I get a ton of email. A large portion of this email is sent out by software systems as part of their company's sales and marketing efforts. There's a clear trend in these emails to take on a more personal look an feel in order to hide or offset the fact that the emails have been generated automatically. I think this is a good approach and, it must be good for conversions. But, a huge portion of these sales and marketing emails make one fundamental mistake: they embed hyperlinks in normal text. This becomes a huge red flag because, people [that I know] don't often do this.
As a contrived example of this problem, many of the marketing emails that I get will look something like this (except with much more text):
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Notice that the link isn't just a vanilla URL; rather, someone has selected to apply the link to a portion of the existing text within the email. When I see this, I assume that the email was generated automatically because it doesn't fit the pattern of what I'm used to seeing from the people that I know:
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Notice here that the URL wasn't given any special treatment. Rather, it was copy-pasted into the email in the same way that you've probably done a thousand times before. This is how people generally write email... and send Instant Messages (IMs)... and perform real-world interactions.
In fact, you can see this behavior reflected in the current Email tools that we use. If you look at the latest evolution of the GMail "compose" window, they don't even supply an "insert link" tool as a primary gesture. Instead, they hide it behind a menu of secondary actions:
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If sales and marketing emails start using this approach - pasting URLs directly into the email - the emails will certainly look more personal. But doing this, this will likely expose a second flaw: trying to link too many things in a single message.
One of the benefits of embedding links behind existing text is that you can supply several links without overloading the reader with content. If you start replacing these embedded links with vanilla URLs, however, the emails will look cluttered. This is because marketers are afraid of missing any opportunity to provide links to the company's History, Team, Vision, Overview, latest Press Release, etc..
So, it seems that sales and marketing emails are caught between two worlds. On the one hand, they want to supply as much information as possible. And, on the other hand, they want to appear personal and friendly. In my experience however, as an email consumer, neither of these sides will win without sacrificing the other.
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Great stuff, would be a interesting test case. A few days ago I came across an email test where a more authentic mail from a real person (apparently ;) won over a more sophisticated email template: http://whichtestwon.com/archives/22099 (link will be behind a paywall after September 14th)
However there is one more thing marketers do not like about plain URLs in emails: they can be tracked in a very limited way, so the real choice would be between...
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Ah, very good point about tracking. I hadn't even considered that one; but you're totally right. No one wants to see a URL with 400-characters in it :D
When it comes to tracking that pasted URL, you can:
* Use example.com/foo where /foo is a tracking redirect to mainpage
* Use link shortener (I don't know how people react to those)
* Build specific landing page on a different address (in this example /foo would be that landing page)
Another way for tracking is time: if you time your campaigns right, you will be able to tell what landing page visit belong to what campaign. This is rare case, since companies run multiple campaigns at the same time for most cases.
ps I've added this as #97 to this hackpad of hacks: https://hackpad.com/5RQex1Uv8Zf
you are right, you can easily use good-looking tracking redirects like example.com/foo, however in my experience this is often an extra step that marketers avoid if it is not built into their Email software/Marketing Automation Suite.
If tracking is complex and personalized you would have also pay attention to URL hacking that could disclose private data, eg. don't use example.com/foo1 for user1's pre-filled form, example.com/foo2 user 2 etc. ... you would have to use at least something like example.com/foobarbargarblabla which is not that pretty any more ;)
I wouldn't recommend using standard link shorteners like bit.ly in marketing emails since customers might not trust them in that kind of mail.
Bottom line: Sure, you could use pretty tracking URLs if it's worth the (little) extra effort for you and if you are aware of the limitations. Plus: URLs are only one way of making the message look more real-world like.
I've been working on and off for about a year now trying to make my grading system look personalized. Teachers could really use some help! I was in a meeting before this school year started and one teacher, teaching an online class asked "How do you keep from getting overwhelmed?" The speakers reply: "Use copy/paste."
But my grading system has certain checkboxes that generate canned responses, like one labelled "Spelling". It then generates an email that says something like this:
Subject Line: My summer vacation score: 90
I had to take 10 points off because you had "wont" in your paper.
Of course, I still have to copy/paste "wont", but you get the idea. There are all kinds of ways that we programmers could help teachers automate their tasks.
Maybe I should start something. Some sort of group that puts together a ColdFusion/Railo solution for teachers.
It's a great feeling to meet your blog. As an email marketer, I would be glad to thank you for your excellent work. And please keep providing such an important and useful information......Thanks