10 Crucial Design Elements That Get Your Emails Opened — and Read

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Content Marketing
Email Marketing

The average person receives an overwhelming amount of email in their inbox every day. The challenge you face is making your email stand out from the all the others, and ensuring that your message can cut though the noise.


You have around 3-5 seconds to persuade a recipient that your email is worth reading. Needless to say, it is absolutely critical that your email conveys a relevant, engaging message to an appropriate target audience.  The design of your email plays a big role in helping make that happen –or preventing that from happening. Here are ten essential best practices to guide you when you  design your emails.

1. Put key information at the top

Your emails should be designed to present the most relevant and important information first. All  your key messages and calls to action should be within the top 250 pixels of your email campaign. This area is the most important because it determines whether your reader will read further. Avoid heavy use of graphics at the beginning as they may not load correctly and could turn viewers away.

If your email contains several sections with a lot of content, you should create a simple table of contents to appear at the top, with anchor links that allow users to easily jump to the portions of the email that they are most interested in.

2. Limit email width to 600px wide

This is very important for the success of your email campaign. If your recipients have to scroll from side to side, then it is likely your response rate will be very low. Most readers are only going to skim your email to see what they want to read. If half of your content is not even visible, then it may as well not even exist.

3. Stick to basic HTML

Each email client renders HTML differently, so it is important to stick to more basic code when crafting your HTML emails. Avoid the use of JavaScript, as most email clients will remove JavaScript for security reasons. Also, cascading style sheets (CSS) must be used in-line and not in style blocks in the HTML header. Using old school <p> and <font> tags within your email is actually more preferable as it will produce a much more consistent display across different email clients.

4. Design with mobile in mind

Email marketing is becoming the new mobile marketing! As mobile open rates continue to climb, it underscores the importance of having a mobile-first mindset when designing emails. Why? Because according to BlueHornet, 70% of consumers delete emails that don’t render well on a mobile device immediately.   If the email can’t be read easily, it is likely that the customer will delete the email before reading it on their laptop or desktop. You need to be able to catch their attention regardless of what device they are viewing it from.

5. Match fonts and colors to your brand standards

Your email communications should look and feel like your brand. Be sure to use the same fonts, colors and styles that are on your other marketing materials and website.  Because there are a limited number of web-safe fonts you can safely use in an email, it is important to update your brand standards with a section on email guidelines that deal specifically with fonts and colors. Consistency is key.  Creating templates you can reuse will save time.

6. Make your call to action stand out

In order to have the best click-through rate possible, you want to be sure that your email design incorporates a call to action (CTA) that stands out. When you create the CTA button or banner, be sure it has weight and presence above all other elements in the message. Design the CTA so that people are compelled to click it. Make it look good, but also use persuasive, action-oriented words on the button itself. Don’t include more than one main offer or CTA in an email, and make certain it maps to your primary objective for the email.

7. Use attention-grabbing text

We’ve previously discussed the importance of spending time to write a compelling subject line. Similarly, the headline and copy in your email should be equally compelling and attention grabbing. Short paragraphs, bullets and headlines are great ways to break up text and make your newsletter easy to skim. Catch the attention of your readers with the headlines, but don’t make them read a dissertation.  Text paragraphs should be short and sweet. Using bullets is a great way to break up a lot of information.

8. Keep your design clean and simple

Less is more! Don’t be afraid to leave white space, and be careful not to overdo images and graphics. In fact, plan as if your images won’t show up. Why? Because many email platforms block images in messages unless the user chooses to allow the images to display. This means that many recipients may not see your beautifully designed images unless your content around it persuades the recipient to allow the images to be displayed. Most background images are stripped out anyway, so keep it simple and use only a solid color background.

9. Test your email in all types of browsers and devices

If you spend the time to make your email look good, then you want to make sure every recipient sees the email the same way. It is important to send out test emails and check the look of your email in different browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc.  If anything looks differently than you expected, be sure to fix the problem before sending out your email newsletter. There are tools out there such as Litmus that allow you to test preview your email on 30+ email clients and mobile devices.

10. Have a backup plan – include “View in Browser” link and plain-text version

While your email may be well prepared for any glitches, you always want to make sure that your readers have the option to view the email in their web browser. It’s simple and a great Plan B. Also, make sure you have a plain-text version of your email as well. Spam filters want to see a plain-text alternative along with HTML, because only a “lazy spammer” would skip the plain-text step. Most email platforms can easily create a plain-text version of your email.

Professional, clean and easy-to-read email design is very important for the success of your email campaigns.  A well-designed email will increase engagement and click-throughs and ultimately make your campaign more successful.

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Tim Asimos is Director of Digital Innovation at circle S studio, an APEX Agency Partner and award-winning strategic marketing and design firm, specializing in results-driven strategy, branding, design and digital marketing services. Founded in 1999, the firm focuses on doing what matters to help middle market companies grow in today’s increasingly chaotic digital landscape. Follow Tim on Twitter.