Email marketing design guide

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6 Minutes

8 best practice tips for successful email marketing

Email marketing design guide

Email continues to be one of the most effective ways of engaging with customers and turning leads into sales. Here are some best practice tips on designing a well formatted email that will create a good user experience, increase open rates and drive revenue.


Keep your messages short and to the point. People are too busy to read screeds of text so make life easier for them by breaking up your text into short paragraphs. Use headings, bold tags and bulleted lists to make your content visually appealing and easier to scan.


Good quality, optimised images are another way to break up the text in your message. Not all users will download images and a number of email clients automatically block them (see the full list here). To overcome this, provide descriptive 'alt text' for each image, in other words the hover text that appears when someone passes their mouse over an image. This will avoid wasted white space and improve a user's understanding of your message. Make the alt text actionable, such as ‘click here to download’, to encourage people to click.  


Feature a strong call to action (CTA) within your email so that it is immediately obvious where to click for more information. Remember to make the buttons big enough for mobile users who will be using their fingers to click. Placing the CTA at the top of the email can increase your click through rate by 50%.

This example from Uber ticks all the boxes in terms of scannable content. It features a clear CTA near the top, and a good mix of images, headings, bold text and white space, making the email much easier to read.


More people are opening email on their smart phones or tablets so your message needs to be easy to read on smaller screens. Bear in mind the distinction between mobile friendly, which does not always automatically respond to fit the screen size, and responsive, which generally speaking is always mobile-friendly. Here is a useful guide to best practice mobile design for email.

The text on this email from HiltonHonours has automatically resized to fit onto a mobile screen size.


Getting the subject line right is hugely important: 30% of email recipients decide whether to open an email solely based on its subject line (Convince & Convert).

Brevity is key. Be descriptive but to the point and keep to a limit of 20-25 words. Use a custom field in your subject line, such as the recipient’s first name. A targeted message can achieve a 54% response rate according to Localytics.

Subjects lines with a sense of urgency such as a deadline can make a great call to action if you use action verbs that inspire people to click. Here are some good examples of email subject lines that will boost open rates.


A preheader appears after the subject line when the email is viewed in your inbox and provides a quick summary or overview of the content contained in your email.

Preview text is pulled from the first few lines of your email. It can influence open rates and provides a good opportunity to engage with your audience. Sometimes you may see text such as ‘View this email in your browser’, ‘Forward to a friend’ or ‘Unsubscribe’ in the preheader. It is best to place these administrative elements further down the email or precede them with a few lines of compelling text that will be picked up in the preheader instead.

Another option is to define the specific text you want to appear by inserting some simple code. Read instructions on how to predefine your preheader text.

Keep your preheader text brief: 100-150 characters is optimum.


You are required by law to give people the ability to opt out of further emails. Include an obvious unsubscribe link on your email and where appropriate, a link to your preference centre so that people can update their content interests.


A/B testing, sometimes called split testing, is a comparison of two versions of an email to see which one performs better. You should split-test different elements of your campaign individually – subject line, layout, CTA – so you can identify which variable caused the email to be more successful. Use the results to improve performance of future emails.

You should also preview and test the final version of your email before sending to ensure it reads well and to identify any broken links.

Web Foundry can help with your email campaign strategy. From list management, design and execution to post campaign analysis and reporting, we do it all. Contact us for more information.

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