Close to half of all email users share political emails with their friends and family over the course of an election cycle. That’s according to a 2008 study by the Pew Research Center. So there’s no doubt that email has a definite place in your political marketing strategy.

Success in using the medium, however, is based upon a full understanding of its nuances.  

Before you send an email or build a landing page make sure your goals are crystal clear. Every element should be concise, motivating and easy to understand. Realize that if you’re talking at me and not with me, I will have little incentive to engage in what essentially is a one-sided conversation.

I recently had the chance to review an email and associated landing page for a candidate’s database-building effort. (The experience provided some motivation for penning this article.) After reading through the email and the content of the landing page, I realized that I still had absolutely no idea what this candidate was asking me to do, or why.

The email was far too text-heavy and it was followed by an equally confusing landing page that asked me to just “Join the Campaign.” Essentially, I had no idea what I’d be signing up for once I hit submit. If I have no idea why you want my information, I’m surely not going to give it you. This campaign wasn’t a success, but there are some lessons here. A few things to remember when you’re planning an email campaign:  

First, an email is not a web page. When someone receives your email you have about three seconds to grab their attention and detail your intentions. It’s why accuracy of formatting cannot be over-emphasized. 

When you look at a computer screen, the area you see without touching your mouse to scroll down is real estate we call “above the fold.” Realize that what a recipient immediately sees upon opening your email is your make-it-or-break-it moment. So from a design and technology perspective, be sure that your prime point is front and center.  

Next, get a handle on email design. There are plenty of reasons to not design an email message as one large image with no text, but one of the most important is the fact that any recipient can alter their personal settings to not display images. Given that 87 percent of smartphone owners access the Internet or email on their phone, understanding how your message will display on a web-enabled device is also critical.

When you’re hiring an artist to design the email, keep in mind that just because they have experience in website design doesn’t mean they understand email HTML. So be specific and inquire about whether they have experience with email design.

Third, take the time to understand analytics and tracking. As concepts, these are often confusing. Your email is sent through a proprietary server that uses its own proprietary tracking software. It is not meant to communicate with any other technology. An open and a click is read by the email server using code unique to that particular platform. The confusion often arises when statistics from one platform are matched against that of another. 

Each platform is speaking its own language and communicating only with code it can read. So statistics from one server’s platform will never correspond to that of another. Too often, people place tags or shortcuts onto email links thinking that will generate accurate data on clicks and opens. This is not the case. A tag or unique link may grab web-based action, but it will never relate back to a click or an open in the actual deployed email. It’s like trying to use a radio station’s information to pick up viewership statistics for a TV channel.

Similarly, many people try to match up email tracking with Google Analytics. The trouble there is that Analytics reads browser-originated activity to a web page. At no time does an email click go directly to the browser. It goes to the email platform server where the click is recorded and then redirected to the destination webpage. Since the incoming web traffic never originates from a browser source, it cannot be detected as a web page visit by Google Analytics.

Finally, don’t get caught in the spam filter. It seems like IPs change their spam filter rules daily, but there are a few things it is always a good idea to avoid: large images, large fonts and variable font colors. You should also avoid using more than 10 links, and steer clear of complicated coding. All are plausible reasons for your email to be blocked by the IP or to head straight into a recipient’s junk folder. 

There are plenty of online spam checkers out there, including one called Spam Assassin. It allows you to run your message through the program to see if red flags pop up so you can make adjustments before the message is sent out.

Here’s a phrase most of us have probably heard: We make our own opportunities. When it comes to your email marketing strategy, the more accurate phrase is this: Be prepared to capitalize on opportunities as they present themselves. Taking the time now to understand what works and what doesn’t will enable you to market fearlessly via email and achieve greater overall results.

Carol Lustig is CMO of Media One, a database and direct marketing firm with a specialization in U.S. registered voter data, constituent data, data hygiene and data enhancements.