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Email Marketing Design Best Practices [With Examples]

How to Create Visually Engaging Emails That Drive Results

Using email to market your business effectively involves more than just writing compelling words and hitting the send button. Visual elements matter a lot — maybe more than you’ve ever realized. Email marketing design best practices play a crucial role in capturing attention, driving engagement, and ultimately boosting conversion rates.

Email design encompasses everything from layout and typography to colors and visuals. It is the visual representation of your brand's message and personality and can make or break your email marketing strategy.

Studies have shown that emails with visually appealing designs have higher click-through and conversion rates than plain-text emails. An eye-catching email design can effectively communicate your message, build trust with your subscribers, and drive them toward the desired action.

Additionally, a well-designed email reflects professionalism and credibility, helping to establish your brand as trustworthy in the eyes of your audience. It sets you apart from competitors who may overlook the importance of visual appeal in their email marketing efforts.

To achieve email marketing success, it is essential to prioritize thoughtful and strategic design choices that align with your brand identity. From choosing complementary colors to creating clear call-to-action buttons, every element should be purposefully crafted to enhance engagement and drive results.

The Anatomy of an Effective Email Design: Key Elements to Include

There are several key elements that make up a successful email design.

Subject Line

Email Marketing Design Best Practices [With Examples]

The key role of your subject line is to drive curiosity, making the recipient eager enough to open and read your message. It should be concise, and intriguing, and give recipients an accurate idea of what’s inside.

Headlines and Content

Once you've captured their attention with the subject line, engaging headlines, and content, it’s important to keep them hooked. Use concise and persuasive language to convey your message effectively. Break up text with bullet points or subheadings for easy readability.

Visual Elements

It’s not just a cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words — if you choose images that illustrate your points at a glance, it’s the truth. Videos, GIF animations, charts, and infographics are vital to email marketing design.

Call to Action

Next up is the call-to-action (CTA) button – this is where you guide your readers towards taking action. Make sure it stands out visually and use actionable language that motivates them to click through or complete an action. 

Mobile Responsiveness

Email Marketing Design Best Practices [With Examples]

Did you know that 61% of email opens occur on mobile devices now? That means it’s vital to ensure that your design adapts seamlessly across different devices for optimal user experience. 

You can do this by using a responsive email template or by implementing a mobile-first design that creates a vertical layout. 

Check your layout on several devices to make sure the text is easy to read on a small screen, and that your CTA buttons are easy to press with a finger. 

By incorporating these key elements into your email design – from compelling subject lines to engaging content and mobile responsiveness – you'll increase the chances of capturing your audience's attention and achieving desired results.

Why Trust Us? Lauren Haas has a background in graphic design, which she uses to create eye-catching content, social media images, and emails for her clients at Main Street Marketing Mix.

12 Email Marketing Design Best Practices

These best practices offer practical tips on structuring your emails, choosing fonts and colors wisely, choosing and placing images, and more. Whether you're a seasoned email marketer or just starting out, these tips will help you create visually appealing emails that grab attention and drive engagement. 

1) Understand Your Audience and Set Clear Goals for Your Email Campaign

Here are some questions effective marketers ask before they design an email

  • How busy is my reader?

  • Did they ask for this information, or is it unsolicited?

  • What are my goals?

If your reader is a bored teenager who’s obsessed with your video game, you can assume they’ll be willing to spend some time poring over your email. But if your target audience is a small business owner who hasn’t asked for information about your product, you have seconds to get to the point and persuade them.

Keeping that information and your goals in mind will help you decide whether to send quick, 150-word emails or lengthy newsletters.

2) Know Your Brand Identity

People respond to brands with strong personalities. If your brand was a cartoon character, would it be a wise owl, a sleek jaguar, a professor with a big mustache, or a cute teddy bear?

Think about brands like Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, Disney, McDonald’s, and Tesla. Every choice they make, including fonts, colors, and photos, enhances their brand’s identity. Your choices should be just as conscious and powerful as the big brands.

3) Select the Right Email Template and Layout for Maximum Impact

When you’re choosing a template, be sure to look for:

  • Strong contrast between headlines and body copy (more on that in a moment)

  • Responsive design for mobile devices

  • Fonts and colors that communicate your brand identity

4) Create a Strong Visual Hierarchy

It feels overwhelming to open an email and find a wall of text — all the same size, with no white space. Messages that look that way seem like they’ll take an eternity to process. Most readers will delete an email like this without even trying to read it.

But if the text is broken up with big headlines and intriguing images, your eye knows exactly where to go first, and you can scan the content in seconds.

The key to creating a strong visual hierarchy is guessing where the reader’s eye will go first, and using that element (usually a headline or image) to make them curious enough to read more.

5) Make Your Message Scannable

To make your hierarchy really effective, you need strong contrast. For instance, if you have five headlines, all the same size, your reader’s eye is still confused about where to go first.

Think about how newspapers use design to guide your eye.

  • Let your most important content take up more space

  • Make your headlines much larger than your body copy

  • Highlight the most significant sections with big graphics

  • Put critical elements (including your first CTA) at the top, so readers see them without needing to scroll. 

Newspaper publishers use the phrase “above the fold” to refer to the part of the paper people would see on the newsstand, without unfolding it. They made it their mission to fit their most intriguing headlines and photos into that above-the-fold area. 

The modern equivalent is the area of the email that is visible without scrolling. If someone clicks on your subject line, you want to instantly capture their attention and perhaps even a clickthrough on your CTA. If you hide your CTA off-screen, you can’t capture those clicks. 

6) Keep Paragraphs Short

The more you value your reader’s time, the more they will like you. Period.

See how easy?

7) Use Bullets

Email Marketing Design Best Practices [With Examples]

Bullet lists are a great way to pack information into a smaller number of words. here’s why:

  • Don’t need to be complete sentences

  • No transition words

  • Quick, informative bursts

  • Easy to scan

8) Organize Your Content Into Sections

If you choose to send a newsletter or some other kind of email with more than one message, you need to break it apart so people can quickly find what they’re looking for.

One way to do that is to use color. If the first section has a blue headline, dark blue text, and a blue CTA button and the second section has those elements in orange, the reader can navigate the content without getting bogged down.

You can also use black type throughout and separate your sections using background color.

Visual hierarchy is also a key when using sections. Your most important section should fit into the “above the fold” space, with a heavy headline, generous graphic, some brief text, and a CTA to read more. Less important sections can be positioned below it, using a lighter font for the headlines and smaller graphics. Each section can have its own CTA.

9) Use Dynamic Content Wisely

Dynamic content lets you personalize the same email for different users. So if you’re sending a weekly newsletter, your existing customers might get a top section that highlights a new “how-to” feature on your blog, while prospects get a top section inviting them to sign up for a free trial.

10) Incorporate Visual Elements

Email Marketing Design Best Practices [With Examples]

Visual elements such as images, graphics, and videos can significantly enhance engagement, readability, and branding.

Start by choosing high-quality images that are relevant to your message and align with your brand identity. Avoid using generic stock photos that may come across as impersonal or cliché.

Position images strategically within the email layout to create visual interest and guide the reader's eye. Optimize image sizes to ensure fast loading times and compatibility across different devices.

Short videos can provide valuable content or showcase products and services, but some email clients may not support video playback, so include an eye-catching thumbnail image with a clear call-to-action leading recipients to watch the video on a landing page or website.

Use infographics or custom illustrations to convey data or complex information in a visually appealing way. Use graphics sparingly and purposefully, ensuring they enhance the overall message rather than overwhelm it.

11) Craft Compelling CTAs that Drive Action

CTA buttons should be visually appealing, contrasting with the rest of the email design to stand out. The text on the button should be concise and action-oriented, clearly conveying what action you want your audience to take.

Place a CTA button after your first block of text and again at the bottom of the email for best results.

Some people will still click on images and headlines or look for underlined text instead of using the button, so it’s a good idea to embed the link to your landing page in as many places as possible.

12) Ensure Mobile-Friendly Design Across Devices

Using a responsive email template allows your emails to automatically adapt to different screen sizes and resolutions. This means that whether your audience is viewing your email on a smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer, it will always look visually appealing and easy to read.

Test your emails on various devices to identify any potential issues or inconsistencies in the layout or functionality of your emails.

Testing and Optimizing Your Email Designs for Maximum Impact

Testing and optimizing your designs is crucial for achieving maximum impact. A/B testing your email designs — sending out two versions with just one element that’s different and measuring the response to each version — allows you to experiment with different layouts, visuals, CTAs, and copy to see what your audience responds to.

Analyzing open rates and click-through rates provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of your email designs. Open rates tell you how effective your subject line is and how healthy your list is, while click-through rates give you feedback on your content and CTAs.

Keep tweaking your subject lines, adjusting your call-to-action placement, and refining the overall layout to continually improve your engagement and conversion rates.

Best Tools For Email Marketing Design

Email Marketing Design Best Practices [With Examples]

Having the right tools can make a significant difference in creating visually appealing and engaging campaigns. Let's explore some of the best tools available for this purpose.

One popular platform designed specifically for email marketing design is beehiiv. Known for its user-friendly interface and robust features, beehiiv offers responsive templates and customization options to help you create stunning email designs that are optimized for growth. With its intuitive drag-and-drop editor, even those with limited design experience can create professional-looking emails.

Another versatile tool that can be used for email marketing design is Canva. This graphic design app can help you create branded images, flow charts, infographics, graphs, and even video clips to include in your newsletters.

YouTube is a popular option for free video hosting, and most email platforms have YouTube embedding built-in. This allows you to engage your audience with dynamic visual content that can convey your message more effectively than text alone.

Real-Life Examples: Analyzing Successful Email Marketing Designs

That’s enough theory. Let’s analyze some inspiring examples of successful email design.

Examining real-life examples allows us to see firsthand how effective design elements are utilized to capture attention, engage recipients, and drive conversions.

By studying these successful email marketing designs, we can gain insights into what works.

The Washington Post

Email Marketing Design Best Practices [With Examples]

The Washington Post marketing team did a great job keeping this email brief and focused. They could easily have added sections highlighting recent content, but they chose to stay focused. 

This email consists of a logo, a large headline, two sentences of persuasive copy, and a clear call to action that tells you exactly what will happen if you hit that button. 

The entire email fits into the above-the-fold space on a laptop, and presumably is responsive and would resize to do the same on a mobile device.

The Washington Post is a well-known media brand, so they don’t need to use a lot of words to explain who they are — the reader probably already either loves or hates them. But a less famous brand can also get away with this clean and simple approach, especially in the final email of a sales series. 

Email Marketing Design Best Practices [With Examples]

There’s a lot happening in this email from Groupon, which has at least 15 CTAs. The only reason it works is because it’s meticulously organized. 

There’s a clear hierarchy, with a big primary offer at the top and the first CTA appearing without scrolling. Below that is a long list of offers, but they follow a very clear formula (logo, offer, CTA) on a clean grid, so they’re easy to scan and not visually confusing. 

Groupon uses a simple, repeated color scheme (grey text boxes, CTA buttons that match the brand’s green logo) to balance the visual chaos of all the different logos, and that helps guide the eye. 

The grid format would make it easy to use dynamic content to display different offers depending on the reader’s past purchases. For example, the top offers might be for products the reader left behind in their shopping cart or could be related to an item they purchased in the past. 

This email displays vertically even on a laptop screen, which seems to be a trend as mobile devices take over the market. 

Email Marketing Design Best Practices [With Examples]

Amazon is the grandfather of personalized content. This email was sent to a customer who purchased earlier seasons of a series called The Boys, and all the content is directly related to that series. 

There’s a clear hierarchy, with a large above-the-fold section focused on a new spinoff series. That section is sized perfectly to fit on a typical phone screen — including the CTA.

Below that we see two smaller pieces of content directly related to the series. Then there’s a grid with four other recommendations for similar series. 

The black background and white buttons offer the highest possible contrast to draw the eye to the CTA without competing for attention with the full-color images.

Email Marketing Design Best Practices [With Examples]

This is another example of an email that is built primarily to be viewed on a mobile device (this screenshot was taken on a laptop). 

The discounts are the big selling point in this message, and the REI team has kept everything else to a minimum in order to make those discounts as big and bold as possible. There’s only one photo, and it’s used as a background. 

There’s a clear visual hierarchy, highlighting the sale announcement at the top. Below that, a reverse color scheme is used to differentiate each box while still keeping the design clean and simple. Note the contrast in font size between the huge discount numbers and the supporting text. 

Email Marketing Design Best Practices [With Examples]

Yet another vertical layout (even on a wide screen). The message starts with a clearance sale announcement that fits all the information and CTA above the fold. 

It’s tempting for marketers to think of “Fall Clearance Sale” as the headline and highlight that, but the reader already knows what season it is. The email needs to tell them why they should act now. 

The Rugs.com team knows that the selling point, from the reader’s point of view, is “80% OFF.” They’ve made that significantly larger than any of the text around it, so it draws the eye immediately. 

Below the main sale announcement are some “Featured Collections,” which might be dynamic content sections based on styles of rugs the viewer has browsed, favorited, searched for, or purchased in the past. 

Using tiny, gray text at the bottom lets Rugs.com highlight their fast & free shipping, returns, customer service, and social media without competing visually. 

Conclusion: How Do I Create An Email Marketing Design?

In conclusion, creating an effective email marketing design will help you engage your audience and drive results. To get started on this journey, signing up for a beehiiv account is a great first step.

beehiiv offers a user-friendly platform that simplifies the process of designing and sending emails. With its intuitive features and customizable templates, you can easily create visually appealing and impactful email campaigns.

Remember to keep your design consistent with your brand identity, use compelling visuals, and optimize for mobile devices. Additionally, consider personalization and segmentation to deliver tailored content to different segments of your audience.

By utilizing beehiiv's tools and following best practices in email marketing design, you'll be well-equipped to create captivating emails that resonate with your subscribers and drive results.

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