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16 Design Practices for Email Marketing Success in 2017

Published by Neil Wheatley on September 25, 2017

diseño de email

Email marketing never stands still. New trends and technologies are always emerging. The ‘best practices’ for designing campaigns and templates changes every year.

So, while great email campaigns look simple to customers, there is a world of science behind them.

As an email marketer, you need to stay competitive by using the latest design practices for 2017. Even if you’re running a small business, and have little time to spare.

Thankfully, we’ve combined the latest research with our own experience, and we’ve brought everything you need to know in one place.

Let’s improve your email design.

1. 600px is still a good width

Some companies go a little wider, up to around 900px. But 600px is a good compromise that continues to work well on mobile, in browsers, and preview panes of email clients.

2. Design with the preview pane in mind

Many current devices show a preview of new emails that is about 600 pixels wide by 3 inches deep. This is extremely useful for you, because this top part of your email might be seen without the customer even opening it.

Make the most of this preview area by including:

  1. Your campaign value proposition
  2. The call to action
  3. Any other key info

Avoid using big images that waste the preview area.

3. Make the most of ‘snippets’

In some email clients, including Gmail, Apple Mail and Outlook, the first 40 characters (approx.) of the email body are previewed in the inbox list view. This visible text is often called a ‘snippet’.

You should optimise your design to make the most of snippets. Just begin your email with a plain-text line of around 40 characters. That’s your snippet.

Snippets are best utilised as a complement to your subject line. Your snippets could contain:

  1. Key information about your offering
  2. A subtitle for your email
  3. Your call to action

Snippets can increase your open rates. Keep them short and punchy.

4. Design for mobile, where most email is read

You probably already have this covered, because mobile has been #1 for email a long time now. In 2016, 56% of emails were opened on mobile.

Use a template or design that is mobile-ready – i.e. one that is responsive or uses a single column.

Test your email design on as many devices as possible, including Apple and Android phones and tablets.

5. Be elegant and professional with your typography choices

Don’t be tempted to use lots of different fonts in wild sizes, as this looks messy and confusing. Use your brand’s typography – the same as your website and other marketing.

You should only use 1-4 different text styles, perhaps with one each for:

  1. Branding (e.g. your logo or company name)
  2. Headlines
  3. Body copy
  4. Info text such as captions and your footer

6. Underline links for better click-through rates

Big buttons are good, but traditional underlined links – preferably in bold, blue text – have been found to increase click-through rates.

So, if you’re using buttons, complement them with underlined text links nearby. Make sure you underline inline links too.

7. Don’t rely on images because most customers won’t see them

Images can be effective in email marketing… but only when they load. But, for a large percentage of your customers, images will not load.


  1. Don’t use images for key content like headlines and value propositions
  2. Don’t use very large images, because they will appear as worthless white space for many customers

8. Put your company name in the ‘From’ text

Customers need to know the email is from you – they’re more likely to open it if they do.

Here are some ‘From’ examples to help you:

  1. The Big Barn Company
  2. Shelly at
  3. Jake Mink, Freelance Designer
  4. Sarah Howson (123 Accounting, Inc.)

9. Personalise your emails

Research shows most emails perform better when the subject line and email body include the customer’s first name.

Most email marketing tools make it easy to do this – if yours doesn’t, try Mailrelay!

10. Keep your email copy (or text) short

You might know from your own experience that most people do not have time to spend reading a long marketing email. However, as a marketer deeply invested in your product or service, there is a strong temptation to include ALL the details you love about it.

Fight this temptation. Keep your email copy/text short, by focusing on a single offer with a single call to action. Around 80-100 words is good.

11. Include only ONE call to action

Why only one? Because your email needs to easy to understand. With one call to action, customers know exactly what the email is asking them to do.

Too much choice makes it harder for customers to decide what to do – making it more likely they will do nothing!

12. Make your call to action stand out

Click-through rates are higher when customers find it easy to follow your call to action.

Make it easy for them to click by:

  1. Including it twice – once in the preview pane area, and again at the end of the email
  2. Using buttons – one nice big button makes your call to action stand out
  3. Using underlined links too – as we described above, they increase click-through rates

13. Keep complying with the American CAN-SPAM rule

It shows your customers that you are an ethical, trustworthy company.

In your email campaigns, include:

  1. Your physical address
  2. An unsubscribe link
  3. A notice that the email is an advertisement

Read “CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business” for more about CAN-SPAM, and check this Wikipedia page for info about laws in other countries.

14. Make it easy for customers to unsubscribe

By complying with CAN-SPAM, you’ve already taken a step towards this. However, you also want to make your unsubscribe link clear and easy to use.

Why would you want to help people leave your email list? Because…

  1. If a customer wants to unsubscribe but cannot, they are more likely to mark your email as spam
  2. The more customers report you for spam, the worse your sender reputation will be
  3. If your sender reputation is low, more of your emails will be diverted to junk folders instead of inboxes

There’s no point in hanging on to disinterested customers anyway.

15. Don’t use CSS

CSS seems like the best way to get your emails looking good – but CSS won’t work well with every email provider. Gmail, for example, removes CSS code from <head> and <body> sections of emails.

Use <p> and <font> tags instead. It might be more time-consuming, and it will give you less control. But your emails will display more consistently for all customers.

16. Keep testing your design

Even if you follow all these best-practice methods, there’s always room to improve your email design. Testing is the best way to improve an existing email design.

A/B testing is a useful method:

  1. Change ONE element of your existing email (e.g. the subject line, or the call to action link text) to create Version A and Version B
  2. Send Version A to one half of your list. Send Version B to the other half.
  3. Use your tracking data to compare performance

It’s simple and effective.

Your next campaign is going to be amazing

We hope you found something new and useful among these 16 current email design practices. And if you need a great-value email marketing platform, give Mailrelay a try!

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