The nuances of navigation in email

What sets email apart from many other forms of advertising? It’s interactive. And one of the sections that best demonstrates this trait is the navigation area of an email.

We’ve seen a number of analyses that show a strong click rate in the navigation area. This isn’t surprising, considering that if the customer is not influenced to click on anything in the body of the email, the navigation creates an additional chance they will click on something; the potential for cross sell significantly increases. It’s also flexible when swapping out categories for special seasonal or holiday promotions (more on that below).

Increased clicks are of course a great benefit, but there are other important reasons to include some sort of navigation. For instance, a navigation bar sets up a sense of trust with the customer if it mirrors the website. It’s something the customer is probably used to seeing and increases brand awareness. It also makes it easier for customers to avoid having to search the entire site to find a specific product. Even if they have no interest in the email’s main spotlight, they may be familiar with what’s in the navigation bar, and might open the email in order to click on a particular category.

In the past, it was fashionable to include as many categories as possible near the top. Times have changed now that most emails are being read on a mobile device, which makes the decisions on how to design and what to include more complicated.

Here are some things I think about when designing navigation for email:

  • Make sure it is easy to tap. You don’t want a frustrated user experience where a user tries to tap a link but accidentally hits another instead. Make sure the font size is large (at least 14 pixels) and there is plenty of padding around the text. Here’s a nice example by NFL Shop where the font is large and has plenty of breathing room around it for easy taps.
  • Reduce the number of elements. Putting in too many categories would clutter the creative, making it hard to read and act upon. Do you really need to include every category link? It’s wise to consolidate – keep the four or five most active links at the top. If you need to include more, perhaps you should consider putting the less popular items at the bottom, above the footer.
  • Make the right decisions regarding responsive email.  If you’re using a responsive design, you’ll need to make some decisions about how to stack up content. Are you going to remove a few links? Stack them up in two rows? Move them to the bottom of the email? Increase the font size? You could even change the navigation categories completely. For example, you may want to distill the elements down from “Women, Men, Children, Furniture, Sale and Store Locator” to “Shop, Store Locator and Mobile App” to cater to the mobile audience. This Saks example removes the navigation from the top, creating a mobile-friendly navigation under the hero and adds an additional “SMS sign up” link for mobile phones.
  • Make them dynamic and keep them fresh. There may be times where it’s good to change some categories. For example, you might want to change out a category slot from “Gardening” in the spring/summer to “Xmas Shop” in the fall/winter. Segmenting different navigations for different audiences, like men’s vs. women’s clothing, is a possibility as well. The more relevant the email is to your audience, the better the response should be.
  • Get creative. This Charming Charlie email used a secondary navigation where the user can shop by color. It looks cool and doesn’t take up much space above the fold.

Remember, what works best for one company’s customer base might not be what’s best for you. Be sure to test different ideas and learn what resonates with your audience. And if you’re not currently using navigation in your emails, you might want to try it. When properly designed, navigation bars shouldn’t detract from your email’s primary offer, while giving you the added benefit of producing high click activity. Also, be on the lookout for our follow up blog post, where we’ll be discussing the link between email navigation and website SEO.