No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts
However, you can check all of those boxes and utilize all of the right techniques, but if you package it together in a poorly designed email, all of that hard work won’t pay off.
How you present your brand, content, and value is crucial to help you stand out, build trust, keep your subscribers engaged, and guide them to take your desired action.
This month email experts from dotdigital, Pathwire, Holistic Email Marketing, Email Uplers, emailmonday, iContact, BEE and Unlayer discuss the components of a well-designed email and offer tips to help you perfect your email design by improving the flow, accessibility, your calls to action and more.
Here’s what they had to say…
The Pillars of Awesome Design
Navigating the pillars of awesome design is essential in email marketing. With so much ambient noise in the inbox and an endless flurry of daily emails, the look and feel of your design matters. Because no one is going to interact with a poorly-designed email.
Here are the essentials for designing in style:
Content and layout
Reading your email should be a breeze, so construct simple sentences that pack a punch. Remember that subscribers are time-poor; prioritize what you’re saying for people short on time. You can break your email up to make it more digestible, too. Having a nice flow will make your messages clearer and simpler to understand. Links are also handy; if you have a lot of information, you can save space by hosting most of it on a branded landing page.
With a master branded template, you can create all kinds of marketing emails. The more versatile the template, the better, allowing you to drag and drop blocks into place. dotdigital has multiple options to help you curate the perfect email every time: you can build your own with our drag-and-drop email editor; save and reuse it whenever; use pre-built templates and then customize; or let us tailor something custom for you.
Email success hinges on brand recognition. That’s where your logo comes in. Keep it clearly visible above the fold – and don’t forget to use your friendly from name. While not strictly design, tone of voice is also important. Your writing style should give people a real flavor of your brand identity. Combined with your color palette, your emails will be an unstoppable force in the inbox.
Imagery and call to action
Your imagery needs to resonate with your end customers. Use your brand’s creative assets, including logotypes, banners, headers and footers, etc. Perhaps tone down on your brand colors and stand out from the crowd with bold product photography. Iconography is also a nice addition to complement your message; some people will read an icon better than lines of copy. And finally, the all-important call to action requires clear wording that indicates what the action is, placed within a button that’s clearly visible above the fold of the email.
As Leonardo da Vinci Put It: Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication
In my opinion, simple email designs go a long way in drawing the subscriber’s attention and encourage them to take action.
To create a well-designed email, the first thing that you must keep in mind is the visual hierarchy.
Arrange your email elements in such a way that they guide the reading flow of the reader toward the CTA button.
The inverted pyramid pattern, as shown in this email by Invision, works the best.
Next on the list is white space. Have plenty of negative space in the email so that the readers get enough breathing room.
Here’s an example by Duolingo to inspire you. Such minimalistic emails help subscribers to get rid of any distractions and focus on the ‘action’ they have to take.
Lastly, I would like to talk about email accessibility. Your email designs should conform to the accessibility best practices.
Follow this checklist before deploying any email:
- □ Align the copy toward the left.
- □ Flashy images and animations must be avoided.
- □ Visuals should be accompanied with a suitable alt-text to assist screen readers.
- □ Semantic tags like , , and are a must.
- □ Pay special attention to color and contrast used in the emails.
- □ Include language attribute so that the screen readers can detect the email language.
- □ Have a suitable font size so that the emails are readable on desktops as well as mobile devices.
All these design best practices will help you create a winning email campaign and leave an impact on the reader’s mind.
Essential Elements of Email Design
Mind your visual hierarchy
“Visual hierarchy” is a fancy term for organizing your email content. Use headers and images to keep the text skimmable and easy to understand. Don’t crowd all your text close together – let your items breathe.
Give readers an obvious next step
What’s next after reading the email? Create buttons that give a clear call-to-action (CTA) and tell your subscribers what they should do next. This is a great place to use brand colors to draw your subscribers’ eyes to the action.
Make sure you test your CTA language to see what works best for your audience.
Keep your layout simple
In the world of email, simple is always better. Subscribers read your email in dozens of different scenarios, so take that into account! One column of text is easier to read than two. Two is easier to read than three.
Think of it like golf – the more elements there are in the email, the more points are added to your scorecard. Keep those points as low as you see fit!
Make your text size big
Don’t make your users squint! With the prevalence of high-resolution displays and mobile devices, font size for email accessibility is more important than ever. On your main copy, use 16px as your smallest font size. I often like to use 18px for extra readability! For the text in your footer, like legal language, don’t go smaller than 12px – 14px.
Watch your color contrast
Ever see the trend of light gray text on a white background? Avoid that! Always use dark text on a light background or light text on a dark background. Not sure if your text/background color combo checks out? Use WebAIM’s Contrast Checker to make sure you have proper contrast!
Take the Helpful Marketing Approach
I try to design using what I call the Helpful Marketing approach. When it comes to design, this means trying to make it easy for them to convert to their objective.
Firstly, understand why they signed up for your brand in the first place. Was it for information? Then, design the email so the content is easily digested – so use design elements to break up sections to make it more consumable.
Was it because you offer great deals, products and services? Then ensure the subject line communicates the value you offer in your email. Be very customer-centric crafting subject lines and try to resonate with the subscriber by using ‘you’ and ‘your’ rather than ‘we’ and ‘our’.
As the director of your email, remember that you must do the heavy-lifting and convert all products and features into customer-centric benefits. If you are relying upon them doing it, there’s a good chance they’ll jump off.
Don’t underestimate the power of a call-to-action. Ensure you use design hierarchy to designate your most important objective or CTA for the subscriber. Make it stand out from the other CTA’s in size, color and positioning.
This example from Not on the High Street in the UK is clearly very customer-centric, uses design elements to break up the content, and uses design hierarchy for both the content and the CTA’s.
Considering that the UK has just come out of lockdown and restrictions have eased, this eye-catching and relevant subject line, “Holiday, you say?” hits the spot, as does the beautifully crafted copy.
Think Ahead When Designing Your Email Master Template
When you are designing your email master template, be sure to think of the different elements, blocks, and colors and how they work together. Basically you are planning ahead your own creative freedom and guardrails. So it takes a bit of creativity to come up with variances.
So I really liked the attention to seasonal details and feeling from Protest. Their emails have a very clean look.
Source: Fashion email marketing guide
It seems like a lot of work but make no mistake, the template design can be outrageously automated if you are using the right tools. That includes variance in colors and backgrounds predefined to use in an email template editor. It saves lots of time. The email manages to capture that “in the season” feeling. How do they do that?
- Product: Show new seasonal items
- Images: Use amazing model photography alongside product shots
- Design: Change colors backgrounds and email design to each season
Using a template makes for a great way to test different designs. Instead of starting from scratch every time, you are able to build up a library of effective elements. For instance, the navigation bar is another of my favorite elements to test. It appears in lots of your emails, so you get a nice piece of reusable ROI from your A/B test.
Try to variate the order, the number of elements, and a “hero nav” or “jump out” element for a special highlight, for instance, with variance in size or color.
PS: Another favorite element of mine is the PS. A delightful little gift, share, personal message or reminder after the main message is said. It is known to draw some attention.
Winning Strategies to Become an Email Design MVP
Ah….the perfect email. Does it exist? Even with persona profiles and email personalization, there is no such thing as serving up the perfect email. But you can get darn close to perfection if you use the right elements. Let’s break down the basics.
Humans are visual creatures. We process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Make sure to use images and video in your email campaigns. Look how popular Instagram and TikTok have become; it’s because it’s not eight paragraphs of boring text.
Make sure to use high-quality images and compelling video thumbnails for videos to entice a conversion. Images are great, but video brings you to the next level. Forbes says that viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in video compared to 10% when reading it in text.
Now that you have your visuals, design your email using the classic Z- pattern. You see, people read from right to left, then down and repeat. This will naturally help your subscribers scroll below the fold, allowing them to consume more content. Do not offer your subscribers a bad experience with a bad layout.
Now you are on a roll! But do not forget a clear call to action with text and button links. Use colors like blue, green, black, or orange. It is also ok to match the color palette in the mail. You should also test button verbiage by using actions words and personalization. Instead of downloading “The Report”, I would rather download “My Report” or create “My Account.” How about you?
Great, you are almost done. Take a step back and look at your email while squinting. How does it look? Crowded and cramped? Go back and add some white/ negative space to pass the squint test and offer a better visual flow.
In these examples, Apple and Storied do a great job using white or negative space. And look at the use of images and video!
By giving your emails a visual makeover with engaging content and a downward flow, maybe you can win the Email Design MVP award. I do not think that it exists, but it should! All kidding aside, you will win by implementing these basic strategies, and so will your subscribers.
Foundational Design Elements to Build Trust in Every Email
It’s not the flashy design choices that drive users towards action.
Whether they are aware of it or not, your audience needs consistency to build trust. And they need to trust you before they convert. If something feels too “different” or key elements are missing, customers will feel confused at best. At worst, this confusion leads to mistrust and prevents them from engaging further.
Here are 3 foundational design elements to build trust in every email:
STRUCTURE AND HIERARCHY
Help people read your content and guide them to the call-to-action using recognizable design structures (e.g., inverted pyramid, z-layout, or f-layout).
The visual hierarchy should be clear so that their order of importance is intuitive. For example, if you’re using the inverted pyramid structure, start with a concise headline that highlights the main message of the campaign. Then, add subsequent elements that include further information and graphics that persuade subscribers to click on the dominant call-to-action button below.
Well-designed graphics and high-quality images represent one of the most important ingredients of a top-notch. They support and enrich the text by adding an extra layer of communication that words alone won’t capture.
Images, icons and visual elements must be consistent and harmonious with the overall message of the content. You know you’ve chosen the right visuals when they match what you want the user to think and feel. Powerful visual assets add extra context to the content and directly influence how the user interprets the message.
You don’t need a big team to include visual assets in your designs. Here are some resources where you can find these assets for free:
BUTTONS AND CTA
Finally, we have the CTA button. The CTA button is responsible for directing the user to the most important action of your campaign. This is a great element to test for conversion. Here are some questions to start your testing:
- Rounded or square edges?
- With or without spacings?
- Outlined (ghost button) or with a background color? Test the color as well!
These seemingly small choices can double your conversions (ask Facebook or Hubspot). Play around with your CTA buttons to see what works for your audience. Just be sure to include white space around the CTA button to make it stand out in your design.
Follow These Tried & Tested Email Design Tips
A well-designed email is one that not only grabs your subscribers’ attention but maintains it long enough for them to convert. With multiple brands fighting for their attention, how do you stand out? Easy, just follow our tried and tested tips below:
Motion > Static Design Elements
The truth is that motion excites way more than static visual elements will ever do. Apart from including images, consider adding GIFs. Did you know that a single GIF is worth 60,000 words? Imagine the impact you’ll create while still staying fun.
Take it up a notch by adding interactive elements, like carousels, animated buttons, and rollovers. They act as an invitation for your audience to engage – why wouldn’t you want that?
Include Calls To Action Value
Including calls to action in emails was the old (read: inefficient) way of doing things. Successful email marketers feature calls to value. Instead of dictating what your audience should do next, tell them what’s in it for them.
Highlight the value they’d receive if they clicked on your desired button. Consider the example below for a debt relief company:
‘Learn More’ is better written as ‘Give Me Financial Freedom.’
Use Fonts Strategically
Typography in emails is often an ignored element but trust us, it makes the world’s difference. What’s the point of writing persuasive copy when your subscribers will have a hard time reading it?
Not only should you use legible fonts but go for those that are consistent with your brand identity. If your brand personality is classic and traditional, opt for Times New Roman or Helvetica. However, if your brand style is fun and youthful, go for Open Sans.
There you have it – designing emails is no rocket science. Just follow our tips, and you’ll have high-converting emails in no time.
More No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts Coming Soon
Stay tuned. We’ll be posting more No Bullshit Advice soon. Read our last expert round-up about Creating Authentic Email Content. or catch up on the entire series here: No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts.
And as always, feel free to share your thoughts with us on Twitter.
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