The Ultimate Guide to Email Design Best Practices 

|by Demi-Leigh Donohoe

Email marketing is an essential ingredient of any successful marketing strategy. By the end of 2022, the number of email users is set to grow to over 4.2 billion. However, due to being inundated with spam and low-value content, many email users don’t always open every email they receive. That’s why it’s crucial that your emails stand out and grab the attention of your subscribers. Your email design needs to be flawless. 

A well-designed, optimised email is essential to drive consumption and engagement, and ultimately generate a higher ROI for your business. But how do you design emails that your subscribers will actually want to open and click on? We put together 10 email design best practices you can follow to ensure you create great emails, every time. 

10 email design best practices 

1. Create a compelling subject line  

A successful email design starts with a strong subject line that grabs the subscriber’s attention and gives them a reason to open your email. Aim to make your subject line relatively short but descriptive enough to implore the recipient to read more.  

Here are some tips for creating an effective subject line: 

  • Don’t overdo it with excessive capitalisation and unnecessary punctuation. Not only will these put your subscriber off, but they might trigger spam filters, too. 
  • Keep it short and sweet. Summarise the content of your email in as few words as possible. 
  • Ask a question. Questions are a great way to grab the subscriber’s attention and pique their curiosity. 

Whatever your approach, you’ll need to test different words, lengths, and tactics to see what resonates the most with your audience. If you need some inspiration, download our Ultimate Subject Line Swipe File

2. Write an effective preheader 

Sometimes referred to as the ‘second subject line’, the email preheader text is a snippet of copy that appears after the subject line in the inbox. It gives the subscriber an idea of what the email contains before they decide to open it. 

By default, the preheader text is automatically generated from the first text within your email campaign. Rather than rewriting the first sentence of your email, you can set a custom preheader to summarise the content of your email. Think of it as an extension of your subject line.  

3. Personalise every email  

Consumers have come to expect tailored and personalised experiences from brands, with 42% of them feeling annoyed when content isn’t personalised, which is why batch-and-blast emails are no longer an option. 

Personalising your emails is a proven way to increase your open and click-through rates. It involves leveraging subscriber data within your email content to make it relevant for each recipient. And we don’t just mean using subscribers’ first names in your emails - subscriber data can be anything from location to previous purchases. It’s all about creating targeted and timely content that makes your subscriber feel like you’re talking to them on a 1-1 basis. 

Email personalisation isn’t as difficult as it might sound. Thanks to email marketing tools, personalising your emails can be as simple as using segmentation and triggered emails. 

4. Use the inverted pyramid email design 

The average person’s attention span is around eight seconds, so your email layout should be designed to focus subscribers’ attention on key elements and guide them toward the action that you want them to take. That’s why we recommend using the inverted pyramid model.  

The inverted pyramid is a design technique that arranges content in a format that improves the likelihood of a conversion. The most important information should be displayed at the top of the email, followed by a short section of text and then the CTA at the bottom.  

5. Use compelling CTAs 

Encouraging your subscribers to open and actually read your email is great work, but the next challenge is getting them to take action. An effective email call-to-action tells consumers what to do next. It should encourage conversions like sign-ups, downloads, social media follows, and purchases. 

A CTA should be eye-grabbing and compel your subscribers to act immediately. Although they might be hesitant about leaving the safe confines of their inboxes, your CTA should help them to overcome those doubts. When an email call-to-action is created with the subscriber in mind, they’re more likely to want to click. 

6. Optimise for dark mode 

Dark mode is a digital design trend that has grown in popularity over the last year, and now it’s taking over email. A dark-mode colour scheme uses light elements and text on a dark background. 

While many users are excited about their inboxes moving to the dark side, it’s created a bit of a headache for email marketers. As if optimising our emails for different email clients and devices wasn’t complex enough, now we’ve got to make sure that our emails look great when dark mode is switched on, too. However, this isn’t a trend that’s going away. Designing for dark mode is important for accessibility purposes. 

In order to optimise your email template for dark mode, you should: 

  • Use transparent images - Try and use transparent images or PNGs to make sure your images look clean no matter what the background colour of your email is. 
  • Optimise your logo - If your logo is black or dark on a transparent background, this will end up disappearing on dark backgrounds. To solve this, you can save your logo as a JPG image with a white background, or apply a white line or light shadow around the letters/symbols in your logo. 
  • Be mindful of your colour scheme - From your background and images to your font and call-to-action buttons, create a colour scheme with your brand colours and their dark equivalent to provide a seamless experience for both light mode and dark mode users. 

7. Don’t forget about the footer 

While the footer might not be the first thing you think of when creating an awesome email template, it’s an essential piece to your overall email design. 

The footer is located at the very bottom of your email and is often the last thing your subscribers will see before exiting your email. This is where subscribers will look to learn how to contact you, manage their email preferences, or even unsubscribe. Here’s what you might want to include in your email footer: 

  • Contact information - This could include your website link, telephone number, email address, and business address. 
  • Social media buttons - Often too distracting in the email body, the footer is the ideal place for linking to your social media channels. 
  • Preference centre link - To reduce unsubscribe rates, give your subscribers the ability to update their own preferences and change things like messaging frequency. 
  • An easy way to unsubscribe - Your email footer should be used to build transparency and trust with readers by giving them a simple way to opt-out of your emails.  

8. Think mobile-first 

Mobile is the most popular reading environment for emails, with mobile clients accounting for 41.9% of email opens. It’s safe to say that you simply can’t afford to ignore your mobile readers. If your emails don’t read well on a mobile, then you’re in trouble. 

To make sure your email designs are mobile-friendly, follow these tips: 

  • Use a short subject line 
  • Customise your preheader text 
  • Use a responsive email template 
  • Use minimal copy and don't use too small of a font size 
  • Use a one-column layout 

9. Split test your email design 

Email split testing can be used to determine which version of an email design will perform the best. 

Also known as A/B testing and multi-variant testing, split testing is a technique that can be used to improve email marketing performance. The process involves sending two or more variants of an email to a small portion of subscribers. The one which performs the best after a certain amount of time will win the split test, and this winning campaign will then be sent to the remaining subscribers. 

Split testing can be applied to many components of your email design, such as subject line, images, CTAs, copy, and more. Just remember to test only one element at a time. 

10. Optimise for Outlook 

Outlook is known as one of the most popular email clients, especially in the B2B landscape. However, it’s also well-known for something else: its unique rendering rules.  

If you’re an email marketer, you’ve probably noticed that your campaigns look pretty different in Microsoft Outlook compared to other email clients, such as Gmail and Apple Mail. Whether it’s GIFs not working, padding issues, or white lines that you never added, getting your design to look as it should in Outlook can be a real headache. We recommend sending tests of your emails before hitting send, so you can see how they’ll look in the inbox.  

Put email design best practices to use with Wired Plus 

Feeling inspired? Wired Plus’ email marketing tools let you create amazing email designs in no time. Book a demo to see the platform in action, or get in touch with our team to find out more. 

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