Simple Tips to Become an Email Design Expert

Does your email campaign deliver the results you're looking for?

Every day businesses send out more than 300 billion email campaigns. Your business needs to find a way to stand out from those billions. Becoming an email expert begins with identifying your target audience. Who do you want to read this email? Have you built a good list of prospects that will be likely to open this email, read it and respond to the call-to-action (CTA)?

Once you have sent your email, you will want to track your audience response to it. Using an email marketing service like MailChimp or Constant Contact will provide you with analytics tools that give you important information and feedback. Is your campaign driving engagement, and ultimately, sales?

The design of your email can have a huge impact on the success of your campaign. 

The following email design industry best practices, tips and tricks will help you stand out and make sure your campaign delivers the results you are looking for.


Person reading email on a laptop

Composition Tips

Subject Line

Your subject line is one of the most important factors in getting your email opened. It should be relevant, engaging and personal. Using a lot of CAPS and unnecessary punctuation will trigger spam filters, so respect your subscribers by avoiding these.

The best length for your subject line is about 65 characters. This will ensure the subject is readable on whatever device your subscribers are using.

The words you use in the subject line can influence how your email is perceived by the reader. Certain “power words” can increase your open rates, such as “you”, “offer” and “special”.



The preheader text and the subject line should work together. Your preheader will be visible in the subscriber’s inbox preview. A well-written preheader adds valuable context to your subject line and can improve your open rate. The preheader should be short – 40 to 70 characters - so keep it to the point. Tell your subscriber how this email will be useful to them.



Emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened. Personalization is more than using your subscriber’s name in the subject line. Use other data that you have about the subscriber to make your message more relevant. Adding a company name, last purchase, or other information helps you personalize the email for each recipient.

Try to focus on behavior whenever you can. If you have a highly engaged portion of your email list, personalize content for that user behavior. And for those who rarely open your emails, customize content through a re-engagement email campaign.

Another aspect of personalization is humanization or contextual marketing. Humanization is about engaging your subscriber 1-to-1 rather than a one size fits all, 1-to-many approach. Emails specifically tailored to the recipient often lead to higher engagement.

Spotify recently used this technique with their year-end campaign. Each subscriber was shown what their most-listened-to songs were and where they ranked in fan rankings.

Using humanization builds better relationships with your subscribers and makes them more enthusiastic about receiving and opening your email.


Happy man reading email on computer

Attention-Getting Content

Increase the impact and engagement of your emails even more with these tips:

  • Branding – Include your company's logo or mark at the top of the email, so people know where it's coming from
  • The Message – The most effective emails have only one clear message. If you have multiple messages, send them separately in a series of emails.
  • Be Concise – Simplify your email as much as you can to reduce the length. If it’s not necessary to make your point, take it out.
  • Hierarchy – The most important information should be at the beginning of the email, so people who are short on time can quickly scan it.
  • Sections - Clearly define sections by using dividers or borders to group similar content together.
  • Breaks - Use headines and bulleted lists to divide content into sections that are easy to understand. This also helps the reader quickly scan the content.
  • Links - When you have a lot of information for your reader, link to a page on your website, or someone else's website, where they can find more details about the subject.
  • Organization - Most subscribers spend less than 15 seconds reading emails, so keep it short and prioritize the content from top to bottom.
  • Alignment - Keep alignment consistent across the entire email to maintain harmony. Centering works well if your content is minimal. Left alignment may look better if there is a lot of text.
  • Legibility - Set the body text size at 14 or 16 pixels - 14 pixels for longer emails and 16 pixels for short text blocks (two or three sentences).


Designing Your Message

Help the viewer know what to read first and where to go next by using an appropriate layout. Readers should quickly get the main message by scanning headlines and images. Breaking up space by creating chunks of content will focus their attention and make it easier for them to engage. Here are several layout models you can follow that will efficiently guide your reader to the call-to-action button.

Inverted Pyramid

The inverted pyramid is a framework for structuring the elements of your email campaigns (headers, imagery, buttons, etc) so they work together to draw people in, deliver the key messages of your campaign and get them to click-through.

Inverted Pyramid email layout diagram

By guiding a subscriber’s eye down the page to your CTA, you’ll encourage them to click through and explore more of what you have to offer, resulting in better brand awareness, more web traffic, and ultimately more sales.


The Zig-Zag layout is more angular and leads the eye back and forth down the page using alternating text and photos. You can enhance these angles by using imagery or color blocking to guide the reader through each step of the email. This layout simplifies each section of the email and makes it easy to read.

Zig-Zag email layout diagram


One-column emails work great on mobile, as well as desktop and tablet. Using a one-column layout helps the reader navigate the email without overwhelming or confusing them. The one-column design makes it obvious what is important and what you want them to do next.

One-Column email layout

Choosing Your Fonts

Use a font that matches your message. The word “serif” refers to the small lines that extend from the end of letter strokes in some fonts. Some fonts have serifs, some don’t. Serif fonts tend to suggest sophistication, while sans serif fonts feel a little more casual and are easier to read on mobile devices. You can use a mix, but we recommend using only two fonts to keep the email simple and easy to read.

When it comes to email marketing, it’s considered a best practice to use web fonts wherever you can. But keep in mind that not all email management systems offer universal support for web fonts.


White Space

The empty area around your paragraphs, images, and call-to-action buttons is called white space. Leaving white space around the elements in your email encourages click-throughs by separating each item visually from other elements, allowing the reader to focus on each object at the right time.

White space increases legibility and makes your design more approachable. Make sure the text and CTA button are separated enough to stand out, but close to enough for readers to know they’re connected.


Color Palette

Choose just one or two colors for your emails. Fewer colors will give your design a cleaner look. The reader won’t be distracted from the message. Colors that are used by your brand in advertising will also work well in your email campaigns. Adding background colors to the header and footer will visually separate them from the body content and give more support to the structure of the email.


Mobile Optimization

Mobile device use for email is increasing every year. Over 68% of email opens occur on mobile. Make your emails are mobile-friendly by using:

  • Mobile-friendly templates
  • Short subject lines
  • Preheader text
  • Minimal body copy

Body copy should be 16px on mobile for easy readability. Make sure your images aren’t too small or hard to see when viewed on a cell phone.


Enhancing Your Content with Images

Your emails can make a statement when you use photography. Images should complement the main message. If you’re using photos, try reducing the amount of color in the surrounding design so the images won’t compete with it. This makes it easier for your reader to know where to look next.

You don't have to be a professional photographer to get quality photos. There are a number of stock photography websites to choose from. Some of these sites allow you to use the photos free of charge if you credit the photographer, such as Unsplash or Pexels. Other stock photo sites require a subscription or buying credits, like iStockPhoto and Shutterstock.

When using images in your emails, it’s important to keep the following in mind:

  • Dimension – most emails are 600-640px wide. However, to keep your image crisp on high-resolution displays, you need to make your image 2x the size (ie. 1200px) and use the image attributes and CSS to keep the image at the width you want.
  • File Size – It’s easy to forget about file size in an email, but you want to make sure your images are optimized for mobile devices. The bigger the email, the longer it takes for mobile readers to view, creating a negative email experience.
  • Alt Text – If your image doesn’t load, Alt Text is the text that will display in its place. Be sure to add helpful Alt Text that enhances your message. If your image has text on it, include that in the Alt Text. If the image doesn’t load, the text will still be read. Including ALT text also increases accessibility.
  • Complement the Email – Your email should not be a bunch of images placed together. An image should add to the email and the messaging - not be the messaging. You can test this by viewing your email with the images turned off. Does the email still make sense? Is the message still clear? The optimal text to image ratio is about 80% text and 20% images.
  • Stock Images – Stock imagery can sometimes detract from the messaging. Keep your images on brand and genuine. Shoot your own photography, if you have the opportunity, to create specific imagery for your email campaign.

mobile phone with email


Call to Action

CTAs link readers to external content or ask them to do something. You can link images, buttons or text. Choose whichever suits your purpose, but don't include too many CTAs in one email or readers won't know what to click.

Be clear

Write short and clear CTAs that motivate people to act (for example: Buy Now or Sign Up). Tell your subscribers exactly what you want them to do, using active language.

Make it Obvious

Size your CTAs by importance. The larger they are, the more important they’ll feel to the reader. Make your links and buttons obvious by using a different color or style, and position them so they stand out. Use white space around CTAs and give them a prominent spot in your emails.

Size Matters

The average size of an adult index finger is a 45 to 57-pixel square, so make your button at least that large. Avoid confusion by sticking to one easy-to-click CTA button.

Set Expectations

Tell readers exactly what they're getting into before they click the CTA. Any surprises could cause you to lose the client forever.

Bulletproof CTA Buttons

The most effective CTA buttons have three main elements that work together to create the best conversion point for your reader:

  • Text – be specific and focus on the benefit
  • Design – stands out, appropriately sized, has white space around it
  • Placement – the ideal placement of the CTA button is relative to the complexity of the offer. Include enough explanation copy before the CTA to make it clear to the reader.


Ready to Send?

Always send a test of your email to at least two other people who can check your email top to bottom with fresh eyes and look for typos, grammatical errors and other mishaps. Don’t forget to test it on a mobile device, as well. Campaign Monitor has a great email checklist infographic that can help you check for missing pieces.

We hope this list of best practices, tips and tricks will make your next email campaign a big success. Be sure to use email analytics to learn more from each email you send and integrate what you learned into the design of your next one.

C&B Marketing is ready to help if you are struggling with the complexities of email design and implementation. 

Have you got your email design plan ready?




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Posted on Jan 11, 2023