketing Connection web site.
At least, that’s the intention.
Recently I’ve been noticing that the vast majority of WordPress themes, even the premium ones, are all starting to look alike. They all appear to offer some variation of the following sequence: header, navigation, image slider, feature boxes, content columns, and a big thick footer. That’s the home page. Beyond that you get a gallery or portfolio page, some basic content pages with two and three columns, a contact us page with a built-in form, an about us page, a blog page, and sometimes a separate products and services page.
It would seem that all the newest WordPress themes are targeted to design firms or other creative types. If these firms or individuals are so creative, why don’t they create their own custom web site designs? Because they don’t have the skills to code it, that’s why. They’re artists, not developers. I get that. My concern is that not all people who want a pre-designed WordPress theme are creative types. Forget the gallery, my accounting firm client doesn’t need it. They don’t need the slider or the portfolio. They need nice-looking, easy-to-read content pages and a way to put stock images on those content pages — that’s all.
This is simply yet another manifestation of the shiny new object syndrome. Image sliders are the cool thing, so everyone wants one. Even one of my clients who is a career development coach wants one, even though the site doesn’t need it. It might even be a distraction from the important content on the site. It’s just cool-looking, that’s why web site owners want it. So that’s what the theme designers are making now. What will the next fad be? Whatever it is, when it comes around, these slider-heavy web sites will be overused and boring, like the pop song that plays over and over on the radio until you can’t stand hearing it any more.
It could be just me, because I look at so many of these. It’s hard to say. You, the consumer, someone who’s not “in the business” may not notice this. If so, let me know, because I want to give my clients what they want, but I also want to give them what they need, whether they realize it or not. It’s hard to argue with cool.
A lot of importance is placed on deliverability in email campaigns. What this refers to is the percentage of emails that actually make it into the subscribers’ inboxes.
But another important metric is the actual mix of email clients your subscribers are using to view your emails and how each of them displays your message. Even people who have been doing email marketing for a long time sometimes don’t pay enough attention to this.
For example, many email clients (“email client” means Gmail, Outlook, Eudora, etc.) will have a default setting that turns off all graphics in the preview window. The reason for this is spam-related, the details of which are beyond the scope of this post. And since most email campaigns have graphical banners at the top, those banners won’t load when graphics are turned off. If you’re not aware of this, and you don’t design your email template the right way in order to compensate, your viewer might see just a big blank box in their preview window. Clearly not what you want!
Some people might say, “But isn’t that why we also include a text-based version?” While it’s good to include a text version, the reason for doing so is not what you might think. The text based version is for people who specifically need text-only emails for accessibility or bandwidth reasons. HTML is text too, from a technical standpoint. Turning off graphics in an email client still renders the HTML properly, it just doesn’t download and display the images rendered via the HTML <img> tag.
Here’s one final tidbit to seal the deal… mobile devices do not load graphics in the email program, at least my iPhone doesn’t. It doesn’t even LET me load graphics! And guess what? The iPhone is the second most popular email client for one of my lists. My ESP (E-Mail Service Provider), which is MailChimp, tells me what email clients are used to view my emails. Take a look at the chart, Gmail is #1 and iPhone is #2. It would behoove you to check your own list to see what your email client mix is.
Another activity you should consider is email client testing. Any time you change your email template, you need to retest it on at least the top five email clients that are used by your subscribers. It’s easy enough to create accounts for yourself on these different clients, and send tests to those accounts and just view them. View them with graphics turned off and then on. View them in the preview window and the full reading window. View them on different devices if you can (Windows vs. Mac vs. iPhone/iPad, etc.)
Yes, this all sounds like a bit of a pain, but isn’t it worth it if it means just a few more of your subscribers will actually have a better reading experience? For all you know some of your readers are opening your email just to see a blank box (your header) and with 100 other emails waiting to be read, yours might just get passed by.
I don’t want that to happen to you any more than you do. If you need help, or have a question about this, just post a comment and I’ll be happy to respond with more details.
[This is part 4 of the series "Debunking the Myths of E-Mail Marketing."]
Sure, your time is limited these days, and prioritizing what’s important seems like a constant battle. So here are a few things you can do to cut corners and reduce your time investment without losing much in the way of quality.
First, forget about the fancy formatting. Yes, it’s nice to have a pretty custom designed HTML version of your newsletter, but I’ve seen lots of great newsletters that have nothing more than a banner across the top with the company logo and tag line, and maybe a special name for the newsletter.
The rest of the newsletter can be just plain text. What your readers care about is your content anyway. So plain text email newsletters are perfectly fine.
The next step up is to use a nice pre-designed template. These are offered by most e-mail service providers for free and they give you many to choose from. My favorite provider, MailChimp, just sent me an announcement saying they added a bunch more templates for you to choose from. So head on over there and check them out.
You can also buy “white labeled” industry newsletters. There are many companies out there who create monthly newsletters, both printed and digital, and then sell you their service to send them to your customers with your name, photos, and other information on it. I don’t personally do this, and it means your newsletter is the same as everybody else who buys that service, but it’s the best time saving method of all. But you have to pay for it.
Even if you do still want to do your own, it’s ok if you only do as much as you have time for. After more than a year of doing my nicely formatted custom designed html e-newsletter, it takes four hours of my time per issue, once a month.
However, I put a lot of thought into it. I write an article from scratch, I write my own tip, I add links to my blog posts, I come up with announcements and news, and I even use to do a giveaway every month. If you don’t have 4 hours every month you can do away with the tips, or not do the blog posts, or have someone else write articles, or write shorter articles. Just cut back without cutting to the bone.
Finally, consider sending a different type of email. It doesn’t always have to be a newsletter, try some of these ideas…
Free reports and whitepapers
Links to news articles
Links to downloads
In this case you could do a quarterly newsletter, and then a month announcement type email on the other months.
I’m sure you’re getting the picture by now. There are no set rules or guidelines you have to follow. You can be successful with a variety of methods. The main thing is to keep in front of your customer and add value to their lives.
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Check out my new eBook, “The 3 Secrets of Online Marketing Success” which you can download for free at FreeWebMarketingEbook.com.
Our EMarketingConnection.com web site has had the same “Newsflash” Drupal theme for a year, and I’ve hated it since a week after I chose and installed it.
But at the time I decided to let it go — it was done, and it worked, and I was OK with that. It allowed me to put in all the basic content I felt was needed to kick start the site, so it was “good enough.”
We have been working on a redesign since February but, like the cobbler’s children who don’t have any shoes, E-Marketing Connection has kept it’s ugly old design — until today!
The redesign is now done (although I still need to tweak a few buggy little things). I’ll be announcing it in my newsletter later today.
An unfortunate side-effect of the delay in implementing this design is that I was hesitant to really punch up the content until after the new design was put in. I honestly didn’t want to attract too many people to the site yet, so why add a bunch of content that would just get stale? Maybe that was an excuse for not doing the work? Perhaps, but whatever it was, it’s no longer an excuse .
So… now that the design is ready… now the content build-up begins in earnest.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think of the new design. Many people worked very hard on it!
I have a new client who is spending $500 a month on an advertisement in a daily newsletter. The ad basically just has the company’s logo, name, tagline, and contact information.
Clicking the ad goes to the company’s home page.
Maybe you’re thinking, “So what? Isn’t that where they should go?” Well… no, actually. And here’s why:
Back to my client… when they hired me, the first thing I did was put Google Analytics on their web site and add a landing page. Then I had their office manager contact the newsletter owner with a request to change the advertisement’s link to the new landing page.
For now the landing page is just a copy of the home page (we’re doing a redesign anyway) but at the very least we can start measuring how many people are clicking on their ad. That’s a first step.
As it turns out it’s about 30% of their existing traffic. That’s good to know. But it’s only about 3 or 4 clicks a day. That’s also good to know. We can probably improve that by changing the ad, and we can also work on a better landing page as part of the redesign.
The tools are out there, you just need to know how to use them.
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