Email Marketing

Email Design Best Practices: 11 Things to Pay Attention To

Make your emails stand out!


Hafsa Channa


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Are you one of those people who pour their heart and soul into creating email campaigns but still can't seem to get the desired results? Well, it's time to realize that you might be missing out on a crucial aspect of email marketing - design.

The design of your email campaigns plays a significant role in their success. According to a report by Litmus, a well-designed email can increase click rates by 10-20%. But sadly, only a few marketers pay attention to it. 

Designing an email campaign is not just about making it visually appealing. It's about finding the perfect balance between aesthetics, functionality, and user experience. It's about understanding the audience and catering to their needs. 

But don't worry; we've got you covered. In this blog, we will take you through the best email design practices. We will discuss eleven essential things you should consider in your design to create successful campaigns. 

Also Read: Put Together a Funny Email for Your Prospects

Let's dive into how to design email campaigns that look great and deliver exceptional results.

What is email design?

Email design involves creating and designing written and visual content in an email that effectively engages your business's target audience. You may be specifically focusing on your customers and current email subscribers.

Email design types

There are three primary categories of email design:

Plain text email

Plain text emails are a simple and widely used format for personal communication. They prioritize simplicity and clarity by conveying messages through plain text without any visual elements.

One advantage of plain text emails is their ability to provide a personal touch. By avoiding complex formatting and graphics, these emails create a sense of authenticity and intimacy, making them ideal for personal conversations with friends, family, or colleagues.

Another advantage of plain text emails is their compatibility and responsiveness. They are easily accessible on various devices and email clients, ensuring recipients can read and respond to them without compatibility issues.

Additionally, plain text emails load quickly and can easily be viewed on the go, even with a weaker internet connection.

 Rich HTML email

A rich HTML email offers a visually captivating experience by incorporating unique design elements using HTML and CSS. It resembles a miniature landing page with its structured format, vibrant colors, striking images, appealing typography, and even animations or GIFs. 

These emails provide flexibility and customization options, allowing businesses to include diverse information and create engaging content that stands out in recipients' inboxes. Additionally, rich HTML emails are easily accessible and responsive, adapting to different devices and screen sizes, including mobile devices. Despite the benefits, there are a few drawbacks to consider. 

Browser display issues can occur, leading to inconsistent rendering across different email clients and web browsers. To ensure compatibility, it's recommended to use fully responsive and mobile-friendly solutions. Another challenge is you need coding skills to create HTML emails. 

Interactive email

Interactive emails have emerged as a recent development in email marketing, utilizing JavaScript-based interactive features to create engaging experiences. These emails aim to leave a lasting impression on recipients and generate high levels of engagement.

 However, it is worth noting that the majority of email clients do not currently support JavaScript, limiting the number of users who can fully experience these interactive emails. 

Despite their potential, the lack of widespread support poses a challenge. To overcome this limitation, marketers can simulate interactivity in emails by using alternative methods such as CSS-powered dynamic effects and animated GIFs.

 These techniques allow for visually appealing content that can still capture the recipient's attention and encourage interaction, even without relying on JavaScript. While not as comprehensive as JavaScript-based interactivity, CSS and GIFs offer viable workarounds to create engaging email experiences for a broader audience.

The importance of well-designed emails: do you really need them?

In today's world, people are often flooded with information, making it increasingly important to catch their attention quickly. This is where a well-designed email comes into play. An email design can turn a quick scan into an intelligent read, delivering the right message to your audience.

Email design can benefit you in several ways. Here is what a good design does:

  • Enhances brand recognition: A well-designed email with consistent branding elements such as colours, logos, and fonts can reinforce your brand identity, making it easily recognizable to recipients.

  • Improves readability and engagement: Thoughtful design elements like clear and concise content, appropriate font sizes, headings, and whitespace can enhance the readability of your emails, encouraging recipients to engage with the content.

  • Increases click-through rates: Attention-grabbing visuals, compelling call-to-action buttons, and strategically placed support links can increase click-through rates, driving traffic to your website or desired landing pages.

  • Builds trust and credibility: Professionally designed emails convey a sense of authenticity and reliability, helping to build trust with your audience.

  • Mobile responsiveness: With most email opens happening on mobile devices, designing emails optimized for mobile devices ensures a seamless experience for recipients, increasing the chances of them taking action.

  • Supports personalization: Effective email design allows for personalization, enabling you to tailor your content, visuals, and layout to match the recipient's preferences and demographics, leading to higher engagement and conversions.

  • Enables tracking and analytics: By incorporating design elements such as tracking pixels, well-designed email templates can provide valuable insights into open rates, click-through rates, and other metrics, allowing you to refine your email marketing strategy.

  • Differentiate you from competitors: A visually appealing and well-designed email can help you stand out, making a positive impression on recipients and increasing the likelihood of them choosing your products or services.

  • Supports accessibility: Proper email design considers accessibility guidelines, making the content accessible to individuals with disabilities and ensuring inclusivity.

Email design best practices

  1. Sender name can make a huge difference

Did you know that the sender name of an email can have a huge impact on its open rate? In fact, it has even more value than the subject line. But why? Well, it's all to do with trust. Upon checking their inbox, your contacts may immediately wonder if an email is genuine or spam. And the sender's name is the first thing they'll look at to make that determination.

To enhance trust and brand recognition, including your brand name in the sender name is a powerful approach. According to a study conducted on American consumers, 42% of individuals prioritize looking at the sender name before deciding to open an email. If you want to establish a more personalized connection with your readers, you can also use the name of an employee to personalize the sender's name. 

For instance, imagine receiving an email with the sender name "Nike Store." As a recipient, you're more likely to trust and open the email, expecting it to be related to Nike products or promotions, rather than if it had a generic sender name like "Promotions" or "Newsletter."

Additionally, for larger companies, utilizing a unique sender name can aid in distinguishing between departments, services, products, or different types of emails. By doing so, you can communicate important details about the message to your recipients.

Let's say you receive an email from "Customer Support - ABC Electronics." The unique sender name clearly indicates that the email is from the customer support department of ABC Electronics. This helps the recipient understand that the email is likely related to a customer inquiry or support request, allowing them to prioritize and handle it accordingly.

  1. Subject line is the first impression 

As per research by Campaign Monitor, emails with personalized subject lines have a 26% higher chance of being opened by readers. It's important that your subject line is relatively short and sweet yet informative. It's crucial to present the key information upfront in your message, considering that your reader may only briefly scan your subject line.

 Impress them with the first few words to seize their attention! Statistics show that mobile devices are now the preferred platform for reading emails as 42% of emails are opened on mobile devices, exceeding the number of emails opened on desktop email clients - according to Litmus' "2021 Email Client Market Share" report (as of Aug 2021).

Hence, it's worth keeping in mind that mobile users might have limited visibility of the content. Hence, maintaining a brief yet impactful message is paramount. 

Remember to keep it professional and avoid special characters, excessive capitalization, or punctuation, as this could hinder your reputation and result in your messages being flagged as spam. 

Here's a practical example to illustrate the importance of a well-crafted subject line:

Let's say you're a marketing manager sending out an email campaign to promote a new product launch. You have two subject line options:

  1. "Check out our amazing new product!"

  2. "Limited-time offer: Get 20% off our revolutionary new product!"

    In this example, the first subject line is relatively short but lacks specific information. It doesn't convey any urgency or incentive for the reader to open the email. On the other hand, the second subject line is concise, informative, and offers a time-limited discount, creating a sense of urgency and value for the recipient. It is more likely to catch the reader's attention and prompt them to open the email.

  1. Utilize preheader text for maximum impact

Roughly 23.5% of emails are only skimmed, lasting between 2-8 seconds, while 15% of messages receive less than 2 seconds of the readers' attention. Preheader, alternatively referred to as the second subject line, is a short summary of the content of an email message that is displayed alongside or just below the subject line in the email client. The preheader acts as a teaser that entices the recipient to open the email and read the message.  

This small but mighty snippet of text instantly follows your subject line and can make all the difference in boosting your open rates, so be sure to customize it to work in tandem with your subject line to start telling an engaging story.

Let's say you're a clothing retailer sending out a promotional email for a limited-time sale. You have two options for the preheader text:

  1. Default preheader: "Having trouble viewing this email? Click here to view in your browser."

  2. Customized preheader: "Shop now and save up to 50% on your favorite summer styles!"

In this example, the default preheader lacks any compelling information related to the email's content and fails to entice the recipient to open the email. On the other hand, the customized preheader showcases a clear value proposition by highlighting the discount and invoking a sense of urgency.

  1. Creating a visual hierarchy in your email

By organizing your email content to draw attention to key elements and guide your reader through the message, you can greatly improve the effectiveness of your email campaigns.

Not only will your emails be easier to read and understand, but they will also be more visually appealing and engaging. Let's check out two email designs that use visual hierarchy to organize information effectively.

Email layouts

An organized and easy-to-follow layout ensures that readers are more likely to engage with your content, leading to higher click-through rates and ultimately, increased conversions. The Z pattern is an excellent email layout that can help convince your readers to engage with your content. 

But what's exactly a Z pattern? The Z pattern, also referred to as the ZigZag pattern, has become a popular visual hierarchy technique in eCommerce email marketing. This pattern is straightforward and user-friendly, as the reader can easily navigate through your content by following the zigzag eye movements.

Let's take a practical example of the Z pattern layout for an eCommerce email promoting a new smartphone:

  1. Header: Start with a visually appealing image of the new smartphone at the top of the email, showcasing its sleek design and standout features. This immediately grabs the reader's attention and sets the tone for the email.

  2. Left to right: Place the headline and key message on the left side of the email. For example, use a headline like "Introducing the Next Generation Smartphone - Unleash Your Potential." Provide a brief description of the phone's innovative features, such as a powerful camera, long-lasting battery, and advanced performance.

  3. Diagonal movement: Add supporting content to the reader's attention diagonally from the top-right corner to the bottom-left corner. Include captivating images or videos demonstrating the phone's features and brief descriptions highlighting the benefits and advantages.

  4. Call to action: At the bottom-right corner, position a prominent call to action button with persuasive text, such as "Get Yours Today" or "Shop Now." Make sure the button stands out with a contrasting color and is easily clickable.

Another useful technique to enhance your email's effectiveness is to adopt the inverted pyramid approach, which involves starting with a broader message and gradually narrowing it down to the primary objective. This approach can help sustain readers' interest and engagement.

Here's a practical example:

Subject: Exclusive Sale Event Starts Tomorrow!

  1. Broad message: Don't miss out on our biggest sale of the year! Get ready for amazing discounts on your favorite brands and products.

  2. Narrowing down: From fashion to electronics, we have something for everyone. Explore our extensive selection and save big on top-quality items.

  3. Primary objective: Mark your calendars for tomorrow and be the first to shop. Limited quantities are available, so act fast and secure the best deals!

When it comes to your email layout, the positioning of your call-to-action buttons should be meticulously thought through, and your content should lead up to them to ensure better engagement rates. Think of it as a gentle nudge to your contacts.

But it’s not just about placement – the CTA buttons' text must also be clear and concise. Specificity is key; try wording tailored to your message's purpose.

For example, if you promote a new product line, use language like “explore our new collection”. And for promotions, consider something like “save 20 percent on shoes.” Your tone should be informative, professional, and engaging while eliciting excitement. Remember, the right CTAs can make all the difference in your email marketing efforts.

Quick helpful pointers for designing an email layout

It's important to consider every element of your email when designing your content, such as the size and weight of your text. Remember, people place more value on large objects, so make sure to display the most crucial information boldly. Additionally, the placement of your content matters too. 

To boost the effectiveness of your email, prioritize the most pertinent and captivating content at the top of the page since readers perceive elements higher up as more crucial. Additionally, contrast is imperative to improve your email's readability, particularly for those who prefer to skim through it. Ensure that key elements, such as your call-to-action, stand out from the rest of your email content.

Finally, always remember the power of white space! Separating sections allows your readers to digest information clearly, organize, and attractively. 

  1. How about using an email template? 

Professional look, time-saving, responsive and user-friendly; an email marketing template can be all in one solution. Plus, if you don't know HTML or code, no problem! Most email marketing tools come with a drag-and-drop editor, which makes creating your email content a breeze. 

Brand image

When it comes to email marketing, templates are a fantastic starting point for creating beautiful campaigns. However, it's important to remember that templates aren't a one-size-fits-all solution.

If you want to convey your brand identity effectively, you'll need to make some customizations. Try tweaking the background color or changing the fonts to suit your unique brand image better. 

Consistency is also key - make sure that your color scheme, font choices, and heading structure remain the same across all of your email campaigns. Whether you're a small or larger business, creating a strong brand image for your email campaigns is within reach.

For instance, let's say you're a fashion retailer and want to send out a promotional email. Instead of using a generic template, you could customize it by incorporating your brand's signature color palette and using fonts that reflect your brand's style.

This way, recipients will instantly recognize and associate your brand with the fashion-forward image you want to convey.

  1. Add images to appeal 

As per the research by Getvero, campaigns that included images experienced a 42% increase in click-through rates compared to those without images. While photos can be excellent for breaking up email content and making it look attractive, it is essential to be mindful of flooding the email with images.

Think about the receiver's experience and avoid issues like slow loading time or vague content. You must always ask the question – what value does this image add? 

A few high-quality pictures of your products, a team members' spotlight, or even an explanatory infographic can add value and make your campaigns more visually appealing. It's best to refrain from using stock images or large files that may hinder your readers from engaging with your content.

For instance, if you're a travel agency promoting a vacation package, including high-quality photos of the destination can captivate the reader and inspire them to learn more.

Custom-made vs Stock Images: which is better for your emails?

Choosing between stock images and custom-made images doesn't have a definitive answer. Custom-made images offer the advantage of uniqueness and tailored representation of your brand. They allow you to showcase your products, team, or services in a way that resonates with your audience. 

On the other hand, stock images can be a convenient option when time and resources are limited. They provide a wide range of pre-existing visuals that can be used to support your email content. It's essential to opt for an approach that complements your brand's visual identity and accurately communicates the desired tone for your brand.

Utilize White Space

When it comes to creating effective email marketing campaigns, white space is a commonly overlooked element that can greatly impact engagement. By providing ample space around your paragraphs, images, and call to action buttons, you are not only visually separating them from other components within your email, but you are also enhancing the readability and ease of navigation for your readers.

This ultimately leads to higher click-through rates and conversions. It's crucial to find a balance between providing enough white space to distinguish your elements while maintaining a connection between them. 

For instance, imagine you have a newsletter showcasing your latest blog posts. By giving each article a dedicated white space, you allow readers to easily scan and choose which content to read. The clear separation between paragraphs and images makes it more inviting and encourages click-through rates, ultimately boosting engagement and conversions.

  1. Use interactive content to make your emails stand out

Incorporating interactive elements into your emails takes your subscriber experience to a new level. As per Martech Advisor, incorporating interactive content in emails can lead to a 73% boost in click-to-open rates.

For example, imagine you're a retail brand promoting a new collection. Instead of simply showcasing the products with static images, you can create an interactive carousel where subscribers can swipe through different outfit options and see how they would look on a model. This interactive element engages the recipients and allows them to visualize themselves wearing the clothes, leading to a higher likelihood of making a purchase.

Similarly, if you're a software company launching a new feature, you can include an interactive tutorial or a guided tour within the email itself. This way, subscribers can explore the feature's functionalities and experience its benefits firsthand, increasing their understanding and excitement about the product.

Few tips to use interactive content in your email:

  • Choose the right interactive element: Determine which interactive element aligns with your email's objective and audience. Options include quizzes, polls, surveys, image carousels, sliders, interactive maps, countdown timers, product configurators, and more.

  • Set clear goals: Define what you aim to achieve with the interactive content. Is it to gather feedback, increase engagement, drive conversions, or enhance the user experience? Clear goals will help you design and measure the effectiveness of your interactive email campaign.

  • Use a reliable email service provider: Choose your current email service provider or consider using another email service provider like GoCustomer that supports interactive content and provides the necessary tools and templates for incorporating interactive elements into your emails. This will simplify the process and ensure compatibility with different email clients.

  1. User-generated content (UGC) to connect with your audience

According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer Report, a whopping 68 per cent of consumers consider trust in brands a top priority. One way to build trust is to include user-generated content (UGC) in your email design. But what is UCG exactly?

 Let's figure this out.

UGC is any content the end-user creates, whether product reviews, social media posts, customer feedback, or photos. But what makes UGC so powerful is that it provides a two-way dialogue between consumers and brands, helping humanize the latter.

Here are a few examples of how brands can leverage UGC in their emails:

  1. Testimonials and reviews: Feature positive customer testimonials or reviews within your email campaigns. This not only showcases the satisfaction of existing customers but also provides social proof and builds trust with potential customers.

  2. Social media curation: Incorporate posts or images from customers who have tagged your brand on social media platforms. This demonstrates real-world usage of your products or services and encourages others to engage with your brand.

  3. Contests and challenges: Encourage your audience to create and submit their own content related to your brand through contests or challenges. This could involve asking customers to share their creative interpretations or experiences using your products. The selected entries can be showcased in your emails, creating a sense of community and fostering engagement.

  4. Customer spotlights: Highlight individual customers or their success stories in your emails. This can include featuring their experiences, achievements, or how they have benefited from your products or services. By showcasing real customers, you create relatability and authenticity.

  5. Use dynamic content to create a more personalized user experience

As we enter 2023, the distinction between B2C and B2B marketing is becoming increasingly blurred, giving rise to the concept of human-to-human (H2H) marketing. A significant trend in email design is the use of customized emails based on customer behavior. 

With the advancement of email automation, segmentation, and lead scoring capabilities, creating personalized content for each recipient has become more accessible than ever before. Email personalization goes beyond simply addressing the recipient by name; it enables dynamic modifications to entire content sections based on the user's preferences.

For example, abandoned cart emails can be tailored to include the items left behind and personalized recommendations to entice the recipient to complete their purchase. Customer surveys can be customized to gather feedback on specific interactions or experiences, allowing for targeted improvements. Personalized product recommendations and exclusive offers can be dynamically generated based on the recipient's browsing or purchase history.

  1. Dark mode

Dark mode in email design should not be underestimated as it has become increasingly popular among users. Studies show that around 80% of users prefer dark mode when available, making it a crucial consideration in the design process. Dark mode alters the color scheme of emails by using light fonts on a dark background instead of dark fonts on a light background.

Its primary advantages include improving readability, especially in low-light conditions, and conserving battery life by reducing screen brightness. To ensure visually appealing emails in dark mode, it is recommended to use transparent images to avoid inconsistencies, apply a white glow around black images and icons, and preview emails using tools. Remember that dark mode may function differently on various devices and applications, so testing and adapting are important.

  1. Shout out your offer in the header

One of the most effective ways is to focus on your header. This snippet of text or imagery appears above the fold and should capture your reader's attention while summarizing your main offer. It needs to stand out, be crystal clear, and make them curious enough to keep reading. In short, your header can be the hook that turns a passive reader into an active clicker.

When crafting an email, it's essential to feature your offer in the header. Your header should be eye-catching. It should include your brand name or logo, a navigational bar, and a powerful headline that summarizes your offer. 

A call-to-action leading to your website and other incentives to keep scrolling down can also increase engagement. However, keep in mind that not all of your readers will see your full header. The top 300 pixels are usually displayed on most devices. 

So, it's crucial to make sure that your header is attractive enough to convince your reader to keep scrolling. If you choose to add an image, don't forget to provide ALT text to make your message impactful for subscribers who have images blocked.

Here are some additional examples of email headers that follow best practices:

Example 1:

  • A professional email header design with the company logo prominently displayed at the top

  • A concise and attention-grabbing headline that highlights the main offer or message

  • A subheading that provides more context or elaborates on the headline

  • An appealing visual image that complements the message or captures the recipient's interest

  • A speech bubble or callout box that emphasizes a key benefit or reinforces the message from the headline

Example 2:

  • An email header design that incorporates a visually appealing background image relevant to the message or theme

  • A bold and impactful headline that grabs attention and creates a sense of urgency or exclusivity

  • A subheading that provides a concise summary or highlights a key benefit

  • An eye-catching graphic or illustration placed strategically to draw attention and support the message

  • A speech bubble or call-to-action button encourages the recipient to take a specific action or explore further information.

Menu and navigation

Including a navigation bar in your email header can be a great way to encourage clicks and guide your audience to featured areas of your website. This is especially useful for ecommerce brands looking to showcase their latest products or promotions.

With the ability to track clicks in each menu item, you can also gain valuable insights into your audience's interests and behavior. 

And if you're using email automation, those clicks can trigger targeted email sequences to further engage your subscribers. However, it's important to ensure your navigation bar looks good and functions properly across all devices, as a cramped inbox can make navigating difficult for your subscribers.

More to Explore: 10 Email Marketing Blogs Every Marketer Should Follow in 2024

Bottom line

In conclusion, designing an effective email marketing campaigns require careful attention to a number of best practices.

When designing your emails, it's essential to consider how they will appear in different email clients, including popular ones like Gmail, Outlook, and Apple Mail.

Creating a clean, simple, and visually appealing layout, using a clear and concise subject line, and personalizing your content with the recipient's name and other relevant details can help ensure your target audience reads and acts upon your message.

However, it's important to note that not all email clients display emails in the same way, and some design elements may not appear consistently on all platforms.

Therefore, it is crucial to continuously test and optimize your email designs to choose the ones that work best for your specific audience and email client landscape.

With these strategies in mind, you can harness the power of email marketing to engage with your audience and drive meaningful business results effectively.

An image to showcase the email warmup feature

Reach more customers with your cold emails

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