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How to Design an Email People Want to Read

Despite rumors to the contrary, email endures as one of the most effective tactics in the marketer’s toolbox. But effectiveness with email comes down to just one thing: How to design an email that people want to read. That’s exactly what I’m going to tell you how to do.

Email Effectiveness: Where to Start

If you want your email to be opened, two things matter most: Your subject line and the content in the body of your email. No one has time to waste clicking on and reading emails that don’t deliver value. And while subject line and body content are important, they aren’t the only two things that impact the effectiveness of your email campaigns. The design of your email template also has a big impact on the overall effectiveness of your email campaigns.

From the subject line, to the number of hyperlinks, right through to how it appears on a mobile device—every little detail plays an important part in constructing a message the recipient will click through to read, and even better, one that will compel them to action.

Campaign Monitor and Really Good Emails have put together a comprehensive infographic checklist to guide you along the way to designing a winning email. Here are some of the key tips you need to keep in mind, together with some links to other helpful resources. You can find the full infographic at the end of the post.

Inspiring the Reader to Open your Email 

Before the recipient even gets to read your killer email, you have to inspire sufficient interest to get beyond the inbox subject line, the preview pane, or the email client description.

  • The subject line must be engaging and of optimal length for previews— don’t overlook spelling and grammar as first impressions count. If you’re not good at these things, get someone on your team who is to be a final set of eyes. There’s nothing worse than an email with typos.
  • Pre-header text should work together with, and add context to, the subject line. While it needs to be short and to the point, it’s a valuable opportunity to tell the reader why they need to open your email.
  • Content should be personalized as much as possible and dynamic content deployed according to subscriber segmentation to make content more relevant to the recipient.

Not yet a master of email segmentation?  Learn more about segmentation with my recent article The Key to Email Delivery: Segmentation over on the V3B blog. You can also get the lowdown on dynamic email targeting at How Dynamic Email Targeting Will Change Everything, over on the IMA blog.

Plan the Layout 

The layout of the email should be planned to assist the reader to know what they should read first, and where they go from there, preferably to your call-to-action. Layout can vary from a straightforward single column design, through an angular “zig-zag” pattern, to an inverted pyramid designed to guide the reader to a click through. This example from Campaign Monitor illustrates how this might work.

How to Design an Email People Want to Read

 

Image source: Campaign Monitor

Email width should be considered to ensure your message is rendered successfully across a range of email clients. A range of 600 to 640 pixels is recommended.

Make it Visual

Adding visual elements to emails can help your message to stand out from the crowd.

Images. Use only images that will complement your message rather than adding related images just for effect. Images should be brand specific and created specifically for the campaign where possible. If not, be sure to source images from good quality premium sites rather than relying on free stock photos, which might dilute the impact of the message. Keep these technical requirements in mind as well:

  • Images should be twice the width of the email dimensions to ensure crispness on high-resolution displays, with image attributes and CSS used to present the image at the desired width.
  • File size should not be excessive and images should be optimized to ensure fast load times, particularly on mobile.
  • Alt Text should always be added to images so that if the image doesn’t load, the reader has a helpful indication of what the image represents.

Video. The engaging and entertaining nature of video makes it ideal for use in email marketing campaigns. It shouldn’t be assumed however, that video plays automatically in an email, as we have become accustomed to with our favorite social platforms.

Video can be linked to ahost site, such as You Tube or Vimeo, by way of a play button added on top of a static image. Alternatively, for those with the technical expertise, video can be embedded using HTML allowing the video to play within the email itself with a limited number of email clients (Apple Mail, Thunderbird, iOS 10 Native Client, and Samsung Galaxy Native Client as at February 2017). The rest will display a fallback image.

Animated GIF. An attractive alternative to video is to add an animated GIF. Campaign Monitor recommends keeping it short and simple, and limiting file size to 1MB to be effective.

Mobile Optimization 

Consumers are increasingly likely to be opening, and crucially engaging with emails on their mobile devices. This is a dynamic you can read more about by way of my article:  Email Marketing is Alive and Well as Volumes Increase and Kinetic Excites.

Optimizing emails to be mobile friendly is of critical importance to marketers. Messages should be coded to be responsive or, if coding expertise isn’t available should make use of a mobile friendly template.

Optimization for mobile can be quite an exact science, as Campaign Monitor illustrated with the theory behind designing a clear and easy to use CTA button.

“According to a recent MIT study, the average size of an adult index finger is between 1.6cm and 2 cm, which translates to between 45 x 45px and 57 x 57px on a mobile device.”

Typically buttons should be around 50 pixels tall to allow for easy tapping.

Finishing Touches

They may be described as finishing touches but they are no less important to the effectiveness of your message. Here are things to keep in mind?

  • Web fonts should be used when possible and web safe fallbacks set for unsupportive email clients.
  • CTAs should be specific, benefit focused, and designed to stand out prominently. Designing a button as an image can have a negative effect, as an email client may block images by default.
  • Links should have UTM tracking codes added to assist analysis and must always be checked to ensure the link opens the target destination successfully, on desktop and mobile.
  • Footers should contain legal statements, social links, and unsubscribe links as appropriate.
  • Finally, the email should be proofread and checked thoroughly for accuracy and tone before the send button is activated. 

It’s important to bear in mind that your email can have more of an impact than just on the potential for a sale, and for your future relationship with the customer. The actions the recipient takes, such as opening, clicking on links, or maybe even marking as spam can have a big impact on the deliverability of future email campaigns. Find out more about these critical elements of email effectiveness at Three Steps to Improve Email Deliverability—Because an Undelivered Email is Worth Zilch.

I hope these tips about the important things to remember in email marketing will help with your own campaigns. The full infographic follows as promised.

What’s going on with your email marketing efforts? I’d love to hear the challenges you face and the questions you have. I’m pretty good at this kind of thing. I promise that if you’ve got a question, I can probably help.

The Really Good Email Design Checklist - Infographic by Campaign Monitor

Source: The Really Good Email Design Checklist by Campaign Monitor

Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer Flickr via Compfight cc

This article was first published on Integrated Marketing Association.

Shawn Elledge

Shawn Elledge

VP Sales & Marketing at Broadsuite Media Group
Shawn Elledge