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3 Tips for Defensive Design: Keeping Readers Away from Competitor Advertisements

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by: Stephen Guerra (@StephenGuerra)
30 November 2011

Your email copy is being been subverted. Don’t believe me? Try this: Open a few of your messages in Gmail and look to the right. I’ll bet you see some competitor advertisements over there battling with your own promotional copy for the reader’s attention.

What’s going on? Gmail is reading your copy and looking for keywords that advertisers have purchased. When Gmail finds them, it places ads that line up with those keywords—and which may be in direct competition with your copy.

Nasty, eh? Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to help decrease the chances of competitor ads winding up next to your carefully crafted emails. Here are three self-defense tips to keep your readers’ eyes on your promotions:

1) Make sure your message design is structured to keep readers focused on your content.
One good way to do this is by using strong borders and a clear message architecture to provide a solid sense of structure that makes it obvious what your message is and encourages readers to stay there. Employ colored regions, HTML-colored borders, and thoughtful use of white space as your building blocks for this structure. Don’t rely on images and image-based borders since these will often be blocked.

Avoid strong horizontal structures in your messages that aren’t bordered, and use structure to encourage readers to look vertically through your messages. Don’t give them a guide that forces them to scan from one side of your message to the other—and out of your message.

2) Use the natural lines-of-sight in your images to guide readers’ eyes.
These sight lines can help direct recipients to the specific content you want them to see or interact with. For example, if you have an image of a person, make sure that person is looking into your message and not out of it. Also, look for other indicated eye paths in your images and make sure they guide readers where you want them to go.

3) Take advantage of those keywords yourself.
When writing your copy, check your list of purchased keywords and use them, if appropriate, in your message so you’ll have a good chance of your own advertisements appearing on the right.

Silverpop offers message design review services that can help you defeat context-sensitive advertisements and improve your message effectiveness. For more information or to ask questions, email us at

More Email Design Resources:
1) Tip Sheet: “10 Email Creative Tips for Boosting ROI, Opens and Clicks"
2) Webinar: “7 Tips to Design Buildable and Beautiful Emails


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