Every real estate agent knows the value "curb appeal" brings to showing and selling a home. That first impression the buyer gets when he/she steps out of the car and looks at the property you want to sell often determines whether the buyer wants to proceed - and how seriously he/she will take the rest of the tour. The same is true for your e-mail marketing campaigns - no matter what business you are in. The placement of elements on the page, the font choice, even the colors you use all create an impression before your prospect reads a single word of text. So you want to be sure the impression you're creating is a good one. Still, you don't have to be a professional artist or designer to create an e-mail marketing campaign with plenty of curb appeal. These easy-to-execute tips will help you create e-mails that draw prospects in, encourage them to open the e-mail and leave them with the impression you want to make - that your business is professional and potentially helpful to them. 1. Forget the background image. While having a beautiful photo or drawing ghosted in the background may make a printed piece look appealing, most e-mail clients, such as Outlook, won't show it. Instead, design your e-mails to look good against a plain background, and use an image (if appropriate) as a standard graphic. 2. Make sure your most important message is seen in a preview pane. Many people use a preview pane to scan the contents of an e-mail quickly before opening it. That makes the upper left corner of your e-mail the most important "real estate" in your message. Place your main message - including the title and call to action - in that area. Start your e-mail with the title in text, not as part of a graphic. In addition, avoid using a large graphic or logo in the upper left corner. Many people have their images turned off, so all they'll see is a big, blank area. Instead, use that spot to engage them and encourage them that there's a good reason to open the e-mail. 3. Skip the navigation links at the top. A common practice is to include Web-like navigation links, such as those you'd find on a website, at the top of the e-mail. While that may work on a PC or laptop, more and more people are opening their e-mail on their mobile devices, which are not very HTML-friendly when it comes to formatting and linking. Keep navigation simple. 4. Avoid white type on a black background. White type on a black (or other very dark) background is even harder to read online than it is in print - and the smaller the type, the more challenging it becomes. Keep body copy against a white or very light color background so the type is easy to read and doesn't cause eyestrain. 5. Use colors that complement your logo and/or website. You want everything you do, including your e-mail campaigns, to help you build your brand in the eyes of customers and prospects. Staying consistent with the look of your company's other marketing materials will help you in that effort. 6. Keep image sizes small. If you're including photos or other graphics, keep the individual image size to 72 dpi (dots per inch). They will look good and sharp while helping you keep your file size low, preventing your e-mail from being blocked for being too large. If you're unsure of the dpi of your graphic, go to where it's stored and open the file. Then right mouse click and select Properties. You may need to open the "More" link under Picture Properties, but the dpi resolution will be displayed there. 7. Keep text away from images. If the text gets too close to your images it will look sloppy and unprofessional. It will also be harder to read. Leave a little space between text and graphics to keep your layout looking clean. 8. Use standard fonts. That interesting font you downloaded with a graphics package may look great on your computer. But if the people you're sending it to don't have that same font, their computer will select one to substitute. This change could make your e-mail look bad, or could even render it unintelligible. Stay with safe fonts such as Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, Verdana and Tahoma. 9. Make your call to action stand out. Have your main call to action in bold text or a bright-colored button that contrasts with the background of your e-mail. If you use a button, make sure you repeat your call to action near it in text and in other places in the e-mail so people on mobile devices and with images turned off can still see it. 10. Use left-justified text. Text that lines up flush left is much easier to read than centered text. You can use centered text for headlines and subheads, but keep the body left-justified. It will make your e-mail look cleaner too. Remember, the more inviting and appealing your email message looks at first glance, the more likely you are to get someone to "walk through the door" and see the rest of what you have to offer. Use these tips to add a little polish to your email campaigns and you'll find the results are much better.