email-navigation-barsAn effective marketing email consists of a number of different elements: the subject line, some images, the body copy and a call to action, among other things. Each of these things can help to make or break an email campaign, and how to use them effectively has been written about many times. Email navigation bars are generally less focused upon.

What Are Email Navigation Bars?

Although they’re not featured in every message, email navigation bars are becoming increasingly common. Email navigation bars are similar in look and feel to the top navigation bars you find on most websites. Their aim is to guide the reader to a department that they may be interested in, which may or may not be the department which is featured in the body of the email. The customer doesn’t have to be interested in the call to action in order to click through the email. So, how can you use navigation bars effectively in your emails? Here are some suggestions:

Scale It Down

Your email navigation bar doesn’t have to exactly mirror the one on your website. That will only serve to clutter the email and confuse the reader. Instead, just use your email navigation bar to focus on a few of your key departments. Take a look at this example from Marks and Spencer:

M&S Email Nav

Their navigation bar just features just a few of their main departments (which also happen to be the ones to which a 20% off promotion applies):

M&S Email

Compare that to their website:

M&S Web Nav

Although the design of the two navigation bars is almost identical, the one on the website features a lot more detail. The reason for this is that the aim of an email is to get a customer to your website. You don’t want to confuse them with more options than they need. Once a customer is on your website, they are one step closer to making a purchase from you. You can then give them more choices.

Remember Mobile

Email navigation bars look great on desktop clients. The screens are generally larger and lend themselves nicely to a ‘website style’ email. However, email navigation bars are not so effective when viewed on a mobile. They can make a message look incredibly cluttered. The tiny icons are very difficult for a reader to click on. For the mobile versions of your email, consider paring down your navigation bar, or remove it altogether.

In desktop emails from Moss Bros, they have a fairly detailed navigation bar:

Moss Bros Desktop
However, on the mobile version of the email, the navigation bar has been eliminated:

Moss Bros Mobile

Instead they have simply included a link to ‘Visit us’. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should remove the navigation bar from the mobile versions of your emails. It’s probably best to split test to see which version of your navigation bar will look best on desktop and mobile clients, and which your readers most respond to.

Do You Need One?

Even though email navigation bars can be useful for some customers, that doesn’t mean that they need to be included on every mailshot. Certain messages may be more effective and seem more focused without one, such as if you are promoting one particular product or are sending a more informative email.

Hobbycraft recently sent out an email featuring scrapbooking tutorials:

Hobbycraft Scrapbooking

This email didn’t feature a navigation bar because its aim was to provide their customers with information, then specifically guide them to the scrapbooking department. Too many irrelevant links would have detracted from the aim of the message.

Email navigation bars can be very useful in guiding your customers to the departments they’re interested in, and can help get more value out of your marketing messages. Just make sure you’re using them correctly!

Image courtesy of digitalart at freedigitalphotos.net