Email Marketing

Email Design

Follow these best practices to design an email that drives interest, clicks, and conversions.

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A lot of work goes into designing an email template. You need to think about why the email is being created, who the audience is, what the goal is, and how you want to put everything together. There is psychology behind why certain designs work so well, and good graphic designers have an excellent grasp on how to use design to get the results they want. In the absence of having a dedicated graphic designer on your email team, it can fall on someone with less design experience to try and figure out what will work best. There is no clear set of rules for what you should do exactly, as you really need a thorough understanding of your target demographic and their personas to develop templates that work best for your business. However, there are some best practices that can help you put together more effective campaigns.

As open rates are waning as a main indicator of a campaign’s success, click-through rates are increasingly becoming more important. Focusing on email design is important because a good design will provide effective CTA (call-to-action) areas within your template to help your program have successful metrics. Your CTA is not limited to a click-through. Alternative actions such as phoning customer service, reading product reviews, or even visiting a physical store can be the desired action you want your recipients to take. Email design should remove friction by ensuring the resources to support these actions are prominent.

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Content Hierarchy

The main goal of most email campaigns is to provide the subscriber with information relevant to them and to get them to click through to your website or take another desired action. When designing your template, first identify who the audience is, what the end goal is, and how you want to convey your information. Then you can focus on the individual design elements and layout based on which content areas are most important. Your main CTA should be high up in your template since subscribers won’t scroll through and hunt for it. Make the CTA clear and have it stand out from the design so it’s easy to find and communicates exactly why subscribers should take action. Learn more about Framework and Hierarchy here.

“Above the fold” is a term that comes from newspapers placing their catchiest headlines and images on the top half of the front page so, when the papers are stacked, it grabs a person’s interest and makes them more likely to purchase and read the paper. This concept applies to the digital world, as well, but with a focus on scrolling. Approximately 60% of email readers don’t scroll down, so your design needs to entice them to look at all of the content within your email. This is a larger concern with mobile devices versus desktops. Header sections with large logos

and menus can take up too much of that “above the fold” space. On mobile, simplify it. If you absolutely need a menu in your design, place it in the footer.

Avoid burying your lead. Determine the most important goal of your campaign, and put it right at the top. Keep the content focused and the designs relevant. Have a CTA that clearly relates to the content. If your readers are not inclined to scroll, at least they are seeing the most important content first.

To encourage scrolling, there are many tactics you can use based on your target audience. A numbered list, such as “Our top 10 tips for winter”, will tease them into wanting to see everything if you start from #10 and countdown to #1. You can also let your design pull them through the email using arrows and lines. Designing your templates in a way that trains your subscribers to scroll is another strategy (e.g. placing content such as coupon codes consistently at the end of the email and asking them to scroll through to find it).

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Mobile Friendly

Most ESPs have built-in drag-and-drop editors that default to designing in desktop view. You’ll also need to ensure your templates and design are responsive. While putting together your elements, preview the design in mobile view often to make sure elements are stacking in a way that makes visual sense and the font is resizing correctly (or is still easy to read if it’s part of a graphic). Utilize a previewer tool like Everest’s design test to see how the email will render across different desktop, mobile, tablet, and webmail clients.

Validity Everest allows you to preview your email design across a wide of devices to ensure it is mobile responsive.

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Font Style and Size

Choose fonts based on the brand’s creative guidelines and online readability. Cursive and decorative fonts can look nice, but can also be too difficult for some subscribers to read. If your brand uses a web font on the website, there is a chance it won’t work for email. Not all fonts will display properly in every mail client, so it’s important to do design tests to see how your brand’s font renders across mailbox providers and devices. If you’re using a web font, set a fallback option from a list of web-safe fonts such as Arial and Helvetica.

The size of your font is also critical. Your email should be easy to read without subscribers having to zoom in. Be aware of your target demographic as well, since older audiences will likely appreciate larger, darker, and bolder fonts that are easy to read, while younger audiences are more likely to appreciate a fun mix of styles.

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Making accessible email designs benefits not only the users who have images turned off, but also the millions of people worldwide who have visual limitations. You can still have an engaging email designed around your goal, but there are steps to take to make sure it’s accessible.

Alt text: Add alternative text to images that accurately describes what the image represents. Ex:

<img src=”logo.png” alt=”Validity Logo” />

Text version: If you can edit the text version of an email, make sure that it is simplified and easy to read. This helps with screen readers and can be the version that is seen on devices like smart watches.

Contrast colors: People with color blindness or moderately low vision can have difficulty with some color combinations, especially if there isn’t enough contrast between the text and background canvas of an email. Everest’s design tool has a colorblind test, so you can check whether the design has enough clarity.

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Layout and Scanability

Design is a tool used to direct the eye in a specific pattern based on your goals. Common types of design layouts are the inverted triangle, zigzag patterns, color blocking, and text overlay.
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Inverted Triangle

This design tends to start wide with a horizontal image, with a short block of text underneath, followed by a slightly narrower CTA button as the focal point. This draws the eye into a simple pathway to really highlight the action of clicking through to the website, so the button doesn’t get lost in the design.

Samsung uses this technique with the hero image leading into a narrower block of text that tapers down into the CTA “Shop Now” button. They also design their emails to be a similar shape to a phone screen, which further showcases
their phones.

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This pattern guides the eyes in a side-to-side pattern and down through the email. It leads you to move smoothly from element to element and helps make sure the subscriber notices all the important information the email is trying to convey.

The Vitamin Shoppe features the zigzag design in their email showcasing a new product. The bright colors of the labels help make this a visually exciting email to scan through, as well.

It’s very common to see multiple elements within one template, most often the Inverted Triangle and Zigzag:

This Marriot Bonvoy email uses the inverted triangle at the top to highlight the main CTA, followed by a zigzag pattern to guide the subscriber so they read all the way through the secondary elements.

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Color Blocking

Bold, bright colors are exciting and eye-catching. When used correctly, they can play with emotions and get the subscriber engaged in the content.

Hum Nutrition uses bright and fun colors to bring excitement to their campaign. They use colors that go well with their labels to help make their product pop.

Toned down, subtle colors also work well to block out sections of the design and make the product pop.

Tushy utilizes a lot of neutral tones in their designs and they let their cheeky text bring out their boldness. Their products tend to be lighter colors, so using neutral tones is a smart choice to keep the products from being overshadowed.

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Text Overlay

Let your product do the talking and have a simple email featuring an image with a very small amount of text and CTA. This works as a tease and entices people to click through to learn more since the email doesn’t give every single detail.

It’s also important to note that white space in your email is a great design choice. Don’t be afraid of white space; use it as a design tool to really draw focus to the elements you’re trying to highlight. Despite the name, white space doesn’t have to be white, it can be any color. This is referring to space in the design that isn’t filled up with text, graphics, icons, or buttons.

This Fitbit example demonstrates using a very simple design that looks elegant and eye-catching, without any clutter.

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Use branded colors throughout the template in a consistent pattern. Text links should always be the same color, button colors should be consistent, and header and footer background colors should match the brand colors or the website colors.
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Break Up Text Blocks

Most people don’t subscribe to email newsletters expecting to get sent a wall of text. People are busy, on the go, and most frequently opening emails on their mobile devices. The audience may not take the time to read the text, and therefore never really learn what the message is or what action is expected of them. This is why it’s important to break up your text by adding some graphics, in-line links (as long as they’re relevant), and placing your CTA towards the top of the email. A common mistake many email designs fall into is trying to be exactly the same as the website. Emails should be an extension of your company’s website, not a recreation of it. For the majority of emails sent, the goal is to intrigue subscribers into clicking through to the website to make a purchase, leave a review, choose a service, set up a demo, etc. If your email is trying to say too much to make it really effective, it might be better to have that content live on a new landing page on your website and use the email to direct subscribers there.
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Adding dynamic content to your design can add a level of personalization that resonates with your subscribers. A shopping section based on their shopping history, for example, is more likely to appeal to someone than a random assortment of products. You can also look into adding countdown timers, weather or stock updates, and the use of AMP (accelerated mobile pages) to support features such as carousels and surveys.

When you’re making changes to your template’s main design elements, it’s recommended you A/B test the new changes compared to the original design several times before fully committing to the changes. Make sure the new layout really works and make adjustments as needed. It can take some time to retrain your existing audience to get used to a different layout, but it can be well worth the effort.

You also need to check the load time of your email. If your images are so large that they take 20 seconds to load, then you need to optimize them to speed up the time. Check that your file size isn’t so large that it gets truncated, and clean up your HTML if this is an issue for you. Always make sure the opt-out and preference center links are easily accessible since it’s better for a subscriber to opt-out than to report you as spam.

If you’re looking for ways to learn email design, start by subscribing to brands that interest you and look for emails that stand out. Identify any similarities or differences in them and look for design trends that stand out. Try recreating an email that you admire to learn how to piece it all together. Continue to be inspired by email design trends, and constantly learn and grow.

Discover how Everest can help ensure your email design renders across all the devices your recipients use.