“Above the fold” in e-mail refers to what generally appears in a standard preview pane, such as in Microsoft Outlook or AOL. For readers who use this feature, the elements appearing here will primarily determine whether or not the e-mail gets opened. If you grab the attention of the reader by what is in this small portion of the screen, you can hold their interest.
The preview pane is akin to the envelope of a direct mail piece, or the lead element in a direct mail package. Taking full advantage of this space involves much more than displaying your corporate logo. You need to make sure that what the reader sees first is compelling, relevant and informative and that it offers a reason to open the message or scroll down. You only have a few seconds (at most!) before someone decides to delete an e-mail, and that decision may be based on the first glance at the preview window.
We recommend that the following elements—usually the main parts of a good header—be kept “above the fold.”
*Name of the publication
*Name of the company and logo
*Tagline, if you use one
*Volume and/or issue number
*Table of contents
*A link to your Web site
If your table of contents is short, as it should be, you may include a few lines of content from one of your stories. While this serves as a teaser, you need to make sure the story continues immediately or with one click. Don’t put items or teasers above the fold that won’t be easily found once readers open and start reading the e-mail.
You can also drive your readers to action by including graphics they can click on for more information, special offers and other goodies.
Always be aware that your subscribers are viewing your e-mail on a myriad of e-mail software programs. Even the most common, such as Microsoft Outlook, often have hundreds of variations, ranging from those for different versions of operating systems to those customized for corporations. Therefore, it’s important to view your e-mail in as many different formats as possible, particularly those that are small, such as on laptops and handhelds, since it is very important to determine exactly what your reader will see.
What to Avoid in the Preview Window
A long, text-heavy story. Readers will not jump right in and start reading. They are looking to skim. If you try to pack too much information above the fold, your e-mail will appear cluttered.
Prominent third-party advertising.If they see this information come up prominently above the fold, you subscribers are likely to think this is an e-mail from another company, in spite of the “From” address.
Too much advertising for your own products and services. If advertising dominates the layout, you run the risk of losing your audience. Remember, they’ve agreed to receive advertising as long as they also receive content of some value. If the newsletter has a good mix of both, as it should, then this value will be reflected in the preview area.
Matt Blumberg and Michael Mayor are the driving forces behind Return Path, an e-mail performance company. Collaborating with them on this project are their colleagues, e-mail strategists Stephanie A. Miller and Tami Monahan Forman. This article was excerpted from their new book, “Sign Me Up! A Marketer’s Guide to Creating E-mail Newsletters That Build Relationships and Boost Sales (iUniverse Inc., 2005) © 2005 Return Path, Inc. All rights reserved.