If it’s time to finally take your emails off the launch pad and kick them into a new orbit, you’re in the right place. This go-to guide is your step-by-step list of best practices for designing emails that engage, interest and incent action with your readers.
A Superior Subject Line
Highly undervalued, the subject line is your most critical component in the journey. So, let’s spend a bit of time on this.
Your subject line is the very first thing your customer reads. Slip here, and you’ve lost them forever. Make it engaging and relevant and ta-da: you’ve just increased your open rate. Spam filters look for things like words set in CAPS and unnecessary punctuation, so avoid those at all cost.
Keep it short. Depending on the browser or device, your words can be lost off the page. Not to mention the loss of attention from your reader. A good subject line should be no longer than 40 to 50 characters.
Personalize and humanize. “Judy, we’re so happy to welcome you to the club.” will go much further than “Dear Subscriber, we’re so happy to welcome you the club.” Consider also using other data you have to super-fuel relevant messages that speak one-to-one, rather than en-masse.
Just like your subject line, your pre-header needs to be crisp, engaging and relevant. Make it visible in the inbox preview and in the body of your email, or just in the preview pane to save real estate. Again, try to keep it short: no longer than 40-70 characters and to the point. It should play off your subject line, the two of them working their magic together to give your reader the essence of what’s to come.
Make it Dynamic
You can choose to change entire sections of content within your emails, depending on the subscriber. That’s being dynamic, and makes the difference between irrelevant content and highly personalized, relevant content. Try using a commercial Email Service Provider (ESP) who can help you with that level of functionality for your email campaigns.
At Original Ginger, we make it easy with a drag n’ drop campaign creation process. Our clients can control which segmented distribution list should receive the specific copy/information contained in a dynamic content area. This is ultra powerful and saves your email admin folks a ton of time.
Give your reader what they want: an intuitive flow from top to bottom, with signposts along the way. They should be able to scan the email quickly with large headlines, images and buttons grabbing their attention enroute. Break up the space and structure the content into appetizing chunks. They should be able to snack on your offerings, not feast and crash. By the time they reach your CTA, they’ll be ready to click through and explore more of what you have to offer. You’ll be generating increased brand awareness, web traffic and ultimately: increased sales with your well-constructed email layout.
One Column, One Mission
Why complicate things? Visually, one column emails work best on both desktop and mobile, adapting and scaling the images appropriately. You’ll be giving subscribers the easiest way to navigate your email campaigns via a logical and linear flow. Ultimately, it’s a straight path to their ultimate destination.
Guide them with colour. Colour block various sections of your email and you’ll be creating natural delineations between ideas or thoughts. It’s like eye candy for your reader. Background images and angles help too, creating interest and naturally drawing their eye to certain areas.
Width matters. Consider that emails can render differently between platforms. Viewed on Gmail, images and backgrounds may be altered. In Outlook, background images may not show at all. All your efforts to create a beautifully designed email on Outlook may be half lost on Gmail, Yahoo, Lotus Notes, or any other type of email your client chooses to view it on. So, here’s your sweet spot: 640 pixels.
If you’re working on an email campaign with us at Original Ginger, we set you up on a commercial ESP with branded fail-proof templates. Widths are already optimized so they work beautifully across all major platforms. And you sleep well at night.
Using images in your emails is an art. Here are some key tips that can make the difference between an email disaster and a masterpiece:
- Image relevance. It’s easy to fall in love with an image just for the sake of its beauty. But you should only be adding images that complement the context of the email and message. Test the effect: view your email with images turned off. Does the email still make sense?
- Stock images. Stock images are the easy go-to. But they can sometimes take your audience out of the key messaging and be off brand. At Original Ginger, we provide top flight photography services to our clients. We view this as an important investment in your business. Original photography gives you a library of genuine, authentically branded images for your marketing collateral – even email campaigns and blog posts. If you have the opportunity to create unique imagery for your email campaign, do it! If not, you can always use stock photos from paid sites like Shutterstock or Adobe Stock. For information on where to source free images, read our related article, 16 Best Free Stock Photo Sites.
- Size matters. Make sure your images are optimized. Considering more than 50% of emails are opened on mobile devices, your images should translate well to a small screen. The bigger the email, the longer it’ll take for mobile subscribers to view, possibly creating a negative experience. If you don’t have access to Photoshop or Illustrator, use a free online image editing service like pixlr.com to properly size your images. The sweet spot here? Below 250KB.
- Alt Text. This is your emergency backup plan. If your image doesn’t load or breaks somewhere along the sending process, Alt Text will display in its place. Don’t leave this one to chance. If your image has text on it, use its overlaying text as the Alt Text. Including ALT Text also makes your email more accessible. If images are blocked, your reader will see what looks like a broken image, or a red X. Talk about a bad brand experience. Add Alt Text and at least they’ll know there was an image intended for that space. It will also prompt your reader to enable images.
- White Space: A Clear View. Give them room to breathe. White space gives your reader’s eye a chance to rest and absorb between elements. Incorporate white space around your paragraphs, images and call to action buttons and you’ll be encouraging click-throughs by hyper-focusing the reader’s attention where you want it. It can also increase the legibility of your email and improves the eyes’ ability to follow the content. Your copy and CTA buttons should be separated enough to stand out, but close enough so your readers know they’re connected.
Although you should use web fonts wherever possible, beware that not all email clients offer universal support for web fonts. Each of your clients will have preferred or default fonts they’ll see instead of your chosen web font. This may mean you have to import fonts using code. No fun at all.
At Original Ginger, we set you up on a commercial ESP with branded pre-set templates. You get to choose from a wide variety of ready-to-use web fonts for your campaigns. These fonts are available in all the major email platforms, so your email will be intact and exactly as designed when it lands. Whew.
Sure-fire CTAs & Buttons:
Want serious action on your email? Create the perfect Call-to-Action (CTA) buttons by employing these key features, thereby creating a rock-solid conversion point for the reader:
- Button copy. Be specific and focus on the benefit.
- Button design. Make it stand out, size the button appropriately and surround it with whitespace.
- Size. Make buttons big enough so your readers can tap them effortlessly on their mobile devices.
- Location, location, location: The ideal placement of a CTA button is relative to the complexity of the offer. If the offer is more complex, you may need more explanation copy preceding the button.
- Variety. Mix it up. Use different button types and colours for different priorities in your email. But don’t go too wild. Keep the number of CTAs to a minimum. Focus on where you want people to go and remove the clutter.
- Colour. Best practice is to use a colour of your button complimentary to your brand colours, contrasting against the background colour and the space around it.
- Quantity. If you have multiple products, they may each need their own button. Or maybe your email requires just one, focused on the most important message.
- Language. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Use the energy of verbs! An active verb in a button can incent your reader to stop what they’re doing and click away.
Be warned: many email platforms will block image-loading by default, so designing the buttons in your email campaigns as images can be fruitless. The commercial ESP we use for our clients at Original Ginger automatically creates a plain text version of every email. This means even those clients viewing your email in plain text will see the links.
Wouldn’t it be nice if a video link in an email simply played when clicked? The sad truth is anything but. Email platforms like Gmail, Outlook, Thunderbird and others don’t support the technical requirements to play video inside an email. Also, spam filters and firewalls may see the embedded video code as a threat and block the email entirely. Wah-wah.
At Original Ginger, we typically recommend adding an image to your email campaign with a faux ‘play’ button over top. Then, link the actual image to where the video resides, either on your branded YouTube channel or website. Linking back to your website is also a fantastic way to drive traffic there.
According to recent Campaign Monitor stats, over 68% of email opens occur on mobile devices. Get on board by making your emails as mobile-friendly as possible:
- Use only mobile-friendly templates
- Ensure body copy isn’t too small — we recommend 16px, even for viewing on mobile devices
- Make sure your images aren’t too small or hard to see on mobile
Original Ginger clients reap the benefits from our commercial ESP that allows us to test and preview how email campaigns appear on mobile phones and desktops.
Rules and Regulations.
Your email campaign must comply with Canada’s Anti Spam Legislation (CASL). Not doing so can get you into hot water and hefty fines, not to mention discredit your brand.
If you’re an Original Ginger client, we ensure any branded email templates we set up for you are 100% CASL-compliant. That means you’re only sending to people who have given you explicit permission to do so – in writing or by completion of your online form. You should know: existing or new customers are giving you implied consent to send them emails for up to one year, simply by subscribing. But as a rule of thumb, if you suspect a customer won’t appreciate your emails and may not want to hear from you – don’t add them as a subscriber.
Also, to be CASL-compliant, every email campaign you send MUST include your contact information (a contact email and company address) and an ‘unsubscribe’ link in the footer of your email. Your legal team may want to add in other information such as terms and conditions if it’s relevant.
The Social Side
Best practice is to help your audience easily find other ways to follow your company. Select and include the social media platforms that your company uses most and are relevant for your subscribers (there’s no need to show every single social profile). Social icons that match your branding or the rest of the email is a nice touch.
Be sure to differentiate between social share vs. social page icons.
A Smooth Launch
Poor spelling and grammar can be a credibility killer. Even one or two typos can mean the loss of clicks and your campaign not even getting off the ground. Always send a test email to at least two other people who can check it for you with fresh eyes for typos, grammatical errors, incorrect links and other mishaps. Consider creating a checklist for yourself to avoid common errors before you push send. And here’s a foolproof tip: read the email backwards. It forces the brain to look at each word with a more critical eye.
Test, test, test. It’s your key to success. A/B testing can be done with many components of your email, but the subject line is one of the easiest. Most ESPs make this super simple and include it as part of their system.
- Length. Short and snappy line or longer more descriptive line?
- Topic. Test two completely different topics in the subject line.
- Personalization. Does a first name greeting resonate? Add personalization to identical subject lines and find out!
- Promotion/Offer. “Free Shipping” vs. “15% Off”. Which one drives action?
Preference Centre Link
Most ESPs make it easy to add a preference link to your email campaigns. This allows your subscribers to rely less on you and update their email information themselves. If you have segmented lists, it may also allow customers to choose the type of information they wish to receive. Who doesn’t want a customized brand experience?
Here’s an effortless way to spread the word about your products and services. Include a referral link attached to an incentive program. Subscribers who can easily click and recommend your company’s offerings to friends and family are always happy to do so for a little coin or freebie.
Support and Service
Include contact us or support links, or ask for feedback. If your email is a noreply@ then give your customers a direct way to reach you and speak up about their experiences.
Still left wanting more ways to turbo-boost your email campaigns? Scoop more tips from our blog: Email Marketing Means Building Better Business is Only A Click Away!
Ready to use email marketing to rocket your brand into the stratosphere? Contact us at Original Ginger. We can get you started the right way.