Why we’re ditching the ‘view in browser’ link. (But maybe you shouldn’t.)

July 18, 2014 DMS Team

It’s one of those long-standing best practices for email marketing that goes without question:

“Always include a ‘view in browser’ link in your preheader.”

You’ll find this advice in just about any “Intro to Email Marketing” guide. The logic is that if your email doesn’t render well in your recipient’s email client, there’s a handy alternative that allows subscribers to see it as it was intended.

But does this best practice still stand up? That’s exactly what we wondered. This so-called best practice—and preheaders in general—were becoming problematic for our client campaigns. So we dug into our data to see if we could make a case for or against the “view in browser” link in an email’s preheader.

What’s a preheader?

Preheaders are snippets of text that precede the primary content in an email marketing message. This is where the “view in browser” link is generally found, often in conjunction with some additional text.

The benefit of the extra text is that, in many email clients, it displays in the inbox preview just after the subject, and can be integral in lifting open rates.

So what’s the problem?

Mobile devices. Particularly smartphones.

Preheaders consume a lot of precious pixels when email marketing renders on smartphones, which most often utilize 320 pixel x 480 pixel screens. And because more of our email opens display on smartphones than any other rendering environment, this is an important consideration.

If the preheader was eliminated, that real estate could be reclaimed, moving more important content above the fold—such as calls to action—and helping to boost engagement.

How can we solve the problem?

It is possible to hide a preheader with a little CSS code.

When preheaders are hidden, they are still visible in the inbox preview, so we still enjoy the opportunity to supplement the subject line to lift opens.

But that means the “view in browser” link would disappear when the email is displayed within the email client. And a link you can’t see doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

What does our data tell us?

Data guides all decisions in digital marketing. So we took a look at our analytics to gauge the value of the “view in browser” link.

We compiled the open data of all of our full-service clients’ campaigns from the past six months, and compared the percentage of opened email messages that were viewed in a browser to those that were displayed in an email client.

We were shocked to discover that only 0.2% of opens involved a browser, while 99.8% of opened messages rendered via webmail, a desktop app, or a mobile app.

Next we evaluated the open data of our self-service clients—who develop their own strategy and creative—and found their “view in browser” links got a lot more action: Around 1% of their total opens happened within a browser. Now that number, too, is small, but their rate of in-browser opens was a full 500% higher than our full-service clients. And that’s meaningful.

There are a number of factors that could play into this difference, but we suspect the most important one is our approach to email design. Our mobile-ready templates are carefully crafted and heavily tested on the rendering environments our clients’ audiences use most. We keep things pretty simple, leveraging responsive and scalable design to ensure our messages look great no matter where they’re opened. And if they look great when they’re opened, there’s no need to view them in a browser.

So what’s the final verdict?

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, we’re breaking a cardinal rule in the email marketing best practices playbook and indefinitely ditching the “view in browser” link on all new campaigns. Plus we’re adopting hidden preheaders.

And we’re continuing to think critically about the so-called rules of email marketing.

Should you be breaking some rules too? Perhaps. Consider any of your long-standing practices that may be outdated. Dig into your analytics. Try some A/B testing. And let your data guide you in shaking up the status quo.

 

Curious to find out whether your email campaigns are leveraging winning strategies? Contact the team at DMS to find out.

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