Are you looking to improve your email marketing design? Smart decision. Design is not just about making your email look pretty. The right layout choices will improve the user experience and make it more likely that people will engage with your content.
We've compiled a list of the ten best practices to follow when designing your next email campaign. From using a responsive design to writing a strong subject line, these tips will help you create an email that stands out from the competition and drives results.
Email Marketing Design: Why Does it Matter?
If you've packed your email with valuable content, does design even matter? Absolutely.
A well-designed email will make it easier for recipients to consume your content and take action on it. On the other hand, a poorly designed email can be confusing and off-putting, leading recipients to hit the delete button without giving your message a second glance.
Email design is about more than just aesthetics. It's also about layout, usability, and engagement.
Following best practices for email marketing design will help you create an email that looks great on any device and drives results.
Marketing Email Design: 10 Best Practices
These ten marketing graphic design practices will strengthen your brand image and dramatically improve your open rate, clickthrough rate, and bottom line.
1. Customize your email marketing design
The Local Optimist uses fonts, colors, and graphic elements to reflect their brand image in their beehiiv theme.
One of the first things you'll want to do when designing your email is to create a look that supports your brand. Most email newsletter design services allow you to create a template or customize a theme using colors, fonts, and other design elements consistent with your company's overall look and feel.
If you don't already have a color palette associated with your brand, now is a great time to establish one. Most companies define themselves with a "signature color" and a couple of complementary accent colors that reflect their brand's personality and market positioning.
When choosing your color palette, consider your brand's position in the marketplace. For example, are you the established, trusted firm in your industry or an innovative disruptor? Also, consider your target market — are they spiritual seekers, pre-teens, or senior citizens?
For example, an energy drink aimed at college students might choose bright colors and free-spirited fonts, while an established stockbroker selling retirement accounts would stick with sedate colors and classic typefaces. A luxury jewelry brand might stick with simple black text and lots of white space to better showcase its product photos.
Keep your color palette in mind when choosing your images, too. If your signature color is turquoise, for example, look for pictures with pops of turquoise in them that will tie in with your brand image.
One marketing email design feature that people often overlook is negative space — the blank space around your email content. Wide margins and extra space around your text and images can give a feeling of serenity and luxury, while tighter-packed content reflects a more energetic, busy vibe.
Consider the overall tone you want to set with your email before settling on a final theme.
2. Use a responsive design
In 2022, 81% of emails are opened on mobile devices, so it's more important than ever to ensure your email design is responsive. A responsive design will automatically adjust to whatever device your subscribers view your email on, whether it's a smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer. For example, images will resize to fit the screen, and design elements will stack themselves on a narrower screen instead of appearing side-by-side.
Not only does this make for a better user experience; it also helps improve your email deliverability. Many email service providers now penalize emails that aren't mobile-friendly, meaning your email could end up in the spam folder if it's not formatted correctly.
Email newsletter design services address this issue in different ways. For example, beehiiv uses sleek, lightweight templates that are fully responsive to make your messaging look great on any device, so you don't have to create different designs for different screens.
Preview your newsletter design on as many devices and screens as possible before you hit send to ensure it looks good in all formats.
3. Write a strong subject line and preheader
Caption: Fantasy Life pairs short, punchy subject lines with preheaders that draw the reader in.
Your subject line is one of the most essential elements of your email — it should entice subscribers to open your newsletter. Therefore, make sure your subject line is clear, concise, and to the point. Avoid using cryptic language or gimmicky words in an attempt to stand out; instead, focus on communicating the value of your email in as few words as possible.
Most importantly, try to address your reader directly — using the word "you" wherever possible — and promise them some benefit from reading your content. For example, "5 Tips to Make Your Email Marketing More Effective" is much more likely to get opened than "Marketing Newsletter."
The ideal length for an email subject line is 30 characters or less, including spaces. Most mobile apps will display around 30 characters at a time.
Subjectline.com offers a free tool to test your subject lines. The tool checks for brevity, urgency, and use of the word "you" or "your" and will quickly train your eye to evaluate your subject lines.
beehiiv lets you try out different subject lines with your own audience to see what works best for your industry.
Your preheader is the second most important element of your email, as it gives subscribers a taste of what's to come. Your preheader text should be short — no more than 50 characters. The preheader should complement your subject line and continue to address the reader directly if possible. For example, if your subject line is "5 Tips to Make Your Email Marketing More Effective," your preheader might be "Get the most out of your email list with these simple tips."
4. Make your content scannable
Caption: Milk Road’s content is easy to scan, thanks to their use of headlines, images, graphic elements, bullet points, and white space.
Once a busy reader is enticed by your subject line to open your newsletter, you want them to be drawn further in. A wall of text will cause most subscribers to immediately hit the "delete" button.
Instead, use short paragraphs and bulleted lists to make your content easy to scan. Use headlines, subheadlines, images, white space, and call-to-action buttons to break up your content and draw attention to important information.
Using nearly the same font size for headlines, subheads, and body copy is visually confusing. Instead, make your headlines significantly larger than your body copy to guide the reader's eye through your content. If your headlines are large enough, your reader can quickly navigate to the information they want.
A quick note about fonts: Professional email marketing graphic designers rarely use more than two or three fonts in a single design and usually stick with classic fonts that are easy to read. When in doubt, choose sans-serif fonts like Arial or Helvetica for body copy and serif fonts like Times New Roman for headlines.
5. Keep "above the fold" in mind
Caption: Thrive 25 packs a lot of content into the “above the fold” area of each issue
"Above the fold" is an old term graphic designers use to refer to the portion of a newspaper that's visible when it's folded in half — the way readers would see the paper on a newsstand when deciding whether to buy the paper or not.
In email marketing graphic design, "above the fold" refers to the area of an email that's visible in a subscriber's inbox without having to scroll down. Because this is the first thing your subscribers will see, it's vital to ensure this area is engaging.
Ideally, your email's "above the fold" area should include the following:
- Your brand logo
- A strong headline
- An eye-catching image or video
- A brief summary of your email's content
- Your first call to action (CTA) button
Remember that what you see on your screen when designing isn't necessarily what your reader will see, and the above-the-fold area will adjust itself for different devices. This is another reason to test your newsletter on various screens before you send it.
6. Keep your text concise
In order to fit all that content above the fold, you'll need to be a master of brevity. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short, and break up longer blocks of text with headlines, subheadlines, images, bulleted lists, and white space.
If you have a lot of information to share, consider linking to additional resources on your website instead of trying to stuff everything into one email. Limit your newsletter copy to an enticing summary and a call to action prompting your subscribers to read more.
Another option is limiting your newsletters to a single subject instead of including multiple headlines like a newsletter. Instead, tell one story, share one piece of content, or promote one product at a time.
If you tend to be wordy, ask someone else to edit your copy and reduce the word count. A fresh set of eyes can help you identify areas where you're unnecessarily verbose.
7. Use photos that tell a story
Caption: Accidentally Wes Anderson’s newsletter makes strong use of images to complement its written content
A good photo reflects your brand image and illustrates your content. A great picture goes one step further by helping to tell your story. Generally, the most compelling images include people's faces and provoke an emotional response.
For example, the headline "Nine ways to cut paperwork in your office" next to an image of a spotless, uncluttered desk is fine. But a headline that reads "Is paperwork taking over your day?" with a picture of a miserable executive peering out from behind an imposing stack of paperwork is much more compelling. Of course, you can still add the "Nine ways to cut paperwork in your office" message as a subhead.
Most photos can be improved by cropping out extra details. When you're cropping images, think about focusing on the details that tell the story. For instance, if you’re showcasing your building, you might close in on on the entrance and signage rather than trying to get the whole building in the shot.
Also, optimize your images, so you're not sending massive files. Bigger is not necessarily better. Photos viewed on a screen don't need to be more than 72 dpi, and 600 pixels is wide enough for most screens.
Specifying a descriptive alt text tag for your images is important for a couple of reasons. First, it helps subscribers who have images turned off in their email client understand what your email is about. And second, it's another opportunity to include keywords that can improve your email's deliverability.
If you're saving your emails as a web archive, those image tags can also help boost your SEO.
8. Include animated images
Caption: Bot Eat Brain employs eye-catching gifs to illustrate its newsletter content
GIFs are an excellent way to add texture to your email content and keep readers engaged. Gifs should generally be short and engaging. Like photos, each GIF should be chosen to complement your brand and illustrate the points in your content.
9. Grab attention with your call-to-action
Caption: Our client Exec Sum uses a variety of elements to pull readers into their calls-to-action
Your email should have one primary call-to-action (CTA), but you can include additional CTA elements throughout your email to encourage subscribers to take different actions.
For example, if you're promoting a webinar, you might include a button that says "Register now" as well as a button that says "Learn more." The key is to use attention-grabbing design elements that stand out from the rest of your email.
Common design elements used as CTAs include:
- Social media icons
Most readers know to look for colorful CTA buttons when they're ready to buy or want to learn more. But it's a good idea to also link your headlines and images to landing pages to increase the odds that viewers will take action.
10. Test, test, test your email marketing design
The best way to find out what works best for your email list is to test different approaches and see what gets the best results.
Get in the habit of using A/B testing to find out what works with your audience. To create an A/B test, divide your audience in half and send two identical newsletters, changing just one element so half your audience gets option A and the other half gets option B.
You can use A/B testing to try out different elements like:
- Subject lines
- "From" names
- Color palettes
Once you've found a few winning combinations, you can start using those in your regular email campaigns. Remember to keep testing new ideas — what works today might not work six months from now.
Marketing email design is constantly evolving; the only way to keep up is to experiment and see what works best for your list. By following these best practices, you're already ahead of the game. But don't stop there — keep testing, and you'll be sure to see even better results from your email campaigns.
Creating Your Email Marketing Graphic Design
By keeping your design simple and focused on your message, you'll give subscribers everything they need to take action. And by testing different elements, you can continually improve the performance of your email campaigns.
beehiiv makes it easy to follow these ten best practices for email marketing design. Sign up for free and see how easy it can be to create newsletters that are engaging, visually appealing, and easy to read on any device.