4 Email Design Tips to Gain Better Responses

5 Mins read
Email Design Tips to Gain Better Responses

Email marketing has been around for longer than most marketing channels. Since its inception, marketers and engineers alike have been trying to improve the email for senders and recipients.

The better designed an email is, the better the chance that a subscriber will read, click through and take the desired action. There are different parts of an email that can be tweaked to make these improvements; either through changes in design or content.

People read emails on a variety of devices and email programs, and unfortunately, there’s not a lot of consistency in rendering emails between them. So before we jump into specifics, keep in mind that unless you plan to create emails for each email program out there (and who has time for that!) the broader your design, the more of your readers will see your email the way you want them to.

Here are 4 email design tips to guide your email marketing.

1. Get the Basics Down

Chances are good that you’ve sent your fair share of emails, so you probably have a good idea of what to consider. But there are a few places in your email that will affect how your readers respond, so let’s take a look at few fundamental pieces.

Catchy subject line  

The first thing your readers see is your subject line, so make sure it’s working for you. It should be eye-catching, fun or different, and still, convey why the email needs to be opened. Testing subject lines can give you a lot of information about what your readers respond to, so be sure to do this occasionally to know that you’re sending what they like.

Relevant content  

Once your reader opens your email, you need to make sure they’re interested in reading what you’ve written. Sending content that is meaningful to your reader is key to getting your emails opened in the future, and getting them to take an action. Beautiful images and compelling text, important product information, tips from blog posts, or even guides are all worthwhile additions to your emails.


Keep your email easy to read, using a single column layout, around 600 pixels wide. Most email templates will keep to this width automatically, but not all will do so. The single column makes it easier for your email to be adapted to mobile and helps keep everything looking organized for your readers. Use images and text to create a flow that makes it easy to read your email, and for your reader to get the important information they need.

Mobile ready  

We live in a mobile world. It’s no longer a question if you should design for mobile, you must. Pretty much everyone has a mobile device and they read email on it. Gone are the days of triaging an inbox, saving emails for later to look at on a desktop or laptop. Make sure your email or email template will look great no matter what device is used.

2. Prioritize Responsive Design

Did you know that 54% of emails are opened on a mobile device? Because of this, every email you send needs to be responsive.

Responsive means that your email will adapt to the size of the screen that’s it’s viewed on. The easiest and most time efficient way to make this happen is to use an email template that’s already coded to be responsive. For example, Campaign Monitor has an easy to use tool that allows you to create an email template with the elements you want and the responsive design already built in.

For example, Virgin used a pre-built template, which allowed them to spend more time on the content and less time worrying about how to make the email render correctly. Since this template is optimized for mobile, the content sections stack on top of each other when viewed on a smaller screen. This ensures that everything remains a good size for reading and allows readers to still click through and take an action.


3. Consider How You’ll Use CSS

This is one area of email design that has seen huge improvements in the past few years. For a long time, the best advice was to avoid CSS in emails, as most email programs would ignore it and all your hard work was for nothing.

A good workaround was (and still is) to use inline CSS if you wanted to have a little more control over how your email looked in the inbox.

There’s more flexibility now as programs like Gmail and Yahoo! Mail support more CSS options and allow for stylesheets to be used. Sure, Outlook can still be tricky, but there’s a little more room for adding your own touch to emails now. If you’re using an email template, you may still be able to tweak the code but it will depend on the system that you’re using.

There are some limitations, of course, inline CSS isn’t gone for good yet. Gmail, which was one of the big reasons for using inline CSS, no longer strips out embedded stylesheets but does have a character limit. And some class selectors aren’t supported by Yahoo! Mail and Outlook, and some other email programs. If you run into rendering issues, try running your code through a CSS validator to find out where the problems are.

To find out what CSS elements work in what email programs, take a look at The Ultimate Guide to CSS.

4. Personalize Your Email Content

Your readers are looking for emails that are relevant and targeted to their needs. The content you share with them will hopefully convert them into customers. But you need to have effective emails and the right content for that to happen.

There are lots of fun ways to personalize your emails. Using a first name in the subject line can increase your email open rates by 29% and makes it easier to get started with personalization. Grabbing your readers attention from the get-go can help to get your email opened and your content read and acted on.

You can also personalize the actual content of your email, not just the subject line. Data from your mailing list can be used to personalize the text of email campaigns for each subscriber. You can even go a step further and populate your emails with content particular to your subscribers.

With dynamic content, you can include specific links, text, and most importantly, images based on the interests of the recipient. A great example for this would be showing menswear to male subscribers while showing womenswear to female subscribers.

In order to do any of this personalization, you’ll need to ensure your data collection is in good shape. The more you can tailor the content to your readers, the more engaged they’ll be. And engaged email readers are the ones that are most likely to convert to customers.

Wrap up

One of the most fun pieces of email marketing is testing out content and design to find out what works best for email clients and for the recipients. Once you make changes, be sure to test how they look and work in email programs before sending them to your email list.

Email marketing is an important part of your marketing strategy and ensuring it works (and looks good!) on mobile devices is vital. Keep it working for you and more importantly, for your readers, by making sure you’re using it the best way you can. The first, and easiest, thing that can be done is to use a responsive template.

Many marketers use email templates, but there are some tech-savvy people in the marketing world and they want to create their own code. In some cases, templates can be edited and have additional code added to them. 

There could be some hardcoded inline CSS in this instance, and some WYSIWYG tools will change your code to adhere to these standards. But you should be able to create an email that looks the way you want it to, using your own code or making some modifications to existing templates.

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